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Goodbye Starving Writer!

Goodbye Starving Writer!

Peter Bowerman

Author Bio:

Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer and business coach, is the self-publishing author of the three award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles on lucrative commercial freelancing – writing for companies, and for hourly rates of $50-125 or more. (www.wellfedwriter.com). The 2010 compilation of both original editions of TWFW (2000 and 2005) was a winner of four industry awards.

In 1993, with no industry experience, no previous paid writing experience and no writing background, Bowerman built a commercial freelancing business from fantasy to full-time in less than four months. His corporate client list has included Coca-Cola, BellSouth, IBM, UPS, Cingular, American Express, Mercedes-Benz and many others.

He is the editor of the critically acclaimed monthly e-newsletter, The Well-Fed E-PUB, publishing continuously since May 2002. The Well-Fed Writer Blog, launched in March 2008, was named a Top Freelance Blog in 2010. Subscribe free to both at www.wellfedwriter.com.

He chronicled his self-publishing success (60,000 copies of his books in print and a full-time living for ten-plus years) in the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com. In 2010, he launched a service offering book titling and back-cover copywriting through www.titletailor.com.

Book Synopsis:

“The Well-Fed Writer” is a quadruple-award-winning, exhaustively detailed how-to guide to help people start, build and grow a lucrative freelance “commercial” writing business: writing for companies and for hourly rates of $50-125+. In TWFW, readers will learn why the field makes sense now, how to get started, qualities needed to succeed, where the work is, how to get it, how to do it, what to charge, how to get paid, and much more. The book is considered an industry “standard” in the commercial writing space – a writing direction that’s an antidote to most “starving” freelance writing. www.wellfedwriter.com.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/prt4pz

Why did you write this book?

After several years as a commercial freelancer, I realized what a great life I had in so many ways (i.e., the freedom, flexibility, lifestyle, income and the chance to do something for a living I really enjoyed: writing). I realized how many “starving” writers were out there who likely didn’t even know about the commercial field, but would love to. And yes, in the course of sharing it, I thought I might be able to diversify my “work portfolio” into book writing, and begin to generate that wonderful thing known as “passive income”!

Why should readers should buy your book and what will they get from reading it?

Got a gift for writing? Dream of financially thriving as a writer, but always assumed the words “starving” and “writer” were forever joined at the hip? TWFW offers all the tools to build a lucrative writing career in the little known yet surprisingly accessible arena of freelance “commercial” writing.

The “Commercial” Arena Offers Writers Healthy Income AND an Enviable Lifestyle

by Peter Bowerman

Eight direct-mail letters and postcards (~28 hours): $4000. A 1700-word case study for a manufacturing firm (~18 hours): $2400. A 12-page capabilities brochure for a worldwide materials handling firm (~45 hours): $5000. Crafting of short two-line sales “blurbs” for supermarket displays (~47 hours over six days): $5600. A monthly six-page newsletter for a telecommunications firm (~35 hours): $4500. Editing copy for a web site (~8 hours): $1100. An eight-page corporate marketing brochure (~22 hours): $2800. A tri-fold sales brochure (~9 hours): $1200. A two-page sales flyer (~6 hours): $850.

These are actual examples of projects I’ve worked on, underscoring the lucrative – and surprisingly accessible – world of freelance “commercial” writing. What’s “commercial writing”? Any writing task a company would have to create in the course of communicating with customers, prospects and employees (a huge arena of writing known as internal communications).

That includes marketing brochures, ads, direct mail campaigns, case studies, white papers, video scripts, trade articles, press releases, radio spots, sales sheets, newsletters, sales letters, promotional materials, email-blast copy, landing-page copy, marketing manuals, technical manuals, corporate profiles, annual reports, product documentation, proposals, and so many more. Every single one of these has to be written by someone.

A Better-Paying Writing Field

The money? $50-125+ an hour. And, an interesting conversation with an ad agency prospect some time back highlights the potential. He was looking to hire a commercial writer for an ongoing gig with one of clients, and trying to get a sense of my rates.

He asks, “So, what do you charge per hour?” “Well,” I reply, “I hesitate to say, because without the context of an actual project to bid on, it doesn’t mean much” (translation: it sounds high to many clients, and can scare them away). “But, suffice to say, I’m not the cheapest writer out there.”

He laughs nervously, “What? Like $200 an hour?” “Oh, no,” I reply, “just $125.” Obviously relieved, he responded, “Oh, that’s about right.” That’s commercial writing.

And unlike writing for, say, magazines (a totally different field, by the way), where low flat rates – regardless of the time involved – are the rule, in the commercial field, you’re paid for all your time. You’ll bill on a flat-rate basis, but those flat rates will be calculated by multiplying an hourly rates by all the estimated components of the project (i.e., meetings, research or background reading, brainstorming, writing, editing, etc.).

And don’t forget the lifestyle. You work at home, get up when you want, play hooky when you want, take vacations when you want and work in your sweats or PJ’s. If you’re a true writer at heart, it’s a work mode just form-fitted to folks like us.

The Adult Conversation

No, it’s not always this easy, and if you’re starting out, you won’t make $125 an hour or land jobs like the ones listed above right out of the gate. And before you start multiplying even $50-60 by 40 hours a week, know that, once established, you’ll only typically bill 15-20 hours weekly. Yes, I’ve had plenty of 40-hour billed weeks over my career, but they’re definitely the rare (but oh-so-nice) exception to the rule.

Starting a commercial writing business is no “get-rich-quick” proposition. It’s hard work, but, 1) there IS a need for good writing in business; 2) hiring freelancers over full-timers makes sound economic sense for many companies (read on); 3) if you’re a good writer (not brilliant, just good), you can find your place in this field; and finally, 4) outcomes like the ones above happen for established folks every day.

Why Freelancers Make Sense

For the past few decades – and even more so recently – downsizing and outsourcing mean that companies everywhere are doing more with less. For many, that includes relying heavily on well-paid freelancers to handle many writing tasks. I hear it all the time from clients: how hard it is to find good, smart, reliable writers who “get it.”

So, why would a company hire a freelancer instead of doing it themselves? For a number of good, solid business reasons:

  • No salaries, vacation time, or benefits to provide
  • They buy only what they need, only when they need it (vs. a full-time employee)
  • Fresh “outsider” perspectives (the antidote for insular corporate mindsets)
  • Access to a wide range of talent

Again, it’s not all peaches ‘n cream. In the economic downturn, some companies that hired freelancers decided (unwisely in most cases) to pull the writing tasks in-house. Yet, just as often, many companies that formerly hired pricey ad agencies and design firms are shedding them in favor of less expensive, lower-overhead freelancers (especially talented designer/writer teams), often getting better work at far less cost.

“How Good a Writer Do I Have to Be?”

Okay, so one’s going go pay you even $50 or $60 an hour (and certainly not $125 or more), if you’re lousy. You do have to be a good writer, and in the eyes of people other than just your mother or your best friends.

But, there are plenty of fields, such as healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, high-tech, and many others, which have steady, ongoing needs for writing that’s simply clear, concise and coherent. Start studying your junk mail, the newsletter inserts in your utility bills, the rack brochures at your bank. Could you write that? I’m guessing yes.

What About a Portfolio?

To get hired, you need to prove you have the skills. Since you might not much to show if starting out, look for any projects you may have done in any past jobs: a marketing manual, press release, newsletter, sales sheet, speech, article, or the like.

If job-related “pickins” are lean, try doing some pro bono work for a charity or start-up firm, or team up with a graphic designer in the same boat, and approach those same kinds of entities together. The best part? All this can be done while you’re employed elsewhere. Many people have built a portfolio on the side before going solo.

Who Will Hire You?

Your clients will generally fall into two categories: End-Users (EU’s) and Middlemen (MM’s). End-Users (the “end user” of whatever you write) include companies of all sizes and types, from 10 employee-Mom-‘n-Pop operations to multi-billion-dollar Fortune 100 giants. MM’s are entities hired by EU’s, and in turn, MM’s hire freelancers to execute the projects EU’s contract them to produce. MM’s include graphic design firms, web design/development companies, marketing companies, PR firms, advertising agencies, event production companies, etc.

Approach EU’s through their marketing communications (a.k.a. “Mar-Com”) or corporate communications departments, marketing or sales (the first two for big companies, the second two for smaller entities). With MM’s, try contacting the Creative Directors (CD), Assistant CD (a better bet, since CD’s are often hard to reach), Marketing Director, Production Manager or Account Executive.

For both EU’s and MM’s, make the first contact by phone and try to get in to meet them as soon as possible. Your likelihood of being hired rises dramatically once you meet a client face-to-face, so push for meetings at every opportunity.

How Long Will It Take?

Funny story about my start-up. A few years after I launched my business, I passed a cubicle in the office of my biggest client at the time, a telecom giant, and 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, writing background, paid writing experience or writing training (all true, believe it or not), I was in for a tough slog trying to make it as a freelance commercial writer. “Thanks for sharing,” I recall thinking.

I hit financial self-sufficiency (i.e. full-time, no moonlighting, paying all my bills) in four months that very year. If you just want a part-time income, it’s even faster.

Could You Get Used to This?

Imagine: On a Friday morning client phone call, you pick up a job writing a marketing brochure. The client emails you background material and in a follow-up call, answers a few questions. Sunday night, you spend a few hours reviewing the material and Monday morning, you meet them for an hour at their offices.

You work on the project at home, on your deck, under that great shady tree, phone by your side, tall glass of lemonade nearby. By Wednesday morning, when you email them your first draft, between reading, meetings, and first draft preparation, you’ve logged 16 hours, let’s say at $60 an hour ($960).

In the meantime, you put in six hours on some edits for an ongoing event presentation script project: 6 x $60 = $360. After turning the edits around late Wednesday, you get a call from some new clients who want you to edit a high-tech brochure. They email you the file, you start working on it Thursday morning and it takes you four hours ($240). You email it back, and bill them immediately.

Early Thursday afternoon, you get a call from another relatively new client checking your availability for a brochure project next week: 12-15 hours worth of work ($720-$900). You set up a meeting for Monday afternoon. Later that same afternoon, one of your regulars calls, needing a few headlines for a store display.

You’ve done a ton of projects like this, so it’s a breeze. You charge her your two-hour minimum, $120, grab your microcassette recorder, head to the gym, knocking out half of it on the way over. That night, sitting outside at your favorite neighborhood eatery, you get the rest done, having spent maybe an hour, total. You get home, take 10 minutes to type them up and email them on.

It’s Not Unusual

That’s nearly $1700 by Thursday night, for under 30 hours of work, minimal running around, comfortable work, almost completely by phone and email, and with plenty of time left over to have a life. And you’ve lined up $800+ worth of work for next week.

Again, not always this easy or rosy and you’ll have your share of $500 weeks, too. In the beginning, with prospecting and marketing, you’ll be working a lot harder for a lot less. But, develop the right work habits early and you’ll be surprised at how soon you’ll be having weeks like the above – and fairly often at that. And by the way, most of the work is done within a few weeks or less, you’re generally paid in 30 days, sometimes receive a third to half up-front, and chasing your money is absolutely the exception, not the rule.

What Can You “Leverage”?

What’s your industry background or work experience? High-tech? Retail? Finance? Healthcare? Advertising? Wherever you come from, approach those industries first. Any business has tons of writing to be done, and someone who knows the lay of the land, the vernacular and the culture dramatically simplifies their life from the get-go.

A True “Shoestring Venture”

Oh, and here’s one of the best parts of this opportunity… Essentially, all you need is a computer, a printer, a small office (spare bedroom/den?), business card and an Internet connection. Oh, and pens, paper, and toner. Put it all together, it’s one of the lowest business startup investments (and ongoing overhead) you’ll find anywhere.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Career-Changer? Perhaps, you’re simply looking to take a completely new direction with your life. You’ve always felt you’re a good writer and now you want to put that skill to work. Great. That was my story.

At-Home Mom? Maybe you’re at-home mother looking for a flexible, lucrative business on the side that meshes nicely with motherhood. Just 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, commercial writing offers a lucrative and growing opportunity for those with even moderate talent and drive. Go for it!

 

 

 

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