The Secret to Writing Brilliantly About a Boring Business

Carol Tice

Last week, I asked if you had any questions about how to break into business writing. More than 100 comments later…I’d say the answer is yes!

Here’s one of the big ones I got:

“When you’re still starting out as a business writer and you’re not choosy about your clients, how do you keep your brain from being fried (creative brain cells gasping for breath) when you don’t like the products you’re marketing?”

This is one of the big fears writers have about business writing: It’s going to be boring, and it will kill my soul.

That’s exactly what I thought when I got my first job reporting on businesses. It was actually all hardware-store and lumberyard businesses.

Sound boring?

I thought, “I must be out of my mind. How will I psych up to write three articles a week, all about hardware stores?”

But you know what? It wasn’t boring at all. In fact, I did five full-time years of it and they went by in a blink.

I became totally fascinated by the world of business — the egos and personalities, the money, the new ideas and products, the successes and failures.

Business, I discovered, is one big soap opera.

And behind every business is a person with a story.

I’ve never yet run into a business that wasn’t interesting in its own way.

The founder had a passion or a dream. There’s a reason they started this business, and a reason it thrived and didn’t flounder and close up shop.

Find that story, and you’ll find out how to create compelling marketing pieces for that business that you enjoy writing, and that don’t make you feel you need to take a shower afterwards.

How boring was my first client?…

I got into business writing sorta accidentally (as several people on last week’s post also reported!).

Think this is how it often does happen…some friend owns a business, and they hear you’re a writer, and ask if you could make them a flier. Or a brochure. Or rewrite their product descriptions so they don’t suck. And the next thing you know…you’re a business writer.

My story: I called on a former source to just say thanks for being a great interview over the years, and to let him know I was now freelancing.

His startup supported call-center software that monitored the headphone jockeys and gave managers data to help improve their performance.

Zzzzz…er, where was I? No, seriously. That’s what they did.

He wanted me to ghost his blog, and write some advertorial articles for his website that would indicate, in a reportorial style, why their call-center software was the best solution.

I did not honestly know what a blog was at that point. I’d only written a couple advertorials before, quite a few years back.

Didn’t know a whole ton about tech, either. It wasn’t my regular beat.

But I did know a bit about the company, so I said, “Sure, I can do that!”

(Practice saying that. You’ll want to learn and use this phrase if you are breaking into business writing.)

The secret that made it interesting

To start up the blog, I fell back on my journalism training.

I began asking questions. Like:

  • Why did you start this company?
  • What were you doing before this?
  • How did you get into this industry?
  • What is the problem you solve for customers?
  • What does this product do that’s different or better than competitors’ products?
  • How has the company evolved since you started it?
  • What are the big issues in this industry, and what’s your opinion on them?
  • What does the company plan to do next?

In other words, I learned the story of who the founder was, why this company was born, where it was headed, where he was coming from, and why it was successful.

And darnit, if it wasn’t kinda fascinating!

The CEO used to do call-center management for a major entertainment organization…and saw room for improvement. So he left his comfy corporate job to leap into the risky world of startups. Why?

It turns out call-center managers have huge problems with incompetent call-center staffers.

If you’ve ever bought something from a catalog in your life, you’re probably not surprised.

Obnoxious and/or ill-informed call-center operators cost the call centers a small fortune in lost sales.

In other words, call centers are inefficient! And this startup’s program had the potential to help them make boatloads more money.

Now, my view of this assignment totally changed from writing about call-center software, to explaining to call-center managers how they could solve a problem and make more money…and why this company was the best one to help them.

Their solution was kind of clever and cool, once you delved into it.

I had learned to like the products I was marketing… because I understood the story.

It’s not just when you start out…

Since that first client, I’ve written about hot-sexy topics including surety bonds, divorce law, and the fine points of small business loans.

For years, I had to take any decent-paying writing gig I could get, just to pay the bills.

The secret is that I made each assignment interesting and fun, because I found the story.

And if I thought I couldn’t make it interesting, or what the company did made me gut-level uncomfortable, I didn’t take the gig.

If you’re wondering if you’ve got the chops to write for business, here’s all you really need to know:

If you can ask questions, listen, find the story, and tell it, you can do this. And your brain will not fry. I promise.

P.S. Congrats to Kate who won the free ticket to next week’s Break into Business Writing bootcamp in Freelance Writers Den! 

23 Comments

  1. Pinar Tarhan

    At first the concept of business writing had sounded glamorous to me – until I realized business writing didn’t revolve around glamorous companies in fascinating industries. But it had never occurred to me try to make it fun myself. I’ll try and see if it can be for me too.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, it sometimes CAN revolve around glamorous companies in fascinating industries. The trick is we each think those are different companies and industries.

      And having worked as a legal secretary at a movie studio, let me tell you, the glamorous ones aren’t necessarily so fun after all.

  2. Kate

    I’m so happy and excited that I got the free ticket. I didn’t think I had a chance with 99 other questions and just wanted to ask something that many writers were concerned about. Thanks Carol! 🙂

    I’m mostly glad my question generated some valuable tips to help beginning writers like myself to get interested in projects they wouldn’t normally take on. Also, I was talking shop with another writer the other day and we started talking about our writing clients and were pretty soon were having a laugh at the weird projects we did. So writing about so called ‘boring’ stuff could actually be good dinner topics too.

    That and the delicious sushi certainly did not fry our brains 😉

    • Carol Tice

      Congrats, Kate!

      I have a friend who used to write a lot about refrigeration units for convenience stores, you know, the big freezers? I’ve also written about trends in shower curtains.

      I always feel sort of a thrill of accomplishment that I can write something readable and interesting on these arcane topics. I think it can be a real confidence-builder as a writer, too! If you can write this stuff, you really CAN writing anything.

  3. Cathie Ericson

    As always, a great post. I agree 100% that it’s possible to make any topic interesting — and as you mentioned, I think it has to do with a natural curiosity. When people ask what clients I’m wrtiting for and I mention a hospital, an insulation manufacturer and a bank, they think “yawn” but I think “stories to tell” (and $!) — my job is to make each company interesting for their customers and prospects.

    This month I’ve been writing about ductless heat pumps. And guess what….they are a wonderful tool to help consumers save money on their energy bills and keep their homes more comfortable. And the HVAC professionals who sell them each have their own small business with an interesting back story of how the ductless heat pump offering is helping improve their own business.

    I won’t lie…sometimes I just want to write creatively and for that I maintain my own personal blog. But, one of the reasons I like working as a freelancer vs. for a company is that the variety keeps it fresh.

    The other point I wanted to underscore is the importance of being widely read. I am a voracious consumer of news and it provides a constant stream of ideas and appropriate trends, which makes me more valuable to my clients. “I read so you don’t have to” is what I tell them!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing those, um, fascinating topics you’re writing on! And showing how you find what’s interesting.

      I personally think meeting the challenge of solving these business marketing riddles really ups our writing skills. 😉

      Love your motto! I too read sort of insanely widely. I just finally said “enough” and unsubscribed to a ton of stuff…but it’s still a lot of reading.

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