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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."

Ah… now I remembered her. She was one of several people who told me, that with no industry experience or writing background, I’d 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 today’s employee’s market, it’s even easier…

Why pursue freelance commercial writing? There are tons of reasons.


Just making sure…


In the last decade, two huge trends have sculpted the corporate American landscape: downsizing and outsourcing. It’s 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 I’ll get into shortly). Expenses? As freelancers, you’re certainly already set up with a computer, printer, software, Internet access. After that, the overhead is one of the lowest around. We’re talking paper, diskettes, toner, pens, pads.


You just don’t 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 doesn’t have to be a work of art. As a matter of fact, they don’t 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, you’ll 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, he’s a very average copywriter and is the first to admit it. Simply put, there’s more than enough work for the less-than-brilliantly-gifted. If you are crackerjack, you’ll get into the fun creative arenas like ad copy and edgy CD-ROM scripting, amongst others.


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 Manager, UPS

"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 didn’t 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 I’m not busy, it’s 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 they’d be wrong. It’s 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 writer’s experience."


In the 9-5 working world, schedule-wise, you’ve 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 you’re a night owl, trapped by someone else’s rules (clearly a morning person!), your time (so to speak) has come.

Want to sleep from 2-9 a.m.? Go for it! Contrary to popular belief, you don’t 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, you’d better be meeting clients when and where they want. Once they realize that they can’t live without your awesome talents, you’ve got a lot more scheduling freedom.


Over the years, I’ve written about UPS’s Canadian shipping operations, BellSouth’s product line and small business division happenings, Coca-Cola’s 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 someone’s paying you pretty well to learn about something, encapsulate it, and put it on paper, you’ll 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 out.


It doesn’t matter which major metropolitan area you call home. The situation is pretty much the same everywhere, and it’s very good news for you if you’re considering this business: There just isn’t 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 you’re half-way decent and somewhat aggressive about the getting the word out, you’ll have plenty of work.


Maybe you’re a purist (i.e. "writing" means books and articles) and you’re thinking that there’s something terribly mercenary about writing for Corporate America, right? But, what’s 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 can’t stand? You might as well be writing and earning $50-75/hour. Then, with the bills paid, you’ve 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 you’re 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, it’s not just flat project fees with potentially vast, open-ended commitments of time with endless editing included, which often happens with magazine writing.


I’m 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, "I’m a writer," I promise you you’ll get more than, "How nice. I need to get a refill." A writer is very interesting to people.


Career-Changer? Perhaps you’ve always felt you’re a good writer and now you want to put that skill to work in a completely new life direction (that’s my story…).

At-Home Mom? Maybe you’re 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 you’re a recent college graduate, not sure you want to work for a corporation, but wouldn’t mind working with one.

Whatever your goals or your circumstances, this field offers a lucrative and growing opportunity for those with even modest talent. Isn’t 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 Writer’s 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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