August 11, 2011

Bread-and-Butter Writing: Convert Your Skills to Cash by Writing for the Marketplace

by Leslie Rowe

You’re a good writer. You enjoy fingers flying over keys, ideas brimming, words pouring onto pages. Your novel’s plot thickens and your non-fiction stirred interest at that writer’s conference.
Meanwhile, the electric bill skyrocketed after summer’s heat wave, and groceries fly out of your pantry faster than your teens wear out jeans. Writing is your passion, but right now, eating is your priority.

Why not convert your writing skills to cash? The marketplace is crying for good writers, and while there’s definitely a learning curve, you have what it takes to succeed: talent. 
What can I write?
As a freelance copywriter, here are categories of requests that keep my phone ringing:

  • Resumes – higher unemployment rates mean that more people need a powerful resume.
  • Website content – businesses need websites. Site developers expect businesses to provide copy, or words for the website. Connect with website developers to find these jobs.   
  • Blogs – businesses join the blogosphere to position themselves as experts, develop a loyal customer base, and improve search engine optimization (SEO). Why not approach a business and offer to write their blog?
  • Newsletters – service providers (attorneys, healthcare providers, real estate professionals, etc.), use newsletters to reach clients. Team up with a graphic designer for a writing/layout package.
  • Marketing collateral (brochures, sales sheets) – graphic designers make it beautiful but copywriters write the words.
  • Editing – somebody started the project but they need a professional to finish.
  • Ghost writing – I get two types of calls for ghost writing:
    1. A business professional needs an article for their trade publication and needs a wrter to make it great. Or,
    2. A person has an incredible life experience and needs a writer for their book.
Beware of number two unless they are willing to hire you outright. Some hope that after you write it, they’ll share their one-day profits with you because their story is a bestseller. Ask for a fixed price or hourly rate.

What’s there to learn?
There’s more to learn before you dive in. I recommend The Copywriter's Handbook, Third Edition: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly. The table of contents hints at the meat between the covers:

Writing to sell requires creative skills, but it helps to understand the needs of the business and how to target your audience. Bly’s book offers foundational lessons to help launch your writing-for-cash endeavor.

Features versus benefits
Writing for the marketplace usually means helping a business sell or inform. One of the most basic writing-to-sell concepts is known as features versus benefits.

Let’s say I’m selling a black dress.
The features of the dress: it’s black, sleeveless, knee-length, and made with pure silk.

The benefits of the dress: it’s slimming, alluring, and makes me look sophisticated and beautiful. (I’ll take that one!)
When you’re writing to sell, interview the business owner. Find out everything you can about the features. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask: what’s in it for me? Does it save time, money, or energy? Make my life easier? Make me look better, feel better, act better? Focus on benefits first and follow up with features.

How much do I charge?
Before determining rates, remember that your income dollar is not your pocketed dollar, assuming that you report to Uncle Sam. Self-employed individuals are expected to contribute both the employee and employer share of FICA, or 15.3%, not to mention your income tax percentage. Freelance writing rates vary widely, with $25/hour being on the low side and $100/hour (and up!) on the high side. The busier you get, the more you can charge.

Where can I find clients?
Let people know you’re open for business by telling everyone you know. Announce it on Facebook. Attend chamber of commerce mixers and pass out your business cards. Connect with website developers. Answer writing job ads with a freelance proposition. Create a website and pay for search engine optimization. Hang resume flyers at colleges. If you provide excellent writing and amazing service, they’ll come back for more.

A means to an end
Writing from your heart can be far more rewarding than writing to promote other people’s businesses. But if you have to work, why not hone your writing skills while you are at it? Personally, I hope to transition to writing more about my faith. But meanwhile, I’m earning a decent living, my clients appreciate me, and I work in my pajamas. Not bad for a day job, right?

Leslie J. Rowe is a freelance business and creative writer. Her tired-but-still-working business website can be found at Her neglected-but-now-resurrected blog can be found at Leslie has been writing full-time in the business community for nearly ten years, and has gingerly stepped into the waters of inspirational writing. Married for 27 years, she and her husband have three grown children. When she’s not writing for business clients or creative pursuits, Leslie enjoys bike riding, Starbucks with friends, and walking on the beach in her hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

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