If you’re a freelancer, you’re a business writer.
You might not be like me (a freelancer who sells their writing and content creation to businesses), but if you’re even tweeting about the freelance service you offer? Boom. You’re a business writer. If you’re feeling even a little out of place at that thought, know that business writing isn’t complicated and (IMO) is the easiest to learn.
It’s straightforward, goal oriented, and some of the highest paying (direct response for example), is mastered by people who write as simply as possible.
It’s also a really powerful tool in marketing your freelance business.
The best part is, getting started in business writing isn’t hard. Getting the habit of practicing just a little bit every week builds your skills quickly and does double duty keeping you on top of your freelance niche.
So if you’re not doing any business writing right now (or if you’re not confident at it), you’re going to want to work all the way through this post. These 3 points won’t just get you started, they’ll help you develop skills that will feed your content marketing and that can even be sold to other businesses who need strong communicators.
Start Summarizing News
This is a basic one that I recommend partly because it’s how I got started.
My first really good niche gig as a freelancer was writing 500-word articles for a trade magazine geared toward value-added resellers. It taught me 4 important lessons.
- Business writers, even super-specialized ones often had NO experience or education in their niche. They were just willing to stick their necks out in obscure places where competition was low.
- My niche had WAY more prospects in it that I ever imagined.
- A lot of business writing is simply re-packaging ideas with a specific reader in mind.
- Keeping up with the news your clients read is the trick to understanding your niche.
I wasn’t new to trade magazines, but getting to be a part of how they’re made showed me exactly how much mystery there isn’t in most business content. My job basically consisted of taking a list of topics, searching for news, surveys, and reports on them every week, shooting them over to my editor, and summarizing the points that resellers would care about (while giving credit to the original source).
That was it.
It didn’t pay a lot, but it was consistent, got me some bylines and niche cred, and most importantly, got me used to writing on business as a habit. To this day, if I need material for a blog or even a client, I’ll sometimes use the same approach.
People need news and insight and even if something’s been said before, simply having it restated in a way that’s customized to their interests can be really valuable.
I suggest you try something similar for your freelance web presence, even if it’s only for a couple of months.
Try writing short (I mean under 500-word) summaries of articles in your niche and eventually step up to researching and combining multiple articles on a topic that you choose to synthesize something new.
Bonus: Keep it up and you’ve got material for your blog, LinkedIn posts, or freelance newsletter you use to nurture leads.
What’s that look like?
Here’s one example, but any trade mag in your niche likely has something similar.
Focus on Takeaways
Outlines are magic in business writing.
I use them for myself, but I also send them to clients for approval before I start work on a piece to avoid re-writes and make sure everybody’s on the same page. Here’s the thing though. There’s a step that comes even before that, and that’s figuring out what you want a reader to walk away with.
Is it tips on buying software?
Resources for growing their e-commerce business?
Advice on beating out Instagram wig makers and keeping your local clientele?
Business writing is a conversation, but it’s a conversation with a purpose—you need to be real clear on that purpose before you even start an introduction.
This is why I’m always tweeting about reading business news. It’s for information, yeah, but it’s also a latent form of training your writing mind.
The art, flare, and emotion that we enjoy in a lot of popular writing don’t hold the same importance in business writing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a LOT of room to add some seasoning to business writing (business topics can be bland and readers honestly appreciate it more), but it can’t come first.
Next time, before you write even one word, make a list at the top of the document. Include what information, understanding, or insight you want the reader to walk away with. After you’re finished with a piece, check and make sure that’s happened.
Also, check out The Pyramid Principle as an introduction to structuring your thoughts. If you don’t want to buy the whole book, the audio summary is available with a subscription to Blinkist (which I recommend for anybody who’s got a mile-long list of business books to read like I used to—the $80 a year/$6.67 a month has already been worth it for me.)
What’s That Look Like?
This blog on eCommerce integration is a straightforward example (the list is even published right at the top) and you’ll notice that it basically acts as an outline for the post. You don’t have to be this overt with it, but for longer pieces where you want to let the reader know why they should spend time with you, it can make a lot of sense.
Talk to the Reader
This is probably the most important skill you can master as a business writer because asking “who am I talking to?” solves 90% of your challenges. For people who read or write a lot of creative or media writing, getting this right might take some time.
Businesses (yours included) usually have a very specific reader in mind who they want to take a very specific action. When business writers are working with a client, they’ll often have LONG customer profiles that detail a person’s demographics, life goals, professional goals, even what they find funny or important. (I have one client whose profiles run over 2-pages.)
As business writers, we’re seldom talking to a broad group. We’re writing to people who have things they have to get done in their jobs. That means the words we shoot their way should be intentional, skip rambling sentences (my personal biggest challenge), or superficial points like impressing people with language and style.
Next time you’re writing something for your freelance business, pretend you’re talking to one person. Envision who they are as a persona. Think of what they want to accomplish and decide that you want to help them do that with your words.
What’s That Look Like?
I just linked to one, but HubSpot’s resources are all great examples of reader-focused business writing.
Business writing is a skill you develop over time, which is why we touch on it weekly in our discussions of content marketing in the Academy. The most important part though is that you practice. Weekly, short articles should become a habit but something you don’t spend more than an hour or so on.
Remember, you’re not aiming for perfect. You’re shooting for effective.