Teach, and Grow Rich

With fees ranging from $100 to $4,000 a day, teaching writing often pays better than writing itself. Here are some steps you can take to join the lucrative speaking, consulting, training seminar and workshop business.


A few weeks ago I taught a writing seminar to a group of 25 logistics professionals employed by the US Army. My fee: $6,000. The week before, I taught a shorter version of the seminar at a medical equipment company. For less than a day's work, I received $3,500 plus expenses.

The point: Writers can earn significant fees teaching their writing and marketing skills to others. In fact, surveys frequently cite writing and other communications skills as key factors contributing to the success of corporate managers and support staff. Yet many executives will tell you their employees are poor writers. This creates a steady demand for in-house corporate seminars that teach basic writing skills, business and technical writing, grammar, and presentation skills. Specialty subjects, such as how to write reports, manuals and proposals, are also in demand.

Fortune 1000 companies are most likely to hire you for this work. Some midsize companies do buy writing seminars; but as a rule, the smaller the firm, the less likely it is to have a formal training program or budget.

How to Get Hired

Contact corporations and offer your services as a writing consultant. Write to training managers. Or call vice presidents, supervisors and department managers whose employees may need to improve their writing skills. Prepare an outline of your course and a biography highlighting your credentials to send prospective clients who request more information. Design these materials so they can be sent by fax or e-mail if there is immediate interest.

Training managers typically won't be interested in your writing program unless they've gotten a request from a manager in their company for a seminar on that topic. Most collect information for future reference. Send them your literature and follow up periodically by mail, fax and phone. Don't call too often, or you'll be perceived as a pest. Two to four times a year is just about right.

Managers and supervisors may not be thinking about a training program, but if they feel lack of writing skills is a problem in their organization, your offer may interest them. Stress the benefits of better writing: clear communication, increased customer satisfaction and sales, and greater productivity.

When you get hired, ask the client to have each attendee send you a short writing sample. Use these samples as handouts and class exercises (more on that later). Be sure to spend plenty of time reviewing and critiquing writing samples submitted by students. Most attendees are looking for this kind of hands-on help.

In corporate training, the client hires you on a per diem basis and provides the bodies, room and refreshments. You teach the seminar and supply course materials. Class sizes typically range from 10 to 25 students. Seminars, which take one or two days, are usually held in a conference room at the client's offices.

Day rates vary, but the corporate market is lucrative. Pay ranges from $500 to $4,000 a day, depending on your reputation, the demand for your course and the client. Most writers who do corporate training average from $1,200 to $2,000 per day. But some earn considerably more.

If the client is outside your town, you'll have to travel. You don't get paid an extra fee for your travel time, but the client should reimburse you for all expenses including airfare, lodging, meals and other out-of-pocket expenses. I use the travel time to work on my program and prepare for the upcoming class. On the trip home, I tally my expenses, prepare an invoice and write the client a thank-you note.

Putting Your Program Together

The client does not hand you a textbook or outline and say, "Teach this course." As an independent trainer, the program you present is of your own design. You must supply the complete content including handouts.

Putting together a writing course isn't difficult. Courses are organized like books, but instead of chapters, courses have modules. Therefore, if a corporate manager asks you to present a seminar on business writing to her employees, go immediately to the bookstore and buy two or three books on the subject. You can pattern your course outline after the table of contents in these books.

Your course should be designed as a series of modules covering various writing-related topics. The outline for my "Effective Business Writing" course, aimed at corporate managers and support staff, appears in the Seminars section of www.bly.com.

Most trainers include a set of handouts for each student as part of the cost, and pay the photocopying out of their own pockets. Some bind their handouts in workbook format and charge the client an additional $10 to $25 for each copy made. If you've written a book on the topic of your seminar, give the client the option of offering copies to each of their attendees. In the corporate world, the client will buy copies for the trainees and distribute the book to them; it is inappropriate to make a sales pitch for your products directly to your audience.

Show up at least an hour early. This gives you time to prepare the room and meet some of your students before class starts. Talk with students during breaks to get their feedback on how the day is going.

Keep in mind that your trainees are busy adults with many things to do. Don't be disturbed if class members have to pop in and out to attend meetings, make calls or check messages. Don't act annoyed when they do.

You can also offer some type of follow-up or support service. This can be included in the fee or sold for an extra charge. One writing trainer offers free telephone support for 30 days after the seminar. Another offers an editing-by-fax service where trainees fax in their work for comment and review.

Keep It Entertaining

Make your seminar entertaining as well as informative. Consider using videos, cartoons, humor, props, overheads, flip charts, games, team exercises and other techniques to maintain attendee interest. Plan a lot of activities for the students. Here's where you can use the writing samples the attendees submitted. Mask the author's name, make photocopies for the class, and have the class edit these samples as group exercises. Attendees want to see their own company's documents used as the primary examples in any writing seminar.

Be creative in your presentation. Seminar leader Terry Smith, author of Making Successful Presentations (John Wiley & Sons), gets attendees to participate by offering anyone who asks or answers a question a mystery prize in a sealed envelope. Terry tells the attendees that the prize may be worth $1 million or more. Inside each envelope is a lottery ticket.

In a seminar on effective phone communication, I had students practice conversations using toy phones. Sound effects, including dial tones and ringing phones, made the presentation fun and lively.

Remember, although you love writing, most of the people in your seminar do not. In many instances, attendees are forced to go to your course by their managers. A few may resent being sent. Others may resist learning a skill they don't admire or care about. The more you entertain as you train, the more enthusiastic your class will be, and the more the attendees will learn.

Teaching Writers

Another market for your seminars and talks is aspiring and professional writers. Every writer has a specialty--and you can share your knowledge of your specialty with other writers for a profit.

Aspiring writers want you to reveal the secrets of how to get published. They also want help becoming better writers. A large part of what they buy when they attend a seminar is hope and dreams. If you can motivate them and make them believe that their work can be published, they'll be satisfied. If you can actually help some of the attendees get into print, they'll rave about you for life.

Experienced professional writers don't want a basic writing course. They attend programs that teach them how to sell more of their work, get more assignments at higher fees or break into new markets.

For instance, if you are successful writing annual reports, can you teach other writers how to get these lucrative assignments? Or can you give a half-day seminar on how to make money editing medical monographs for doctors and pharmaceutical companies?

There are several venues available. You can teach an adult education course for a community college or university. This can be a one-day Saturday program or a series of evening classes. Most evening courses meet once or twice per week for 2 to 12 weeks.

Other organizations that offer seminars include high schools, YMCAs, writers' groups, libraries and bookstores. Programs usually run one to two hours and are held in the evening.

Fees are usually modest. Some seminar sponsors pay a flat rate of a few hundred dollars at most. Others pay you a percentage of the registration fees ranging from 15% to 50%. That's risky: If attendance is high, you can earn a fat paycheck. But if few people show, your earnings will be minimal.

Some writers promote and sponsor their own writing seminars. While the rewards can occasionally be great, this option entails the greatest out-of-pocket expense and the greatest risk. It also requires a knowledge of seminar marketing, direct mail, newspaper advertising and other promotional methods.

Most writers who market their own seminars have audiotapes, videos, books, reports and other materials to sell attendees. Income from these "back of the room" sales can sometimes make a marginal seminar profitable.

Another outlet for giving seminars to writers is writers' conferences. Writer's Digest runs ads and, each May, a directory of upcoming writers' conferences. Almost every conference features writing and marketing workshops led by professional writers. Write to conference directors and offer your services.

Pay here is usually a modest honorarium, although a famous author can command higher fees. The perk is free conference attendance with all or most expenses paid. My wife and I once enjoyed a Florida vacation at no charge when I spoke at a writers' conference in Orlando. I ask for other favors to compensate for the low pay--for example, free use of the conference's mailing list or a free ad in the host group's newsletter.

When you consider teaching writing, don't overlook community centers and school systems.

Writers are called on to present workshops to children in public schools and adult education classes in community centers. The pay, $30-$40 an hour, is attractive. A writer can earn $1,000 or more for a single four-day workshop.

How do you get into the school system? Schools look for writers who have real-world credentials such as published articles and books. Teaching credentials and college courses in education aren't required.

If you're interested in pursuing this type of work, contact your state Council of the Arts. In most states, this government agency provides grants for writers to teach writing in schools. Another organization that puts writers into classrooms is Teachers and Writers Collaborative.

As with corporate training, you must provide your own program: The schools don't hand you a text and a course that's ready to teach. Incidental expenses, such as commuting, typically come out of the writer's pocket.

You're the Expert

Writers don't just teach writing. They can also teach the subjects they write about. A cookbook writer, for instance, can teach cooking classes. A computer book author can give seminars in how to use a specific program or surf the Net.

When you write and publish books and articles on a topic, you are perceived as an expert. Many authors get calls from companies, associations and schools asking them to conduct a program on the topic of their book. If you want to generate more of these inquiries, include a description of your program, address and phone number in the bios that run with your articles and books. My $6,000 Army contract came because someone in the Army found my phone number in the back of my book The Elements of Business Writing.

Speaker's fees are all over the lot. Beginning speakers often speak for low or no pay at small local meetings for such organizations as real estate offices, chambers of commerce and civic groups.

Authors of books and articles who aren't celebrities or bestsellers can get $500 to $1,000 or more for a short talk at a luncheon or dinner meeting. Best-selling authors, top professional speakers and celebrities command $3,000 to $5,000 to $100,000 or more per talk.

Other Places to Speak Out

The amount of money you can make as a speaker depends largely on your fame. If you're a best-selling author, you can command $1,000 to $3,000 or much, much more for a one-hour talk. If you're unknown, payment will be nominal. One published poet I met routinely charges $30 for a one-hour poetry reading at colleges, libraries or bookstores.

When and why would someone hire a writer as a speaker? Several examples: At an advertising convention, the association hired Ray Bradbury to talk about creativity in a keynote address. And a group of printers recently retained a writer specializing in the Internet to tell their members how cyberspace will affect the printing business.

Thousands of associations hire speakers. If you write on topics appropriate for a specific audience, you might find a club or association that wants you to speak. One good reference source is the Directory of Association Meeting Planners & Conference/Convention Directors. Updated annually, the directory lists more than 13,600 association meeting professionals. Listings indicate professional speaker usage as well as size and number of meetings, destinations, lengths and schedule.

Associations pay significant fees to speakers who give talks at national meetings: $3,000 to $15,000 for a talk ranging from an hour to half a day. Local groups, and local chapters of national groups, typically pay no fee or only a modest honorarium.

All writers are, by definition, communicators and teachers. But some are comfortable only when a printed page separates them from their audience. It depends on your personality and what you enjoy.

But, if you are as comfortable at the podium as you are at the keyboard, consider taking your talents before a group. It's a nice change of pace from the isolation of writing. So are the fat paychecks. And the applause when you finish.