The first thing you need to know about writing for business is that you should avoid it like the plague. If there’s anything else you could possibly be doing to earn money, such as moonshining or exorcism, do that.
Why, you ask? Because most businesspeople don’t know what good writing is or why it’s necessary. It seems that the part of the brain that’s good at finding and satisfying consumer demand isn’t usually compatible with the part concerned with the clarity and accuracy of verbal communication. If you’re ever lucky enough to meet one of those rare prizes, a literate entrepreneur, they’re probably doing their own writing. This leads to writers being underpaid, underappreciated, and chronically pissed off.
Having said that, we all have to make a living, and let’s face it, the bulk of job postings come from businesses needing copy for their websites, newsletters, blogs, advertisements, e-books, and email campaigns. So here are a few pointers straight from the school of the Mindful Bard.
- Charge a high hourly wage, but don’t admit how long it took you to do it. If the job takes you four hours, ask for $50.00 an hour but say that the job only took you an hour. That way Brad gets to brag to his golf buddies about how much his writer costs him. Businesspeople have no idea how long it takes to research and create accurate copy that’s thorough yet easy to read, and if you tell them the truth they’ll think you’re incompetent. So go ahead and pull the wool over their eyes. Their accountants do it all the time.
- Learn as much as you can about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or, as we writers like to call it, “word vomit.” This is the practice of stuffing writing with keywords gleaned from the most common Internet searches. Using these keywords has been shown to improve the ranking of websites on Google, and every business owner wants higher Google rankings because that’s what they’re told will bring them more money. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t; I don’t know—I’m just a writer. All I know is we used to write for human beings, and now we’re writing for machines.
- Don’t try to write too well. Sure, you know that eloquence will improve the company’s brand and ensure customers take them seriously, but your clients can’t grasp that and you’ll just make them feel stupid. In fact, your best bet might be just to copy the boss’s style minus all the spelling errors and grammatical flubs. Any efforts to “educate” the boss about why a certain sentence should be phrased a certain way will probably be met with arrogant dismissal. Don’t waste your time.
- Branch out. Even if your schedule is full, continue to look for new clients. If you find a gig that pays well and has lasted more than six months, don’t start thinking of it as a sure thing. Remember that as an online writer you’re not privy to those water fountain chats that might alert you to looming layoffs. Take note: when a business is strapped, writers are usually the first to be let go. This goes back to the fact of our being undervalued by these lummoxes who think they know it all just because they’re making the big bucks. Well, as a writer you may not be rich, but at least you know better than to shoot out misspelled tweets several times a day, which is what they’ll be doing the moment you’re out of the picture.
- Be extra nice to anyone on the team with whom you might have contact, even if it’s just emails. You’re all in the same hell, so be supportive.
- Finally, keep getting pickier about who you work for. This is business, after all, so improving the bottom line means never paying someone what they’re worth. Wages for freelance writers have been dropping slowly over the years, but if we all keep looking for the best deal we might just pressure them to take us seriously and pay us fairly. We can only hope.