All U.S. companies that issue publicly traded stock shares must file an Annual Report with the U.S. SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) by law. They have to disclose their financial dealings, strengths and vulnerabilities, by filing Form 10-K every year. Another name for this form is the “Annual Report.”
If a company has over $10 million in assets and over 500 shareholders, it again has to file an Annual Report even if its shares are held in private. In addition to the annual Form 10-K, corporations also file Form 10-Q Quarterly Reports. There is another opportunity there for technical writers specializing in finance.
Annual report writing is a well-paying technical writing assignment that is not hi-tech in the regular sense of the term. However it requires a familiarity with finance and economic terminology and a willingness to interview CEOs or other senior corporate officials to gather information.
Professional writers charge anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to write such annual reports. So theoretically it is possible to make a six-figure income by writing just 10 annual SEC reports a year.
Annual Reports follow a strict format determined by SEC. All information needs to be presented in 4 parts and under15 headings, in the following order:
Item 1. Business
Item 1A. Risk Factors
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Item 4. Submission of Matters to a Vote of Security Holders
Item 5. Market for Company’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk
Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data
Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure
Item 9A. Controls and Procedures
Item 9B. Other Information
Item 10. Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance
Item 11. Executive Compensation
Item 12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters
Item 13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence
Item 14. Principal Accountant Fees and Services
Item 15. Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules
As you can see, this is a very information-intensive project and takes a lot of interaction with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) to gather confidential information. That’s why corporations pay annual report writers very well since they need this crucial document written correctly and filed on time every year to satisfy the letter of the law. And that’s also why if you do this once successfully, it may very well become a recurring freelance assignment in the years to come.
3 IMPORTANT TIPS for writing an Annual Report:
1) Be very careful about your numbers. Check, double-check and triple-check corporate financial data since usually an annual report shares at least three years’ worth of such data.
2) Establish a strict review procedure in advance and have authorized parties sign up on it. There is nothing worse than you finishing an annual report but either not finding the right person(s) to read and approve it, or facing the post facto accusation that you had the report approved by an unauthorized party. If you want to be paid or defend your rights in litigation, get such review authorization in writing before you start writing the report.
3) When talking about the corporation’s activities, emphasize the activities where the company has a competitive edge. Always highlight the achievements of the company. If for example you’re writing an annual report for a restaurant franchise and the same company also happens to operate bottling plants, mention the latter only after highlighting the restaurant business.
Check with the communications department of the corporation for which you’d like to write an annual report and ask them if you can offer your services as a business writer. But before doing that it helps to study at least three different annual reports and understand how these detailed documents are put together. Good luck!