By Thomas Temin
The rise of social media and other new forms of marketing have created tremendous freelance opportunities for former business-to-business editors. Even Fortune 500 companies are leanly staffed and look to freelancers for a lot of their writing requirements.
I create white papers, custom supplements, speeches, guest editorials, blogs — all ghost written for someone else’s byline. The material is important to the companies that retain me, and I respect that clients aren’t fooling around when they commission a piece for thousands of dollars.
Here’s what I would advise clients if I could:
1. Writing has nothing in common with producing globoid worm gears or candling eggs. It is not a production job, and you need to leave reasonable turnaround times. For me writing is hard work, and I sweat out every sentence. One client gave me a week to write something and gave themselves three weeks to review it. Tip for writers: Push back on unreasonable deadlines. Working from the outside, you soon realize how much effort Corporate America spends on internal process totally unrelated to the outside world. Don’t let it become your problem.
2. Know your own requirements. How often I’ve listened to clients, talked to their subject-matter experts and submitted a draft, only to find out they had no idea what they really wanted. Tip for writers: Get an outline, and make sure they know you’ll follow it.
3. If you hired an outside writer, don’t suddenly turn nine internal people into writer/editors. I once did a 2,000-word piece for a major financial services company. The returned document, weeks later, had so many pages of “track changes” gibberish that when they asked me what I thought, I told them, “Why don’t you hit the ‘accept all changes’ button and I’ll just send my invoice?” Tip for writers: Try to work with a single point of contact, and in your proposal build in reasonable rework to cover your hours. But also know when to push back.
4. Stick to your schedule, or at least close to it. I’ve had pieces go into the ether at companies and never come out. One client needed an op-ed piece on a pressing public policy issue overnight. I wrote it. They liked it. But I should have known better when they said all they had to do was run it through legal. The piece was never seen again. Tip for writers: Invoice on initial acceptance, or the project will never end.
5. Don’t forget, we freelancers are very small businesses. Help expedite the process of getting us in your system. Tip for writers: Until you’ve gone through the vendor registration system of giant, publicly traded aerospace company, you haven’t lived. Build all of that hassle into your rate.
6. Remember that freelance writers are people, too. I guess I’m doing well by my clients, because I get regular repeat business. But I rarely hear, “Nice job” or “great writing” or anything like that. I’m well paid, but I’d like a little positive feedback once in a while. Tip for writers: Forget about approbation. Acceptance, having your pieces used and having clients call back with more are what you need to feed the family.
Thomas R. Temin is a broadcaster, writer, editor and consultant with 30 years of publishing experience in media and information technology products and services. He is co-host of “The Federal Drive” with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp, a weekday morning news and talk program on Federal News Radio 1500 AM in Washington D.C. Tom authors the twice-a-month FedInsider newsletter, analyzing trends and developments in the federal IT market. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.