Monday, November 3, 2008

How to Write for Business (and write your own ticket)

Six easy ways you can get noticed by businesses and launch your commercial writing career.

When you tell someone you are a 'writer', what is their first perception of you? A novelist, a screenwriter, a freelance magazine writer or maybe a journalist. Right?

What about you? When someone tells you they are a 'writer', what's your first thought?

Probably the same.

And yet, the vast majority of people who call themselves writers today are unable to make a sustainable living from their craft.

This is not only sad, it is also avoidable.

I have been earning a living as a writer since I was 17. Over the past 20 years, I have written several fiction and non-fiction books, a play, a bunch of short stories, and countless magazine and newspaper articles. And yet I have earned the best income and the most sustainable income during this time as a commercial writer ~ writing for business.

That means writing everything from PR releases, speeches, direct mail letters and newsletters to ad copy, brochures, video scripts and Web copy for small businesses through to large corporations.

And the best thing about writing for business is that it enables me to enjoy my craft, broaden my knowledge and, most importantly, take time off to enjoy other pursuits, such as work on the two novels I have on the go at the moment.

So, how about you? How is your writing career progressing? Are you making a real living or just getting by? Are you getting by or waiting for the phone to ring with an assignment?

If you're like many of the writers I talk with, the first question they ask is . . . "I would like to write for business, but I haven't got any experience. How can I get started?"

Well, we all have to start somewhere and some time, so here's six steps to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Develop a folio of work and prove your worth.

This is chicken-and-egg stuff. You need samples of your work, known as a folio, to gain work ~ and you need work to begin building a folio. So to get started, approach people you know in business. These can be family or friends. Offer your services at a low cost or, if you have to, at no cost. I am not suggesting you make a career out of working for free. I am only suggesting this approach if you cannot find paid work. If you don't know of anyone in business, try various volunteer organizations, churches and social groups. It's important to remind yourself that you are in a training phase, and that usually comes at a cost. In this case, the cost could be working for a reduced rate.

2. Collect testimonials ~ let clients tell others how good you are.

Once you have completed one or more jobs, seek testimonials from your clients. This will help support your growing folio and give potential clients confidence in your work. Once you have been in business for a while, you may find that you receive referrals and testimonials without even asking for them. That's what happens to me. This is generally far more powerful than asking for them, and it's a great vote of confidence in your abilities.

3. Check out the job classifieds.

No doubt you are already doing this ~ but don't limit yourself to jobs for journalists, freelancers, PR or marketing writers ~ check out sales and marketing roles. If a company is expanding its sales force it will more than likely need marketing collateral, an ongoing PR program or maybe just some overload communications services. Be proactive, write to the Marketing Manager, CEO, Managing Director or Sales Manager (whoever is more appropriate), offering your services. But don't wait by the phone, call them within a few days of mailing the letter.

4. Keep up with the news.

When you see news of a company launching a new product, branching out into a new region or field, put them on your prospect list for the same reason as above. They may need your help.

5. Turn a negative into a positive.

Recession? What recession. All this talk about a soft or hard landing spells doom for full-time employees. Often, marketing departments are the first hit when times get tough. But recessions mean companies have to work harder to maintain market share ~ so there's plenty of opportunities for freelancers. I started my PR and marketing business at the height of a recession, and it went from strength to strength.

6. Publicize yourself.

You know how to write, you're learning how to conduct PR and marketing for others, but what about promoting yourself? Develop a company brochure, detailing the features and benefits of working with you. Include a list of services (these could be news releases, direct mail letters, advertising copywriting, speeches, events, newsletters and brochures ~ or all of them).

Here's six ways to get your commercial writing career moving in the right direction. Now all you need to decide is WHEN you are ready to write for business. Then you'll be on your way to writing your own ticket.

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