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Turning Kind Deeds to Writing Income: Helping Funeral Homes Minister to Families (Guest Post)

PB Note: Got this really intriguing guest post from Chicago-area commercial freelancer Melanie Jongsma – a great thought-starter to get your creative wheels turning. I invite you to view it not as one about someone doing “memorial folders,” but rather, as the story of someone who looked beyond the typical commercial writing box and found an income opportunity where most people wouldn’t. Ideally, it should make you go, “Hmmmm…what other arenas might I have overlooked that could be turned into a profitable copywriting direction?”

And no, projects like the ones described below won’t make you rich, but for the time expended, they’re great little “slot-ins” to keep your commercial freelancing plate full. And, again, what other even juicier untapped venues might be out there?

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My best friend’s mother died unexpectedly in 2006. I sat with her and her family as they sorted through photos and told stories through their tears. There’s not much you can do to help in a situation like that, but I did the one thing I could: I designed and wrote the funeral program.

Three years later, when my friend’s father died, I was able to help with his funeral program too. It turned out to be a keepsake that the whole family treasured.

In both of those situations, Funeral Director Mike Matthysse (of Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Funeral Homes) expressed appreciation for the work I had done. He recognized what a value this service would be to other grieving families, so we began to talk about how personalized memorial folders could become a service option for Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf’s existing ministry.

A proposal that worked for both of us

Having learned a lot from Steve Slaunwhite about pricing, I sent Mike a carefully crafted proposal. Mike liked what I had to offer, and he wanted to hire me, but he couldn’t meet the price I had quoted. So I adjusted the quote to make it work for both of us—that is, I brought my price down, but I also decreased the time I would need to invest. For example, I reduced the number of revisions Mike could expect from me, eliminated stock photography options, and asked if there were parts of the work his staff could handle. In the end, we came up with an arrangement that looks like this:

  • The staff at Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf gather photos and information from the family, scan everything, and email it to me all with the specifics of the funeral service.
  • Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf also posts their clients’ obituaries on the MKD website, so I’m able to access that information if I need additional details.
  • I review all the info, clean up the photos, write a “life story,” and lay everything out in a format that Mike’s staff will be able to print in-house without having to worry about trimming.
  • Mike shows a proof to the family and then emails me any corrections that need to be made.
  • I email the final version of the PDF along with an invoice.

For the above, Mike pays me $250. At first, this amount did not represent $50/hour, but now that I have my systems and templates in place, the work goes faster, so I make about $75/hour per memorial folder.

A few things I’ve learned

I’ve done several of these customized memorial folders since arriving at an agreement with Mike, and here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Good questions are important. Because I’m not present at the family interviews Mike and his staff conduct, it’s been a huge help that they are willing to include some additional questions from me. These help fill in the blanks, so I can add some color to the deceased’s life story.
  • Work like this requires quick turnaround. Mike wants to be able to show the family a proof within a day or two, so sometimes I’m working late to get it to him on time.
  • Mike and his team were already providing a valuable service before I came along. My role is simply to add to what they already do so well.
  • Families really do appreciate having this special keepsake. It requires some sensitivity, intuition, and empathy to get the writing right, but it really blesses the people who receive it. And that’s good for Mike’s reputation as well as mine.

I planned to pitch the idea to other funeral directors in my area, now that I have some well-received samples to show. But I’m hesitant because of the quick turnaround required. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a position where I need to produce two or three customized memorial folders in a day, in addition to other jobs I have!

A question for fellow writers

This income opportunity developed out of a desire to use my writing skills to help my friend and her family through a difficult time. It’s turned into a frequent (though unpredictable) paycheck with potential for expansion. That makes me wonder… Have there been other times my writing has helped someone, and I’ve overlooked a possible freelance market?

What kinds of writing “favors” have you done for friends that might represent business opportunities?

Have you stumbled on a profitable writing niche (that you’re willing to share) that you’d previously overlooked?

What other business or industries might offer hidden writing opportunities?

About the author

Melanie Jongsma loves helping people organize their thoughts and experiences into compelling personal stories, effective business collateral, and powerful ministry messaging. She blogs at LifeLines—helping you share your story. Readers of this post can download her newly-released checklist—7 Ways Professional Editors and Proofreaders Use Find-and-Replace—for just 99¢.

Want to be a guest blogger on The Well-Fed Writer Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.