Not Enough Freelance Writing Business to Keep You Busy and in the Money? Read this Article Immediately …

When a reporter asked him why he robbed banks, the late U.S. bank robber Willie Sutton famously said …

"Because that's where the money is."

(Sutton, years later in his biography, said the line was made up by an overzealous reporter.)

You could give the same answer to the question …

 … why should a freelance writer contact businesses?

It's a question Peter Bowerman addresses in his excellent book The Well-Fed Writer.

Bowerman breaks potential business clients into two categories: "End Users" and "Middlemen."

When you deal with an end user, it means you're dealing directly with the company who will be using your copy.

Middlemen are companies who hire you to provide copy to them, which they in turn use for their clients. Graphic designers are an example of a middlemen business.

While it doesn't specifically deal with copywriting niches, my goal with this article, with Bowerman's guidance, is to provide you with an overview of the businesses you should be targeting.

Plus, I'm hoping this article opens you up to new ideas and opportunities on where to find paying assignments to keep the paychecks flowing into your mailbox uninterrupted.

Let's start with …

End users

The good news is many businesses are missing in-house marketing talent. Either they never had it or recently downsized and now lack it. As a result, their employees wear several hats and are struggling to keep up with the things that are on their daily "to do" list.

  • Small and medium-sized businesses

    Bowerman says, in general, smaller firms pay relatively fast. Plus, they are more likely to view you as an expert and value your opinions. And while smaller companies generally don't have enough work to keep you occupied with work nonstop, Bowerman notes that a medium-sized firm (25 to 250+ employees) can keep you pretty busy.

    A big bonus you receive from helping businesses of this size is that you can have a real impact on their business. You become an important and indispensable member of their team. With your help, a small to medium-sized business can become a large firm.

    Price wise, the big advantage in dealing with end users directly is there is no "middleman fee" tacked onto your pricing. Which means you'll be more competitive.

    On the downside, smaller firms obviously have less work available than larger firms and are not always in a financial position to hire you. Also, smaller businesses tend to require more education in terms of what you do and how it will benefit their business.

  • Large businesses

    Larger companies are more likely to understand the value of what you do and are generally prepared to pay your price. They also look great in your portfolio. Do one job for them and you can say you've written for them, which can really put some oomph in your writing credentials.

    However, the wheels turn slower, plus there are usually more people with "their fingers in the pie," so to speak, so your copy won't always be published without alterations.

    Other opportunities within large companies

    Once you're in the door and regularly working for a large business, depending upon your focus and how busy you are, you might want to see if you can uncover additional opportunities. For instance, if you're working for someone in the marketing department, ask him or her for an introduction to the person in charge of other departments. Being referred from within the same company will give you a big advantage when you ask if they could use your freelance skills.

    Author and publisher Mary Ann Hahn has some great tips for seeking these types of opportunities:

    Customer Service Departments

    Writing they require: You can either create or edit customer service form letters. You could also suggest creating a newsletter for their customer service department, which could include an Employee of the Month feature, customer service–related articles, motivational quotes, and stress-reducing tips.

    Human Resources Department

    Writing they require: Company policy manuals, job descriptions, company event announcement fliers, employee benefit paperwork, and more. You can help them present a clear and professional message and image to the rest of the company.

    IT (Information Technology) Department

    Writing they require: User guides, documentation of system specifications, internal content for their employees, non-technical website content for their customers.

    Training Department

    Writing they require: Training and procedural manuals (creating new ones and editing existing ones), industry-specific glossaries or terms and anachronisms.

  • Not-For-Profits (NFPs)

    Writing they need done: Grant proposals, planning documents, educational materials, jargon-heavy information translated for public consumption, white papers (local economic development organizations, trade associations) and more.

    Small NFPs typically pay small or reduced rates, but larger non-for-profits are often flush with cash and willing to pay top dollar. They have lots of writing tasks they need done and often turn to freelancers to help them fulfill their needs.

    NFPs include: Community Service Organizations (The United Way, March of Dimes), Local Economic Development Organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Industry Boards) and Trade Associations (Industry Specific councils forums and associations).

    Because they often have firm budgets, most prefer flat rates for projects versus hourly rates. Most have jargon that if you don't currently know, you should familiarize yourself with before contacting them. Plus, you should always research them before you call. Check out the local paper for stories about them, visit their website. What events do they have coming up, if any?

On to the second category …


They know what they need and what a fair price for it is. They don't expect endless rewrites at no additional charge.

The beauty of middlemen is that they are always actively looking for work – and every time they find work, they potentially find work for you as well.

The big disadvantage is that sometimes your access to the actual end user may be restricted. And if that's not the case, you have one additional layer of people to deal with.

Plus, you don't have ownership of a project, so you often lose control of your copy. Changes may be made regarding your copy, and the marketing strategy you might suggest could be overruled before it even makes its way to the end user.

Also, because they have to be competitive and still make a profit, middlemen may try to beat you down a bit on price.

Warning: Never approach a company directly unless you have received the blessing of the middleman. You will probably not only lose the assignment you are working on, but also lose the middleman as a client.

  • Graphic Design Firms

    Bowerman says flatly that teaming up with graphic design houses has been the single most profitable strategy of his copywriting career.

    Very few graphic design firms have in-house copywriting talent. It makes good business sense for them to cultivate a stable of good writers who can service a wide range of needs.

    If your copywriting is so good that it ratchets up the quality of their offering, Bowerman has found that graphic design firms will lobby their client to also budget for copywriting.

    Bowerman suggests that it's a good idea to strike up friendships with as many top designers as you can. Not only for the present business, but many eventually go solo, so it could pay off for you in a big way if and when that happens.

  • Solo Designers

    These are definitely people whom you should be targeting, according to Bowerman.

    When you team up with a solo designer, both of you can instantly go from being service providers to problem solvers. Plus, together you can usually deliver work to clients at a fraction of the cost of big firms.

  • Advertising Agencies

    If you do get in the door with a larger advertising agency, Bowerman says that chances are you will not be working on the account of one of their high-profile clients. Bigger firms tend to think of freelancers as the hired help. More as sometimes necessary "cogs in the wheel" than vital strategic partners.

    It's more likely you'll be used to help them out with less prestigious things, such as their internal newsletter or some web content.

    Bowerman suggests that it's better to target smaller agencies. You'll have a better chance of working on larger, more prestigious projects, plus your contribution will be more appreciated.

  • Marketing Firms

    Although some do specialize in a specific niche, marketing firms tend to cover a broad spectrum of industries. Many keep their employee list very lean and have a big need for qualified freelancers that they can bring in to help them. It can't hurt to call them up and introduce yourself and what you can do for them. If nothing comes of it, work out a plan to keep in touch with them.

  • Public Relations Firms

    While they might have people in place to write their press releases, public relations firms are still worth targeting. They may require newspaper articles, print advertising copy, speeches written, etc.

  • Event Production Companies

    Event production companies produce conferences, trade shows, conventions, meetings, and product launches. They have a need for someone to help them write proposals, conference literature, the writing and editing of speaker comments, event scripting, etc.

  • Creative Temp Agencies

    These are organizations that supply ad agencies, design firms, corporate marketing and web departments with talent. If you type "creative temp agencies" into Google, you should be able to find some agencies in your area. They generally pay less, but if they like what you do, they could offer you a steady stream of work.

  • Technical Staffing Companies

    Writing projects (software documentation guides and user manuals) that technical staffing companies need could take up to six months to complete (and pay between $30,000 and $60,000). These companies usually take between 10 and 30 percent commission off the top.

As you can see, the work opportunity for freelance writers is very deep. There is a wide variety of writing that needs to be done by copywriters, web writers, grant writers, technical writers, etc.

The need is so great because many companies have trimmed their workforce, finding it more economical to bring in freelance writers on assignment than pay for a full-time employee.

Go through this list and put together a marketing strategy to get yourself in front of the right decision-makers and you'll be well on your way to become – as Peter Bowerman says – a well-fed writer.

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Published: May 25, 2012

4 Responses to “Not Enough Freelance Writing Business to Keep You Busy and in the Money? Read this Article Immediately...”

  1. Hi John

    Great information, good job.

    Question: How-to-make the determination...not-to-by-pass the Middleman and to know they actually have one?.


    Regards Larry Pelley


  2. Great article John and perfect timing. I have The Well-Fed Writer. Will have to re-visit it. Love that book.
    My goal is to be a well-fed writer.

    Guest (deb)

  3. Thanks for all these ideas. I'm just getting started and have made some phone calls but didn't know where to start...recently finished the AWAI copywriting program.

    Guest (Wanda Kight)

  4. John,

    I want you to know how much I appreciate this article: it was one of those rare, value-added pieces that allows the reader to hit the ground running.

    Indeed, there is a lot of commonality in the "marketing mix" of public relations, advertising, corporate communications and marketing.

    In fact, there can be a lot of overlap between what these agencies do on a daily basis. Many are looking for the copywriting skills of professional writers and can pay top dollar for it.

    Bang on target.

    Archan Mehta

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