Before you start handing out business cards and trying to find freelance work, it’s important to understand why companies hire freelance writers.
Companies hire freelance writers for a number of reasons. When a company downsizes, for example, writers often are among the first to be let go. It isn’t because the company doesn’t need them. It’s just that management often considers documentation to be secondary to the actual product the company produces.
Even after the fulltime writers are gone, though, the work they were doing still has to be done. And so, companies turn to freelance writers.
You might be asking why companies would lay off their staff writers and then turn around and hire freelancers (who sometimes are the very writers the company just laid off). There are many economic and business reasons for hiring freelancers instead of employees. For one, although freelancers make more money per hour than employees do, the company’s actual cost is less for freelancers than it is for full-time employees. With employees, the company has to pay for vacation time, sick days, and downtime when there just isn’t that much for the employee writer to do. In addition, the company has to provide benefits, such as health insurance and pay half of their FICA.
When you add all of this together with the employee’s salary plus providing a space and equipment, you’ll see that companies pay a lot of money for their employees. When companies hire freelancers, they’re only paying the fee that the freelancers charge, which is only for the time that the freelancers are actually working.
Second, full-time employees can be a legal problem for companies. If a company hires an employee who doesn’t work out for any reason, there’s a chance that the employee may sue the company when let go. Some of these lawsuits are fair, but some aren’t. Regardless of whether the lawsuits are fair or not, companies have to pay lawyers to resolve them. Also, disgruntled employees could damage the company’s reputation or property.
Working with freelancers is less risky for companies. Your clients hire you to work for a very specific amount of time or a specific project. You are eager to do your best in hopes of getting more contracts in the future, but when the project is done, if the company doesn’t have another project waiting for you, the relationship is ended. It’s a clean and simple business arrangement.
Another reason companies hire freelancers is that sometimes they simply have more work to be done than people to do it. It makes more sense to hire people who will be available only when they need the extra hands, and then will be gone when the need no longer is there.
Freelancers also can provide skills that companies only need occasionally. For example, if a company is applying for a grant and doesn’t plan to do this more than once, it makes more sense to hire a freelancer to write the grant proposal than to hire a grant writer, then let that person go when the grant proposal is written.
One of the best ways to find clients when you’re first starting out is to look at the people you already know.
Many freelancers find their first client by looking at their last job. If you left your job on good terms and were honest about why you were quitting your job, there’s a chance that the company you left may pay you to continue working for them as a freelancer.
If you’ve kept In touch with co-workers who have gone to work for other companies, call them, even if you weren’t the best of friends. Tell them about your new business, and then ask them who you might contact at their new company about your services.
Always remember that all business is basically “people” business. Don’t overlook anyone when you’re trying to find clients. Do you work on volunteer projects? (By the way, volunteering is a great way to get to know influential people who can help you with your freelancing career – especially if you volunteer to do the writing and promotion duties for those projects.)
Think about the people you’ve worked with on those projects. Are any of them affiliated with companies that you’d like to work for? Ask for their help in getting your foot in the door. The worst that can happen is that they say “no.”
Think about the organizations that you belong to. Are there people at your church, for example, who work for companies you’d like to work for? Call them, tell them about your business, and then ask for suggestions about how to do work with their company. You’ll find that most people will be happy to help you.
Join the Chamber of Commerce and go to their meetings. Chambers of Commerce is great place to meet other business people and gain new contacts.
Above all, network, network, network! Tell everyone you know about your business. You never know where your next job might come from. Mention that you freelance at parties, when you’re standing in line at the grocery store waiting to check out, and so forth. Be sure to carry some of your business cards with you at all times so you can hand them out if anyone is interested.
Don’t forget resources for freelancers on the Internet. Here are the best freelancing sites that every freelancer should check out today:
Also, there are several job boards that don’t charge a fee to let you see advertised job openings. This is a great place to find out which companies use technical writers. If a company has a listing for a technical writer job, there’s a chance that they might hire freelancers too. Here are the best job boards that every freelancer should check out today:
There also are several websites that say they offer listings of freelance projects that you can see and bid on after paying them a fee. I’m not a fan of these sites, and here’s why: Because they’re charging you a fee, they generally aren’t charging the company or individuals who are listing jobs. They let them list jobs for free so they can get more listings, but they don’t appear to screen the types of jobs being listed or the people who are listing them. Often, the listings are for jobs that don’t have anything to do with writing, or are listed by individuals who don’t have the money to pay you to do the work. Even if there are legitimate writing projects listed, there are so many people bidding on the jobs, the jobs pay so little, they’re not worth your time.
While it’s difficult to find sites that provide good job leads for free or a reasonable price, they do exist. Because new sites start up and old sites are deleted, you should use your search engine to find websites that list jobs for freelance writers. Be aware, however, that you may or may not find great projects there. Some people make their living writing web content and blogs, but if that isn’t what you want to do, you may have to be persistent to find work that you want.
In recent years, though, you have to be more careful about the jobs you accept over the Internet. Be especially wary of companies that ask you upfront to send them money or ask you for personal information, such as your checking account number. Above all else, remember the old caveat: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
According to the Society for Technical Communicators, the largest sector hiring technical writers is the computer industry.
All types of companies hire freelance technical writers, though, so if there aren’t any software or computer manufacturers close to you, look to other areas. Large telecommunications companies use a lot of computers and software. They often need technical writers to write their user manuals. Banks also hire technical writers to write the documentation needed to meet Sarbanes-Oxley requirements or procedures guides for their employees, or user manuals for their computer systems. Small companies often hire freelancers to write company newsletters, advertising brochures, and training courses.
When you’re looking at the types of companies that might hire you, you can categorize them by industry or size. It may be easier to get your foot in the door with a smaller company, but eventually, you’ll probably want to move up to medium-sized and large companies because they usually are more stable and pay better.
To locate companies that you might be interested in working with, go to your local library and check The Advertiser Red Book and the Thomas Register, Both of these are valuable resources that can provide you with a wealth of information about companies that you might want to contact.
Before you send information to any of the contact names you find in these books, however, be sure to call the company and make sure those people are still there and working at the same jobs.
Another way to find out the names of people to contact is to call the companies and ask. If a company has a technical writing department, ask for the name of the supervisor. If the company doesn’t have a technical writing department, ask for the name of the head of the marketing or communications departments.
Contact the Human Resources department as a last resort, since they often act at gatekeepers for vendors. They may tell you that they’ll pass your name on to the right person, but often, this is more involved than necessary. The person you’re talking to may have good intentions, but he or she has many things to do and it’s easy to forget to pass along the name of a potential vendor.
Human Resources can help you best in another way. Ask them what the company’s vendor policies or who you should contact to find out about the company’s vendor policies. Since nearly all companies and prime contractors have preferred vendor lists, getting on the approved vendor lists of several different companies can get you a lot more work, especially government contract work.
To get on an approved vendor list, you usually need to fill out an evaluation form. There may be other requirements as well. There’s no standard form to fill out or standard procedures to follow. Each company has its own requirements for their preferred vendors.
If the company has a purchasing office, that’s often who handles the vendors. Contact the purchasing department and ask what their requirements are. Minority-owned businesses often are given some preference in contracts, so be sure to look for that and any other advantage you can give yourself!
When you receive your evaluation form, be sure to fill it out carefully and thoroughly, especially if you’re applying for preferred vendor status with a government agency.
Today, companies expect businesses to have websites. Even If you plan to do business only with local companies, you still should have a website. Who knows? You may attract customers in other locations, including some who may be interested in working with you as a telecommuter.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to build a website. In fact, since most clients expect technical writer, to be able to use HTML editors, such as Microsoft Expression or Adobe Dreamweaver, building your own website gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills.
If you don’t have the skills to develop a distinctive template for your website, you can purchase one on the Internet and customize it. Then again, if you don’t want to do the work yourself, you can either hire a professional graphic artist who develops websites or you can contact students at a local community college to see if anyone would like to take on your project.
At minimum, your website should tell people about your company and what services and products you offer. It also should have a contact page that enables people to send you an email from your website. You want to give people a reason to visit your website, so offer some information (such as tutorials) and refresh your content often.
A website is a great place to showcase your portfolio as well. Sea writing samples, and then save them as PDF to preserve the formatting and get the best resolution, and then upload them to your website.
Instead of printing a paper newsletter to mail to your customers, consider publishing your quarterly newsletter on your website. This is one way to add fresh content to your website and give visitors a reason to visit your website more often.
Don’t forget to publish your press releases on your website, even if you mail paper copies to the media. Writers and researchers often search website press releases to see if there is a story worth telling.
You also can use your website to find out more about your customers and potential customers by conducting polls, customer surveys, and questionnaires.
Another way to make contact with more people is by starting a forum, users group, or message board on your website. For example, you might start a message board that enables people to get quick answers to questions about business writing. Groups such as these quickly become a community and their users will come to your site more often and stay longer.
Finally, add “feeds” from your Facebook and other social media accounts to your website to expand your audience even more.
You can have the best skills in the world, but if you’re living in an area where there’s no demand for those skills, you’ll have to adapt to the market or move. In cities that have little technology, there’s very little demand for technical writers, for example.
If you live in a low-tech city, you’ll probably have trouble finding work writing user manuals. You might however, find a lot of work writing ad copy for the local businesses. If you live close to a city where a lot of large corporations are based, you’re more likely to find work as a technical writer and a copy writer as well.
The first places to look for clients are the jobs you’ve held, the companies provide products or services you’re familiar with, and the organizations belong to. These are the places where you’ll have the most contacts and the most knowledgeable when pitching your skills.
Take out a piece of paper and make a fist of ail of the types of documents you could write for the industry that you’re most familiar with. After you’ve made a list of the types of documents that are written in your industry, take it a step further and identify other types of projects you could work on, such as multi-media presentations, website content, and advertising copy. Try to list all of the services you could provide that companies in your industry might need.
Although I’ve advised you to be careful about working with smaller companies, you may need to do so when you’re starting your freelancing career. Smaller companies need the same products and services that large companies need, but they often can’t offer enough work to make it worthwhile for large PR agencies to work with them. Just be sure that you have a good understanding with them about how much you charge and other conditions of working with them.
Protect yourself when working with a new client (big or small) by limiting the amount of work you do for them in the beginning. If you only do one small job for them and the client doesn’t pay you, it’s not as devastating as taking on a large project that demands your full attention for several weeks, and then not being paid.
If people like you, your work ethic and your writing style, they’re likely to ask you to work on projects other than those you’re most familiar with writing. You may get your first job with a company writing user manuals, and then be asked to write annual reports or marketing copy, for example.
While you should identify the type of writing that you’d like to do, don’t shy away from doing other types of writing. You may find that you are even better at that type of writing than you are at technical writing.