I started writing for money over 20 years ago. I had no experience, no direction, no formal training, no money, and a wife and two kids who depended on me for sustenance and covering. I lived in a small town in Florida, and worked on a coffee table in the corner of my bedroom, using a second-hand Smith Corona portable electric typewriter that rendered several crooked letters. My work in the construction trade was erratic, so I thought I might write stories for Reader’s Digest for some extra money. After numerous rejections and zero extra money, I decided to rethink my idea. I discovered a book called Sell Copy by Webster Kuswa. In it he described ways to make money writing advertising, direct mail, and other forms of business related communications.
I practiced Mr. Kuswa’s writing techniques, and tried some direct mail of my own. To my delight a local company responded to my typed and copied sales letter and agreed to pay me for writing services. I was naïve, insecure, and charged way too little for my work. Soon, I got another assignment, then another, then one day a manufacturing company hired me to rewrite several brochures and a newsletter. (They remained my client for 10 years.) I began to feel like I was beginning a new career.
I decided to do a bigger mailing in hopes of getting more work. On weekends I collected names and addresses of interesting companies from business journals, newspapers, and directories at the library. (This was in the days before the popular use of computers, and before the World Wide Web was invented.) I did a mailing of 100 pieces, and turned two of my respondents into new clients, one from Florida, and the other from Quebec, Canada. I was blown away with excitement-and fear. International business? What was I thinking? Could I do this work? How could I work long distance? Somehow I made it through using the telephone, the mail, and later UPS. I ended up handling several small assignments for that client, and decided Reader’s Digest would now have to wait for me.
In the years since my haphazard beginnings, I’ve done many mailings, and I’ve written material for well over 200 clients in several states, as well as, India, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I’ve written advertising, Web content, direct mail, publicity, trade articles, case histories, employee manuals, technical documents, and many other forms of corporate and marketing communications. I’ve worked for a variety of industries from high-tech, to bio-tech, to no-tech and everything in between. And in many cases, I’ve never had a face-to-face meeting with the client.
I’ve never won an award (or entered a contest); I’ve never had a big name client like Microsoft or Prudential; and I haven’t made a million dollars. But I have grown. I’ve developed valued friends and contacts in places far and wide, and a respectable business that no one can ever take away from me. I plan to expand my services; I’m currently working on my first book, and I’m offering ghostwriting services to others who wish to publish nonfiction books.
People have often asked how I can do what I do. My answer is: I read widely, I continue to upgrade my skills, I use technology extensively, I market myself relentlessly (yes, I still use direct mail), and I keep a watchful eye on the industries I target. It has never been easy, but I have proven it’s doable, profitable, and enjoyable.
John Clausen, a veteran business writer offers some of the best advice I’ve ever heard in his book Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous To Steal. In part he says:
- “Get an attitude.” Believe in your work. Be bold. Don’t let clients take advantage of you.
- “Find an anchor client.” Get a good solid client that provides the majority of your income.
- “Understand that marketing is at least half the job.” Regular self-promotion is essential.
- “Avoid getting stuck in a single genre.” Diversify your client base for stability.”Don’t get sloppy.” Always turn in your absolute best work.
- And, “have some fun.”
Lloyd Lemons has been a freelance business writer for over 20 years. He began his career in the days of typewriter ribbons and whiteout. Today, he uses technology to stay competitive and to work globally. He is working on his first book “The New Soloist”, and has a second book in the planning stages. He continues to work with business clients throughout the country, and can be reached at: Lloyd@lloydlemons.com