The question of getting into B2B content writing comes up frequently with our 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success alumni.
So we invited Sarah Greesonbach (our guest in the Freelancer Spotlight last week) to share more about how to break into the B2B niche and how to price your services to make it worth it.
That’s right, we’re talking prices and we’re giving numbers. Take it away, Sarah!
You’ve heard about B2B writing, right?
The kind of content business-to-business companies use to support their sales and marketing process, like white papers, case studies, and thought leadership articles that focus on a business buyer’s needs?
We’re all familiar with B2C (Business to Customer marketing) because we see it all the time – we’re consumers ourselves.
But B2B is all the technology and products that make our world work. It’s the 90% of the money and content that’s out in the world for software programs, manufacturing equipment, etc.
Well, now that you know what it is, many writers wonder how they can take their current writing experience and break into this industry to serve clients with B2B writing needs.
While B2B writing is a specialized field, it’s not just for ex-business executives sporting trendy Benjamin Franklin glasses.
With a little elbow grease, you can specialize in B2B writing and become an excellent candidate for businesses looking to introduce their products and services to potential customers.
Here’s a look at how to get started in the B2B content writing niche.
Table of Contents
- Step 1. “Spec” Your Portfolio
- Step 2: Use Your Work to Start a Conversation
- Step 3: Sell Your Talent, Not Your Time
- How Easy/Difficult is B2B Writing to Learn?
- What Foundation Should You Have as a Writer Before Niching Down as a B2B Writer?
- How Do Most B2B Writers Get Started?
- What Characteristics Make for a Good B2B Writer?
- What Kinds of Opportunities Are Out There for B2B Writers and How Hard is it to “Break In?”
- What Are Some Ways to Market Yourself and Build a Business as a B2B Writer?
- Is B2B For Everyone?
Step 1. “Spec” Your Portfolio
One of the biggest roadblocks to landing B2B clients is the fact that you haven’t written for businesses before. But we’ve got some good news for you. Every writer who is successful in this space today started out with exactly the same amount of experience that you have – zilch!
In fact, the phrase “every master was once a disaster” is quite accurate when it comes to B2B writing. The best B2B writers today weren’t born with a case study in their hand – they just kept working on very bad drafts until they gained the experience they needed to write a great one.
You don’t have to be paid to write in order to write for a business – you just need to educate yourself about writing for a business and set aside some time to develop clips “on spec.”
“On spec” means that you generated these clips as an experiment or example of the work you can do. It’s a common term for graphic designers, but writers can use it, too.
Here’s how it works:
1. Create a portfolio site using WordPress, Contently, SquareSpace, Pinterest, or whatever works for you. The only requirement for this site is a professional photo, a short paragraph about how you can help people, and space for your future clips.
2. Get an idea of the niche or ideal customer you’d like to write for by reading business websites like the Harvard Business Review, Tech Crunch, Smart Brief, Morning Brew, and others. Pay special attention to the topics and industries that lead you down the rabbit hole and absorb you for hours.
3. Stop thinking about B2B writing as a topic of writing, and start thinking about it as a perspective of writing. You’re looking at the world from the perspective of a large business with a complex product that solves a complex solution – so what does that company need to know about your product to help them make a purchase?
4. Use these niches to brainstorm articles or white paper ideas these companies can use to educate customers and sell products.
Here are some possible areas of B2B content writing, though the possibilities are limitless:
- Healthcare (Marketing, Big Data, New Research)
- Technology (IT Security, IT Software, Compliance)
- Data Analytics (Analysis Software, Data Analytics in Healthcare, Retail, etc.)
- Finance (Compliance, Taxes, Business Management, Virtual CFOs)
- Marketing (All topics have niche marketing requirements, such as law, medicine, social media, etc.)
- Business (Leadership, Human Resources, Organization)
For example, I might want to write for a Healthcare Marketing company (a marketing agency that helps Healthcare organizations market themselves online).
Then I’d think of an article that the company should write to attract clients, such as “How to use SEO to get more patients” or “Why you should use social media to build your hospital’s online community.”
And then comes the hard part – creating a 600-800 word article on a topic of your choosing. And investing time and attention in working through your own content development process, such as the following:
- Create an outline of all the information you want to include in the piece
- Develop a first draft
- Run that draft through writing programs like Grammarly, Hemingway App, etc.
- Develop a second draft
- Publish on your portfolio site with a title like “SPEC WORK: HubSpot Article,” or something that indicates this is a sample and it is not commissioned by or affiliated with that company
If you still feel you don’t have a good idea of where to start, check out your niche brands and read their blogs.
They are already doing content marketing, so the opportunity is there for you to “study up” on what they like and try out that voice and approach to content on your own.
(This is where your natural talents as a reader and writer can really shine. Because you can learn a whole lot from reading a B2B company’s active blog and emulating the topic and style they use.)
Step 2: Use Your Work to Start a Conversation
Once you have a clip you’re proud of, you can use it to start a conversation with that company. Seek out B2B companies on LinkedIn, or use other strategies from 30 Days to Freelance Writing Success, and connect with marketing managers and other writers.
Just say hello at first and follow what they put out on LinkedIn.
A week or two after you connect, let them know how you found them and that you’re building your portfolio as a writer in their space. Invite them to read the article if they’re curious – but make it clear you don’t have any expectations of their time.
This is a low-pressure way to make an introduction and let them see that you can think critically and communicate about their industry.
The bigger the company, the more work this strategy may take.
However, many medium and small-sized companies don’t get the attention that large ones do.
They may be pleasantly surprised they were picked out of a crowd by a writer who is passionate about their business.
It seems like a lot of work at first (after all, you’re technically writing for free), but if you do this two or three times, you’ll have some solid B2B clips and a few reasons to email prospective clients or reach out on LinkedIn.
Step 3: Sell Your Talent, Not Your Time
For some reason, it’s a natural default to try to bill hourly for your time. It’s a universal metric that makes it easy to exchange time for money – but that’s actually not a good thing!
While it’s normal to bill anywhere from $50 an hour to $100 or $125, this still limits your income to how many hours you can bill in a week or a month. This is why, even if you start out billing hourly, your ultimate goal in B2B writing is to move to a project or value rate.
Writing for B2B clients is on a whole other level compared to writing regular blog posts when it comes to pricing your work.
Multi-million dollar companies are placing their brand in your hands, and with that comes a higher level of professionalism and, yes, higher rates.
No one can speak to exactly what to charge, because your situation will be so different every time you pitch your work. Your pricing will be based heavily on the industry you’re writing about (healthcare and finance pay more, content marketing a bit less) and your experience level (the client may want to take a chance on you because they’re getting a good deal on a growing writer).
However, businesses that set aside a budget for marketing (a good indication is the fact that they have a Chief Marketing Officer or a Content Marketing Manager) and that believe in high-quality writing will not pay less than $250-425 for a targeted blog post of 500-800 words on the low end.
On the high end, these articles might command as much as $525 to $850 or beyond, especially if it is for a particularly large client or difficult topic to write about.
Other factors that come into play here include whether or not the article is ghostwritten (so it should pay more) and whether or not there are interviews involved (which will require more of your time and expertise in interviewing a subject matter expert).
White papers run even higher, from $1,500 for a short project of 1500 words to $3,000-$6,000 for a more complex paper of about 3,000+ words.
As you can see, this is how you can start to piece together your freelance writing business as a B2B writer. You build your portfolio and your online presence, securing more and more customers until you’re writing 5-7 articles each month (at $500 each) and 1-2 white papers each month (at $3,000 each), commanding a healthy monthly income in the process!
How Easy/Difficult is B2B Writing to Learn?
Because we’re all already consumers, it’s very easy to learn. You just need to be empathetic and interested in how people buy things!
For example, you can explore the customer buying journey and start to see that people need different kinds of information when making a big decision. It’s just really specific kinds of information (and problems) that are being solved.
I think this is why moms and teachers especially tend to be good at this. Once you swap out the language and the environment, many of the principles are the same – empathy, education and providing information.
What Foundation Should You Have as a Writer Before Niching Down as a B2B Writer?
- You know you’re a naturally talented writer – either someone’s told you that or in your gut you know you like to do it and do it pretty well most of the time.
- You are curious about how businesses work and how they make money – if you don’t have this, you’ll likely find the work boring and and it will be hard to really help people.
How Do Most B2B Writers Get Started?
We fall into it! Everyone I’ve ever asked got into B2B by accident. An opportunity came their way, and they jumped on it – to write a case study, a thought leadership article or a white paper or brochure.
They tried it, even though they were afraid they wouldn’t nail it the first time around, and it went well!
What Characteristics Make for a Good B2B Writer?
Well I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating – being curious about businesses. If you aren’t curious about how a piece of technology solves a problem and are excited to talk to people who have used it to great success, the piece you write from that will be boring and not worth reading.
That’s a great way to figure out the right niche for you. I felt that way about construction, as in I could.not.care.less. But talk to me about HR technology and I get my nerd glasses on and I could interview someone all day about it. We all have unique interests like that, and all of those interests have B2B applications.
What Kinds of Opportunities Are Out There for B2B Writers and How Hard is it to “Break In?”
This is the most beautiful part. These are big numbers that are hard to imagine, but
- $9 trillion B2B-Ecommerce (Forrester) – still only 12% of total B2B economy
- Compared to $3.46 trillion B2C ecommerce (Digital 360), just 17% of total B2C retail
- The IRS received about 32 million non-farm business tax returns. About 30% of these returns represent legal entities (shell companies)… with no significant assets or operations. However, this still leaves about 22 million active businesses (DM Databases).
So that’s just to say – for as many stores and brands and companies you can think of as a consumer, there’s three to four times that many B2B companies. You just don’t know about them yet.
There is a lot of opportunity here, and a lot of opportunity being invented as we speak, because these are all innovative business. When I think about opportunity in B2B writing, I think of the writer as a surfer. The ocean is big and deep and is literally built on creating new things and advertising and marketing htem.
Writers just need to grab a surf board (prepare themselves for the opportunities) and then go swimming to see what they can find!
What Are Some Ways to Market Yourself and Build a Business as a B2B Writer?
In my course B2B Writing Career Kickstarter I focus on creating your website (calling card), your mindset (how you talk to people and about marketing) and your clips (getting examples out there, even if they’re not perfect).
Reading a ton of examples and creating your own – especially with the help of those of us who have “been there done that” – is a powerful way to get yourself successfully launched as a B2B writer.
You can also spend some time with this article, B2B Writing Thought Leadership & Ghostwriting, to learn more about five trends B2B writers can use to secure clients and deliver value with their content.
Is B2B For Everyone?
Can everyone write for a B2B audience?
No. We all have different preferences, strengths, and gifts we can share with our clients.
But absolutely everyone can work through this process and see if they have what it takes (and if they like how it feels) to be a B2B writer.
Want to learn some more about B2B writing? Check out Sarah’s free B2B Writing Foundations Course!
Sarah Greesonbach is the founder of the B2B Writing Institute, which prepares the next generation of B2B writers to own their marketing impact. Click through to take the forever free Foundations of B2B Writing course and learn more about writing formats like white papers, case studies, and thought leadership articles.