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How can I get to the next step? (Advanced Freelancing)

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Hi, I'm pretty much a newbie when it comes to freelance writing and I was wondering if I could seek some advice. Allow me to tell you a bit about myself.

I've mostly been working for content mills/farms such as Textbroker and Interact Media. At first, I thought I was doing pretty good. I wasn't earning that much, but I didn't expect to, being a complete beginner at the time. Then, I read this article about content mills that bashed and criticized them. I was surprised to find that many people found the rates "laughable" and "insulting." I assumed that these people are professional writers, and I suppose it would be so to them. I am certainly no professional writer, I'm barely an amateur writer, because I have almost no experience. All I really have is a college degree (in Communication) and one semester writing for our college newspaper. That being said, I was somewhat happy with the rates I was working for, considering my lack of expertise, experience or any sort of merit that proves my skill as a writer.

Anyway, this article got me thinking. It actually really messed me up. I can't even write for these websites anymore, because I feel like I'm wasting my time, if the rates are so "laughable." I found out pro writers get paid LITERALLY 10-100 times more than I do. Again, this isn't surprising because I'm not a pro, and I don't expect to get paid like one. My problem right now is that I want to be one. I want to work for that rate, and even though I've only really been taking freelancing seriously for about a month now, I feel too eager to continue working at this level. I want to get the next level and really start earning some money. I feel like a (for lack of a better word) chump, writing for these rates, knowing that there are people out there who are making 100 times more than I am.

In regard to other forms of freelancing, I don't think passive income like HubPages or blogging is for me, for now at least. I need something more reliable and definite. In other words, I want to see the money I'm making and earn it right away. The same goes for websites like Constant Content. I will certainly revisit this type of work in the future, when I have a steady stream of income. But for now, I'm too restless to consider it. Also, I've been struggling with online workplace sites like oDesk and Vworker. For two reasons: I can't land a job, and I can't find offers that have reasonable rates. I almost have no experience or credentials so I'm not surprised I'm having trouble landing jobs. I know that it takes time for beginners to really get their foot in the door, and I'm not saying I'm giving up. I'm still working at it, but I'm just wondering if there's an easier type of work. Also, the main problem with these sites is that people are working for ridiculously low rates, because others are based in other countries with lower costs of living. What seems like chump change to first-world countries is actually a great salary for other countries. I have trouble finding offers that have reasonable wages. For some of the jobs, I get paid more on the content mills. Sometime even 2-10 times more. I've actually swallowed my pride and done some work for painfully low wages, just to get some experience under my belt, but I'm having trouble even landing those jobs!

I want to start earning some real money. I want to know, how can I do this? How can I take my career to the next level? How can I go from "beginner" to "pro" and start earning enough to make a real living? Sorry for the long post, I hope someone out there can help me out. Thanks.

7 thoughts on “How can I get to the next step? (Advanced Freelancing)”

  1. Hi Anti-John:

    First of all, congratulations. By realizing you deserve more, you’ve taken a huge step toward a much, much better career.

    Second, the moment you start thinking of yourself as a professional you’ll see a huge shift in how you locate, secure, and handle clients. So start there. You ARE a pro. There are various levels of professional writers — you’re simply at the beginning stages. The second you hang out your shingle and start attracting clients, you need to think of yourself as a professional. If I’m repeating myself it’s because this is important for you to internalize.

    The article you read could have been written by anyone (I’ve written plenty). I think you see why those places get bashed — writers working for them aren’t paid anywhere near minimum wage much less what they’re worth. But since you’ve already had your light-bulb moment, I won’t digress. Wink

    The problem I see right away is that you’re in what I call “passive” freelance mode. I’m guessing you scan the job listings and the paid job listings sites and either send in the emailed version of your application (resume and clips) or you’re bidding against others. Stop that. Professionals don’t need to do that. Instead, they decide whom they’d like to work with, create a killer letter of introduction, and convince the clients they can’t live without their services. That’s “active” freelancing, and it’s what will get you out of that low-paying rut you’re in.

    Start with coming up with query ideas for magazines. Don’t head straight for The Atlantic or any of the top-tier pubs. Instead, look for smaller pubs offering 35-50 cents a word. I wouldn’t go lower, but that’s your call.

    You need a website. Get one. Also, get together some samples of your writing for that site (try to avoid the content-mill stuff as plenty of clients have an aversion to those). If you have to, write your own samples. You don’t need a blog — if you want one, start one. Otherwise, concentrate first on getting business built up.

    Work for local publications — newspapers, regional magazines, etc. Also, know that plenty of companies close to your home are putting out press releases, newsletters, and all sorts of mailers and emails to their customers. Research that a bit and send them an intro note.

    You said that you wondered if there was an “easier type of work” for writers just starting out. Know that freelancing is anything but an easy job. It takes work, marketing (every day), and perseverence. You’ll have times when you’re working so much you have to turn work down, then suddenly you’re sitting idle with no checks coming in. Still, it’s the best damn job you can have. You just have to put your heart, soul, and sweat into it.

    Reply
  2. Wow. What an incredibly helpful post, thank you.

    Anyway, I’d like to follow up on some of your suggestions there if you don’t mind. Could you tell me more about this “active” freelancing? It sounds a bit difficult to me because to be perfectly honest, I don’t have much confidence in my writing ability. I’m not a negative person or anything, I suppose you could say that I’m realistic. I guess I don’t want to “oversell” myself.

    Also, I forgot to mention that I’m only really looking for work as an online freelancer. I’m not sure how I can apply to online magazines or publications. How do I go about doing this? I’m sorry, as I said, this is all new to me.

    One other thing, about making my own website, should it just be a website about myself? Like a website promoting my services? Is that what you mean? I don’t really know how I could do this or what I could put on it. I don’t really have any real work done aside from content mills. I did do one job on oDesk (writing entertainment articles) and I actually have a blog. I went through a passive income phase that I quickly abandoned for the reasons I stated in my first post. It’s not about me though, it’s a blog about movies (practically the only thing I have any real knowledge about or anything slightly resembling expertise). I only worked on it for about a week so it only has about 8 or 9 posts as of now.

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  3. You have a movie blog? Wonderful! 🙂 Know that there are online magazines and blogs out there that pay writers to submit movie/cinema related work, so my tip here is to go back to that blog and make it grow. You can then use your blog posts as clips when querying those online pubs.

    Take a paper sheet, a pen, and write:

    all things you love
    all your hobbies
    all your favorite subjects at school
    all the topics you enjoy conversing about
    Those will be your niches. 🙂

    It’s all about writing about what YOU LOVE, really!

    P.S. I’m a young freelancer; still a college student; I live with my parents and I’ve never had any day job before. Know what? I don’t regret it. 🙂 Freelancing is my vocation. If it’s yours too, then just smile and get your writing out!

    P.P.S. If you still wish to work for the mills, do it while you’re working on getting real clips, a blog, a website and social media profiles. The money you earn there can help fund your freelance education (webinars, e-books, etc.) until you start earning from writing for publications; then drop all mills work.

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  4. Sounds like you’re under-selling yourself. Why do you say that “realistic” is that you’re not confident in your abilities? Here’s what you need to repeat to yourself — “My skills are ones people are paid good money to perform.” I don’t care if you have confidence out the wazoo or if you don’t think you could write a book and charge money. The fact is your skills — even if they’re still new — come with value attached.

    Active freelancing is not trolling job boards or accepting someone else’s idea of what pay rate you should be making. It’s deciding what you’re going to earn every month and then building a plan to get there — minus all the job boards. I can’t tell you the last time I looked at a job board let alone applied for a job there.

    Jenn has plenty of resources here in her Freebies tab that will help you come to your pay rate and learn how to market. If you read this blog, you know how much she’s got here already. If you need more, my blog has plenty, as does Anne Wayman’s About Freelance Writing blog.

    Second lesson in freelance — stop apologizing. Wink If you’re looking to concentrate on online work, check out Sharon Hurley Hall’s Get Paid to Write Online blog (http://www.getpaidtowriteonline.com/). Do a little research into what it is you’re hoping to do — the resources are plentiful, and they’re free.

    That’s what I mean! Mine is at http://www.loriwidmer.com. Don’t think that’s the only way to do it. Look around at the sites of other writers to get some ideas of what to include.

    You start by getting a domain name. Register it, then find a place to host. I suggest some place like Weebly.com, which has tons of free templates to make website design ridiculously simple. Or you could simply host your domain on WordPress. That way, if you decide to do a weblog, you’re already set up for it.

    You put on it what you’ve done. You mentioned “only 8 or 9” posts. That’s plenty. Also, take some of those content mill articles, revise them so that they’re filled with facts and sources for those facts (such as “according to the National Insitutes for Health….”) and post them as samples. They don’t have to be published — just show what your writing is like.

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  5. Thank you Luana Spinetti, your reply was very helpful.

    So, let me get this straight. Doing all of this (creating my own website, sprucing up my blog etc), this is all to help me get work writing for online publications? Because I’m not really interested in passive income right now. So, I don’t really want to do it to make money through affiliate revenue or anything like that.

    Are there any pubs or websites I could work for under my current conditions? .

    This sounds like what I’ve been looking for actually. I’d be perfectly willing to work under that rate you mentioned, even one lower than that, considering the rates I’ve been working at. Do you think it’s possible for me to find work with these publications (online)? Could you name some of them? If not, would I need to create my own website and do all that other stuff first? All of it sounds like a lot of effort, and I’m not sure my heart’s into it. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing, it’s just I don’t want to waste my time on something that isn’t really definite. I’m willing to try it later in the future, but right now I need something more stable and concrete, which is why I resorted to content mills. Although, I’m not sure how much longer I can take it. It’s eating away at my soul hahaha. This is the reason why I created this thread.

    I suppose I might be willing to take a leap of faith, but I’m a bit uneasy about the whole idea. However, the prospect of getting paid $1 a word in the future sounds like it might be worth it. Or even 50 cents a word.

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  6. First of all, nothing in life is definite. So get over that. If you want certainty, you should look for a traditional full-time job. Then again, in today’s economy, even those hardly offer stability. Freelancing? Even less early on. When you go into business for yourself, you need to be prepared to take a risk. That’s what going into business is. If you think of those up front essentials as a potential waste of time, you aren’t ready to give them your all anyway. And if you’re not prepared to do that, pro freelancing isn’t for you. That’s not to be harsh. But it’s the truth. This isn’t for everyone.

    If or when you do decide you’re ready, then yes. You need to do these kinds of things if you want to be a professional writer for online publications. You need a website. Ideally you’ll have a blog in your specialty area too. It doesn’t have to be about passive income. Your site and blog are about search engine rankings, building professional visibility, and selling yourself to clients.

    After all, if you can’t handle writing your own website or blog, why would clients hire you to do it for them? Think about it from their perspective. If you want to write SEO content, not only do you need a website, but it better rank well in search engines for reasonably competitive search terms. If you want to take on blogging jobs, show that you can build a blog audience with your content. If you want to take on Web copywriting work, the copy on your own site better be able to convince people to hire you. Plus, your own site and blog will become portfolio pieces. They’re examples of your work. If your heart isn’t in your own copy and content, why would clients assume it’ll be in theirs?

    Before you start thinking about the specific things you should do to build your freelance writing business, it sounds like you need to get your head and heart in the game a bit more. Forget self-doubt. There’s no room for it in the early phases. Take a “just do it” mentality. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone might reject your pitch. So what? Pitch someone else. Eventually someone’s going to say “yes.” And one “yes” can lead to long-term work and referrals. What’s the worst that can come out of your building your site and / or blog? You spent a bit of time and it didn’t pan out. Again, so what? It’s a learning experience. If something didn’t work the first time, you figure out what went wrong and you improve things the next time around. Every one of us here has wasted time doing something because we didn’t think it out enough up front or we’ve failed and learned from our mistakes. So remember that it’s not you. It’s just the nature of being in business. If it were easy and there were guarantees, everyone would be doing it.

    As for active vs passive marketing, Lori and I have somewhat different definitions. I’m a big fan of passive marketing. It’s what I call the query-free approach. But it doesn’t include trolling job boards or engaging in bidding wars for the lowest prices. That I just call lazy marketing.

    Passive marketing, from my perspective, is when you don’t directly pitch websites and publications. You build a platform that helps you build a name for yourself and get some visibility, and then work naturally comes to you. I can’t remember the last time I pitched a prospect, and every week I get more of them contacting me than I can take on (so I refer the work out to trusted colleagues).

    How? I have a website that ranks well in search engines, so prospects searching for a business writer find me easily. I have several active blogs that attract the attention of clients. I publish e-books and reports which not only make me money directly but also showcase my expertise in specialty areas to attract clients. And I maintain a strong connection with past clients and colleagues so they continually refer new prospects my way.

    That’s passive marketing to me. I spend time doing things I enjoy, and I make sure they’re things that can lead to more work and / or direct income. You don’t have to try to earn income that way. But if you’re going to do them for marketing purposes anyway, why the heck not?

    Jenn

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  7. Thank you Jenn and Lori for all your advice. I feel simultaneously frightened and inspired. hehe. As of this moment, I’m a bit at a loss of what to do, but you have really helped me out. I think I need some time to think things over.

    I’m not sure if I have the passion to make the commitment. Honestly, I only got into freelancing as a way to earn extra money while I pursue my real dream which is to work in the film industry. You probably don’t care about any of this so I’ll just sum it up. The road to becoming a filmmaker is paved with ridiculously low wages and unpaid internships, so I thought I would get into freelancing to support me, seeing as its the only other skill I really have. I thought that it would be easy and more of a sure thing than film work but apparently I was mistaken. I suppose I’m at a crossroads and have to reassess my situation.

    Anyway, thank you all again for helping me out. I gotta go spend some time on my thinking stool.

    I do have another question, if you would be so kind. I’ve still been looking for jobs on sites like oDesk and Vworker but my main issue is that I can’t find any jobs with reasonable wages. Occasionally, I get a job offer that has a ridiculously low rate but I consider accepting just to have some contracts to put under my belt and in my portfolio. I did this once before but it was emotionally difficult to accomplish although it was mentally easy because it was a topic I enjoy. But some of these low-paying jobs are on topics of which I have no knowledge or interest (but would still be able to write about with the proper “motivation”) and I can’t decide whether to settle for these jobs because they are the only ones that will hire me. I keep hoping I’ll get accepted for a job with a decent rate but it hasn’t happened yet. What do you suggest I do?

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