Although I doubt Peter Bowerman, who wrote the Well-Fed Writer, coined the term, corporate writing, he’s certainly been influential in defining it and popularizing it. From a freelancer’s point of view it’s any writing you’re hired to do for a corporation or for any business.
It's slightly different from the term, marcom, which specifically refers to marketing communications. Corporate writing is the umbrella term that covers any business writing a freelancer might do for a corporation, business or even a non-profit.
For example, you might write the content of web pages or blogs for a company. If you develop the ability to write copy or advertising that sells, marcom, you can pretty much write your own ticket. You might get hired to write abstracts of almost anything a business writes or wants its people to read. Catalog copy is often written by freelancers. Even business letters and email can sometimes be turned over to a freelance writer.
Some writers develop specialties in business or corporate writing, like understanding the ins and outs of insurance or disaster management or grant writing, or… well almost anything you can think of.
The sales process
The sales process for corporate writing is different than the one you use writing for magazines. Although you’ll sometimes find these sorts of jobs advertised on Craigslist or other job boards, your best bet is to contact the companies you’d like to write for directly.
With the internet there need be no geographic boundaries limiting where you can sell your writing, it may be easier to get started in your city or town. That way you can arrange face-to-face meetings when they seem advisable.
You can Google ample lists of businesses in your area with a search like: businesses in San Diego. You’ll find more businesses in your area than you might suspect. Even if you’re in an extremely remote area, you can determine what businesses are relatively close to you.
Start with who you know
You already know people in business. Starting with them is a good place to begin. Make a list of all the people you know who either run a business or work for a business – which is about everyone actually. Some are obviously more likely to be good leads than others. So order your list that way.
Start contacting them one-by-one by phone or email. Explain briefly that you are now doing business writing professionally and ask them who in their company you should contact about your new business. Ask too if it’s okay if you use their name as a reference. And it never hurts to also ask who else they think you should be contacting.
Keep track of the answers and referrals, maybe on a spread sheet or some sort of contact management system. Both Outlook and Gmail have content management capability and can be good ways to start.
Make some deal with yourself like contacting 5 people on your list every day.
As you meet new people keep adding them to your list.
Are you exploiting friends?
I’m sometimes asked if contacting people you know about looking for corporate writing work is exploiting them. I don’t’ think so. After all, I love to help when I can; most people do. You’re giving someone the opportunity to help. And you're not asking them to buy anything from you, just if they're willing to share some information. Of course, you don’t’ want to bug them or insist, but asking even an acquaintance about any work opportunities they might lead you to is totally appropriate.
The actual sales process consists, in general, of 5 steps: your approach, your follow up, your pitch, your delivery, and finally, asking for referrals.
1 - Your approach
Unless you’re working from your friend’s and acquaintances list or from a referral, you’re going to be making an approach to strangers. The easiest way, believe it or not, is by calling them.
The idea of making what are known in the sales world as cold contacts frightens many writers. Their minds seem to immediately leap to the cold calls we all receive at home, usually around dinner time, from sleazy-sounding sales people. None of us want to be like that!
First of all, you won’t be calling folks at home.
Second, you’re not a sleazy sales person trying to rip people off or talk them into buying something they don’t want, don’t need and probably is too expensive.
You are a professional offering needed services to organizations who are made up of professional people.
I can’t prove it, but my experience suggests that if you take any list of 100 businesses, at least ten of them could use a professional freelance writer right now or soon. Of that ten, probably four or five are actually ready and willing to hire a writer. You’re looking for the business that will hire you to write and pay you your fee. That’s all. You've got a skill they need and want.
That said, there really are only four methods of finding and contacting the people who need your skills and are willing to pay you for them:
Cold calling - You’ll call from a list, with a script, and track your results. Here’s what I suggested in an article about cold calling on AboutFreelanceWriting.com:
- Get your list together in advance so it’s ready when you want to begin your telesales efforts.
- Keep track of your calls. You need to know who you called when and what the result was. There are software programs that will help you, but in the beginning, pencil and paper or a spreadsheet will work.
- Set an achievable goal, like I’ll dial the phone 10 times today or I’ll call until I reach three people. It may take a few days to discover exactly what you will do, but when you’re starting a telephone campaign you should be making calls every day.
- Know what you’re asking for. In most cases you probably want an appointment – an opportunity to show off your writing portfolio. Although don’t be afraid to close the sale right on the phone; it happens.
- Outline a script of what you’ll say. Your script is to make sure you know what to say when someone answers the phone. You can write it out word for word, but if you read it you need to do so in a way that sounds spontaneous. An outline which will remind you of the points you want to cover can help you sound spontaneous. And yes, you need your outline script with you every time you call – for those moments when you get distracted. (You’ll probably want to read Building a Cold Calling Script for Writers.)
- Stand up when you make the call. You’ll sound and be more energized.
- Smile as you make contact. It’s amazing how a smile makes you sound better. Telesales pros put mirror where they can see it to remind themselves to smile.
- If you have an attitude that you’re calling to give, to offer to help, to solve a problem rather than just to get a paying client, you’ll feel much better about making the calls, and you’ll probably sell more as well.
Cold calling isn’t easy, but it can be fun and productive - WhenI reviewed Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Writer; Lori Widmer commented that cold calling or telesales (which Bowerman recommends) is easier when you remember you’re connecting with a real person, and, if you’re smart, making the effort to get to know them a bit.
She's absolutely right!
Cold email – You can also email businesses. In terms of numbers, you’ll probably do 200 or so emails before you get a nibble. It will really help if you have a portfolio of credits and references on a website that you include in the email so they can simply click on it to see your site.
Remember that emails get skimmed rather than read word-for-word.
The subject line is most important and will determine if your email is even opened. You want a subject line that tells them you can solve their problem. Consider something like these:
5 Ways to Hire a Writer – info they can use with a gentle pitch from you. A series of helpful emails like this are likely to get you some calls. You can repeat the articles on your website which will let you send another round of cold emails with links to multiple articles.
I’m Anne Wayman & I Write For Businesses Like Yours – many people will want to know what you mean by ‘businesses like yours.’ They are asking themselves, one way or another, ‘does she know what business I’m in?’ If you pick your targets carefully and show in the email that you understand their business and link to at least a couple of samples on your site (even if you haven’t yet sold them) you’re likely to make a few solid contacts that will eventually result in some business.
The best way to come up with the right subject line and email text is to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Imagine what they might need in the way of writing and speak to that.
Snail Mail – also known as direct marketing follows the same principles as an email. It can get expensive to mail hundreds of letters. You can spread the costs by mailing on a schedule, say 5 a day 5 days a week. You might also consider post cards.
Snail mail will work best if you do a phone follow up. In fact a phone follow up is a good idea no matter what method you use.
Knocking on doors – When you market this way you pick a block of businesses, arm yourself with business cards and maybe a single page brochure and enter every business asking for the owner or the manager. Again, you’re looking for the person who can hire you.
Don’t overlook light industrial areas for door knocking. I've found both clients and fascinating things to write about in these areas and they receive far fewer solicitations and may be more open to you.
Your goal with each of these methods is to uncover any needs the organization may have for writing and the name of the person who can hire you. You want an appointment with that person.
2 - Follow up
In most cases you’ll need to follow up on each contact. In fact, it’s generally said that a potential customer needs to see your name as many as seven times before they’ll buy.
If you made a cold call, email them, then call back, etc. If you knocked on doors, call them a week or 10 days later, then send them a post card.
It can be more direct to simply pick up the phone and call as your follow up. Again, you’ll want to write a script which is different than the cold call script. This time you’re not calling cold, but following up on whatever was said initially. If you didn't get the name of the person who hires freelancers ask for that person now. Your goal is to get an appointment.
Keep following up every week or so for maybe as many as ten times. Of course, if someone asks you to quit contacting them you do. If you really believe you won’t make a sale, move that name to a list you contact maybe annually.
You can also use this approach at trade shows, stopping at each both.
3 – The pitch
The pitch is what you say when you’re actually in front of the person who can hire you. Usually this is as a result of an appointment and is face-to-face, although it can happen over the phone.
Your goal in this meeting is two-fold. You want to understand what kind of writing they need and if you can do it, work toward getting hired at your price. That means lots of listening and asking clarifying questions.
While it’s tempting to keep talking about yourself and what you can do, that will rarely if ever work. Listening is the key.
You may be able to suggest what you can do for them during this conversation, but it’s more likely you’ll want to think about what you've learned and come back to them with a specific proposal. The proposal would define the scope of work, the schedule, the number of reviews and the price. This, of course, forms the basis of the contract and in fact, can serve as the contract in some cases.
4 – Your delivery
Once you're hired, you want to deliver your best writing on time and on budget. That means meeting any deadlines for both original and revised copy, getting the project signed off on and getting paid.
5 – Asking for referrals and testimonials
Once you've gotten paid in full, it’s time to first ask for additional work from that client and to ask for referrals. More work from the client may have become obvious during the process, especially if the writing job is fairly large. On the other hand, if you’ve written a single press release, you will probably have to ask ‘what’s next.’
Asking for referrals is simple too. A question like ‘who else do you know who could use my services’ will work just fine.
It’s also a good idea to ask for a testimonial that you can put on your website. Often the client will agree but you’ll need to write it for them or it will never get done.
Obviously, there’s a great deal more to corporate writing, but this is enough to get you started.
Assignment 7 - Make a mini marketing plan
Pick one method of contacting new clients and decide how many you’ll contact each week. Post that on the forum, then let us know both if you did it or not and what the results were.
When you tell us your plans it's likely we'll be able to make some helpful suggestions or at least let you know you're not alone. When you post the results we'll either celebrate with you or commiserate in a supportive way. We've all succeeded and failed at marketing, but we've found a way to get it done.
Forum link to: Corporate Writing