There's more to a career in writing than being a journalist or novelist
'So you write novels?'
That's the standard response at dinner parties when I tell people I'm a writer. Either that, or 'Oh, so you're a journalist?' Or, if it's one of those parties with 'creative industry types', they might just assume I'm an advertising copywriter.
But writing for business? Most people at most parties have never even heard of it.
Yet I've been making a living from business writing for years. True, I started off as an advertising copywriter myself. But back in 1998, I'd never heard of business writing either.
Some 13 years later, writing for business is a business in itself and I'm a creative director at The Writer, a language consultancy that specialises purely in words. Business is booming too, as more and more companies are realising the power of words to breathe new life and personality into their brands, and boost their bottom line. (One of our clients saved £500,000 in call-handling time just by making their bills easier to understand.)
Career options for writers
Some companies are taking brand language so seriously, they're creating new jobs in-house. In recent years we've seen clients as diverse as telecoms companies and management consultancies appointing their own heads of brand language: people whose job it is to make sure their company has a recognisable voice, and that whoever writes for them does so in that voice. That might involve working with creative agencies like ours to define the company's language, and in some cases globe-trotting around different offices to train people to write in that language.
Although heads of brand language are a very new thing, most big companies have been employing their own writers for years, especially in areas like internal communications, web writing and new business. Some companies, for example, have teams of bid writers to help them win new contracts. And there are many more people in areas like HR, customer service and PR who wouldn't call themselves 'writers', but do spend most of their days writing at work.
Then of course there are the creative agencies like brand consultancies, web agencies, design agencies and language consultancies that employ both full-time and freelance writers.
Whether you decide to work for an agency, a client or yourself, the choice for business writers has never been bigger. One minute you might be writing a blog for a bank or a poem for a crisp packet, the next you might be interviewing a CEO for an annual report. Or you can specialise, in anything from social media to corporate responsibility to web editing.
Starting out as a specialist in a particular subject can actually be an advantage. So a qualification in IT today could see you writing
the manual for the next big smartphone tomorrow. And a law degree could be put to good, creative use if you can translate and rewrite legalese into something that's easier to understand and more fun to read.
Your options aren't limited to writing, either. Even at The Writer, we don't just write. We help companies define the language they use. We train people to be better and more creative writers at work. We even come up with names for companies and products. And our team comes from all sorts of backgrounds, including publishing, human rights and literature, branding, magazines and PR.
How do you get into writing for business?
The bad news is it isn't as straightforward as, say, becoming a journalist where there's an obvious course to study and a well-trodden career path to follow.
There are some courses around: Falmouth University College, for example, offers a Business and Editorial Writing module as part of its Professional Writing MA. And you could do worse than starting with a degree in English, journalism or creative writing.
But at the end you'll still be faced with The Graduate's Conundrum: needing experience to get a job, and needing a job to get experience.
The good news is there are a number of ways to add some meat to your CV.
For example, you could volunteer as a mentor at the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing centre in east London that uses storytelling to inspire kids aged 8 – 18.
Or, for just £26 a year, you can join writers' network 26. As well as hosting talks and events where you can meet business writers, they also run regular creative writing projects for members.
At The Writer we have our own take on work experience, called 'Word Experience'. Instead of the traditional summer-holiday placement, we get 20 undergraduates in for two days of hands-on workshops.
In that time, the students learn practical things like how to improve their CVs and cover letters. But the bigger point is to show them that an English literature degree could lead to a job that's interesting, creative... and pays the bills.
Three tips for getting into business writing:
•Write. Blog. Tweet. It's all experience. And it's all 'building your brand'.
•Network. Join online communities or real-life groups. Try 26: www.26.org.uk.
•Be imaginative with the job you've got. Every job comes with opportunities to write and be creative. Even your out of office auto-reply could get you noticed.
Anelia Varela is creative director at The Writer
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