It's not as hard as many writers think it is to get high paying freelance writing jobs. The fact is that many writers, especially new freelance writers, sabotage themselves from the start. Do you?
Let's more specifically talk about freelance Web writing, how you can earn more, and what might be holding you back if you've been trying to earn more unsuccessfully. Here are a few reasons you might end up stuck in a writing rut (assuming you're a decent writer to begin with):
- You have no credentials or experience that allow you to specialize your writing. General writers, especially online, can only charge so much, and can only go so far. If you can't offer a specific skill or expertise that will cause enough of a demand on your time for you to be able to charge what you want or need to charge, then you need to change what you're offering.
- You're targeting the wrong market(s). For example, maybe you put yourself in a position where you're constantly having to compete against lower-rate generic writers from all across the globe. If undercutting them leaves you barely able to scrape by even with a full workload, then you're identifying the wrong competition and you need to find a better market to target.
- No one knows who you are. If you want to be a freelance writer, even on the Web, you have to be visible to your target client base. That's how you get gigs coming to you instead of spending all of your time searching for your next "fix."
- You don't know how to effectively market your services. As a writer, marketing can be just as important, and sometimes even more important, as your actual writing ability.
- You've built your reputation around cheap rates. If that's what you're known for, people won't be likely to suddenly start paying you more, no matter how good your writing is.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to get higher paying freelance writing jobs online:
- "Web writing" is not a market. It's a collection of markets. There are low-income sites that simply can't afford to pay higher rates. There are higher-income sites whose owners don't know how to effectively use higher quality content for their own purposes, so they won't pay more to have things expertly written. And there are high-income sites that are not only willing to pay higher rates to writers, but they need to pay for the highest quality content from niche expert writers to maintain their authority, repeat visitors, and deals with high-paying advertisers.
- It can be very difficult to raise your rates later, if you underprice your work early on. Set your rates where you ultimately want them (or close enough to it that raising them to that level won't be a drastic change). Then, you're always free to offer sales if you hit a slump to drum up business, but you don't fall into a trap of not being able to increase rates later.
- Your low rates and portfolio may be hurting your credibility. Higher paying clients aren't likely to take your work seriously if you charge too little and have a portfolio only filled with short, general, SEO articles for unknown sites.
- You can't always please everyone. A lot of writers feel like they have to make "friends" with every other writer they meet, and they seem to crave acceptance as a group (perhaps, b/c of the common notion that writing isn't "real work" from many people outside of the field). The fact is that every other writer (not to mention potential client) isn't going to like you. Some offer complementary services. Some are directly competing. Some will look down on you if they don't care for your work. Some will hate your style. Some will be envious if you succeed. Build a network of trusted writers, but don't worry if everyone isn't involved (the SFW group plus a few colleagues are commonly called a "gang" in one place where we network, but it certainly doesn't stop us - I'd rather be the one laughing to the bank than the one bitching about other writers earning more, especially when they're trying to help... what about you?). When it comes to your writing career, sometimes earning respect is more important than just being generally well-liked. Of course a combination won't hurt.
- It's OK to say "No." Too many writers have this notion that they have to accept every offer that comes in. That's not the case. There's nothing wrong with turning down clients if you have other work going on, if it's a problem for you morally, if the rates aren't acceptable to you, etc. If an offer comes in too low, you can always try to negotiate first.
Now let's get into the nitty gritty a little bit. You probably want to know the "how" behind finding higher paying freelance writing jobs, right? Here are some steps to get you started:
- Crunch the numbers properly from the beginning. Freelance incomes are NOT the same as an income from an employer, because you have to account for not only your living expenses but additional expenses (such as covering all of your own insurance costs), plus additional taxes (self employment taxes in the US). If you underestimate what you need to earn, you'll never be able to set your rates effectively, and you'll either struggle to earn enough, or you'll be working so much just to earn enough to get by that your quality of life will suffer.
- Build a Real Business Site and/or Portfolio. Detail what specific services you offer, what some of your credentials are (whether it be your work experience in an industry, a degree, past writing clients, etc.), and offer some samples of your work. A portfolio doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be "yours." For example, don't create an AC page and call it a portfolio... that's just a collection of inexpensive writing you've done for one client... not a portfolio (it always amazes me how many writers want me to look at their portfolio to give them advice, just to be directed to a content producer page).
- Choose a specialty. Any way you cut it, most of the time specialists earn more than generalists. If you choose to simply "specialize" in general SEO Web content, you won't earn much, no matter what you do. So make sure your specialty meshes well with your income goals, and make sure you have some kind of credentials or background to back up your work as a specialist or expert in certain subject matter. Some writers feel that being a generalist will lead to more, or better, work or that clients will think they're a better writer for it. Sometimes it may work out that way. However, you need to keep something in mind... most people don't pay a lot of money just for a "writer." They're paying for specific expertise in an area that their readers are interested in, but expertise that they don't have (or can't articulate well) themselves.
- Pick up some basic marketing skills. You could be the best writer out there in your niche and not make a dime, while a so-so writer is making a small fortune. Like it or not, being a writer involves a lot more than just writing. You're running a business (or "career"), and that involves administrative work, marketing, etc. If you can't handle the business side of being a writer, you'll have a heck of a time trying to up your earnings or recognition. Writing isn't a dumb luck game. You can take courses in marketing, pick up some textbooks for fundamentals, etc. Just learn the basics at a bare minimum. You need to establish your competitive advantage, and you need to know how to promote it.
- Get networking! The best freelance writing gigs and writers' markets aren't usually advertised. You won't find them posted on forums or freelance marketplaces or job search sites. Even the markets you'll find listed online are far from the whole lot. Keep in mind... the easier it was for you to find a gig or market listing, the easier it was for everyone else as well, and you'll have more competition to deal with. If you expect to earn high rates by hanging out on forums all day, you're in for a shocker. Get busy meeting other writers, editors, and others who can offer you referrals. Get to know industry professionals (especially local), so you can pitch them privately on services that you offer. If you lack the confidence to do that, start working on it. Again, writing is a business. If you want a career that's simply going to let you lock yourself away in your office, bedroom, or whatnot all day away from people, then stick to the low-rate gigs. Higher profile or private company work involves networking.
- Start your own blog or website. If you can demonstrate to publishers that you not only can write well on a subject, but that you know what appeals to their audience (and have the stats to back it up), you're well on your way to landing some higher paying freelance writing gigs. Your own site may not seem like a great portfolio piece, but it's often much better than a collection of really basic SEO content for sites no one knows about. Blogging about writing itself also happens to be an excellent way to network with other writers, and blogging can be a good starting point for establishing yourself as an expert in a niche.
- Subscribe to WritersMarket.com. It's cheap, and you'll earn the fee back generally just by landing one or two gigs at most. It's an excellent resource for finding online and offline writers' markets, including online consumer and trade publications in your niche that you may otherwise not know about.
- Always be honest, and don't simply serve as a "yes man." Like I said previously, you can't always make everyone happy. A lot of writers keep their mouths shut about writing and industry issues, because they're afraid they'll be viewed negatively. You'd be amazed at the difference between low-paying and high-paying clients and what can get you gigs. Given, know your industry on this one. For example, if you're writing for Christian publications, you may want to be a bit more reserved than someone looking to write for Rolling Stone. Honesty and bluntness can lead to quite a bit of work, and it works towards establishing and maintaining your reputation among clients and colleagues.
I'm sure you can think of other tips to share in teaching other writers how to get high paying freelance writing jobs, so feel free to comment. In the end, it's a case of the good old "dress for the job you want, and not the job you have." In this case, "dress" for the gig you want (act like you deserve the gigs, and do things to demonstrate that even before you have them). If you act like a typical $5 / article Web writer, constantly advertising cheap rates, turning out the same kind of content, etc. you'll never be looked at as anything else.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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