One of the biggest complaints I hear from new freelance writers is that clients don't seem willing to pay professional rates. Prospects are tempted by bottom-of-the-barrel offers from hobbyists, scrapers, and people who do little more than regurgitate other people's articles. The prospect gets more content for their site for less money. The "writer" gets paid. And professionals get screwed in the deal.

Let's emphasize something up front -- you'll only get screwed as a professional writer if you target these low-paying non-prospects in the first place. Having a solid marketing plan and knowing how to target appropriate buyers can go a long way toward keeping you out of that situation.

You Can't Avoid All Low-Budget Prospects

That said, you can't stop prospects from coming to you directly. And it isn't always clear what their budget is until you get into details about a project. While some clients will balk at pro-level rates and never come back, I've noticed there are plenty of buyers on the other side of the spectrum too.

These are the buyers who do one of two things:

  1. They listen to you, review your website copy and portfolio pieces, and think about the impact your writing could have on their business. Sometimes buyers are simply unfamiliar with hiring writers. They see extremely low advertised prices elsewhere, and they don't understand that those writers can't deliver the kind of quality they're looking for. Once they realize there's a difference and they review samples from writers at different levels, they opt to go with the pro for the added benefits and decreased risks. 
  2. They go the cheap route anyway. They learn the hard way that poorly-written content or marketing copy can hurt their business (or at least that it doesn't bring them the benefits they hoped for), and they come back to you later.

Let's take a look at that latter group -- buyers who go with extremely low-priced writers up front but later move to hiring professionals (and paying them what they're worth).

3 Reasons Clients Come Back After Buying Cheap Content

Here are three reasons some clients who scoff at your freelance writing rates now might come back later after going the cheap route.

  1. More Realistic Expectations -- The client in this case receives content or copy that doesn't meet their expectations. It might have been plagiarized. It might be clear that the writer isn't a native English speaker (not always an issue, but when that's obvious in the writing it can turn off the client's own target market). The work might be riddled with errors. Or the writer might have repeatedly missed the mark by not following the client's instructions. Once the client realizes they can't have top notch work at breakneck speeds at very little cost, they're often more amenable to paying for what they really want.
  2. Increased Professionalism -- In this situation the client might have dealt with an unprofessional writer. These are the folks who think they can be nasty with clients because they're charging so little, or that they don't have to abide by contract terms because there isn't enough money involved for them to care very much. They might be rude. They might put the client's business at risk (such as by providing stolen work like including images they have no license to use -- a past client dealt with a long-time writer who did this constantly, and it can be incredibly messy to clean up). They might even over-commit to the point where they just drop off the face of the earth because they can't get everything done. No matter the reason, many clients get fed up and they look for more reliable providers who they can trust.
  3. Business Reputation -- Clients come to realize that the written material they release reflects on their brand. Poorly-written content can lead to distrust from their customers. It can cause a PR nightmare. It can cost them respect in their industry. They realize then that there's a true benefit to hiring a professional freelance writer who treats a client's business with as much care and respect as they'd treat their own. And it's then that they become willing to pay for it.

So writers, don't give up hope that you'll find higher paying freelance writing jobs. It's possible that you're not looking for them with the right kinds of clients. Or it's possible that the clients you want to work with haven't yet realized that you're the right kind of writer for them.

Either way, think twice before you scoff at a low-ball offer and tell a prospect what you really think of it. I've found it's far more productive to thank them for their interest, gently let them know that you're unable to take on the gig under those terms, and invite them to reach out to you again if things change down the road and you can be of any help. You'll make a positive impression. They'll go off and hire someone their lower budget allows for. And a few weeks to months down the road, you just might hear from them again -- this time with revised expectations and a revised budget to go along with them. It happens more than you probably think.

How do you handle low-ball offers from prospects? Have you ever had one come back after going the cheap route, suddenly more interested in paying professional rates for higher quality work? What was the reason? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.