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.>
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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