Freelancers: No One Owes You a Living

Do you ever get low-balled offers for your freelance writing services? Does it piss you off when you see countless other content producers offering to write for a penny per word while you try to make ends meet by charging professional rates? Do you feel like others are holding you back?

They're not. You are. Remember, no one owes you a living as a freelance writer. It's up to you to go out there and make one for yourself. Let's talk about a few things you should stop doing right now if you want to get past your own mental blocks, and what you can do to build that living you really want as a freelancer.

Stop These Habits to Grow Your Business

1. Stop complaining about writers who are willing to work for less than you are.

They're not really your competition. And either they'll do fine in a lower level market or they'll fail miserably, learn the hard way, and start over with more realistic rates and market targeting. These writers don't affect you in any way when you act like a professional in promoting your own business.

If you don't want to compete in their cut-throat race to the bottom markets, stay out of them. It's one thing to encourage people to do better for themselves when they want to. It's something else entirely to blame them for your own lack of success.

2. Stop telling other writers they should all charge more to raise the bar for your work.

That's not their responsibility. Your rates do not depend on what the masses in other markets do. Or if they do, you've messed up somewhere along the way. Fix your business on your end. Don't expect others to do it for you.

The only rates you should be concerned with are rates of directly comparable writers. Just because you both blog, it doesn't mean you're in competition. Think about market segmentation and figure out where you fit in, or where you want to fit in.

Attempting to standardize rates does us all a disservice because it implies rewarding those less qualified just because you think your own work is valuable. If it really is, it's your job to convey that value to individual clients and prospects -- not to an over-generalized group of colleagues.

3. Stop relying so heavily on advertised gigs.

I feel like I've said this until I'm blue in the face, but let's have at it again. Shall we? The best freelance writing gigs are not usually advertised publicly. Still writers keep asking the same old question -- "where" are the high paying freelance writing jobs? If you're doing your job on the marketing front, those jobs are where you are.

Stop expecting job boards, freelance marketplaces, and most importantly buyers to hand-feed you great gigs. If you want the high paying freelance writing jobs, stop wasting so much time looking for the "where." There is no place where all the good buyers congregate. You'll get lucky and find some in these places, but they don't represent the bulk of great gigs available.

If you really want to improve your living as a freelance writer, make sure buyers can find you. Get a professional website up, and make sure it's well-optimized so it ranks well in search engines. Have an active presence in communities where members of your target  spend their time. Get to know your colleagues who might refer gigs they can't (or don't want to) take on. Launch a blog that would interest your target market -- one that demonstrates authority status in the subject matter. There are a lot of things you can do to build visibility and your writer platform.

Are you guilty of blaming others for your own lack of success in freelancing? Do you keep doing the same old things (like browsing job boards looking for those golden gigs), always expecting the results to change? Then it's time to step back and reevaluate what you're doing. It's time to take responsibility for the successes (and shortcomings) that result from your own business and marketing strategies. And it's time to set those defeatist ideas aside and get back to growing your freelance writing business. No one owes you a living but you. Now what are you going to do about it?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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7 thoughts on “Freelancers: No One Owes You a Living”

  1. I’m so with you on the first 2 points!

    I made the mistake of relying on advertised gigs in the beginning. But marketing helps. Any marketing. Just make the effort. It might not pay off immediately, but it will eventually.

  2. I feel ya on this one. Especially the part about being upset that other writers aren’t charging enough. Who cares? That’s their cross to bear. Not mine. When I go to McDonald’s I don’t think “Sheesh, why would they work here? They don’t get paid enough.” Nope. I think “Man, I’m so glad somebody’s willing to make me fries for minimum wage. Otherwise I’d have to make my own fries. And turn on my stove and stuff.”

    I think that problem with the writing community–which I swear is generally wonderful–is that you don’t need licenses like doctors, plumbers and electricians. Anyone who wants to be a writer can be a writer. So, in turn, we sometimes spend a lot of time worrying about who’s a real writer, what real writing is and how much it should cost. But it’s a waste of time. I’ll worry about my career and let everybody else worry about theirs.

  3. AMEN! If I hear one more writer say “But these low-paying jobs are all there is!” I’m going to hurl. They use #1 to complain about the fact that they’re abusing #3 endlessly. Find you own clients! Don’t let them dictate your rates!

    I have to stop. I gave up bitching for Lent. I won’t survive until Easter. LOL

    • Lori,

      I think a lot of freelance writers honestly just don’t know. If they are unadvertised and hard to find, it may not be so intuitive to your average writer. I don’t necessarily hear a lot of complaints or a blaming of others. I think people just assume those are the rates. Especially newer freelance writers.

      Many people I have come across love to write, but are probably not aware they can actually make a substantial living. I think it is something people don’t bank on – kind of like the “starving artist.”

      You guys have opened my eyes, maybe others need to know. I sent you an email. 🙂

      • Oh there is a looooooooooot of blame going around. It happens frequently with the content mill crowd. Cheap overseas writers are blamed for driving overall rates down (they didn’t for the most part — they created new bottom of the barrel markets), and then that’s used for justification for writing for $15 an article. You also see this with large organizations supposedly out there to support freelancers. It’s the same thing. They claim the low priced crowd brings everyone down (really only those who are ineffective marketers), and over the last several years they’ve done everything from call for standardized rates to sending out email campaigns telling freelancers they need to charge more collectively instead of making individual decisions on what markets to appeal to.

        Interestingly, right next to this blog comment in my email notifications was a comment notification from Anne’s blog where someone did just this.

        And no, this post didn’t specifically stem from Anne’s. It actually came from another conversation where someone (yet again) bitched about how there’s no easy answer to “where” the jobs are. Some who want to move up get incredibly needy and entitled when it comes to that issue. You can tell them exactly what to do to get the great jobs (and many of us do). But it sounds too much like work. So they beg, plead, and nag for you to give them a link to a specific place where the gigs will just fall into their lap. I want to flick them in the nose every time I hear something like that. So that was the issue that riled me up this time. The other two are just things that can’t be said enough because they’re apparently equally difficult to absorb. *head to wall* 😉

  4. Jenn,

    Thanks for posting this – maybe it was spurred by some of the comments on Anne’s website… 😉

    I now have my eyes are open and I honestly was not aware that clients had to find YOU. I guess I was not aware of the unadvertised market – thanks for the education! I think when people are looking for a job (any job), they look to places that are advertising that they are hiring!

    I never blamed anyone, I just assumed what I was getting was what everyone else was getting and accepted that rates were low, especially with cheap outsourcing to compete with. I guess I was wrong!

    I think you have spurred some motivation and rethinking on my end – so thanks! I will know rethink my plans for my writing!

  5. Oh, how I love your POV Jenn. You (and others on here like Rebecca, Lori W, Cathy M and Anne too! Heck, even Clint was a goldmine for laughter) have shown me a better way to run my writing biz. It’s bloody hard work some days and I have physically beaten on walls at some points (yeah, I’m sorta like that) but this is where my heart is. And I’m going to fight my way through – with plenty of help from pros like you. Cheers! (and thanks)


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