Managers of businesses, nonprofit organizations and government departments have long complained about the poor written communication skills of many of their employees. Managers are often too busy to edit their reports so they read smoothly. Yet these reports must present a professional image to a company’s customers and decision-makers. The answer for a growing number of firms is to hire freelance writers and editors to edit reports for clarity.
Having worked in a particular industry or job function can help you get started. For example, my previous employment has provided me with useful contacts in the chemical and oil industries resulting in financially rewarding assignments. Your work experience can give you and understanding of the business writing requirements in different job functions. Secondly, your previous corporate writing projects can give you clients who know you and your writing abilities. So can writing for membership societies and professional societies. For instance, I have written articles for organizations such as Toastmasters International, which helps people working for a wide variety of organizations to improve their public speaking skills. Mention this type of experience in a letter of introduction and they may be interested in you providing editorial services to their organizations.
Third, any experience you have in presenting business writing workshops can result in people knowing your abilities and willing to use your editing services. For example, I have taught resume writing workshops for people at various stages of their careers and also worked one-on-one with professionals to improve their resumes. Sometimes after they find a job, these individuals will ask me to present a business writing workshop to their staff members or edit their business documents.
Promotional materials can be useful in winning new clients. A website and flyers promoting your editing services are two possible strategies to accomplish this. Advertisements in local newspapers and newsletters of professional societies are two other marketing approaches.
Doing the work
I will bill by the hour. Thus the poorer the writer the more time I spend editing the document. I find this method fairer to both me and the client than billing by length of the document or some other method.
After editing a document I will sit down with the writer (or writers) and discuss the changes I made and why. The original writers verify that the document content is still correct. I will explain why I made the changes I did. With each project, the original writer better understand how to write clearly and my editorial changes become fewer thus reducing my bill. Eventually most of the people I work with improve their writing skills to the point where they no longer need my services. However, they often recommend me to coworkers. Thus my business does not disappear.
Previous corporate writing experience is helpful but not necessary. This experience can provide useful contacts with whom you can discuss possible assignments. Writers also can advertise their expertise and services in local business publications and professional magazines. I have used both methods to promote my services and get assignments.
Another method to find new customers is to join your chamber of commerce and discuss your editorial services with their members. This provides exposure to members of smaller and lower profile organizations that otherwise would remain unknown to you.
Articles you write for the publications of trade associations and membership organizations can result in individuals contacting you. They may be interested in using your editorial services or finding someone to edit their documents. If course, you recommend yourself in this last situation!
One might expect that your primary competition would be writers’ managers who edit a document themselves. However, most tell me that the time they save in not having to edit documents for clarity is well worth my hourly fee. They review the documents but focus on technical correctness. A good job editing for technical clarity makes any problems with accuracy and correctness easier for them to identify.
Offering editing and writing workshops to corporate clients is a related service that can increase the number of people interested in using your editorial services. I offer two types of workshops to corporate clients. The first is a 3-hour workshop on business writing. I can slant this towards business documents or technical reports based on the client’s interests. The second is an editing workshop I call “Editing for Clarity.” Again, I can slant this towards a general business audience or a people writing technical reports. I use these workshops to promote my editorial services.
John Borchardt 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.