I have always considered freelance writing an entrepreneurial enterprise. It helps that my entrepreneurial mindset was informed by starting and running a small business for 24 years. However, writers don’t need to have owned and operated a company in order to create an entrepreneurial approach. Writing is, after all, a business. You write something. Somebody pays you when you complete it. And, a mutually beneficial transaction occurs.
Although most writers probably have niche topics and areas of expertise they enjoy researching and writing about, mine include music, pets and travel. It’s helpful to stretch outside your comfort zone. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert in medical devices to interview and write about the CEO of an orthopedic manufacturer, as I did for a chamber of commerce’s special publication on the medical device industry. You just need good research and writing skills.
If you are a writer looking to increase your income by venturing into some previously untapped writing markets, I would suggest contacting your local chambers of commerce for opportunities. Most cities have at least one business chamber, and some have two or more. In Memphis, we’re surrounded by several smaller suburban towns and each has its own chamber organization. Many of these publish an annual community guide, which serves as a handy directory of local businesses, and as a promotional tool for the chamber and city it represents.
These guides are almost always well presented. The best ones resemble magazines, and have color covers with either a slick or matte finish. The most professionally designed guides have interiors printed on thin gloss paper and are laid out in sections interspersed with paid advertising. Most include 25 to 40 short articles and advertorials, and contain an index of chamber members. The articles focus on the history, news, current activities of their membership, and an advertorial highlighting the member company that purchased the space.
Most chambers don’t have the funds to hire staff writers. For projects such as the annual guide, they must either round up an intern with an English or Journalism degree, or contract the work to someone outside the organization. When I first approached one of my city’s local chambers to inquire about writing for their annual publication, I learned they had been using a scattershot approach. An intern here, a staff member there, even a piece written by a chamber volunteer. The director admitted their approach resulted in a finished product that boasted a clean, professional exterior, but was weakened by poor and unedited writing.
Here is where you come in. I found chambers surprisingly open to hiring contract writers for their publications. But, here’s what you need to do first. Attend one of their business expos. Pick up back issues of their annual guides, along with their current one. These will usually be available free at their trade show booth. Or, if no expos are scheduled for the near future, drop by their office and ask for a guide. They are happy to give them away.
Study the guide, and get a handle on their membership and on the “emphasis areas” of the publication. (The emphasis areas of the guide I’m currently working on are: Live, Shop, Work, and Play.) Then, contact their office, and set up a meeting with whomever is tasked with the guide’s annual production. This should be fairly easy to do. Over the years, I’ve worked with a half dozen chambers of commerce. They are typically staffed by friendly, PR-oriented people.
When you meet, bring your resume and some samples of your work. A good interview piece, or an article with a community or business focus will do. Ask them to consider putting you on the team for the next issue. Don’t expect to get hired on the spot. Cultivate the relationship! Thank them for the meeting with a note of appreciation, and follow up appropriately. This method has worked great for me and, to date, I’ve done paying work for several chamber publications.
Although “business writing” isn’t always the most exciting, I’ve learned something new with each interview I’ve conducted, and with every article I’ve researched and written for chambers of commerce. That education alone has been worth the effort.
Deborah Camp is a writer, editor and educator. Former editor of Memphis Star music magazine, 12-year pet columnist for Best Times. 4-time national awards winner Cat Writer’s Association, has a story in the book, Second Chance Cats (Sept 15 release). Teaches entrepreneurship as an adjunct in Webster University’s MBA program.
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