Are you worried about ageism in freelancing? It’s a concern I hear from a lot of writers.
It’s not uncommon for writers to finally embark on their dream career after retiring or being laid off from a longtime job, or after several different corporate jobs. I also hear from journalists who’ve taken 10-20 years off to raise kids, and now they want to start getting assignments again.
But you worry that you’re “too old.” It’s too late for you. You’re obsolete. No one’s going to hire you.
If ageism in freelancing is your worry, I want to tell you it’s all lies.
I’ve been freelancing since late 2005, have owned an AARP card for several years now, and I’ve never been offered more lucrative projects than I’m seeing right now.
I’ve encountered not one situation in a decade where I felt I was passed over because I was too old.
If you’ve been held back by fears about ageism in freelancing, I have some tips for how you can overcome this and get great clients:
The top reason you get passed over
You’re thinking “it’s ageism” when you don’t get a gig, but I believe it’s not. It’s what I call ‘skill-ism.’
And unlike the hands of time, which you can’t turn back, skill-ism in freelancing is a problem you can do something about. Yes, the marketplace has changed — but us old dogs can learn new tricks. And when you combine decades of industry and writing experience with those new skills, you have a strong offer.
Maybe you read online job ads and they’re looking for someone who knows WordPress, or Twitter, or has experience in content marketing…and you feel like you’re out in the cold. Because you haven’t done a lot online.
Yes, I hear you whining that you just want to write like in the old days, and you don’t want to have to learn tech stuff. That attitude is what’s making you irrelevant to the market, not how many birthdays you’ve had.
But it’s not too late to change. I didn’t know what a blog was in 2006 (and look what happened!). I was a total latecomer to Twitter and now have 16,000 followers, just from sharing links of interest to freelancers and entrepreneurs. Websites call me and want me to write for them for real money, because they see I understand how to drive engagement.
You can fix this. Take a class — they’re affordable and online now! In the past few months alone, I’ve learned to use several online tools that were new to me, and expect to continue that trend. When a client asks if you can collaborate on your project using, say, BaseCamp or Slack, you don’t want to feel like a dummy.
Ask someone to tutor you. Subscribe to blogs about the topic you’re learning. Find a starter client and do a little pro bono work.
Skill-ism is not going away, and overcoming it is your ticket out of being ‘over the hill.’ If you can write Facebook updates that get tons of shares, or white papers that get thousands of downloads and drive sales, nobody cares how old you are — I promise.
Change your mindset
In my experience, at least 75 percent of perceived ageism in freelancing exists only in the minds of older writers. It’s not happening out in the marketplace!
Remember, hiring a freelancer isn’t like hiring a full-time employee. Prospects are not thinking, “Oh, this older worker doesn’t have enough productive years ahead of them. They’ll cost us on healthcare. They’re too expensive.”
Realize that if you experienced ageism in the corporate world, you may be projecting that onto the world of freelancing. You’re assuming it’s there.
But freelancing is a whole different game — it’s not a long-term commitment like a permanent hire. With good clients, they just want the best writer for this pressing writing need. And they value expertise, like crazy. Can you imagine!
They’re looking for someone who already knows about robotics or green building laws or whatever arcane thing they do, who they can turn loose and trust to deliver the goods.
It’s no skin off their nose if you’re 65 — you’re just writing a white paper this month, and then you may part ways. Meanwhile, they got a great product from a seasoned writer.
Play to your demographic
Who needs your expertise most, older writers? Companies and publications that serve older people — which is one of the largest age segments in the U.S.A. (Millennials recently squeaked ahead of us).
There are plenty of companies that have serious marketing budgets, understand writers’ value to drive revenue, and would love to have a writer who is also their customer.
Think health and wellness insurers, providers, and consultants. Retirement-home chains. Physical therapy chains. Senior-focused gyms. Cruise and other upscale-travel companies. Legacy clothing and packaged-goods companies (I’m thinking of Talbots in womenswear or Bob Evans restaurants, for instance). And of course, magazines that serve seniors (and there are quite a few others besides super-competitive AARP, too).
You get their audience! Why wouldn’t they love to work with you.
You can also write for an audience of just about anyone, because you’re smart, but targeting companies that target seniors is a no-brainer.
Older writers who want pro rates should not waste time chasing bootstrap startups, Craigslist ads, or UpWork. These are not places for you.
Hanging around them and reading the tiny rates offered will make you feel sad and irrelevant and believe the lies you tell yourself about ageism in freelancing. So stay outta that bad neighborhood!
Instead, get The Writer’s Market with online support, crank their search tool up to five dollar signs (the top pay level), and browse all the best-paying magazines. See who you might pitch.
Surf the Fortune 500 and Inc 1000 lists for prospects. Think big government contracts, or writing for major national nonprofits.
You’re looking for organizations that get writers’ value and pay top dollar for quality and sophistication. Trust me, big clients want to work with accomplished writers — and they’ll never check your driver’s license.
You can also show you’re still relevant as a writer in how you market yourself. Take your head shot. I’m seeing loads of them still out there that look like they were taken 20 years ago in Montgomery Ward.
Instead, take a selfie on a beach — see my sidebar for mine. Or get a pro shot, and then use photo effects, like everyone does on Facebook now, to make your shot interesting and modern. Use a cartoon.
A more modern-style shot says, “I get the Internet. I may be old, but I’m not an old fogey.”
I’m seeing newsletters that are bright yellow with blue lettering, and websites that are black with white lettering. I was asked to give feedback on a marketing newsletter for one older writer’s prospects this weekend that was written like it’s 1967 — stiff, formal, big words, no contractions, no subheads or bullets for scannability. If this is you, subscribe to some top online newsletters and study their format and style. If you can learn the writing tone of the 21st Century and update your approach, you’ll get a lot more of the better-paid gigs. Again, this is a ‘skill-ism’ problem you can overcome.
On that website — you don’t have to say you have 30 years of experience. Say you’re seasoned or highly experienced. You can spin this the way you want.
Remember, on the Internet, nobody knows your real age! No one can see you on an email, so if you think you ‘look old,’ maybe email and social-media marketing is for you.
Lose the ‘ageism in freelancing’ excuse
Ultimately, “I’m too old” is just another excuse. It’s on a par with blaming the economy (which has been great for years, in the U.S.), or that you live in too small a town, or any other excuse you use for not taking action to build your business.
You may think a prospect passed you over because you’re older, because of ageism in freelancing — but really, there could have been dozens of other possible reasons.
The biggest thing you can do to fight ageism is to stop getting up in the morning and saying, “Poor me, I’m too old to get freelance writing gigs,” buck up, and keep looking for clients.
The biggest thing you can do to fight ageism in freelancing is to stop getting up in the morning and saying, “Poor me…”
Okay, sure, there are Millennial-focused brands and magazines that only want to hire young writers. But there are plenty of other clients for more experienced hands to pursue.
Ageism is real in full time jobs, and we all know it. But ageism in freelancing? You can beat this.
Have you experienced ageism in freelancing? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.