Document Conversion Provides Freelance Income Opportunities By John K. Borchardt

Document conversion, rewriting and reformatting documents to make them suitable for different media, can be a useful source of income for freelancers. Examples of such conversion include:

  • modifying print articles for online publication
  • converting conference and internal corporate presentations (usually prepared using PowerPoint software) into print or online articles or product bulletins
  • converting internal corporate reports into conference presentations

Typical clients for document conversion projects are not magazine editors. They are companies, professional associations or agencies.

Doing document conversions usually means being a ghost writer and not getting a byline. The Great Recession has led companies, particularly smaller ones to contract individuals needed for many functions such as writing marketing materials instead of hiring full-time employees. (This is reflected in the stubbornly high unemployment rate.) Also, start-up businesses now are getting off the ground with only about half as many workers as they did a decade ago according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, said that many start-ups lack the funds to hire full-time employees because of skittish venture capitalists and the greater reluctance of banks to lend money to start-ups and small firms since the recession began. (Emergent Research provides consulting services to small businesses.) Also, due to company downsizing at many existing firms, full-time employees have less time available to prepare promotional materials such as product bulletins and conference presentations. All these situations create opportunities for writers willing to ghostwrite.

I began my document conversion work by combining and condensing internal corporate reports for a large chemical company. These documents were used as a basis for corporate investment decisions. As informative documents they were also posted on some of the company’s internal wikis. A wiki is a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users. Access to these wikis was restricted to company employees and often to only a limited number of them because highly confidential information was being posted.

One rewarding aspect of this work is that the client often wants wiki documents updated periodically. If clients are happy with the original documents, it’s only natural that they approach the writer who did the original work to update the documents.

Modifying print articles for online publication

The high point of this kind of work probably was in the 1990s when companies were first developing websites and stocking them with content. However, there is still a considerable amount of work in this area. Companies will often promote their products by publishing articles in trade journals. However, editors usually limit the extent of commercialism in these articles. Having them rewritten for company websites enables companies to have writers make them more commercial in tone.

Particularly useful is linking your online document to other documents on the web. For example, suppose I rewrote an article about the use of a particular product to increase oil production. I would insert hotlinks to product specification information and information on the oil field in which the product was used. As time passed, I could collect additional data that would provide information on the longevity of the well treatment and update the article.

Besides hotlinks, freelancers can incorporate interactive graphics and videos into their online documents.

Converting internal corporate reports into conference presentations

Company managers will often decide that internal reports should be modified and presented at conferences. Their objective is to increase sales or awareness of the company among potential customers. In these days of downsized staffs, their own employees are often very busy and it is difficult to fit these projects into their busy schedules. So they may hire a freelancer to do this work.

Converting oral presentations into print and online articles

One of my clients is a large instrument company whose employees often give presentations at trade association meetings. These describe new instruments or new uses for existing instruments. The information is presented as PowerPoint slides. The company is interested in modifying these presentations to create documents to be posted on their website or submitted as articles to a trade magazine.

While most of my current work on presentation conversion is for this company, I have also done similar projects for chemical and oil companies.

Drumming up business

Joining trade associations in your writing specialties can be helpful in making contacts and identifying business opportunities. For instance, as a science and technology writer I have joined two American Chemical Society organizations focused on business: the Division of Small Chemical Businesses and the Division of Business Development and Management. Their sessions and social activities during the Society’s two annual national meetings provide opportunities to make business contacts, promote my writing services and learn about current concerns of business professionals working in these areas.

John Borchardt is a freelance writer specializing in science, engineering and business. He has written more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He writes a weekly blog running for “Laboratory Management Magazine” and frequently blogs for the American Chemical Society.