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12 Reasons to Pursue Freelance Commercial Writing!
by Peter Bowerman
As I passed a cubicle in the office of my
biggest client, the regional telecom giant, the nameplate looked familiar. I
stuck my head in. "Did you used to have an ad agency?" "I did," was the reply,
"but thanks to the huge recession in the creative industry back then (a fact I
was blissfully unaware of at the time), I had to shut my doors."
now I remembered her. She was one of several
people who told me, that with no industry experience or writing background, Id
have a heckuva time making it as a freelance commercial writer. "Thanks for
sharing" I recall thinking. I hit financial self-sufficiency in four months that
very year. And in todays employees market, its even easier
Why pursue freelance commercial writing? There
are tons of reasons.
YOU LIKE TO WRITE AND ARE GOOD AT IT
Just making sure
THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR FREELANCERS
In the last decade, two huge trends have
sculpted the corporate American landscape: downsizing and outsourcing. Its a
lean mean business world out there, and corporations across the country and
around the world are doing more with less. Fewer people, less resources, smaller
budgets. The creative, marketing and communication departments are being scaled
back or eliminated altogether.
Consequently, many organizations rely on
freelancers heavily to get their work done -- and not just because they have to.
There are many solid benefits of dealing with freelancers: no salaries, vacation
time, sick days, health insurance or benefits, not to mention that a variety of
talent can ensure a consistently fresh writing perspective, often a challenge
with full-time staff writers. Contrary to what you might read in the paper,
downsizing and outsourcing have created some phenomenal opportunities for the
independent and entrepreneurial-minded out there.
As writing fields go, commercial writing is one
of the easiest to break into and, for even a moderately talented scribe, one of
the most lucrative (which Ill get into shortly). Expenses? As freelancers,
youre certainly already set up with a computer, printer, software, Internet
access. After that, the overhead is one of the lowest around. Were talking
paper, diskettes, toner, pens, pads.
BRILLIANT WRITING NOT REQUIRED
You just dont have to be incredibly talented to
make it in this field. There are plenty of industries, such as healthcare,
banking, manufacturing, insurance, high technology and many, many more that need
oodles of clear, concise copywriting that just simply doesnt have to be a work
of art. As a matter of fact, they dont want a work of art. They simply want to
convey information, simply. If you can position yourself as the writer to call
when someone needs solid, dependable, consistent copy in one or more fields,
youll do well.
I have a friend who writes copy for a very
specific industry, and has been getting plenty of well-paying work for over
eight years now. Yet, hes a very average copywriter and is the first to admit
it. Simply put, theres more than enough work for the
less-than-brilliantly-gifted. If you are crackerjack, youll get into the fun
creative arenas like ad copy and edgy CD-ROM scripting, amongst others.
HIGH DEMAND FOR TALENT
Listen to a few writing buyers sharing their
thoughts on the demand for good writing talent in this field (more at www.wellfedwriter.com):
"Once you find a copywriter who is talented,
strategic, creative and reliable--hold on to them for dear life! The demand for
these individuals is extremely high in the fast-paced world of corporate
marketing and advertising." Kristi Sumner, Marketing Director - Creative
Development, Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation
"A former client once told me, I can pick up
the phone and in ten minutes I can find ten video producers. But, I'll sometimes
spend two weeks looking for a good writer. Good writers are rare, but when I
find one, I use them over and over again. When I find good writers, I tell all
of my colleagues about them." Carmie McCook, Corporate Video, Production
"As a former award-winning journalist and
current owner of a multi-media communications firm, I am struck by the scarcity
of good writing in the business arena. Regardless of your background, there is
huge corporate demand for good, solid, coherent writing." Bob Hamilton, Multiple
Associated Press Award-winner, President, In-Focus Communications
Bottom line, your
writing skills are needed by a whole host of top companies willing to pay
handsomely for them.
Marketing brochures, corporate image pieces,
advertisements, newsletters, direct mail campaigns, industrial video scripts,
trade articles, press releases, educational/industrial CD-ROM scripts, radio
spots, TV commercials, event scripting, business letters, sales promotion
material, marketing manuals, technical manuals, corporate profiles, annual
reports, product documentation, product spec sheets, proposals -- shall I go on?
Every single one of these -- and a lot more that I didnt mention -- have one
thing in common: they all have to be written by someone.
The sheer volume of work in any good-sized
metropolis is staggering, more than a small army of writers could handle. If Im
not busy, its my own lack of motivation in running down the work.
A manager with a huge telecommunications firm in
Atlanta noted, "Most people would assume that a company of our size would do the
bulk of our writing in-house, and theyd be wrong. Its amazing now much writing
we outsource. And my last company was also huge and a prolific outsourcer as
well. My writing needs these days are pretty steady, and I pay anywhere from
$65-85/hour, depending on the writers experience."
BE YOUR OWN BOSS
In the 9-5 working world, schedule-wise, youve
pretty much got to march in lock-step with the rest of the troops. Not to
mention fight rush hour traffic twice a day. If youre a night owl, trapped by
someone elses rules (clearly a morning person!), your time (so to speak) has
Want to sleep from 2-9 a.m.? Go for it! Contrary
to popular belief, you dont need to align your schedule with the rest of the
working world to be successful. Sure, as a night owl, there are times when I
feel I really should get up early and blend in with the rest of the world, but I
usually get over it. Of course, in the beginning, youd better be meeting
clients when and where they want. Once they realize that they cant live without
your awesome talents, youve got a lot more scheduling freedom.
SHEER VARIETY OF WORK
Over the years, Ive written about UPSs
Canadian shipping operations, BellSouths product line and small business
division happenings, Coca-Colas alliance with The Boys & Girls Clubs of
America, how one event production company would design an entertainment pavilion
for the Olympics, the charitable activities of a prestigious Chattanooga
hospital, and on and on.
OK, so you might not seek these subjects out on
your own, but when someones paying you pretty well to learn about something,
encapsulate it, and put it on paper, youll get into it and enjoy it. Variety
also means new clients all the time. No long-term personality conflicts or
on-going sticky office politics. You get in, get the project done and get
NOT ENOUGH GOOD WRITERS
It doesnt matter which major metropolitan area
you call home. The situation is pretty much the same everywhere, and its very
good news for you if youre considering this business: There just isnt a ton of
good copywriters out there. There are a lot of people who are calling themselves
copywriters, but good ones are relatively rare. If youre half-way decent and
somewhat aggressive about the getting the word out, youll have plenty of work.
FINANCE YOUR WRITING "BLISS"
Maybe youre a purist (i.e. "writing" means
books and articles) and youre thinking that theres something terribly
mercenary about writing for Corporate America, right? But, whats the point of
going the "purist" route if you end up moonlighting at something else to make
ends meet? Or working full-time at a job you cant stand? You might as well be
writing and earning $50-75/hour. Then, with the bills paid, youve got the time
and space to pursue your "bliss" that future Oscar, Pulitzer, Emmy, or
Tony-award-winning screenplay, novel, TV series or Broadway play.
So, how much can you make? If you have even a
modicum of intelligence, ability and drive, you can sleepwalk your way to
$30,000 a year. If youre halfway decent and reasonably aggressive about getting
the word out, you should easily top $50,000. Build a good reputation, start
getting referrals, and who knows? I know a healthy number of FLCWs in the
business grossing $100,000+ a year.
Interested in part-time? Well, with those hourly
rates for starting commercial writers in the $50-75 range, depending on location
and experience, 10-15 hours a week adds up quickly. Suffice it to say, making
$2000 a month part-time is very do-able.
AND REMEMBER: Project fees are calculated based
on the above hourly rates. In other words, its not just flat project fees with
potentially vast, open-ended commitments of time with endless editing included,
which often happens with magazine writing.
IMPRESS PEOPLE AT COCKTAIL PARTIES
Im only half-joking here. I mean, it seems like
such a superficial reason, and essentially it is, but when people ask that
inevitable small-talk question, "So, whattaya do?" when you answer, "Im a
writer," I promise you youll get more than, "How nice. I need to get a refill."
A writer is very interesting to people.
WHATS YOUR STORY?
Career-Changer? Perhaps youve always felt
youre a good writer and now you want to put that skill to work in a completely
new life direction (thats my story
At-Home Mom? Maybe youre at-home mom looking
for a flexible, lucrative business on the side that meshes nicely with
motherhood. Get a running start by leveraging your past career experience and
seek writing projects in your former field.
Journalist? Might you be a journalist or news
reporter who loves the business of writing but longs to make more money and have
more freedom than you currently enjoy?
A Staff Writer? Are you currently collecting a
steady paycheck as a staff writer for a large company but looking to make the
transition to self-employment?
New College Grad? Or perhaps youre a recent
college graduate, not sure you want to work for a corporation, but wouldnt mind
working with one.
Whatever your goals or your circumstances, this
field offers a lucrative and growing opportunity for those with even modest
talent. Isnt it time for a raise?
© Copyright 2000, Peter Bowerman
Peter Bowerman is the author of The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or
Less, a Writers Digest Book Club Selection in Summer 2000. He has been a freelance commercial writer and columnist in Atlanta, Georgia since 1993. His clients includes Coca-Cola, MCI, BellSouth, IBM, UPS, Holiday Inn, GTE, American Express, Mercedes-Benz, The Discovery Channel, Junior Achievement and many others. He has published nearly 200 columns and articles and leads seminars on
writing. Visit his web site at http://www.wellfedwriter.com.
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