Why Freelance Writers Aren’t Being Paid What They Are Worth

paid what they are worth

I posted an infographic about the hidden benefits of part-time work in my other blog a few days back. One of the blog’s regular readers retorted with a comment, “I think the rates are only realistic for Americans.”

While I concede that there’s truth to her words, there’s something about the comment that didn’t sound right to me. Maybe it’s just my imagination running wild, but I believe we got right on our hands a fitting opportunity to address this issue about rates.

From the viewpoint of a freelance writer who hails from an area where majority of freelancers charge way below what they’re worth, I think the issue is really not about the rates per se. Somewhere in there, there’s an underlying confidence issue, which then morphs into mentalities that hamper their growth in the field.

Confidence, or the lack thereof 

What makes a person hesitate? When he’s not sure he’s doing the right thing, right? Or even if he knows he got all the bases covered, he’s worried about the repercussions of his actions, more so if the repercussion can lead to failure.

What then is the next logical step to take?

First off, determine what makes your confidence fly out the window when you need it most. There are no right or wrong answers. Is it your grammar? Is it the way you convey your message? Are you worried that your writing style isn’t conventional and will be shunned by your target audience?

Nobody’s perfect, and I myself am guilty of grammar boo-boos, lots of them. But the good thing about bad grammar, it can be fixed. There are blogs and publications that address common and not-so-common grammar mistakes. A quick Googling around resulted in Grammar Girl, Grammar Phobia and the Grammar Blog, which got me chuckling after just a few blog posts.

There are a lot more, if you take the time to find them.

As for writing style, realize that your style/voice is uniquely your own. No one can write like you because there’s only one you in this world.

One of my favorite writers is Jeff Goins. Jeff’s writing style is simple and direct to the point, and doesn’t have to resort to using big words to convey the message. Jeff, too, struggled with confidence issues when he was still starting. Even when he had already trained people to write, he refused to call himself a “writer.” But the moment he owned the title, add to that a generous amount of dedication, things started falling into place.

Competition based on price 

The Internet has broken down geographic and time barriers, leveling the playing field for freelancers. With the rise of telecommuting and the freelance economy, opportunities have become global.

The sad reality, however, is that a good number of freelancers do not compete based on the quality of what they offer, but on price. Competition based on price is unhealthy for the freelance writing industry, or to any industry for that matter.

Writing isn’t cheap. Quality writing requires a certain amount of skill, if not talent, not to mention the time it takes to conduct research, if needed. 

Here’s a timely article that outlines five reasons why freelance writers should start charging more. 

The poverty mentality 

According to WiseGeek, poverty mentality is an attitude that focuses on what a person doesn’t have rather than what he already has, an attitude centered on what a person can’t do rather than what he can do to achieve what he aspires to achieve. 

Consider this: 

Some seasoned freelance writers charge anywhere from $300 to $500 per 500-word blog post. If this is new news to you, how do you think you’d react?

  1. I’m not seasoned enough. I can’t make that much.
  2. That’s impossible! In the real world, a 500-word article is only worth $5.
  3. I’m just starting out. What do I have to do to be able to charge that much, too?

If your answer is 1 or 2, notice how your brain just closed a door to something that can possibly change your circumstances? If your answer is 3, you’ve just opened a whole new world teeming with possibilities.

To ditch the poverty mentality, persistence is not enough. As Darnell Jackson of YourOnline.biz outlines in his post, tenacity is key to become successful.

Not listening to the right people

Now that you know that charging $100 or more for an article is very much possible, the next step to take is to associate yourself with people who can help you get there. Here are some of the blogs I frequent:

Francesca Nicasio also sends out valuable freelance writing tips to her subscribers. Download her free e-book, 25 Types of Writing Gigs that Pay Well, via Be a Freelance Writer and you’re all set to receive exclusive updates.

There are a lot more that you can add to the list. But the point is if you’re still rubbing shoulders with freelance writers and clients who see writing as a wholesale business that requires you to churn out content after content, regardless of quality, you’re running in the wrong circles.

Final word

The ball is in your court, like it always has been. If it’s confidence that’s stopping you from claiming what’s yours, ask yourself: Will you be content to scrape the bottom of the barrel for the rest of your freelance writing life?

If not, I challenge you, right here and now, decide (with conviction, please!) that you’re worth more than a penny per word. Believe me, if you strive to write quality content every step of the way, you deserve way, way more than that.

Image credit: Sira Anamwong | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Maricel Rivera is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing specialist. Her freelance writing career spans over ten years, starting out as a fiction writer in the early 2000s. She has already written on topics covering business software and online marketing.

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  1. says

    Maricel, this is so true. Writers should value their work more. Coming up with a well written piece is never easy. Even if a writer is able to whip up a good article in 10 minutes, many hours or even years of practice went behind that piece. Seasoned writers make it look easy because they labored over their work to tweak and correct and revise until it becomes second nature to them. Charging so little for valuable work is a disservice to the freelance community.

    • says

      Amen to everything you said, Van. I’ve tried, but I have yet to produce a decent article in ten minutes, which is why I wonder how our comrades who charge a mere penny per word (about $5 for a 500-word article) manage to sustain freelance writing given their rates.

      Although it’s true that it’s not our place to judge, I think it’s high time every freelancer owned what they are and started charging what they really are worth. Like you said, we owe it to the freelance community.

      Glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts, Van.
      Maricel Rivera recently posted … Why Self-Confidence Is the #1 Weapon in a Freelance Writer’s ArsenalMy Profile

  2. says

    You couldn’t have worded this piece any better because its message rings true. There are so many good Filipino writers, excellent even, who are being paid way too low for the value they provide. Economic reality however is a crucial factor here especially if the writing job is expected to bring food to the table.

    I’m sure all writers would like to receive fair payment but I have to be very frank in saying that I have no idea on how this can be effectively done at this time. At the end of the day, it is the writer who has to decide which is acceptable or not. We develop confidence in asking for better pay through time and experience as we strive to offer value for value – quality work to high pay.
    Teresa Martinez recently posted … The First Ever NuCinema: NUVALI Outdoor Film FestivalMy Profile

    • says

      Indeed, economic reality is a difficult thing to grapple with. But then, I also believe that despite that, a freelance writer shouldn’t stop thinking big. Her drive shouldn’t be limited by her reality.

      Teresa, here’s one thing I’d like you to do. If you want to, of course. Follow those blogs I linked to. They are resources that I’m sure will help you a lot, especially in the business side of freelance writing. Owners of those blogs have proven time and time again that it’s possible to make a living out of freelance writing. You just have to remember that freelance writing is a business. And just like any other business, it needs marketing. If you’re taking on too much work to make up for the not-so-fair rates, you won’t have time marketing yourself. Most of the gigs that pay well aren’t listed on job boards and bidding sites. You will have to find them.

      When you subscribe to Sophie Lizard’s blog, you’ll get a free file that lists down blogs and publications that pay $50 and above for an article. Bamidele Onibalusi has a lot of those in Writers in Charge, too.
      Maricel Rivera recently posted … Selling Newspapers and Landing Freelancing GigsMy Profile

  3. edwin says

    it depends on how you will treat your clients. referal lang sa akin. i am more on research writing. di ako mahilig sa wento wala wenta.

  4. Jon says

    Here’s my two-cents worth on this topic (no pun intended).

    There are two types of writers, accomplished writers and writers who are still struggling to carve a name in the industry. Accomplished writers can afford to charge $100 for their pieces. Struggling writers find it difficult enough to find low-paying jobs.

    There are two types of markets, high-paying markets and low-paying markets. A struggling writer will find it very difficult to find gigs in high-paying markets, but easier to find gigs in low-paying markets.

    Because some writers choose to make a living out of low-paying markets does not mean that they’re a threat to accomplished writers looking for high-paying gigs, or a disgrace to the industry as a whole.

    If you think of it, it’s easier to compete in low-paying markets than $100 gig markets. A writer who can easily string two sentences together can make a decent living. Nobody has the right to judge them, especially if they’re not putting food on their table.

    A writer’s worth is what a writer chooses it to be. By the way, the concept of owing anything to the freelance community… really? Do you really believe in this? Are you being threatened by writers accepting low paying gigs or are you just finding it difficult to compete in the high-paying markets? Nobody owes anybody anything. I wonder what you think of writers who write for free. How much do you think the apostles who wrote the books of the bible got paid? How much are they worth? Some of the best pieces in history don’t cost a dime, yet they’re priceless.

    • says

      Jon, first off, I would like to emphasize that this piece was written without the intent to pass judgment on anybody. The reason for this article is to make writers from low-paying markets realize that they, too, can compete in high-paying markets, if they want to. If you write for a living, getting paid $100 per article is way better than getting just $5 for the same effort. (That’s way too obvious. But I mean, that’s the whole point.)

      You see, I think the real reason a lot of, to use your term, “struggling” writers continue to struggle is because they don’t believe they can compete in high-paying markets. As a matter of fact, if you’re the one putting food on the table, thinking bigger than $5 per article is something you need to consider because like you said, there’s a high-paying market.

      Now, I’m not saying writing a 500-word article for $5 is something to be ashamed of. If that’s what you want to do for many more years ahead, well and good for you. Like you also said, a writer’s worth is what a writer chooses it to be, the operative word being “choose.”

      If you plan to charge more in the future, the good news is that it’s possible. I started out at oDesk charging $5 to $10 per article. I’m not going to give you my current rate, but I’m now charging way more than that. And I’m not even the best writer there is. So yes, it is possible. If you don’t want to get stuck at the $5 rate, there’s a way out. You just have to start thinking big.

      As for the concept of owing it to the freelance writing industry, yes, I believe that. We don’t want clients to continue to believe that a well-written article that took you hours (or sometimes years of experience) to write is not worth much.
      Maricel Rivera recently posted … A Virus Got Me and I’m Stuck in a Room with No InternetMy Profile

  5. says

    Your post goes straight to the point and right into my haunting weakness: lack of confidence. I’ve read Jeff Goins e-book “You Are a Writer” and two more of his book on my mobile phone. It didn’t matter how small the text are. His words are so encouraging and enlightening. You are right that his style of writing is easy to relate to.

    Grammar Girl is also my favorite resource in writing and grammar. Freelancers and students can benefit from her funny, memorable mnemonics. I think I’ve been doing a lot of reading. It’s time to try–with a boost of confidence.

    Thanks for encouraging words and the time you have devoted in writing helpful tips.
    Carolyn recently posted … The Best Advice For Newcomers You Cannot MissMy Profile

    • says

      Glad the article helped, Carolyn. I struggled with lack of confidence, too, and I realized that was at the same time I was simply accepting the rates clients dictated. But of course, it wasn’t all that bad. While I was still wrestling with my confidence “demons,” I saw the opportunity as my paid training.

      Good luck! I’m sure it’s going to work out well in the end. Just don’t get discouraged by rejections. They come with the territory.
      Maricel Rivera recently posted … Freelance Writing: Side Job or Business?My Profile

    • says

      Yup, I know where that’s coming from, Arbaz. Like I said in previous comments, we’re not passing judgment on anyone here. How much a freelance writer charges is ultimately his/her choice. But if the freelance writer is ready for better options, there’s always a way out of the $2 per article rut. First though, the freelance writer has to really want out.
      Maricel Rivera recently posted … Selling Newspapers and Landing Freelancing GigsMy Profile

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