Got What it Takes to Make $125/Hour as a “Commercial” Writer?

by Peter Bowerman
(Atlanta, Georgia)

Got What it Takes to Make $125/Hour as a “Commercial” Writer?
The Writing Backgrounds Most Likely to Succeed in a Tight Market

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently, a marketing communications manager for a big B2B (business-to-business) services company. And she was telling me why it makes good sense for her company to outsource the writing of some of their marketing materials.

Companies Always Need Writing
Like many companies, the economy’s forced hers to shed employees. But, she observed, “We still need to market – even more so in a down economy – still need to remind our clients and prospects of the value we deliver. That means plenty of writing, and since our in-house staff has been scaled back, that means calling on outside resources.”

A caveat. While the commercial writing field has definitely not been pounded as mercilessly as, say, magazine/newspaper writing has (remember: businesses have no choice; they need to keep marketing), we’ve taken our hits.

Freelancers Make Sense
Sure, many companies who hired pricey ad agencies and marketing firms in the past have found the economics of hiring a freelancer writer (especially when partnered with a freelance designer) to be quite attractive. Yet, by the same token, some companies who hired freelancers have pulled that work back in-house until cash flow improves.

Bottom line, it’s no cakewalk to make it as a commercial freelancer, but, then again, what field that can pay $50-125+ an hour is? That said, if you’ve got the chops, and are willing to market yourself aggressively, “commercial” writing, compared to most other writing directions, can be highly lucrative and surprisingly accessible.

“Best-Bet” Backgrounds to Succeed
But, some backgrounds are more promising than others. As a long-time commercial freelancer, an author of books on the subject, and a coach for those starting and building a writing business, I’ve crossed paths with hundreds of writers over the years.

Along the way, I’ve noticed the folks who do best, not only in building the business in general, but in their earning power as well. Now, if you don’t find yourself below, you’re not doomed to failure. It’ll just likely be more challenging for you, but it’s not a breeze for anyone, including the folks below.

In-House Marketing People: Arguably the best candidates, these folks are intimately familiar with corporate culture, vernacular, the projects that need to get done, the requisite writing skill levels sought, and overall marketing strategy. Plus, they’re usually ideally positioned to land writing work from former employers. Those who’ve done extensive writing in their jobs are that much further ahead of the game.

Corporate Staff Writers: These individuals have advantages similar to the marketing folks, with the added edge of already being in a steady commercial writing groove – not always the case with marketers. That spells the potential makings of a robust portfolio encompassing myriad project types.

Ad Agency Copywriters: Ad agency copywriting is a common launching pad for many commercial freelancers. They have similar advantages to staff writers, while also likely “getting” the marketing piece as well. Minuses? The ad world is often insular, and home to condescending attitudes towards any writing other than ad copy, and practitioners often focus on creating clever copy vs. effective, bottom-line-boosting copy.

Journalists: This group typically boasts excellent writing, editing and grammar skills, knows how to write engagingly, and is accustomed to deadlines – all pluses. Plus, they’re often used to long hours, poor working conditions, and lousy pay – all of which can motivate them to make a transition work. Minuses? They often wrestle with the subjective nature of commercial freelancing, as opposed to the, ahem, “objectivity” of journalism (commercial writing isn’t objective, and isn’t supposed to be).

PR Pros: Solid writing skills, deadline orientation, familiarity with many kinds of marketing materials, and a strong grasp of business, marketing principles, and the “power of perception” are all pluses. As big PR firms scale back, those let go are in a good position to make a successful transition to the commercial world.

Industry-Specific Experts: Have an extensive industry track record and knowledgebase (especially a high-tech field) along with good writing skills? A rare combo. While subject-matter experts abound, precious few can also write well about their field. Econ 101 dictates that those practitioners, if they market themselves well, can thrive. And the marketing process for this group is generally easier, simply because both their audiences and their skills are so specific and well defined.

Sales Professionals: I came out of this background. Those who do and who understand the marketing fundamentals (audience, features/benefits, USP), can write well, and have no fear of marketing (i.e., cold calling, face-to-face networking, etc.) have some sizable advantages over those unaccustomed to those activities.

The commercial writing field, while no breeze to break into, offers talented writers a lucrative channel for their skills, and a far faster ramp-up time than virtually any other writing direction. As you read this, countless writers, often with skills no better than yours, are earning hourly rates ranging from $50 to well over $125. Why not you?


Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer and business coach in Atlanta, Georgia, is the author of 2010 title, The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less, an updated edition of his original 2000 award-winning Book-of-the-Month Club selection. For a free report, “Why Commercial Writing?” and to subscribe to his popular monthly ezine and blog, visit He chronicled his self-publishing success (60,000 copies of his books in print and a full-time living for eight-plus years) in his award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living.

© Copyright 2011, Peter Bowerman. All Rights Reserved

Comments for Got What it Takes to Make $125/Hour as a “Commercial” Writer?

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Jul 24, 2011
Thanks Maria!
by: Peter Bowerman

Happy to do it Maria - thanks for the venue! And thanks for spreading the word. I get by with a little help from my friends...;)


Jul 23, 2011
Thank you Peter!
by: Maria Pease

Hi Peter,

My name is Maria and I am the owner/writer of this site. I recommend your books regularly as I have read them each several times myself and have learned so much from them. You will see many links to your books throughout the pages.

I can't tell you how surprised I was to see an article from you! I am completely blown away that you were so kind to write for my site!

Thank you Peter!


Maria Pease

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