For B2B writers, life in 2020 got more awkward as the year went on.
While COVID-19 wrought havoc on hard-working industries like front-line healthcare, retail, and shipping and logistics, B2B writers were having one of the best years in business.
There are exceptions to every trend, of course. But water cooler chat this year remained hopefully optimistic, verging on disbelief, as experienced B2B writers saw that the demand for work increase. Several industry surveys also indicated a growth in freelancing and freelancing profitability in general:
- Freelance job openings increased over 25% during the April to June quarter of 2020 (CNBC)
- 40% of freelancers described business demand as stable or continuing to grow and 75% said pay rates remain stable despite COVID, and the average 2020 freelance hourly rate was higher than 2018 (Forbes)
- 61% of those who freelanced pre- and during COVID-19 have the amount of work they want or more, and freelancers account for about $1.2 trillion in annual earnings (Upwork)
From our perspective, this increased demand for B2B writing in 2020 was cast from three shadows:
Increase in B2B content marketing
To support customers through the uncertainty of COVID-19 and maintain the relevance of products, B2B brands need content, and AI-chat-bot-scratch simply won’t do.
Marketers leaning in post-COVID-19
Rather than pulling away in response to COVID-19 uncertainty, many B2B companies opted to invest more in marketing.
Talented writers worth the premium
The more people doing content marketing, the better the content needs to be to stand out and be read by director-level and c-suite audiences. The vast majority of marketers are looking for experienced help, not discounts on writing services.
As important as it is to reflect on what’s occurred in the past, the real value lies in understanding how this will impact our future. Here’s what we see in store for B2B writers and B2B writing in 2021:
Content marketing will reach full saturation
In 2021, the laggards who’ve been reading about the benefits of content marketing for 5-10 years now will fully embrace it.
The timing is right. They’ve heard all the arguments and seen other companies find success. So, when the B2B buyer behavior shifts in response to the pandemic, causing digital interactions to be as much as two to three times more important than traditional sales interactions (McKinsey), the answer is obvious: content marketing.
We’re going to see every company across the spectrum of size and longevity actually put their marketing budget behind some content, whether it’s one-off thought leadership blogs from c-level executives or a series of in-house webinars featuring clients and networked experts.
However, the fact they’ve waited for so long often means they won’t be ready to pay for it.
B2B writers that want to help clients start and grow content marketing programs will need to be able to educate clients on the why, how, when, and how much behind it, using resources from the B2B Writing Institute as well as MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute, HubSpot, and more.
Opportunities for B2B writers:
- Help clients update outdated sales materials for the new digital standard
- Suggest featuring the current roster of in-house expertise in new interviews and quotables so clients can make the most of their authority
- Help companies expand into non-traditional formats like webinars and infographics
Writers will go beyond the page
The new year will also see us retire the word “writer” for not being sufficient enough a description.
As more people (1) are disrupted from their careers due to COVID-19, (2) discover the safety and normalcy of earning an income online as a freelancer, and (3) quickly learn how to write warm emails and set up simple websites, marketers will be flooded with potential help.
The writers that stand out will be the ones who have followed their personal interests to learn about B2B writing above and beyond the basics.
Yes, they can write white papers, blog articles, and case studies. But they can also help marketers navigate modern funnel-building, basic content marketing strategy, product positioning, analytics and SEO, and more.
B2B writers will not be expected to master these subjects — leave that to the consultants — but they will need to gain a basic familiarity of the concepts to be useful across the whole spectrum of B2B marketing.
Opportunities for B2B writers:
- Add an hour of professional development each week or weekend to explore something tangentially related to a recent project, such as product positioning or B2B sales
- Schedule a one-off check-in with your favorite marketer or client to ask what’s on their mind, then treat it like a research product to dig into resources they mention
- Plug into marketing communities on LinkedIn, Twitter, and more to keep a finger on the pulse of what marketers want
Learn more about these topics by exploring the B2B Writing Institute book store, featuring titles like Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It by April Dunford.
Marketers will seek out trusted allies, not just writers
This year, facing mounting pressure to do more with less and churn out content at higher rates than ever before, marketers will look for writers they can truly partner with and rely on, not just “writer monkeys” who can pass content along by email.
Writers that are willing to develop their business mindset, talk on the phone and via Zoom, and develop their own unique take on business and marketing will be the ones chosen over and over again to help marketers organize and act on their priorities.
Because it’s not always about the writing, though a baseline of quality and timeliness is table stakes for a successful freelance business. What’s increasingly more important is for marketers to have access to an informed, neutral third party who can help them think through the best next step.
As a writer, you’re perfectly positioned to be that person. Be open to creating this bond and you’ll play an essential role in not just helping a marketer achieve success, but helping them enjoy the journey along the way. That’s the kind of relationship that kicks off years of mutually beneficial referrals, projects, and camaraderie.
Opportunities for B2B writers:
- Get comfortable on the phone and camera — not because you’re training to be a star, but because humans connect best through voice and video
- Learn about B2B lead generation and marketing so you know the ecosystem marketers are operating in
- Be proactive about suggesting new strategies and sharing (proprietary data-scrubbed) examples for what’s working or not working for other clients
Crossroads for B2B writers in 2021
Paradoxically, becoming more invested in your clients as a writer can cause issues in how your business works today. Writers set up for the “writer monkey” business model (receive assignment, send it back, get a banana, and move on) will experience growing pains that only get worse unless processes and pricing are also updated.
The biggest opportunity here is for B2B writers to reflect on their current business models and make a conscious choice about how to maintain stability in 2021:
Do you rely on low-touch, high-volume work?
Low-touch, high-volume work will be harder to maintain as the industry coagulates into writer-for-hire master sites such as Communo and MarketerHire; mega agencies such as Skyword and Contently; and freelance rent-a-writer sites like Fiverr and Upwork. We’re also seeing every popular publication open their own writing and branding studio, building on their access to the audience to connect brands with readers directly.
Clients will be weighing the pros and cons of different B2B content marketing approaches:
- Outsource it entirely with one of the aforementioned sites, agencies, or services
- Run strategy in-house and hire a writer like you to fulfill it
- Bring both strategy and writing talent in-house
In order to compete with all of these options — or, better put, in order to beat out the competition when clients are considering the freelancer route — you need to stand out in some way. You don’t want it to be on price.
Remember: if someone is finding clients for you, you are leaving a significant amount of the revenue and loyalty on the table. Sometimes this is worth the trade-off, sometimes it is not.
Do you have the skills and processes in place to move to high-touch, low-volume work?
Stepping out from behind the fortress of writing talent to engage with clients as a professional is not typically a writer’s happy place. It is both intimidating and liberating.
But if you can build up the courage to try it, you’ll find it actually unlocks everything you love about writing in the first place: you’re educating and helping people with the written word, and gaining security and a higher income as a result of your efforts.
That said, when you pull that spotlight onto yourself as a writer, three things will need to be securely in place if you want to stand in it confidently:
- Your writing talent, honed by your natural abilities as well as professional development in the form of constant reading and engaging in community with other writers
- Your business processes, ensuring you can handle the volume of what you’re good at (writing and engaging personally with clients) and are not too distracted by what slows you down (accounting, administrative work, project management, etc.)
- Your pricing, ensuring you protect the time and energy you need in order to 1) learn about marketing, 2) continue to hone your writing abilities, 3) do the actual work you’ve committed to, and 4) engage with clients at this new personal level
For more 2021 trends in B2B marketing and writing, explore fine thoughts from other B2B marketing resources:
- MarketingProf’s Top 10 B2B Marketing Trends and Predictions for 2021
- Content Marketing Institute’s What’s Up in 2021 for Content Marketing?
- Contently’s 2020 State of B2B Content Marketing