I am preparing to teach another semester of Biology of Food in the fall. This class is one of our core classes at Wright State University. During the first week of my class, I usually get students acquainted with food science and career opportunities in the field. I talk about the traditional ones, for example, food scientists, food microbiologists, food chemists, food engineers, food safety specialists, and food inspectors. This year though, I think I might spend some time talking about one of the non-traditional career avenues for food scientists. That is, becoming a food science writer. I did a little bit of food science writing in Jamaica on a part-time basis for a few months before migrating to the US to study. I earned enough to pay most bills. The earnings were far from what I needed to make a living. I was scraping by. So let me not pretend to be an expert on this topic. I know someone, however, who is more than qualified to address the subject if you are one of the few who prefer to venture off to the path less trodden.
The person I am thinking of is Dr. Bryan Le, food scientist, storyteller, and consultant for the food industry. He is also the author of the book 150 Food Science Questions Answered. While he was pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bryan realized that his true passion was communicating his thoughts about food science in writing. He started writing for a student blog run by the Institute of Technologist (IFT), which led to his discovery by a publisher. Today Bryan is sought after by big-name food processing companies needing his expertise to help them effectively communicate highly technical food science information so that non-technical audiences can easily understand them.
If you are thinking about a writing career in food science, you are not just interested in making a living, but you want to know how to make a killing. Right? So, I reached out to Bryan to share his top 7 tips to make a killing as a food science writer. Here they are in his own words.
Build a Connection
Imagine that every piece of writing you compose is to a potential client. You’ll want to do your best each and every time. Think of your portfolio as an investment in your skills. Anything you do today is a way to showcase your ability for the future. Most clients want to know that you can deliver on your promise of providing a well-crafted piece of written content. Pieces you write today becomes an opportunity to build a connection to prospective clients as an example of the quality you can give. As I mentioned earlier, this is how Bryan was able to land his first book deal.
Create a Marketing Funnel
One of the most challenging aspects of building a writing and consulting business is having a consistent flow of clients. Clients leave for any number of reasons that may have nothing to do with you. Their budget has run out, have different needs, or simply have gotten too busy. That means you need a continuous fresh supply of potential clients. And you will need to create an effective way to build that pipeline. Whether that means cold-emailing, networking, providing expert quotes for back links to other websites, or posting on social media, you need to find a way to capture fresh prospects that’ll put money in the bank.
Offer Expertise, Not Words
A lot of people can write. But the key difference is the experience, knowledge, and background that drives that writing. As a food scientist, I can draw on all of my past experiences and use that as a provider of expertise. Whether I’m writing for clients seeking investors or customers, I am able to infuse my writing with that background.
The ability to weave together stories about science and technology is actually in high demand, as most people want to read easy-to-understand scientific content that gets to the meat of the topic. And being able to do that with an understanding of business and finance can put you in a different category altogether. You’re serving as a translator between the dense world of science and technology, and the rest of the world, and that is very valuable.
Treat Time as Money
Research shows that most people can only do highly demanding intellectual tasks for about two to four hours per day. And then productivity drops precipitously, with the rest of the day filled with administrative tasks like email or phone calls. That means those few hours per day are the highest leverage time-points in your productivity.
You have to put on this hat that your time is extremely precious, and with those hours locked in, you need to consider how valuable that is. You’re not actually working eight to twelve hours straight on a piece of writing. You can probably do four hours of solid work in a single day. That means tweaking your time and schedule correctly to maximize the focus, efficiently, and output of those hours.
Raise Your Rates
To make a long term career in writing and consulting, you have to consider yourself a business. That means thinking in terms of leveraging your time. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to continuously raise your rates. Most writers and other freelancers are afraid to raise their rates because they’re afraid of losing clients.
But the funny thing is that losing clients opens up your schedule and mental space to gain new, higher paying ones, and increasing your rates ensures you’re not as stressed about finances. That means better output and productivity in the long haul. Plus, clients view high-rate providers differently from low-rate providers. In the same way that the price of a BMW signals a different message than the price of a Honda Civic, rates can speak volumes in terms of your quality as a provider and how much you believe you can deliver in terms of value.
Some clients, despite being willing to pay your rates, can be very challenging to deal with in terms of energy, stress, and logistics. Some may not pay you on time or create more headache with more demands outside the scope of the project. Others may be late to meetings or cancel altogether.Money alone should not be your barometer for working with someone, as there are those out there who use money as an excuse to be a poor client. While work can be stressful, you want a relationship with a client who respects you and your time, and understands the value you bring to the table.
If your gut says there’s something off about the relationship, the best option is to say no. Cut your losses and move on. There are better opportunities out there.
Writing as a Stepping Stone
After I wrote my book, I received a nice check for my work. But the amount of time and energy I put in didn’t equate to the sum I received. I discovered early on that writing alone wasn’t enough to pay the bills, especially when factoring in taxes, health insurance, and long-term saving for a house and retirement. So I’ve coupled my writing with higher value services, such as formulation and food safety consulting.
I get paid to write, but writing actually shows my clients that I can communicate my thoughts and ideas in a clear, professional manner. It also helps me get in the door with many new clients, as I can point to my portfolio of work as an example of what I can do in terms of synthesizing easy-to-understand scientific knowledge. That allows me to capture higher-value clients for longer-term projects, while still growing my income through smaller writing projects.