I've been a part of an interesting conversation on freelance writing (specifically on the Web) at the DigitalPoint forums recently, and I think it's a topic worth talking about here. In short, it started with a member asking why buyers always seem to be looking for "cheap content" there instead of quality.

Then came calls for us on the forum staff to implement rules or a system to weed out low-paying gigs.

Then came claims that the forum is basically crap for bringing in leads.

Why was this interesting to me? Because the same thing kept happening--writers were blaming everyone but themselves for their failure to earn more money and attract more business. Instead they assumed it was the staff's fault for "allowing" low-paying offers (keep in mind we're talking about a webmaster forum, meaning it's about what they want and not specifically designed to attract professional writers), and then it was the platform that apparently sucked rather than someone simply not knowing how to use it effectively.

This isn't unusual. I see it all the time. People have left comments on this blog to that effect. People email me wanting easy answers. People whine left and right about not earning enough, yet those same people are often the ones not really trying.

Taking Responsibility

The first mistake new writers often make is not bothering to plan the business elements of their freelance writing careers. While freelancing is not the same thing as running a more traditional business, it's a lifestyle with a definite business side to it. If you don't bother to do market research and create a business plan and marketing plan, you don't get to complain later when things aren't working out as you hoped.

If you aren't happy with the gigs readily presented to you, it's your responsibility to look harder or look elsewhere rather than relying on a single source for job opportunities.

If you aren't getting gigs through a particular community or platform, figure out why. If others are, and they're offering similar services to the same target market you're trying to reach, the problem is with your approach and not with the platform. That said, every community is not for every writer - find the ones that work for you. Testing is vital to successful marketing, and you should always do things that bring the best ROI when possible (why I suggest spending time writing for yourself over accepting very low paying gigs for others).

Writers need to take responsibility for whatever situation they're in. It's easy to do that when you're doing well. But as long as you keep blaming others instead of taking a hard look at yourself, you aren't going to get out of your rut.

Aversion to Work

On top of a lack of planning, it seems that too many freelance writers expect gigs to be handed to them. They expect all of the good gigs out there to be publicly advertised so all they have to do is search job ads and send off queries. That's not the way it works folks.

A huge portion of the overall freelance marketplace is completely "underground." That means work comes to you through referrals. How do you get those referrals? You work your butt off building visibility and a solid professional network. You build a writer platform. Those who do that successfully are the ones who enjoy work coming to them. (I can't tell you the last time I had to go out looking for gigs - when you get to that point, you'll never want to go back).

I suppose what baffles me is that I hear the same things constantly - writers feel they're wasting time and it's the fault of all of the low-paying clients out there littering job boards. Well guess what. Those job boards are tailored to low-paying clients! If you feel that your time is being wasted, then stop wasting your time!

Why is it that some writers are willing to spend hours trolling job boards and sending out queries that may not get a response, but at the same time they'll balk at the idea of launching a blog, writing an e-book, setting up a professional website, taking part in article marketing, writing guest posts, etc.? When I suggest those things, it's not uncommon to hear "When I have the time...." You have the time. We all have the time. If we don't have the time to market our services and improve our careers, we probably don't belong in this game.

The "Make More Money" Plan

If you want to make more money as a writer, you have to show potential clients that you deserve it. Every Joe Schmo feels entitled to higher paying gigs these days (as Yolander Prinzel covered well in the previously mentioned forum discussion). Those who deserve high paying freelance writing work are:

  1. Writers who offer real value to clients (remember that "value" doesn't have anything to do with "cost" in this sense).
  2. Writers who are capable of portraying that value to potential clients. (In other words, it doesn't matter if you can write if you can't demonstrate your abilities and value to prospective clients - remember, solid marketers will generally do better as freelance writers than someone who is only a solid writer).

If you want to earn more, you need to be proactive about it. There is no easy solution to getting high paying freelance writing jobs. That said, it also isn't terribly difficult and it doesn't have to take a long time. Focus on the following:

  1. Rethink Your Target Market - It's far easier to start targeting new clients willing to pay your desired freelance writing rates than it is to convince lower-paying markets to start paying significantly more.
  2. Reevaluate Your Value Proposition - What makes you different than the competition? This is where specialists have the advantage.
  3. Build Your Platform - Your writer platform is simply the built-in audience with a demand for your services. How do you build a platform? Write a blog. Write a book or e-book. Guest post elsewhere. Comment on other blogs. Speak at seminars or conferences. Take part in interviews. Host a podcast. It's all just basic PR folks. To build your platform you simply build your visibility - you need to be "out there" where your potential clients can find you, decide they like what you have to say, and decide to hire you or refer others to you based on that.
  4. Network! - There's no way around it. The single best way to break into the underground writing markets of unadvertised high paying freelance writing jobs is to build a network. Become friendly with other writers and editors, get to know people in your target market even if they're not hiring you now, and play an active role in niche communities.

That's the gist of it. Really! No magic pills. Just basic business sense. Good, old fashioned marketing and public relations work. If you do those things well, it won't be that long before you have higher paying gigs coming to you instead of you constantly having to be on the lookout for them.

Invest the time you would normally spend blaming someone else for your lack of high paying work into the tasks above, and soon enough you'll be able to start thanking yourself for a job well done. Once you get to that point, you'll fully understand why it's so frustrating constantly seeing other writers asking for quick fixes and throwing blame around. And do you know what? I'd bet once you find the right mix for you, you'll never go back to your old ways of job-hunting.

Share your own tips and thoughts in the comments.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, NakedPR.com, and KissMyBiz.com.

Jenn has 19 years experience writing for others, around 14 years experience in blogging, and over 11 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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