Is the Digital Economy Bad for Your Freelance Writing Business?

Over the last several years I've heard a constant complaint from Web writers -- that the digital / global economy makes it hard for them to make a living because overseas writers drive rates down. Now I don't want to spend time again on the myth of the "global market" in freelance writing, but let's look at the digital economy in general. Is it really bad for your writing career with the increased -- lower cost of living -- competition?

The real question is "Do you make the digital economy bad for your freelance career?"

Yep. As with any other area of freelancing, if your freelance career isn't where you want it to be, it's your fault. No one else's, including the digital economy or writers willing to work for much less than you. Those writers don't hold you back. The clients who hire them don't hold you back. If you let them, you aren't marketing your services to the right people. If you're not the kind of writer they're looking for -- and one they can afford -- then they are not in your target market. Period. Don't waste time there. Spend it finding clients who are in your market.

But you've heard me say that before. You know it already. So let's move on. Let's take a look at how the digital economy is actually great for your freelance writing business, assuming you know how to put it to work for you.

3 Ways the Digital Economy Rocks for Freelance Writers

  1. A Larger Client Pool -- There's nothing wrong if you want to focus on local clients. But the digital economy these days opens up a lot of other doors. You can work with clients nearly anywhere in the world. And despite preconceptions some people have, the high budget clients aren't always in your home country. They might even be in countries you'd least expect. So keep an open mind and broaden your horizons a bit. There may be more competition in a very loose sense. But there are also a lot more prospects in your rate range than ever before.
  2. Residual Income -- When I talk about residual income I'm not talking about cheap-ass sites that offer residuals because they're too cheap to pay you what you're worth up front. As a business owner you deserve to be paid for your work when you do it -- not months to years later, and not only for some of that work. But freelance writers can put the digital economy to work by building a larger audience using the Web. And you can translate that into residual earnings through your own websites, blogs, and the sale of digital products like e-books -- unlike relying on third parties that may not exist as long or that habitually change revenue models on their contributors. You can build stable revenue streams in ways that would have been much more difficult before so much of the world went online.
  3. An Affordable Marketing Arsenal -- In the past, if you wanted a larger reach you had to invest in things like print marketing materials. Now with Internet marketing, online PR, and social media you can take your business much further for much less. If you aren't making enough freelancing right now, chances are good you're not using these tools effectively. Re-think your marketing strategy. You can make the Web work for you when it comes to promoting your freelance writing services.

Anyone who claims it's too hard to make a living freelance writing these days hasn't tried hard enough. The digital economy offers so many new opportunities. All you have to do is look harder than the surface-level offers and start putting the tools available to you to use. So the next time you feel like blaming someone for your lack of satisfaction, look in the mirror instead of turning on low-wage writers. They don't affect your business unless you mistakenly throw yourself into the wrong market. Fortunately, that's something you can change. And look for new opportunities for growth. You may be surprised by who's really looking for a writer like you. The wonderful digital economy we live with today makes more things possible than many freelancers realize.

How are you making the digital economy and online marketing potential work for you and your freelance writing business? Leave a comment and tell us 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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8 thoughts on “Is the Digital Economy Bad for Your Freelance Writing Business?”

  1. AMEN!

    Some writers DO make these things affect them. It’s like the effects of the content farm markets, the economy, or any other sin – they’re not problems unless you make them problems. My workload was out of this world during a time when people were crying “I can’t work because of the recession!” Sure you can. You simply have to ignore the inner voice telling you it’s not going to work, get off your arse, and go find work.

    • Oh yeah. The recession’s another big one. Every time I see freelancers say they can’t get work because of the recession I want to call “Bullshit!” They’re just not adapting. In fact, recessions are some of the best times to be freelancers because full-timers are let go, work still needs to be done, and freelancers are much more cost effective. But if you don’t know how to convey that value, you’re going to miss out. So passionate about this issue I even released a free e-book about it a while back.

  2. Good points, Jennifer – thanks for being so blunt. The opportunities are there for anyone and everyone. The digital economy allows me to write and create custom memorial quilts from home and has allowed my husband’s family jewelry business to grow and prosper. His parents were both custom jewelers back in the late 50s and chose to move to our remote location in the 60s. All three boys grew up in the business and chose to carry on. Things were very slow until the late 90s when we were able to develop a web presence. Thanks to Internet-created opportunities, we now have a couple of sites, one of which is dedicated to a line of functional rock climbing miniatures that are popular here and in Europe. Try that with brick and mortar:)

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    Great points! John from FreshBooks here. I also think being local can really help for writing. Understanding the local spellings and cultural references can make a big difference in writing. The digital economy also means you can outsource more of your work at rates cheaper than your own so you can secure more clients. With any change, there are always opportunities!

    • It’s not difficult to adapt from one style of English to another with a bit of practice. I work for U.S., UK, and Australian clients with no problems and I know many others do too.

      As for outsourcing, it’s definitely a possibility. It’s just about not crossing that exploitation line. And keep in mind that the audience here is made up mostly of writers who sell on their own credentials. In those particular cases outsourcing while marketing on your own abilities when clients think you’re doing the work is unethical. So it works for some businesses. But it’s not as common as you might think among professional freelancers. If the writers they’d outsource too were qualified to write for the professional’s markets, they’d be doing it themselves with so few barriers to entry. And hiring people in lower-level markets hurts your own credibility. Always a fine line.

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    I agree with your points absolutely. I’ll for them.

    Competing with the US, UK and Australia means the roughly same rates – I was more referring to other overseas markets where they can directly undercut you on price – you still have a lot of advantages over them. Good journalism and copywriting is very difficult to outsource overseas and demands a premium as it should.

    Outsourcing overseas is a fine line – but there is a lot of quality work been done. Some, if they find someone they can work with, will pay double or triple the rates. It also creates opportunities to offer different services if you find the right person. And it’s best to be upfront with the client. However, very few are doing it – just something to watch.

  5. Thanks Jennifer. I’ve been complaining about the low rates that Internet writers make without realizing I’m really not trying as hard as I could be to make more money. Thanks for the great advice!


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