3 Ways Corporate Writers Can Attract New Clients

July 11, 2010  |   Posted by :   |   Copywriting,Corporate Messaging,Corporate Writing,Slideshow   |   14 Comments»

Lately, I’ve been getting lots of questions from freelance copywriters who want to make the move from small-business clients and local design/creative firms to midsized and larger corporations. I’ve spent nearly 30 years working for these plum accounts and have had my share of successes and misses. So what’s the best way to attract (and keep) these clients? What I’ve learned can be boiled down to three simple ideas:

1. Do what you do best. Corporate clients abhor the dreaded ‘learning curve.’ They want you to be productive from day one and have little patience for training. So it pays to focus on a specialty that perfectly aligns with each client’s needs. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • Be industry-specific: Healthcare is hot these days. From a marketing standpoint, the industry is where financials were a generation ago. There’s money to spend, and a strong need for more good thinkers and writers. The life sciences are strong as well. And to a lesser extent, energy. The financial sector needs all the corporate writing help it can get, but money can be lean.
  • Be skill-specific: SEO and social media writers are in particular demand. I’ve seen plenty of proven experts in the former, but precious few in the latter. I suppose social media is too nascent. And of course, SEO is eminently measurable—so a charlatan reveals himself rather quickly. If you’re more of a generalist—in advertising, collateral or PR, for example—that’s okay, too. What corporate writing needs most these days is good thinking. If you can think, you will get work.

2. Have a hook. After all, selling is promoting. So to promote yourself, you have to answer that age-old question, why you? Years ago, I focused exclusively on financial writing and had a number of Fortune 50 clients (including the largest financial services company in the world). My ‘hook’ today is more general: I base all of my copywriting on Corporate Messaging Platforms that I build first.  As they say, you are your #1 client. What is it about you that is more differentiated and relevant than any of your competitors?

3. Work your warm network. I have a good friend who is a graphic designer specializing in WordPress websites (such as the one you’re visiting now). He hasn’t made a cold call in 10 years, because he doesn’t have to. ALL of his business comes from referrals. Nothing works like word-of-mouth. If you’re just starting out, you may not have much of a network, yet. But, you know people who know people who… you get the idea. It’s Kevin Bacon’s six degrees of separation. Everyone is a potential source of new business. And, never be afraid to ask. Always have your Positioning Statement ready to deliver: “I specialize in ______________ for companies such as ________________. What makes my work different is ________________.”

If you’d like to share your own approach to getting new corporate writing business, just leave a comment below. Best wishes, and thanks for visiting.

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14 Comments for this entry

  • Andy Bartling

    July 12th, 2010 on 9:13 am

    Corporate Writer Insider Note: Here’s a new comment from Linked In’s eMarketing Association Network:

    “Always an issue: marketing to bigger clients can be rewarding and some serious advice is needed (and I am sure is available from Andy). My experience is that we also need to be aware that working for big clients can have serious cash flow implications – the bigger the client the slower they pay and over here (Belgium) 60 days is considered normal and this needs to be factored into the decision.”

  • Marion E. Gold

    July 12th, 2010 on 10:48 am

    Set your own terms. For example, and depending on the agreed upon rate for the project, one-half the fee in advance, the balance upon project or copy approval.

    Also, be sure your contract or letter agreement includes cost contingencies should the project direction change along the way. Many bigger clients, who have several people reviewing your work, may end up changing the message.

    And… don’t forget to include a kill fee if the client cancels the contract – due upon cancellation.

  • Lee Schwarz

    July 12th, 2010 on 1:30 pm

    Great points, Andy. In a business with no inventory to sell but your time, go eyes wide open into the big company world and once you’re comfortable you’ll be paid, be prepared to “invest” in inventory. The good news is there’s no carrying cost unless you’re paying someone else to do the work.

    And if you’re really worried about getting paid interest on your invoice being unpaid for 60 days- tack it on. Interest rates you could otherwise get are so low, your client will never notice.

    Anyway, you’re not selling labor, you’re selling results. Wait until they tell you they only pay for performance. There’s your ticket- if you’re really good at what you do, you’ll prefer the opportunity to get a piece of the pie instead of a flat fee.

  • Gina

    July 12th, 2010 on 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the post. The social media emphasis is interesting. I would have thought there was no shortage of social media writers. Any suggestions about how writers can better position themselves as social media writers?

  • Mint Kang

    July 12th, 2010 on 11:17 pm

    This is a great post, Andy. I wrote something similar a month ago, and although my line is more journalism than copywriting I think some things are universal. The part about fitting your product to the market and skipping the learning curve is spot on. In my experience, once people have found a good writer who can deliver on time and with quality, they don’t like to change, which is why getting it right the first time is so important.

    Another trick I’d like to share for keeping a client hooked is to pre-empt their needs – instead of them coming to you to tell you to do something a certain way, you go to them and offer to do it. (At your usual rates, of course.) They will LOVE you for saving them the trouble.

  • Andy Bartling

    July 13th, 2010 on 12:34 am

    Gina,

    My point with social media is that I’ve yet to see many ‘proven’ experts. I think, by and large, everyone’s learning by trial and error. And more importantly, results can be intangible–as compared to SEO, where the numbers speak for themselves.

    For example, the WordPress web designer I reference in the article consistently ranks among the top for many keywords on Google. In my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, he’s #1 in areas such as web design. He knows SEO, and it shows.

  • anna dewis

    July 13th, 2010 on 3:27 am

    What works for me is offering added value ie I don’t just sell my writing expertise, I sell my knowledge. I often offer to teach corporates how to write good copy themselves, not to do myself out of a job but to inculcate an appreciation of the power of words. It doesn’t have to be a dry lecture but can be a humorous look at language: the gaffs, idiosyncrasies etc. It gives clients food for thought and helps them to realise that copywriting is a valuable skill.

  • Rene Power

    July 14th, 2010 on 7:22 am

    Stumbled across the blog via Linkedin (Digital Marketing).

    Interesting post.

    Nice, straight forward workable three point approach. The key I think is for people working within an industry or skill specific discipline is to use any downtime to run a blog like this. It’s your shop window and it provides credibility when you need it. I’ve run my own marketing blog for around 13 months now and average three posts a week.

    It has helped ensure I am now a CIM CHartered Marketer in the UK and I know clients and warm contacts follow the updates. Use Twitter and Linkedin to promote yourself and your content and you will inevitably draw out some useful work.

  • Farhad Khurshed

    July 14th, 2010 on 7:04 pm

    When dealing with corporates, there’s also the issue that it takes a lot longer to get things approved and moving, The more people there are in the decision making chain, the longer it takes for your copy to be approved.

    Although it’s difficult to overcome, one suggestion is to decide on a wireframe (template) of exactly what will be included.

    The other suggestion is to have a timeline for the work. it’s difficult to implement, but perhaps one can have a clause that if the client delays the project then they must pay the fee, while the copy can be finalised later.

  • Sam Jones

    July 18th, 2010 on 11:36 am

    All too often, buying decisions for creative resources become a function of cost or the available budget.

    It’s a convenient barometer that both the buyer and the seller have in common. The buyer (client) rarely has no ready means to quantify, factors such as talent, time, experience or the bump in response from creativity that’s effective. There’s no universal gauge for these intangibles, especially when there’s no previous relationship.

    Direct referrals and personal recommendations are powerful tools that take the decision beyond budget alone.

    samjones@usa.com

  • CNA work in the health-care field

    July 20th, 2010 on 9:35 pm

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  • Andy Bartling

    July 20th, 2010 on 11:12 pm

    If you discover a few blogging ‘best practices’ via your new site, please do share them with the Corporate Writer insider community. That’s why we’re here.

    Thanks,
    Andy

  • Randie

    September 7th, 2010 on 12:21 pm

    Hi Andy:

    This is great advice! I recently transitioned from journalism to PR and now copywriting. I just finished a temporary contract as a copywriter for Bank of America and am trying to land more contracts or a permanent position.

    I am specializing in the financial sector because that’s where my experience lies and I’m interested in finances.

    I have the opportunity to possibly land a temp-to-perm position but I don’t have any SEO/SEM experience. Do you know how I can get SEO/SEM training online or learn it myself quickly so I can land this contract?

    Thanks so much for all of your help!
    Randie

  • Andy Bartling

    September 7th, 2010 on 12:45 pm

    Randie,

    I’d definitely ask that question on Linked In, and you’ll no doubt find some good suggestions.

    Best wishes,
    Andy