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Culling Corporate Clients

You can break into the high-paying business market if you know where to look and how to sell your skills.

So you want to break into the corporate market, but you've never written for business clients before. How do you get started? You're probably thinking, That's an impossible market for me; I'm a magazine writer. Business clients want only writers with business experience.

Logical. But not true. In every market and endeavor, from publishing to brain surgery, there's a segment of potential clients willing and eager to hire beginners.

Think about it: Every brain surgeon performs one operation that's his first. There has to be a patient for that operation. Therefore, many patients have brain surgery performed by a surgeon who's never done such an operation. If people are willing to hire a rookie brain surgeon, is it so inconceivable that they'll hire a rookie writer?

As a rookie, you can offset your lack of experience and credentials with flexibility and a willingness to accommodate requests that an experienced business writer may not offer. You may also charge a lower fee, agree to a tighter deadline or make yourself available to meet with the client on short notice.

Once you have a few of these projects under your belt, you'll have the writing samples you need to sell yourself to clients who demand more proof of your expertise.

CHOOSE A MARKET

You may prefer to write primarily for Fortune 500 clients. There are several reasons for this. First, the person you're dealing with, typically a marketing or corporate communications manager, is a communications professional. She understands what goes into good writing and can recognize quality work when she sees it.

Large corporations are accustomed to hiring professional writers and paying the fees they charge. They also have an ongoing need for writing for a wide variety of projects, including company newsletters, annual reports, Web sites, e-mail marketing messages, sales brochures, press releases, articles and speeches. There's a lot of work to keep you busy.

Small businesses are another potential market. These companies tend to need marketing advice in addition to copy. If you're the type of writer who also enjoys playing the role of marketing consultant, this may be for you.

Small businesses typically want copy that can generate immediate sales results: e-mail marketing messages, Web sites, sales letters, brochures and ads. Know that small companies typically have a limited volume of work and may lack the budget to pay the fees you want to charge. Also, the person you're dealing with, likely a business owner or manager, may have little appreciation for writing or your skill. They may ask for rewrites for reasons that make no sense to you, on copy that doesn't need it. This can be a source of frustration to a business writer.

PROSPECTING FOR NEW BUSINESS

Where do you find your first client? Start with your network of family, friends and relatives. Do any of them have a business you could write for? Try doing some pro bono work to get your first assignment. Volunteer to write copy for a nonprofit whose cause you support.

Target industries in which you're knowledgeable. For example, if you've published articles on health care, approach your local hospital about doing PR writing.

You can sell your freelance business writing services to local businesses, national companies or both. Call up the marketing manager, corporate communications director or, in a smaller company, the owner. Ask if they have writing needs you can fill.

It may take several calls to get through. Be persistent. Don't take silence as rejection: They may be too busy to return your call, but keep trying. If they're not interested, they'll tell you, and then you can move on.

Send letters offering your services as a business writer. If you have writing samples that are at all relevant, offer to send clips and a résumé. Relevant samples may include business documents written for your current employer or articles you've written on topics related to your potential client's products.

If you don't have any clips, take a copywriting or advertising course at a local college. Print clean copies of your corrected assignments and put them into a portfolio. If you're currently employed, explore whether there's writing you can do for your company.

MOVING UP FROM ROOKIE TO PRO

I tell freelance writers who are breaking into the corporate market for the first time to do anything required to get your first three clients. Be flexible. Agree to anything. Your fee is unimportant because what you need from these first three clients are:

  • a client list
  • three sample pieces for your portfolio
  • testimonials from three satisfied customers
  • three clients willing to serve as references.

Once you've scored your first clients, you'll have the credentials to move from the rank of rookie to professional. Then, when prospects ask, "Who are your clients?" you have names. When they ask, "Have you done this type of work?" you'll answer yes with confidence. When they ask for samples of your work, you'll have solid business writing samples to send.

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