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5 Top Reasons (Some ) Freelance Writers Get Paid Poorly and How To Fix It

make money writingTalk with almost any group of freelance writers and someone is sure to say they aren’t getting paid enough. Often they say it’s because the content farms and bidding sites mean freelancers can no longer expect to be well paid.

That’s just not true.

You can make money writing

The internet has meant more writing jobs are available than ever before. Plus the net makes it easier to reach clients around the planet.

I’m a case in point. I live near San Diego and I receive pay from Panama, India, Oklahoma, Canada, New Mexico, etc. etc. etc.

I work for and with people I wouldn’t have been able to meet in any other way than the ‘net. The opportunities for freelance writers are amazing; you can make money writing!

Sure, the ‘net also means more people are looking for writing gigs ever before, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept low pay.

Here are the top 5 reasons freelance writers get paid poorly and what you can do about it:

You don’t write well enough

This is tricky. First of all this blog addresses mostly readers and writers who work in American English so that’s the language I’m thinking of. If you grew up speaking English the chances are it will only take a writing class or two for you to acquire the writing polish you need to sell, and you may not even need that. Think your local community classes or working with a coach who can give you specific feedback – not about the technicalities of the language so much as the way it sounds in common use and typical reading.

If, however, English isn’t your first language you’re going to have to work extra hard to sell to the English speaking countries. And you’ll need to know if you’re writing for an American audience or one whose language comes more directly from Great Britten – they aren’t the same.

That doesn’t mean your writing has to be perfect, but it does have to be good – readable, with expected sentence structure, word use, etc. It’s not so much the technical knowledge of how English works, but the sound, the feeling and even the slang of it. When my kids were younger we had a gal from Sweden live with us for a year. She spent the first week or so watching television to learn how the language really worked. So it can be done.

You’re looking in the wrong places

When you look for freelance writing jobs if all you find are the low pay ones look somewhere else. Although some have had success getting decent pay rates from the bidding sites like oDesk and Elance most don’t because the nature of bidding is to drive the price down.

If you’re looking online you want to find those sites that screen the jobs before they post them. I post a list of such sites called Jobs for Freelance Writers.

However, job boards are far from the best ways to get freelance writing gigs. Ideally you’ll contact companies directly. Lori Widmar makes a great case for working trade shows – watch for classes on this subject by her. Cold calling and contacting potential clients and following up with calls works for many.

You’re looking in the wrong way

By this I mean that your approach isn’t working. Keep in mind that they will only hire you if you convince them you can solve their problem – their problem of getting something written. That’s why you need to read any job posting with exquisite care and follow the instructions precisely.

Demonstrate how you can solve their problem. That might be implicit in your writing resume or credits or how you respond to the ad. I once got a gig because they wanted someone to write ads so my response had three ads in it. They hired me and I found out I was the only one who had given them sample ads. This doesn’t mean you give them tons of free samples, just use your response to show you can solve their problem.

You passively accept what’s offered

Sometimes you’ll know what the pay will be from the ad or from another source, but often the potential client will ask you what you expect. If you ask them what they pay they are likely to low ball the number – that’s a buying signal and an opportunity for you to negotiate it up. Try it – you may be pleasantly surprised. Or if they indicate they won’t go up, you can then accept that if it’s not too low for you.

If you’ve worked out your hourly rate, and if you haven’t you should, you can quote that. Or you can ask them what their budget is. Someone’s got to mention a dollar amount and it might as well be you, said with confidence, of course.

You owe it to yourself to figure out what to charge and how communicate that clearly and without embarrassment.

You don’t follow instructions

When I’ve hired writers over and over again so many failed to follow even the simplest instructions it has blown me away. For example, if you’re asked to copy your resume into the body of an email, do so – an attachment will simply eliminate you. If you’re asked for links, provide them. Think about it. If you can’t or don’t take the time to read the ad so you know what they want, how will you be able to follow the instructions about what to write they might give you.

Some people complain that when they don’t understand the instructions in an ad they never get their questions answered. That’s true – online ads bring hundreds, even thousands of responses – small wonder they don’t take time to respond. Just do your best.

The same is true if you reach someone by cold calling – if they ask for your website you won’t get the gig if you don’t have one; if they ask you to bring your portfolio, do so, etc. etc. etc. Following instructions is common sense.

Solve these five issues and chances are you’ll get more writing gigs at higher rates than ever before.

Your turn: Do you agree? What’s been your experience solving these problems? How do you make sure you get paid enough? Let’s talk about it in comments.

Sign up for a series about finding Freelance Writing Jobs – it’s FREE; all you need to do to get it is sign up here.

Write well and often,
Anne Wayman freelance writer



Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Jake Wasdin



{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Excellent advice.

    If you want to earn well, let clients know how much you’re worth. Stop nonchalantly accepting their offers and bids. The lesser their pay the more they work you like a slave.

    My Content Mill days were a nightmare. Going to places like oDesk and Elance. Placing so much effort just getting a single job and getting paid so low. Its cons outweighed its pros. It’s probably like a stage most freelancers go through.
    Christopher Cuna recently posted..How To Be A Freelance Writer Without ExperienceMy Profile

  • Excellent advice Anne.

    Success requires figuring out what you need to do well, and then doing it. Too many freelance writers fail at this.
    John Soares recently posted..The Best Way to Bid a Freelance ProjectMy Profile

  • I think, Anne, we value what we do. But others, not so much. This includes some large print publishers — content experts are king these days! This hasn’t helped our dollar value in the marketplace and makes it easy for many writers/editors to be underpaid.
    Valerie Bolden-Barrett recently posted..Can Writers and Editors Get Along?My Profile

  • Thanks for this, Anne. I’ve felt like an enabler of low-paying, algorithm-driven content farms for the past two years. I feel I should know better — I paid the freelance writers I hired so much more than what I’ve earned. I think part of the problem is that the farms (some) pay right away and can be addictive — really! I feel the solution is weaning away from them, knowing what you’re worth and, in my case, doing for myself as a freelance writer what I did for the publishing corporations I worked for — bring in decent money. I’m interested in hearing about other Forum members’ experiences with farms and how they weaned.

    • Thanks Valerie… wish I understood the poor self-worth / writer connection better… any clue?

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