Expand Your Writing Business With Sales Brochures

Writing sales brochures for businesses is a lucrative, easy-to-enter opportunity for freelancers. An experienced business writer explains how to get started creating brochures that will entice customers, please clients and increase your writing income.

For every product you see advertised, there are literally hundreds that are promoted only through sales brochures. These printed promotional pieces represent a large, easy-to-enter market for freelance business writers.

Yet this market is largely overlooked. Says freelancer Cam Foote, "Most freelancers are so oriented to soliciting agencies for ad work, they simply ignore the opportunity." As a full-time freelancer specializing in business writing, I add at least $75,000 a year to my income with brochures and related promotional pieces. While you can't expect to duplicate that figure quickly, even a single successful project can be worth $500-$3,500 or more.

If you're already writing for commercial clients, brochures represent an opportunity to expand your business and boost your income. Although many clients can't afford TV commercials or magazine ads, just about every organization needs some sort of printed literature to educate, inform or sell. Potential clients for your brochure-writing services include local small businesses, self-employed professionals, national corporations, manufacturers, service and professional firms, banks, government agencies, hospitals, colleges and universities, museums and nonprofit institutions. You can also offer your services to ad agencies, graphic design studios and PR firms that produce brochures for their clients.

Big companies represent the most lucrative market for your brochure-writing services. Companies with multiple divisions, departments, product lines or affiliates such as banks, insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies, large manufacturers and Fortune 1000 firms-likely have dozens or hundreds of different products and services, each requiring a brochure or series of brochures to promote it. They have an ongoing need for many different pieces of literature and they can afford to pay top dollar for your work. (For example, one large corporate client paid me $9,000 for a major brochure with inserts; another assigned to me an extensive series of brochures that will eventually earn me more than $20,000.) Small or local firms represent an important market, too-especially for your first efforts. Such firms' projects are typically smaller in scope, but they are still profitable assignments. I recently worked with a collection agency that paid me $1,000 for a small booklet. It generated substantial results for the agency, which later hired me to write its ads and sales letters.

Some types of companies generally don't spend a lot of money on brochures, and represent at best only a "one-shot" situation. This category includes local service businesses, professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists), self-employed business people, retailers, mail-order firms (although they will pay heavily for good sales letters), small companies run by their owners, and entrepreneurs just getting started.

THE BASICS OF BROCHURES

No matter what size company or project you work on, the client's expectations will be the same: a brochure that quickly communicates the essentials of a business to new customers, prospects, employees and dealers. Brochures are primarily a medium of information-they tell prospects what the product is and what it can do for them. But most important a brochure must persuade customers to purchase the client's product.

These six techniques will help you create brochures that satisfy your clients' needs.

Put a strong selling message on the cover. Many people never get past the first page, so your reader should be able to understand what you are selling simply by glancing at the front cover. At the same time, the cover should either arouse curiosity or promise a reward for turning the page ... to get the prospect to read further. For example, the brochure cover on page 30 promises direct marketers 15 solutions to their collection problems, a significant promise for companies trying to collect on unpaid orders.

One mail presort service got significantly better sales results simply by changing its brochure's headline. The original cover featured only the company's name; the revised one read, "How to Mail a 25-Cent First-Class Letter for 21 Cents Postage." Which would you rather read?

Visualize. Whenever possible, show the reader what you mean instead of telling him. Use graphs, photos, charts, tables, diagrams, schematics and other visual aids to tell your story. For instance, if you want to dramatize your "nationwide network of 50 repair centers," show a map of the US with red dots representing your 50 locations.

Organize your brochure according to the buyer's logical decision-making process. "Follow the approach a good salesperson would use," says Dick Hill, vice president of Alexander Marketing Services, a Michigan-based ad agency. "First qualify the prospect [that is, let the buyer know this product is intended for his business]. Then, get him interested. Then go through the features and benefits. Then, give details about selections and models."

Look again at the brochure I wrote for Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau. The first line qualifies the reader; this service is "for direct marketers only." Then comes the cover's promise. On the inside pages (pages 30-31), I listed the company's 15 major selling points, beginning with the most powerful ("We return you more money").

Ask yourself, "Does this brochure answer all the questions I'd have if I were going to buy this product?" If not, go back and add the missing details. The biggest complaint consumers and business buyers have with brochures is that they don't give enough information-especially when it comes to price. (If a client objects to adding price or other information that might "date" the brochure, put that information on a separate sheet to be inserted in the brochure.)

Divide the brochure's text into short, easy-to-read sections. Use lots of headlines and subheads to break up the copy and highlight individual sections and topics. (Such as "We use the telephone to get you more money" and "No balance too small" in the pictured RMCB brochure.) Within the text, use short paragraphs, numbered lists and bullets to further break up copy into bite-size chunks.

People like short sections in brochures for the same reasons they like chapters in books: they give readers a place to pause and rest before going on. Ideally, each section should discuss only a single topic. If you're really good, readers will understand the service or product you want them to buy just by scanning the headlines and subheads.

Don't just tell-sell. Just because a prospect asked for or picked up a brochure doesn't mean he or she is going to buy. Far from it. In fact, I'd guess that well over 90% of them will not become customers.

As a brochure writer, your job is to convince these prospects to buy. A brochure that just "gives information" is not enough. You must sell as well as tell. Your copy must be persuasive writing that stresses benefits-the reasons the prospective client should, even must, buy your product or service now. (Don't confuse benefits with features: a feature of a word processor is the ability to edit and revise what you're typing quickly and easily; the benefit of this feature is that you save a lot of time and can increase your productivity-and make more money as a result.)

Benefits must be or be made to appear important to the customer. Remember the company with the "nationwide network of 50 repair centers" I mentioned earlier? Along with that map of the US, I'd rewrite the copy to add a customer benefit: "Our 50 field service centers located throughout the US mean we can be there to repair your system or install a replacement within hours of your call." In the RMCB brochure, I presented the company's services by explaining how each would affect the client's business ("Your own personal account representative is available to answer questions ... whenever you call").

SELLING YOURSELF

To get assignments writing brochure copy, you must contact the appropriate person at the organizations described earlier. For large corporations, contact any of these: marketing manager, sales manager, advertising manager, manager of marketing communications, manager of marketing support services, director of corporate communications. You'll find them listed in such books as The Standard Directory of Advertisers (National Register Publishing Co.) and Directory of Corporate Communications (J.R. O'Dwyer and Co.), both available in your local library.

For smaller firms, contact the president, owner or director of marketing. To get the name of the appropriate person, call the company and ask the receptionist. If none of these titles exists, ask for the person in charge of advertising. Most receptionists give this information freely. If they ask why you want it, be honest and briefly explain that you're a consultant specializing in the production of sales brochures, and you want to send information about your services.

Getting the right person's name is important. If you don't have a name, you can always write to the person by title, but this is less effective than a personal approach.

The best technique for reaching prospects is direct mail. Send a one-page sales letter describing your services. Invite the prospect to contact you to discuss a project, see samples of your work (if you have material to show), or request an initial meeting. Enclose a reply card the prospect can use to respond.

Since most prospects aren't likely to have a specific project in the works when your letter reaches them, you should create a brochure, information kit or promotional package describing your background, qualifications and services. Send this material to prospects who respond to your mailing. My sales package (pictured on page 34) consists of the following elements:

A cover letter describing my service in detail and answering questions potential clients frequently ask;

      a client list, testimonials and a brief bio

      samples of brochures I've written for other clients

      a fee schedule

      an order form the prospect can use to get me started

Clients who don't have an immediate assignment can keep your brochure or package on file and refer to it when they need to hire a freelance brochure writer. Also, sending samples, a client list and other details helps sell prospects on using your service.

There are a variety of other techniques for attracting business. Place small ads in magazines that prospective clients read such as local and regional business newspapers and magazines, and newsletters from local ad clubs, chambers of commerce and other groups. List yourself in directories of local freelancers. Submit articles on communication and business topics for local publications. Speak on corporate communications and related issues before industry groups, chambers of commerce and others. Teach writing or business at a local community college.

BUSINESS BASICS

Freelance writers handling brochures charge in several ways; by the hour, by the day, by the project. Some quote clients a flat fee that includes revisions, meetings and review of layouts; others charge one fee for writing the initial draft; revisions and meetings are billed separately.

Most writers and clients prefer a flat fee arrangement because the writer knows what he will earn and the client knows how much to budget. The only time I use an hourly fee is for a job that cannot be accurately estimated, such as a catalog with an unknown number of pages or a complex brochure for which format and length are flexible and not yet determined.

I know one successful brochure and annual report writer who gives an estimated flat fee; it's based on his hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours he thinks the job will take. If it takes longer, he bills the client for the extra hours.

How much should you charge? Fees are all over the lot. I've seen hourly rates range from $25 to $200 or more; Cam Foote reports that the writers attending his "How to Sell Creative Services" seminars charge fees from $40 to $100 per hour. But according to a recent Adweek survey, 75% of freelancers charge by the project, not by the hour. In the sidebar, "How Much Should I Charge?" (on page 32), I list several projects brochure writers commonly take on and offer an average range of fees.

Once a client agrees to your fee, get it in writing. Ask for a purchase order or a letter of agreement on the client's letterhead. Or, send your own letter or contract that the client must sign and return to you before you start. If the job is a rush, a contract can be sent by fax to the client, signed and returned to you by fax in a matter of minutes.

Although it's not mandatory, many freelancers get partial payment up front, particularly on the first project with any new client. This payment can be a flat fee (a $1,000 retainer is typical among professionals) or a fraction of the total contract amount (25%, 33% or 50%).

Always make and keep on file a photocopy of this advance payment check. If a dispute over payment arises and you have to take the client to court, the check copy gives you a record of the client's bank and account number.

BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS

Your first brochure assignments will be learning experiences and opportunities to build a reputation and get samples for a portfolio. Don't worry too much about getting big fees-they will come. Focus on doing the best possible job. The idea is to get a portfolio of samples you can use to sell your service to other firms, and also to get a list of satisfied clients who will give you good referrals.

Remember that you satisfy clients not only by writing good copy, but also by being pleasant, professional, patient, fair and ethical in your dealings. For example, it's OK to disagree with a client who wants to revise your copy, but it's unprofessional to rant and rave about every little change. Remember, the client is paying for the copy and he or she has final say.

After a few months, you can begin to quote higher fees to new clients. Because of your impressive client roster and portfolio samples, these clients will be happy to pay you more than they would have paid you as a "rank beginner" only a few months ago.

By all means, charge those higher fees without guilt. Your copy can produce thousands or even millions of dollars in increased sales for your clients, so you deserve whatever the market will bear. The most common mistake freelance writers make is not charging enough for their services.

Finally, don't be shy about asking clients if they have other products or services you can write brochures for or if there are other people within the organization who might also need your service. Such referrals can lead to assignments for other writing, which will, in turn, expand your business-and your bottom line.