Medical Writers, Should You Write For Free?

2328829160_186d9a80bc_mWhether you’re new to freelance medical writing or an experienced writer trying to break into a new therapeutic area, a common misperception is that because you lack a portfolio that includes the types of deliverables you want to write, you need to write for free just to get your foot in the door. We disagree and here’s why.

If you’re a novice writer we understand you are eager to get your feet wet. You want to create pieces you can add to your portfolio to show potential clients you know how to write well. Plus seeing your name in print is elating. Unfortunately, many groups (think content mills) are out there preying on writers willing to write for pennies or less. Don’t do it. When you write for free or for ridiculously low compensation, you become part of the problem because you devalue the industry.

If you’re serious about being seen as a professional who is a freelance medical writer, you need to treat your writing like a business, not a hobby. Recognize that good writing doesn’t come cheap. The latest salary survey completed by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) in 2011 shows that, on average, freelance medical writers earn $100 an hour. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean the majority of medical writers charge by the hour. It means that when they divide the time spent on a project by the fee they received, the average hourly rate they earned was $100. As you would expect, those with more experience and education averaged higher rates than inexperienced or less educated writers. Still, the mean gross income for full-time freelances in the 2011 survey was $116,000. You can’t earn that kind of money when you write for free or for a rate that’s lower than minimum wage. (Just an FYI, you can access the complete AMWA salary survey through the AMWA website,, if you are an AMWA member.)

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Prospecting: It’s All About Making Connections

In our previous post, we discussed focusing your marketing efforts on a particular target market. Once you’ve done so, the question becomes how do you approach these prospects? When you are trying to make a connection, it’s not enough to say that you’re a freelance medical writer. That makes you sound generic. After all, you don’t want the listener’s eyes to glaze over before you’re done speaking. You need a good story to tell, an opening line that gets prospects interested and explains the problem you can solve for them and the results you provide. For example, “I design and write content for multimedia programs that train sales reps how to sell new products,” or “I’m an expert at designing online programs for physician education.” Now your prospect’s interested!
Medical writer handshake
If you haven’t done so yet, take some time to craft your key message. This essentially is your elevator speech. Tuck it into your back pocket and be prepared to deliver it whenever you meet a new prospect.

Becoming a freelance medical writer who always has paying work often feels like a Sisyphean task. You push that boulder up the hill only to watch it roll down again. At times you’ll wonder whether it’s worth it (it is). Other times, you’ll think you’re on the wrong track (you probably aren’t).

Marketing experts say it takes at least 4 positive interactions before a client will call you with a project. So keep at it. If you stick with your focus and build relationships within your chosen niche, people will start to call. And when you get the job done on time, on target, and within the budget, they’ll keep calling.

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Bring Focus and Clarity to Your Marketing Efforts

205606714_92ecf3f428_mJust as it’s important to write clearly and with focus, so is it vital to the success of your freelance medical writing business to focus your marketing efforts. There are a lot of places where medical writers can take their talent. In our opinion, using a shotgun approach that peppers the entire industry is not the best tactic when you’re just starting out. Narrowing your focus to a specific audience, client, or type of writing makes more sense because it enables you to build relationships with your customers and get repeat work.

Start by choosing one target market. Some beginning medical writers resist this advice. They don’t want to focus because they’re afraid of missing out on any opportunity to generate business and bring in cash. Thinking you have an unlimited number of prospects can be a comfortable illusion. But in reality you can’t be everything to everybody. It’s much easier to build a reputation within a specific niche.

Focusing your marketing efforts on a specific target enables you to reach your market with less effort. Think about it. People in the same niche go to similar meetings and talk with one another. Once you build credibility with one of them, your name and reputation will spread quickly. You can expand into different niches as you gain experience.

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We Had a Facelift!

Cosmetic surgery might not be for everyone, but after 4 years, it was time to give our website a facelift. Our new site feels revitalized and rejuvenated and we hope you like the change.

One of the additions to our site is this blog. We have good intentions and plan to blog several times a week. We’ll do our best, we promise. We generate a lot of content already, through Pencil Points , our monthly free newsletter, on our Facebook  page, and in the articles we write for the Journal of the American Medical Writers Association. We share some of these articles in the free downloads section of our site. Check it out!

We’ll continue to write about new and ongoing issues that affect medical communicators everywhere and we’ll point you to even more tools and resources that may help you do your job better. So bookmark this page and return often to discover what’s new.