Do companies hire freelance writers, or do freelance writers mainly create web content?
You bet that different types of companies hire writers, and some of those projects pay quite well too. If you have solid business writing experience and good skills, chances are good that you can find writing work within a company.
Last week we examined a dozen high paying writing fields. Today, we’ll explore how the size of a company affects the work that it offers. We’ll look at some general advantages and disadvantages of writing for small, medium, and large companies so that you can make the best choice for your situation.
While there are many definitions of what comprises a small, medium, and large company, for the purpose of this post I’ve provided my own, somewhat arbitrary, descriptions of each type of company. (Remember that each company is unique, so these generalizations may not fit a specific company or situation.)
Writing for Small Companies and Startups
A small business employs less than fifty people. In many cases, a small business is a sole proprietorship or a startup.
Startups are brand new companies that have only been in business for a short time. A startup may be funded by investors, or by the owner’s own hard work. A sole proprietorship consists of a lone individual. A sole proprietor may be another freelancer, or they may operate a small service-oriented business.
In the Web 2.0 culture, both sole proprietors and startups are plentiful. In many ways, small companies and startups are somewhat similar, so we’ll examine them together.
Pros of writing for a small company or startup:
- Opportunities are plentiful, especially online
- May work directly with the owner or other key player in the company
- Can provide opportunity to try out new or experimental applications
- May lead to something bigger in the future
- Most likely to be flexible with hours and/or work location
- Can potentially play a bigger role in a project
Cons of writing for a small company or startup:
- May not be financially sound
- Pay is likely to be less than average
- May work longer hours or have more “rush” work
- Projects may be small or one-time projects
- Small company may fail financially
Bottom line: Many freelancing success gurus advise against working for small companies and startups because the risk is much higher that you won’t get paid. However, I disagree with this advice. If you can find a good paying opportunity with a small company or a startup, I think it’s okay to take it. After all, today’s big corporate names were startups once. Just be aware of the risks before you accept the job.
Writing for Medium-sized Companies
A medium-sized company has fifty to around five hundred employees. Medium-sized companies are the backbone of our economy. Many have been around for years. They may be family-owned (privately held) or they may be incorporated. Either way, they are likely to need freelance writers because they probably don’t have a large in-house writing staff.
Pros of writing for a medium-sized company:
- More stability, financial and otherwise
- May be working directly with a manager or with lone writer
- Usually provides a good pay rate
- Less bureaucracy than with a large company
- Usually offers flexible hours and location
Cons of writing for a medium-sized company:
- Work may be infrequent or come in spurts
- There’s more potential for a personality conflict since you will likely work with one or two individuals
- Projects may offer less variety than a small company
- May have “rush” work
Bottom line: For the freelancer, a medium-sized company can be easier to approach than a larger company that already has an in-house writing staff. For one thing, they probably hire freelancers directly and not through an agency. These company are just large enough to need a writer, but not large enough to keep one on staff.
Writing for Large Corporations
A large corporation has more than five hundred employees. The larger the corporation, the more likely it is to have its own in-house writing team. However, large corporations do hire freelancers. When I was an employee in the technical communications department of a large company we often brought in contractors to help on projects. Several times over the years, I have also been brought in as a contractor at various large companies.
Pros of writing for a large corporation:
- Large projects mean long-term work
- Fierce competition for projects
- Better pay
- Structured environment
- Work within a team, learn from other writers
- May have rules and/or guidelines for writers
- Prestige and name recognition
Cons of writing for a large corporation:
- Less likely to offer flexible location or hours
- May require thorough background check or even drug testing
- Many corporations only hire freelancers through an approved agency
- Many levels of management and lots of bureaucracy
- May be assigned mundane tasks
- More likely to require a degree
- If the company hits a rough patch, contractors are the first to go
Bottom line: Many freelancers seek out and compete for a limited number of corporate opportunities. It can be hard to break into the corporate market. Once you do, the corporation is likely to use you over and over again. Plus, many corporations are household names. Working with a household name will look good in your portfolio or on your resume.
Have you done freelance writing for any of these types of companies? What size company did you work with?
Can you think of any more advantages or disadvantages?
Leave your answers in the comments.
Next week, we’ll focus on large corporations. We’ll talk about how they hire writers. Stay tuned!
I’ve worked with a few corporates. Main drawback is they think they can write. Or they think they can write info that an audience will be interested in. They can’t in most cases. It’s like me trying to do plumbing. I’m much better off hiring a plumber. I know this, but they often don’t know they’re better off with a professional writer rather than trying to write something themselves, or, worse, trying to rework a professional writer’s copy to suit them and not their target audience.
Corporates will often look to squeeze writers, too. But I don’t know that they’re better or worse than anyone else when it comes to this.
Laura Spencer says
Good point Phil!
Although, I have to say that I’ve met with some non-corporate types who also think that they can write better than they actually can. 🙂
Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter says
The assumption that paying for a writer is ridiculous because anyone could right makes as much since as never seeing a doctor because you own a thermometer. Interesting look at company sizes, but I have to ask–aren’t things like drug testing something employees would do? Would freelancers have to do that? I’m not on anything (lol) I just feel like that is BS to ask of a business owner. Isn’t like I write for High Times or anything!
.-= Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter´s last blog ..Popular Freelance Writing Blog Releases Keyword Density Analyzer that Focuses on Readability =-.
Diar A. says
In my country, Indonesia, it’s not that common for companies to hire freelance writers. Well, except if they’re open-minded and have the faith that it’s much better to give writing possibility to those who really know what they’re doing. So, there are still not many opportunities for writing for companies here. I mostly rely on online opportunities.
Anne Wayman says
I was a contract inside web writer for HP back in the days before the dotcom bust. Not only did they pay a huge hourly, but because I had to move to do the job, they paid for a couple of month’s housing. Amazing.
I’ve also freelanced for tiny one person companies… one again was an SEO company back in the early days when I could get $25 or better for a 300 word article… guess I still can but it gets so boring!
Have ghostwritten books for people in single person companies, and for people who own mid-sized companies… all over the map aren’t I?
I don’t think there are advantages that can be categorized by size of company. Rather it’s by the assignment and the person you’re actually doing the work for.
.-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..ScribeSEO Special Ends =-.
Laura Spencer says
I went to bed and woke up to find… a conversation.
That’s great. That’s what blogging’s all about.
Hi Jessie–Actually, there are do-it-yourselfers in many industries. We made the mistake of buying our first house from such a person. It was only after we moved in that we realized how non-standard many of the “improvements” were. That being said, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some (not all) DIY folks are very talented.
Diar A., Thanks for stepping in and sharing your experience. I really don’t know for sure how writing is handled in other countries. I’m sure that each region has its own peculiarities. I do remember working with one individual from overseas who told me that in her country technical manuals were written by high school students for very low pay.
Hi Anne! Thanks for stopping by. The post is based on my own experience over the course of a little more than twenty years. In my experience, there have been many similarities, which I believe to be due to the size and financial stability of the company I was working at. Most of the large corporations hired in the same way too. However, as your rightly point out, it’s always true with generalizations that your mileage may vary. Who you work for is definitely important. The wrong people in a large company can certainly make your life difficult! 🙂
.-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Are You Trapped in the Writing Web? =-.
Your detailed points are excellent. Thanks for this post.
I define business size more by revenue than number of employees. My clients tend to be mid-sized businesses with annual sales of $5-$50 Million.
These are marketers who have in-house staff and/or work regularly with consultants and professional copywriters. You don’t have to works as hard educating them about your value proposition. And they don’t experience sticker shock over fair pricing.
That said, you can’t rely entirely on revenue as an indicator of marketing readiness. I recently chatted with the CEO of a raw commodities’ company with annual sales over $50 million. He didn’t even staff a marketing department! “We don’t do business, that way, Ma’m,” said this polite southern magnate.
Laura, recently I’ve found it harder to make inroads with Fortune 500 and other big businesses. It helps to work your network and come up with some kind of connection. Barring that, many big co.’s make you email proposals through special vendor channels. Can’t help but feel these proposals disappear into the ether.
P.S. Jones says
I prefer working for small companies because you are often talking to the person in charge. Although the bigger companies generally have a better budget, they’re not always more stable. And you usually have to go through so many more rounds of approvals, with differing opinions at each stage. The draw back to smaller companies is just what you said: They’re sometimes only in business for a few months or years.
Laura Spencer says
Lorraine–you are so right! It can be very difficult to find work with a large company. However, once you do get your foot in the door they are often a reliable source of repeat business so it is well worth the effort. I think categorizing businesses by revenue is common, but often (not always) those with the most revenue also have the most employees.
P.S. Jones, You have hit on one of the prime advantages to working with a smaller company. With a smaller company you are much more likely to work directly with a key decision maker. If you can get along with that one person it is probable that you will do well with that company.
.-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Are You Trapped in the Writing Web? =-.
Marcy Sheiner says
I once did a business report for a very major telecommunications company. They hired me because they wanted to produce something different from their usual dry copy. Well, everything I wrote got revised–into, you might have guessed, dry copy! They never hired me again. Obviously, I’ll have to learn to write differently from my usual style to get these kinds of assignments….it paid fabulously!
I’ve worked primarily for small companies, i.e., individual entrepreneurs. Some of them have paid very well, but those are hard to find.
I feel this post was really useful for writers because they will know how they can work for such companies that you have mentioned above. Hoping to read more of your posts.