Starting out in freelance writing is an exciting time. Dreams of typing all day in a sunny coffee shop and nonchalantly telling people you write for a living are seductive. The alternative stereotype is also appealing to many: getting up at noon and working in your pyjamas, perhaps in bed. Surely this career is bordering on perfect.
However starting out is also a time of many fears. Will you be able to make it work? Will it be secure? How will you find clients? Will you manage to pay the bills? What if...?
One fear in particular is that paid work will never materialise. This can lead new freelancers to take on work that is incredibly badly paid, due to a fear that this is the only work available, or that you've “got to start somewhere”. Opportunities to write for mere pennies abound and there can be a great temptation to take up these chances. But is that really a good use of your time and energy?
There are many myths which are commonly used to justify buying, and writing, very cheap articles. They can initially appear to be persuasive, but what if we look at the other side?
MYTH #1: As long as there are people writing articles for $2, a freelancer can never charge a decent hourly wage
FACT: This seems logical, right? There are people writing articles for $2. If I price my articles at $20 or $200 why on earth would anyone hire me?
In reality, it doesn't work like that. There are different markets. The clients who want to pay $2 an article won't pay you $20 for one, that's true enough. Trying to persuade them is fighting a losing battle even if you have worked for them before and they liked your writing. The trick is to find the clients who pay more, who value their writers' time and skills enough to pay them, at the very least, a minimum wage and, ideally, a living wage.
These clients do exist, but you won't find them on sites that pay their writers peanuts, or those which encourage writers to pit themselves against each other for pennies. Look elsewhere, approach businesses or magazines and offer your services. When they ask what your fees are, be prepared to state, with confidence, what you are worth.
MYTH: It's better to earn a small amount than nothing at all
FACT: In the short-term, this looks like it makes sense. At the end of any given day you can have earned $10, or you can have earned nothing. $10 must be the better choice. Then the next day, and the next day, and the next day, there are more $10s and occasional $20s but within weeks you feel like you are going nowhere.
Are you living the dream? Of course not! Instead, you feel trapped, because to keep earning those few dollars, you have to work all the hours you have.
For every hour you spend writing a cheap article, you could be updating your own blog to tempt customers or emailing local businesses to suggest a meeting. You could be marketing your services to clients who pay a decent wage or writing a great article for your portfolio. This may seem scary because there is no immediate money coming in but it is the only way to get decent clients, and work, for the future. Take a deep breath and start to sell yourself. You know you are worth more than this.
MYTH: If I do this work at a low price, it will lead to more, better paid work in the future
FACT: This is highly unlikely. Some people consider their work for low-paid sites as a “teaser”, from where they upsell and bag a generous client. However most of the time the people who pay low prices do not waiver from these fees. And, frankly, they have no need to because there are so many people willing to write for those low prices. Whether that's because they live in a part of the world where the cost of living is low or because they are just starting out and lacking in confidence, there seems at times to be even more sellers than buyers at that level.
Raising your fees, raising expectations and raising your sights is the only way to break out of the $2 article market. Bartering up to $2.50 may seem like a success but it is a hollow victory. That buyer will never pay you $50. Ever.
Some people dismiss cheap article writers as inherently unskilled chancers who produce poor quality, often plagiarised work, but such a vast generalisation is untrue and unfair. There are many good writers amongst them, but if they have any gumption they will be actively seeking ways to climb out of that particular pit after a matter of days or weeks.
And there is unfortunately some very poor quality work associated with these prices. If you fall into the trap of working in this price range you will inevitably be associated with some of the standards that those cheap prices lead to.
Spending every hour of the day writing cheap articles can soon lead to you feeling disillusioned with your new choice of career. Spending at least some of that time promoting your services is the only way to get the kind of work you dreamed of when you imagined what writing for a living could be like.
To build a long-term freelance business, you need to play the long game. Work out how much you want to be paid per hour, work out how long it takes you to research and write, and unapologetically price your services accordingly. Then take a step out of your comfort zone, forget bidding for the projects with tiny recompense and set out to find serious clients who value and appreciate the work you do.