Freelance Blog + technology

Guest Post: Cash in on Industry-Specific Writing
stack of newspapers

By Lurdes Abruscato

Career writers are watching their world implode as newsrooms undergo perpetual layoffs, established publications fold or convert to an online-only presence, and social media creates a writer out of anyone and everyone. But there’s one type of writing that’s alive-and-well, and frankly, pays top-dollar: the technical or business-to-business (B2B) arena.

While writers who specialize in an industry also have seen their careers change dramatically, work is out there for those willing to mine a business for news or insights. Trade journalists have always topped the pay scale compared to their consumer-targeted brethren, in part, because B2B publications can charge heftier subscriptions and/or advertising rates. Pragmatic freelancers will tell you their niche-market clients consistently pay better and faster, and generate more assignments than their consumer-publishing counterparts.

But how to establish a foothold in B2B writing? Consider these seven strategies to breaking into an industry and building up a B2B portfolio:

  1. Pick a B2B market that sings to you.Find an aspect of a field that holds some appeal, usually the more specialized, the better. Perhaps you’re curious how retail leasing works or how DNA is categorized or how the digital camera market is growing. There are a range of print and online periodicals that focus on the daily details of these industries.

    Not sure what to target? Despite overall losses in business media revenue, sectors like agriculture, automotive, banking, insurance, and healthcare are showing revenue increases, according to American Business Media, an association that monitors the global B2B ecosystem. ABM, by the way, has 200 member companies, which represent nearly 6,000 print and online titles.

    That said, business writing truly isn’t for everyone. As one of several editors in a B2B newsroom years ago, we intentionally gave job applicants writing tests with material straight from our trade newsletters, and on more than one occasion, candidates just up and walked out, perhaps over- or underwhelmed by the subject.

  2. Understand the passion behind the marketplace.While oftentimes highly technical, jargon-filled, and complex, business writing does not have to be dry. As a nascent reporter at a financial risk management publication, I remember the thrill of scooping other media outlets over merger stories or the barrage of insider phone calls when executives were ousted. I will always argue that just as much drama and controversy can happen in, say, the broadband or petroleum industries, as other walks of life. It is the mark of a talented writer to make the latest satellite development or derivatives advancement worth reading. Consider it a challenge to enliven complicated material and make it intriguing to the layperson and the business executive.
  3. Practice the basic principles of great writing.Certain technical publications will remain off-limits to writers, perhaps because they require an advanced degree. But even in these cases, some publishers are eager to hire ghost writers to clean, clarify or simplify the clinician’s writing.

    In fact, many B2B editors (myself included), would rather teach a writer a business than teach a businessperson to write. Yes, industry executives will be well-versed in the industrial health and safety field, for example, but can they interview, research and write compelling articles in a tight deadline environment?

  4. Repeat after me: PR “flacks” are friends, not foes.For the typically trained journalist, the acrimonious relationship between public relations and newsrooms is a time-held tradition. Not so in the B2B world. As a business writer, you should be on a first-name basis with the PR/marketing/communications heads of the major companies in your field.

    Certainly, be aware that many, if not all, of the PR rep’s missives to you are self-serving (once you’re on their lists, you’ll be inundated with press releases about their companies’ latest-and-greatest). But remember, the PR person will be your first point of contact with the executives you need to interview. They’ll also provide you great background on a field you may not understand, usually accompanied with bios, schematics, graphics, flowcharts and more. Honestly, many of these “grunts” remain on my Christmas card list, usually for saving me from otherwise embarrassing corporate reporting errors.

  5. Get the trades, read the trades.We all know from Journalism 101 that you have to be well-read and up-to-date on a subject before you can write about it. The same holds true in B2B writing. Get the publications or e-newsletters you want to write for, their competitors, blogs, RSS feeds, Facebook sites and Twitter tweets. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it’s easy enough to track down the most arcane and minute industry resources.

    Reading these materials won’t just provide you with latest news about your field, they’ll introduce you to potential sources, story ideas and even employment opportunities.

  6. Associate with associations.Just like every field has its publication, it’ll also have an association that represents its interests. Associations are gold mines of information on an industry, its conferences (see # 6), members, news, rules and regulations and much more. Non-profits can provide you with lists of independent consulting firms, quite possibly the most frequent sources you’ll use.

    Plus, there are a plethora of these organizations. Yes, there’s an American Bankers Association, helpful for financial writers. And a Consumer Bankers Association. And a Mortgage Bankers Association of America. And an Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. And, well, you get the point.

  7. Become a conference junkie.Conferences and conventions for executives have dwarfed into their own industry. Jammed with educational sessions, vendor displays, speakers and meet-and-greet cocktail hours, these events are fodder for writers, whether it’s to witness a technology on display, conduct a Q&A, set up an informal survey, or simply put a face to a name. If nothing else, obtain the Holy Grail – the attendees list – and voilĂ , you’ve got yourself a Rolodex.

    Likewise, seminars/webinars, training sessions and workshops are worth visiting. You don’t necessarily want to become certified in the business, but imagine taking a class with the CEO of the company you cover. There are two caveats, though:

    • Be careful when registering for events as they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Fees usually are reduced or waived for credentialed press members. Often, editors hire local freelancers to cover out-of-state events, so consider packaging event coverage with your article queries when seeking work.
    • Smaller meetings, “roundtables,” and certification classes may restrict press attendance. Consult with event organizers regarding press access and grant off-the-record status if you feel it’s truly worth attending.
With a little luck, a lot of perseverance, and your arsenal of sharp writing techniques, you’ll make your way into the B2B publishing market. Ultimately, you’ll find it a challenging and rewarding track for your writing career.

Lurdes Abruscato headshot

Lurdes Abruscato is a freelance writer for business and consumer publications. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at the banking/electronic commerce division of Phillips Publishing, formerly the nation’s largest publisher of B2B newsletters. She’s now in the business of raising two children in suburbia.

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Guest Post: Cash in on Industry-Specific Writing + technology