Finding Your Niche as a Business Writer

Business Writing — A Wide-Open Market

Freelancers can make it big in business writing. It’s a wide open market where you can earn a good income. You don’t need a degree in business — just a bit of talent, some effort, and the willingness to write to please clients and editors.

Some business freelancers write only for corporate clients; others write for corporate clients, trade journals and business publications. I found trade journals the easiest market to start out in as a new freelancer because there are so many of them. It’s hard to find a business or industry without at least one publication covering its field.

The pay rates don’t compare with top consumer magazines but some pay reasonably well. Once editors know you can write acceptable articles for their readers, it’s possible to write regularly for those publications.

After I had a few dozen articles in trade journals, other writing jobs began coming my way. Business people read trade journals to keep abreast of industry happenings and when my writing became familiar to them, some approached me with offers of corporate work. The same thing can happen to you.

When I learned that I was expected to set my own rates for corporate writing, I turned to writer friends for help. They shared the going rate for various services, and they also warned me that many new freelancers underprice themselves, a warning I’ll pass along to you. You may need to network to find out the going rate for your area and price your services accordingly.

Corporate work can be dull and boring at times, but if you don’t mind writing about pumps or machines or ink or soybeans, you can keep the paychecks coming in. On the down side, there are no bylines, clients can be demanding, and the hours long. Trade-offs balance things a bit — you are your own boss (in a manner of speaking), you can plan vacations to fit your own schedule, and the job is as relatively secure (as long as your clients doesn’t lose their clients).

Manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors and service businesses hire freelancers to write and edit news releases, speeches, corporate histories, newsletters, employee publications, corporate scripts and product literature, and content for web sites and blogs. It’s often more cost efficient for them to hire a freelancer than to pay employees to do those jobs.

How to you get your foot in the door? In his Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert W. Bly tells about sending direct mail pieces to 500 potential customers to launch his freelance career, an approach that also demonstrated his writing abilities. But there are other ways.

A phone call to the person in charge of human resources at a local business may turn up copywriting or editing work. Small insurance companies and service firms were a source of fairly steady work for me early on, as were distribution firms. You might also tap former employers, co-workers and other business contacts for leads to assignments.

When phoning any company, stress that you’re not job hunting — you just want to talk with those who may need freelance writing or editing help.

For advertising and public relations firms, ask to speak to the creative director or the person who assigns freelance work. Request an informational interview and take a portfolio or samples of your work to the interview. And even if that company has no work for you at the time, ask for referrals to other firms and other possible jobs. If you are persistent, you may be able to connect with an agency or corporate clients in a relatively short time.

Breaking into trade journals and business magazines is fairly easy because many editors are hungry for ideas and well crafted articles for their publications. Page through the business and trade journal sections of Writer’s Market or Writer’s Handbook to learn what editors want. Read the writer’s guidelines and study at least three issues of any publication before sending a query to the editor.

Associations, chambers of commerce-sponsored publications, local business newspapers and community magazines also buy business articles — I’ve written for all of those markets. Corporate clients and agencies often refer freelancers to potential clients, and it never hurts to remind any business contact that you are available for assignments. Those referrals are an important component of a growing freelance business.
Please leave a comment.
© 2007 Laverne Daley. All rights reserved.
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6 Comments on “Finding Your Niche as a Business Writer”

  1. chocmoon says:

    I have done this type of writing before and have twirled it about in my head to try again (because it does pay well), but I’m not sure I want to.

    Yes, it can be dull. I only enjoyed certain types of clients, such as those that were performing a helpful service like Gamma Knife. But, insurance companies and lawyers were always the most boring to me.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. ldaley says:

    Insurance companies and lawyers–I do agree. But you’re right about it paying well. Another perk: sometimes you get to meet very interesting people, and sometimes you get offered plum writing assignments that make you happy to be a freelancer. And repeat business can be lucrative. Pays for lots of shoes and cornflakes.

    Chocmoon, it’s good to hear from you again. Any luck with MW yet?

  3. chocmoon says:

    Ha, I could use some more shoes and corn flakes!

    Haven’t pitched to MW again. I actually got busy trying to meet a couple of deadlines and now I’m too distracted with Christmas shopping. I need to get back to queries!

  4. ldaley says:

    I love everything about Christmas, even the shopping, but it does distract from work. That’s okay. We can write even more in the new year when the winter doldrums really set in and it’s too yucky to go outdoors. Hope you have a very happy Christmas! LD

  5. Euphrosene says:

    Good piece, Laverne… and a timely refresh. Euphrosene

  6. ldaley says:

    Thanks for your comment, Euphrosene. Yes, it’s good to be reminded now and then about niche writing and how well it pays. Sharpens your focus, so to speak, and helps you appreciate those business contacts.

    Hope you come back here often.

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