Do you find yourself busy with freelance writing work, but barely making ends meet?
If your answer is “yes,” you’re not getting paid enough. And you’re not alone. Many freelance writers charge too little for their services.
You may think that you won’t be able to get clients if you don’t charge more for your work. Or you may be working for an organization that doesn’t value your work.
Regardless of the reason, if you’re not getting paid enough to write you should take a hard look at the reasons why. In this post, I’ll do just that. Plus, I’ll share some thoughts on how to avoid low paying gigs.
This post is part of the series, What Is the Worst Problem Freelance Writers Face?
Ask Yourself the Hard Questions
If your writing pay isn’t up to par, start addressing the problem by asking the hard questions. This is a difficult, but unfortunately, necessary step to getting paid more.
Here are some difficult questions you should address:
- Are my skills up to date? You may think writing is writing, but if you haven’t kept up with the tools that writers use today you could be in trouble.
- Do I produce high-quality writing? This is a hard question to ask yourself. If you need to, have a trusted friend review your work.
- Am I reliable? Lack of reliability is huge complaint many businesses have about freelancers. Clients rarely rehire a freelancer if reliability has been a problem.
- Am I spending enough time on writing? Freelance writing is a real job. As such, it takes real effort. It’s not something you can do in a few short minutes each day.
- Do I market my business? Just like any other business, your freelance writing business needs to be marketed. You should have a plan to promote your business and follow through.
If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, check your habits so that you can turn that “no” into a “yes.” That could mean taking your classes. It might mean changing the way you work. It might even mean changing the way you think about writing.
Many people view freelance writing as an easy, almost effortless, way to earn money. Those who enter the field because they think it’s easy almost always have trouble getting work that pays well.
Sell on Value, Not Price
Selling on value is a hard lesson for new writers. That’s because there’s the misperception that there’s a “market rate” that a writer shouldn’t go above. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous clients know this and use it to take advantage of new writers.
When I started freelancing it seemed that many would-be clients tried to talk me into taking projects for very little money. Sadly, I sometimes let them get away with it. This meant I earned far less than I should have for those gigs.
No more. I’ve realized that it’s better to pass on a stingy client than let them talk me into working for a low rate. A low price is not my key selling point.
Instead, my key selling point is the value of the writing services I provide. That should be your key selling point too if you want to get paid enough.
Here are some possible ways that your writing is valuable to the client:
- Reliability. Do you always meet deadlines? Are your assignments on target? Since reliability is such a problem in the market, being reliable is a good selling point. It’s especially helpful if your testimonials back up this claim.
- Knowledge. Do you have expertise in a specific area? That specialized knowledge can set you apart and make your writing worth more. If you think a client will benefit from your expertise, be sure to mention it as a selling point.
- Experience. Clients know that when they use an inexperienced writer, they are taking a chance. Because of the risk, they often pay a new writer less. If you have a thick portfolio with many published pieces, make sure your client knows.
- Craftsmanship. There is skill involved in writing. It’s more than just typing words into a word processor. If you have a knack for getting the words right and capturing your audience’s attention, that’s worth something.
Be Picky About Clients
In my earlier post in this series, Getting Clients to Pay for Your Work, my first step is to be picky when choosing clients. I can’t emphasize the importance of being careful about who you work for enough.
In my experience, the clients most likely to give you trouble are the clients who are unwilling to pay a good rate. Be careful when negotiating your rate. If the client is trying to get you to work for less, that could be a sign that this won’t be an easy client to work with.
Here are some client promises to watch out for:
- I’ll pay you more later when I have more money. Clients rarely follow through on this promise. Also, notice how vague this statement is. How much more money? How much more will they pay you? When is later?
- Give me this low rate because I’ll be hiring you for a lot more work. Again, this rarely comes true. Don’t believe this unless they are willing to sign a contract agreeing to the more work.
- Write this for free to get lots of traffic to your blog. In my experience, bylined work brings a small trickle of traffic. It’s not just me. Read Tim Soulo’s detailed Guest Post ROI research on his BloggerJet blog.
- XYZ writer is willing to do this for [low rate]. This one is almost funny if only writers weren’t taken in by it. Obviously, if the client was happy with XYZ writer and their low rate, they would hire them. Instead, they contacted you.
Know How Much Effort a Project Takes
I’m convinced that the reason many writers are underpaid is that they underestimate the amount of time a writing project takes. I often see headlines like “How I Earned $200 an Hour Writing.” While dramatic, these headlines can be misleading.
When I read these articles, the author often mentions only the amount of time they spent writing an article draft and nothing else. That’s not the way to calculate project effort. To be more accurate, include any time that has anything that has anything to do with the project.
I keep meticulous records on how much effort I put into my writing projects. In my experience, the actual time spent on a typical article (about 1500 words) looks something like this:
- Handle initial inquiry. This step includes the time spent on the phone or by email to determine the project’s scope. This takes one to two hours.
- Create project proposal. I create a project proposal based on my discussions with the client. (This proposal becomes the contract.) This takes up to two hours.
- Project research. Many projects require me to research a topic. While I’ve spent as many as eight hours on research, the average time spent is two to three hours.
- Outline and first draft. Unless the article is simple or on a topic I’m familiar with, it usually takes two to three hours to create a draft.
- Formatting. Most articles require me to format them. This often includes copying the article into WordPress and adding HTML for ordered lists, links and other formatting tags. It may include adding screenshots or other images. This takes up to an hour.
- Self-edit. I always double-check my work before I turn it in to a client. This takes about an hour.
- Revisions. Usually, my clients don’t need revisions, but I always allow for them in the project.
- Invoicing and collections. Fortunately, I don’t have a lot of collection issues. It still takes about a half hour to put together an invoice and send it to the client.
If you add up the hours I spend on the typical project, you’ll see that I spend at least eight hours on each writing project and sometimes I spend a lot more time. If I were paid $200 to write an article, a more realistic hourly figure would be closer to $25 an hour–a figure that’s not nearly as exciting the headline above.
(Note: The project pay given here is just an example. My project quotes are based on scope and yours should be too.)
As you can see from this example, if you don’t keep good records of the actual effort you put into a project you’ll undercharge your clients.
Some of the best writing opportunities are never published. So, yes, search for advertised gigs. But also look for unadvertised gigs.
Learn to pitch article ideas and pitch them well. Network and connect with businesses and organizations that could your services.
One word of warning–whether you’re pitching an idea or contacting a potential client, always do your research first. Never contact someone out of the blue and ask them for work without knowing much about them or even whether they are a realistic prospect for your writing business. You’ll just annoy them and make a bad impression.
Your writing is worth something. It’s up to you to make sure that you get paid what you’re worth. Don’t fall for any tricks or tactics to get you to lower your rates unnecessarily.
What tactics have you used to make sure that you get paid a fair rate? Share your answers in the comments below.