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Myth: Web Content Writers Can't Earn as Much as Business Writers

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on August 19, 2010 in Business Writing, Web Writing
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Recently I busted the myth that Web writers don't get paid as much as print writers. Today let's tackle another one -- the issue of freelance writing rates between Web content writers and business writers (like me) who happen to focus on writing for the Web.

Often when I or other business writers talk about earning more money as a freelance writer, people comment with things like:

"But you're a business writer, so of course you earn more. I want to be a Web content writer, or blogger, or 'article writer,' or whatever."

Yeah? What's your point?

Here's the thing. If you think you can't earn as much as "business writers" you're fooling yourself. Guess what a lot of those business writers are doing? They're writing for company blogs. They're writing niche SEO content to promote a company in search engines. They're pitching feature ideas to magazines just like you would if you wanted to write for magazines yourself. They're ghostwriting feature articles picked up in magazines and major industry websites (I even covered this kind of work before here). They writing... you guessed it... content!

Misconceptions About Business Writing

Business writing is often confused with copywriting -- more specifically with writing sales copy. Is copywriting a part of business writing? Absolutely. But it's one type of business writing -- not the whole specialty area. When you work as a business writer, you have to be able to adapt to different types of writing that benefit your clients' business.


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The bulk of my business writing work used to be press releases, because I ran an online PR firm and my full-time writing work kicked off by bringing along most of my former PR clients. But now the vast majority of my freelance writing work as a business writer is actually blogging.

Sometimes I'm asked to help launch a new blog -- coming up with the branding / domain name, choosing the categories, and creating the content. Other times I'm there to serve as a spokesperson for the company (usually ghostwriting short news posts to keep their customers updated about what's going on with the company). Sometimes they have me respond to reader comments, and sometimes they prefer to have regular staff do that once the posts are written. Sometimes if I blog for them I also tweet for them.

Sometimes I write beginner-level content that takes 20-30 minutes to write (introductory articles to business or finance-related topics). And sometimes I'm even hired just to write up my opinion on industry issues in my specialty areas. Why? Because those opinions ignite conversations, build organic incoming links, and get resulting organic traffic -- all things being done with a business purpose, and all falling under the umbrella of "business writing." (And let me tell you, that's an awesome job to have.)

It's All About Your Hourly

Do I charge less for this kind of writing than I do for writing press releases, pitch letters, newsletters, email marketing copy, or Web copy? No. Not really. I know how long an average project will take me in each category of services I offer, and I set my rates based on a set hourly goal ($150 per hour). Sometimes, especially getting to know a client's business well over the years, I exceed that significantly. And sometimes, like when I'm first putting research into a company to get to know them and their market, I just pull it off or come in slightly lower. That's regardless of the type of writing I'm doing. It's just how per-project pricing generally works.

I make as much writing Web content and blog posts as I make with more traditional forms of business writing. And you can too. Remember, you only make less than someone else (thinking on an hourly level) if you choose to. If you want to earn more you have to charge more, and you have to show clients that you're worth it. Web content is worth a lot more than some folks seem to think. And as long as you stay within that group's mindset, it will continue to be true. For you.

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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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14 Comments

  1. Courtney August 19, 2010 Reply

    Great post Jenn! I’ve long been of the same opinion – good writing is good writing no matter where it comes from!

    I have an hourly rate and create a project price based on my estimated time of completion – but I’ve been toying with doing more of an hourly charge. Do you estimate the time it will take before hand and base prices on that? or how do you approach the hourly work? The main responses I’ve gotten with regard to doing hourly is that the clients are fearful I’ll “run up the bill” with hourly – which is ridiculous because it takes what it takes, right? Thanks for any input on this.

    • Jennifer Mattern August 19, 2010 Reply

      I set project rates based on my hourly estimates. I only bill hourly for consulting, and I stopped consulting work officially quite a while ago. Now I’d only consult if a long-term client asked me to (rare even then), so I avoid hourly billing almost completely. I dislike hourly rates because once you’re there you’re stuck there. When you have a project rate, you get a “raise” as you get better at your job, even without raising rates on clients.

      For example, I write short blog posts for one client at $73 per article. That was based on them taking around 30 minutes a piece (and an old rate — no one actually gets that low of a blogging rate from me now). In most cases I would have either raised rates on this client or I would have left them for a higher paying one. But because I got to know the client’s blog and the subject matter so well, they now take me about 20 minutes per post. That’s over $210 per hour — well above my current minimum hourly rate goal, so I continue to work with that arrangement. I have another older client who pays slightly less than my current rates — $130-260 per blog post. But their blog posts take significantly longer to write (even if I often enjoy the subject matter more). Those projects tend to come out right around my minimum hourly rate. If I stuck with charging hourly, I’d be making the same amount for both clients’ projects. But because I set project rates based on the individual circumstances, I get “raises” as I improve with each one individually.

      You run the risk of course that you’ll have a project that takes longer than expected. You have to eat that lower hourly rate difference. But if you planned reasonably well you should still average out to around your goal rate with all projects combined (and you learn how to price similar projects in the future). You can also avoid some of that by making sure the project scope is clear and that the number of edits are clear — then bill for anything beyond that.

      I also find that project-based clients have been much less likely to try to micromanage my work. That drives me insane, and I don’t tolerate it. So it’s better for everyone involved that I avoid charging hourly. ;)

  2. Carol Tice August 20, 2010 Reply

    Love that target hourly rate, Jenn! I wish more writers who’re writing for mills and aiming for $30 an hour could read this and get their horizons broadened about what’s possible out in the marketplace.

    • Jennifer Mattern August 20, 2010 Reply

      Well, it’s apparently easy to get excited about $30 per hour when you conveniently forget about the added taxes coming out, business expenses (including paying for all of the insurance, retirement contributions, and days off employers pay for before “salary” is even calculated), and the fact that not all working hours are billable hours. But if I’ve learned anything by now it’s that those who go on about those low rates being phenomenal probably won’t ever get it. So hey… more for the rest of us.

  3. Courtney August 20, 2010 Reply

    Terrific! Thanks for the feedback….that’s how I’d been doing things but I’ve been going through my processes trying to refine them lately to see if I can spend my time more effectively.

    Good point about those asking for lower rates always getting them! I made that mistake too early on.

  4. Donna August 22, 2010 Reply

    Jennifer,

    This post is so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been “hobby” writing for a year and decided to really learn the business of freelance writing this summer. I work for the same mills everyone else has, but found you and discovered there is a whole other world out there with money on the table.

    Thank you for “broadening my horizons.”

    • Jennifer Mattern August 22, 2010 Reply

      Donna,

      I’m thrilled to hear that you discovered the freelance writing world outside of content mills! :) If you have any specific questions along the way feel free to comment or email me. I’m happy to answer here on the blog, so hopefully others can continue to benefit. :)

  5. Rachel September 12, 2010 Reply

    Jennifer,

    I just discovered content writing and have been offered an offsite position at 2 cents a word for an average 300 word article. This seems low, as I know how important a well written article is with respect to searchability and interest. I found this position on a free advertising site, yet have no idea where else to look.

    How does one break into this field? Do they take positions such as the one I’ve referenced, or are there other sites with which to find content work? I have experience with MLA and APA, and have written extensive reviews on the great literary works, brain function, memory, and dynamics of relationships. My interests are varied as I have expansive experience and incurable interests in business, advertising, products, sales and interpersonal relationships, not to mention a quirky sense of humor along the sheer joy of writing. I just don’t know where to begin my search, or what my specific talents are worth in this market.

    Your post has inspired me to look further. Any advice or direction would be very much appreciated.

    Thanking you in advance,

    Rachel

    • Jennifer Mattern September 13, 2010 Reply

      We’ve discussed some of these questions in detail already, so I’ll just share a few quick points and then direct you to those posts. If you then have specific questions still, feel free to let me know. :)

      1. Yes, that pay is extremely low.

      2. Looking for jobs on free advertising sites is rarely a good idea when you’re a freelancer. Most of the high paying gigs aren’t advertised there. Most of them aren’t advertised publicly at all. (See the links below for more info about that.)

      3. Starting out with extremely low-paying gigs with the expectation of growth later is a bad idea. Most people do not. You don’t succeed in market A by taking jobs in market B. You succeed by finding clients in your actual target market and conveying value to them.

      4. Be careful. There’s nothing wrong with diversity, but coming across as someone who will write about absolutely anything out there is usually also not a good idea. It attracts lower-paying clients who can’t afford specialists. People don’t generally pay a lot because you can string together grammatically correct sentences. They pay the big bucks for specialized knowledge they can’t convey to readers themselves.

      Here are some links you should take a look at to get started.

      1. Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator — This will help you figure out what you need to charge as a base hourly rate (you can always charge more if your value provided justifies it). The idea is to figure out your minimum so you know not to take gigs paying less.

      2. How to Set Freelance Writing Rates the Right Way — This explains more about setting rates and the things you need to consider. The calculator was based on this post.

      3. How to Make Freelance Writing the Most Secure Job Opportunity Around — Talks about things like diversifying income sources and passive marketing to land clients.

      4. 30 Ways to Build Your Writer Platform — More on “passive” marketing tactics to make clients come to you instead of the other way around (how many higher paying gigs are landed when they’re not advertised).

      5. How to Choose a Specialty as a Freelance Writer

      Also be sure to check out the finding work category here. It’s filled with posts about finding freelance writing gigs, from contributors testing marketplaces to tips on specifically finding unadvertised writing jobs. (The categories are setup to show titles of all posts on one page to make scanning the list quicker so things are easier to find.) Also take a look at the making money category where you’ll find information about things like passive revenue streams that you can use to diversify your income as a writer.

  6. K November 30, 2010 Reply

    I recently signed an independent contract with a web design company. The owner said I could be paid $25 per every 1000 words of rewriting and $40 per ever 1000 words of writing from scratch. Is this fair? I just got into this market and I am still in high school. Being that you do this for a living, I thought you could help me out.

    Thanks!

  7. Jennifer Mattern November 30, 2010 Reply

    A few quick comments:

    1. Whether or not it’s “fair” is entirely up to you. If you think it’s fair for the time invested, it’s fair. If not, then it’s not. But in the grand scheme of things that’s $20 per 500 words (a common Web article length). It’s more than content mills pay, but it’s still on the very low end. Of course you’re just starting out. If you think that’s fair at that level, that’s fine. Just make sure you have a plan for increasing those rates when you’re ready. Otherwise you run the risk of being stuck in low paying markets.

    2. Understand up front that if you’re in the U.S. or countries with similar copyright laws, you cannot just “rewrite” someone else’s content. That’s creating a derivative work. And no one has the legal authority to authorize the creation of a derivative work except the original copyright holder. So if they want you to rewrite material, make sure it’s only their own material (and that’s not what most online will ask you to rewrite).

    3. Welcome to the world of freelance writing, and best of luck! :)

  8. K December 1, 2010 Reply

    Well, I think that I could probably get more for writing than what I was offered, but I don’t know how to inquire about it without losing my job. I have a feeling that my boss knows that I should earn more than that. I was thinking more along the lines of $40 per 1000 words for rewrites and $60 per 1000 words for originals. I asked you because you obviously know what you are talking about. Do you think you could help me word it correctly to ask my boss for these rates?

    Thanks!

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