Where commercial writers* hang out
* a.k.a. copywriters, business writers, corporate writers or marketing writers…

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PB Note: Some months back, I put out an email call to my readers of my copywriting e-newsletter, and the 55+ commercial writers in particular. I was in the early stages of crafting a promo campaign to the “mature market”- positioning the lucrative copywriting field as an excellent opportunity for those near or in retirement – and wanted to hear from those working commercial freelancers in this age group, and specifically why this field was a fit for their lives. Wow. The stories I got back were phenomenal. I’ve put most of them together in the article that follows.

 If you answered my call, but don’t see your story below, know that I will likely be adding more stories to this as time goes by. As I move forward, I’ll be breaking out smaller versions of this article to send to different publications around the country geared to the “seasoned citizen” audience. If you’re visiting the site and fit this profile, I hope you’ll find the words below interesting and eye opening, and if you see the possibility of a freelance copywriting business for yourself in these colorful accounts, even better. Enjoy.>


Write Your Way Through "Retirement"!

“Seasoned Citizens” Discovering Flexibility and Income of Business Freelancing

By Peter Bowerman

According to Martie Callaghan, she’s been a writer, unofficially, all her life. “In nearly every past job, I would find a way to wriggle some type of writing into my job description.” Finally, five years ago, the Preston, Maryland grandmother made the break from secretarial work and took the plunge into freelancing. Starting with magazine features, she soon transitioned to the more lucrative “commercial” writing, crafting marketing materials for clients in banking, law, interior design, health care, and more. At 58, Martie is buoyant: “My cash flow keeps getting better, and I’m devoting more time to family and less to work. Commercial freelancing is the PERFECT fit.”

For the last decade, downsizing and outsourcing have sculpted the corporate American landscape. Businesses – large and small – are all doing more with less, with many relying heavily on freelancers to write those marketing materials – brochures, ads, newsletters, direct mail, web content and much more, and for hourly rates of $50-125+. And “mature” America is taking notice. The combination of healthy income potential and “on-my-own-terms” lifestyle flexibility makes it an appealing draw for those either nearing or smack dab in the midst of “retirement.”

Redirecting Past Experience
And given the vast array and volume of commercial work out there, for many, it’s simply a matter of re-directing past career experience into a profitable writing direction – one that often zooms right past the 60s and beyond.

Dr. Bill Duhey of San Diego retired from the steel industry at 57, after various management positions and a final stint as editor of the plant magazine. The next year, he began a career as a consultant and seminar leader for companies across North America. At 76, he decided to become a commercial freelancer, reading up on the field and getting busy. A year later, things are going well. Says Duhey, “I have three clients who give me all the work I can handle. I earn a comfortable income, but I’m still young and looking for more work.”

The Joy of Writing
Indeed, this thirst for more – more work adventure, more quality of life, more excitement – is the hallmark of today’s seniors. As Callahan says, “I can’t imagine doing a 9-5 gig again, nor can I imagine not working at all.” And this desire to stay active may be driven by financial concerns…or not. Ray Claxton of Parksville, Vancouver Island, Canada, now 66, spent his career as a chef, restaurant owner and food manager. Starting with food articles and restaurant reviews, he’s cooked up a retirement career that includes a healthy portion of commercial writing – brochures, newsletters, ads and more for a variety of clients. He doesn’t need the money, observing, “When I write for the sheer fabulous pleasure of it, I do it better, and customers love it. Life after 65 is just great!”

For many shifting to commercial freelancing is simply a logical confluence of past work experience, long-held dreams and/or economic realities.

At 64, Chuck Belitz, former military contractor and poultry farmer, was president of a small company with five subsidiaries, handling all writing responsibilities for the companies’ brochures, proposals, web content and more. After changing economics precipitated the sale of the company, he launched Inklings Media – disabled-veteran-owned (which will yield competitive advantages). From his home in Munford, Alabama, Belitz will bid writing work from the government and its prime contractors, and offer his services throughout the Southeastern U.S. With military precision, he’s gotten his ducks in a row: “My office is well equipped. I have formed a loose consortium of freelance writers, graphic designers, video producers, and editors from Birmingham to Atlanta. The prospects look good.”

And incidentally, Belitz is employing a long-proven strategy for success in this field: forging alliances with fellow creative professionals in order to offer clients complete end-to-end (i.e. “turnkey”) solutions.

Wanted: All Ages
And what’s not to like about a field essentially devoid of age barriers? Buffalo area local Paul Chimera (After50 columnist), 55, who makes about 75% of his income from freelancing – much of it commercial – observes, “If you write well, they’ll put you to work – whether you’re a Gen-X’r in sandals and a T-shirt, or a dashing old fart like me, who’s sometimes guilty of actually wearing a necktie. If you’re 85 and can still turn out good stuff, that’s all they care about.” Chimera’s written everything from brochures to infomercials, and for clients in recreation, food, housing, printing, and more.

Scott Koegler of Summerfield, North Carolina spent 15 years in technical management (various CIO positions), writing for computer mags on the side. Two years after a “burnout” exit from the corporate world, Koegler, at 56, continues to freelance, but with a twist. He’s added “commercial” writing to his mix – marketing materials needed by virtually every company, and which pay far more than typical magazine freelancing. He adds, “I’ve landed a couple of commercial jobs, one of which keeps me busy more than 3 days a week and makes my life a dream. Sure, it’s work, but I’m sitting at home, looking out my window as I work. The worst day here is better than the best day in corporate life.”

Avoiding the 55+ Job Search
For those who’ve not yet taken the commercial freelancing plunge, many view the field as a sort of “next-step” beacon, when, either by choice or pink slip, they find themselves looking for a new opportunity.

Doug Dammier, for years a carpenter, and now in flooring sales, is delighted at his early forays into the field – while working at his present job. He recently submitted some copy for a marketing brochure for the flooring company, which the owner loved and is having produced as a “standard issue” sales tool for all salespeople. In addition, the 56-year-old Olympia, Washington native has landed several lucrative assignments from a local non-profit, including over $3000 for a web copy project. He’s understandably bullish: “I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the work I see out there. I’m confident I’ll be working for myself in this lucrative field for as long as I want – no matter my age.”

Of course, others get nudged toward the field a bit more urgently. Hawaii-based Sharon Meindertsma, 56, admittedly ready for a change from pharmaceutical sales, had the decision made for her when suddenly downsized out of her job. She’s reveling in the challenge of her new career, saying, “Becoming a commercial writer has been like being back in college, scary, but excited about at all the opportunity out there. Most importantly, it’s a profession I can pursue for the rest of my life, finally be my own boss and best of all, see what I’m made of.

Food for the Table, Time for the Soul
But, you ask, isn’t commercial writing, boring, mind-numbing stuff totally devoid of creativity? Certainly, one shouldn’t glorify the field, but the fact is, plenty of projects offer interesting, challenging work, and because most pay far more than typical freelancing, the field gives you the time and space to pursue the writing that does light you up.

Former teacher Joe Yenkavitch, now 60, continued his ongoing love of writing after retiring (he’s published a few articles, short stories, and a pre-teen sci-fi novel), but found that the pay for most magazine freelancing “doesn’t come close to compensating you for the time spent.” So he switched gears, observing, “Once I got over the hang-up that commercial freelancing wasn’t creative enough, a whole world of possibilities opened up. I can make decent money, remain creative, and still pursue my next novel.” Other advantages of the commercial field, as Yenkavitch sees it? “I can do it anywhere, as much of it as I want, and it keeps me involved with people and the larger world.

Avoiding “Ageism”
California-based Celia Sue Hecht, 55, transitioned from journalism to freelance PR writing (one arena of commercial freelancing), giving her clients the invaluable “other-side-of-the-table” perspective. She loves freelancing for the variety, flexibility, and another reason: “Given that stereotyping is alive and well in some business environments, for older women, this is the way to go.”

For many, commercial freelancing offers a great vehicle for adapting to changing life dynamics, often providing the best of all worlds. Indianapolis-based Sally Rushmore, 55, after teaching school, became an at-home Mom for years, writing newsletters for the school and church (for free), and part-time for a non-profit. With her youngest heading off to college, her five-year gig teaching computer courses at a community college doesn’t work anymore. She needed something both more lucrative and flexible, so she can join her husband as he works five hours from home all week. She found it in commercial freelancing – writing the marketing materials needed by virtually every company, and which pay far more than typical magazine freelancing. As she explains, “Commercial writing allows me freedom to travel, gives me two cities from which to draw clients, and provides the finances to keep the kids in college.”

Home is Where the…Family Is
Rushmore’s desire to spend time with her husband echoes many accounts from “seasoned citizens” who move toward commercial writing to keep loved ones close while staying active and earning. Don Franks, 59, from Seattle, leveraged 20 years as a broadcast film editor – a deadline-intensive communications field – into commercial writing. With business license secured, talks with accountants behind him and Web site set up, Franks was off and running. He reports, “I’ve done some press releases, sales letters, and now an annual report. I haven’t said goodbye to ‘cubicle city’ quite yet, but that’s coming. The best part? Time to spend with my family.”

And when some, like Wayne Winkle of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, talk about the commercial field as a way to spend more time with family, they mean business. The 57-year-old mental health professional loves to write, was good at it in his career, and is starting a commercial freelancing business with his daughter. The flexibility and variety of the work is exceptionally appealing, he notes, adding, “I’m looking forward to the additional income and to seeing my daughter get to be a stay-at-home mom for my two grandsons.”

Is There That Much Work?
Oh, yes. What we see as consumers (e.g., ads, direct mail pieces, consumer newsletters, brochures) is just the tip of the iceberg. That’s called B2C: business-to-consumer. What we don’t see – except as employees of a company – are two huge additional arenas of work. First is B2B (business-to-business), all the materials created by businesses to market to other businesses. And second is “internal communications” – a huge arena that includes many of the same project types, except all within a corporation and for their eyes only. Much of that is outsourced.

And that doesn’t even factor in the vast number of small-to-medium-sized companies (25-100+ employees) with so many of the same needs, but even less likely to have the in-house staff to execute them. Plus the ad agencies, design firms, PR firms and other “middlemen” clients that service the above industries, but in most cases, don’t staff in-house writers.

Writing Ability?
How good a writer do you have to be? Certainly, no one’s going to pay you $60-80 an hour if you’re lousy. That said, there are plenty of fields such as healthcare, banking, manufacturing and technology, which have steady needs for clear, concise copywriting that doesn’t have to be a work of art. Start studying your junk mail, the little newsletter inserts in your electric bill, the rack brochures at your bank. Could you write that?

What About a Portfolio?

In the beginning, you may not have much to show a prospective client. Start with any projects you may have done in any of your jobs: a marketing manual, press release, newsletter, sales sheet, speech, article, etc. Try doing some pro bono work for a charity or start-up firm, or team up with a graphic designer in the same boat, and approach those same type entities together. The best part? All this can be done while you’re employed elsewhere.

Planning the next exciting chapter of your life? Looking for a flexible, lucrative way to build on a three- or four-decade experience base? As you read this, thousands of writers are landing countless, high-paying writing jobs. Why not you?

Peter Bowerman, a commercial freelancer, business coach and columnist based in Atlanta, is the author of The Well-Fed Writer, and its companion volume, The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds, both how-to “standards” in the lucrative field of commercial freelancing. For more information, see www.wellfedwriter.com.

Questions/Comments? peter@wellfedwriter.com

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