Ageism in Freelancing: Here’s How You Can Beat It

Ageism in freelancing: Here's how you can beat it. Makealivingwriting.com

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.

Go bigger

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.

Market younger

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.

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.

Bust your fears and earn more as a writer

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55 comments on “Ageism in Freelancing: Here’s How You Can Beat It
  1. Mariana Dias says:

    Hi, Carol! Your words resonate with me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about that. It encourages me to keep following my dream of being a full-time freelancer writer.

  2. Billy Peery says:

    This is sort of funny to me, because I’m always worrying that I’m too young because I’m in my early twenties! If I’m being honest, I think a lot of people just look for reasons to be insecure, haha. That Useful Writing Course you linked to in the comments still looks interesting, though.

  3. Yolly says:

    OMG, Carol, you read my mind! I embedded this “aged writer” belief in my brain. Lucky me it’s not tightly done, so pat on my back, I’ll delete this belief NOW.

  4. Dmitry says:

    Thank you for sharing this post Carol!!!

    Your reply is more practical and helpful. I hope it will be helpful for too many people that are searching for this topic. Great post!

    Can’t wait to follow and learn.

  5. Emily says:

    I love writing and I work as a freelancer. I am 20 years old but I think the age is not important. The older, the more experience!You are my idol Carol!
    Emily recently posted…Detox recipes for juicing (get the glow)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…just remember what they say about idols, Emily…feet of clay. Just ask my kids. πŸ˜‰

      But glad you bring up that certainly a lot of YOUNG writers ALSO have the age complex in reverse, the “I’m too young” side of it.

      Fortunately, I now have a great course over in Useful Writing Courses from a Millennial writer that teaches a great technique for young writers to connect with great brands and command really good pay — Earn Big as a Young Freelance Writer. We just ran a beta of it and are working on prepping the final version now. I’m hoping that’s going to help younger writers see how to turn their age to their advantage. πŸ˜‰

  6. Alvin Leong says:

    If non native english standard is as good as native ones, it will be a golden age for all in terms of cultural enrichment and an expanding market for writers worldwide …unfortunately this requires huge investments raising the teaching quality and goes beyond carol’s abilities..

    • Carol Tice says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s beyond me…but I haven’t focused on it yet.

      Creating an English-improvement course has been on my to-do list for ages. I think it hasn’t happened because 1) No matter how much I packed into the course, I worry it wouldn’t be enough to truly position writers to earn well in English, so I don’t want to give ESL writers false hope, and 2) my sense is I’d be lucky to get $1 for it from the people who need it most, and courses take a lot of time and energy to develop.

  7. suprakash mishra says:

    WELL carol am started following your posts as previous comment i mentioned that i learned some free lancing writing skills now your blog is helping mee to earn some money online plz mention how to attract free lancers hires to make more money on free lancing
    suprakash mishra recently posted…Add AMP On Your Blog To Increase TrafficMy Profile

  8. Alvin Leong says:

    I always thought that ageism affect software developers more than writers due to the ever changing nature of programming languages…nonetheless writers nowadays needs to expand their core competency beyond writing like doing basic design and coding in the “internet of things” economy.

  9. Diane Young says:

    I stopped writing over 30 years ago as a successful feature writer and started writing to sell again last year. With my credentials as a past contributor to THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, THE BOSTON GLOBE, the BURLINGTON(VT.) FREE PRESS, and other regional publications, plus one book under my belt, I got an assignment from the first editor I pitched and they didn’t even ask for clips. I don’t follow their monthly call letters. Instead, I pitch my own ideas and every one has been accepted. I got my 7th article okay yesterday. My editor says that I have “an engaging writing style” and “the ability to write for millenniums. I’ll be 75 next month, but it doesn’t keep me from receiving fat checks. Don’t let your age hold you back either.

    • Lynn Robbins says:

      Right on Diane, Carol, and Everyone who posted. You don’t have to be in the age group (or any group) to write for that group. You need to know how to write, to understand what all people have in common, relate to what appears to be different among us, and be open to learning.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for sharing this AWESOME success story, Diane! And for proving my frequently given advice that there’s no such thing as clips that are too old. πŸ˜‰

  10. Evan Jensen says:

    At 42, I’m not really an “older writer.” But I am old enough to know what doing research for an assignment without the Internet was like,and when snail mail, phone calls or in-person interviews was the norm for connecting with people and sources.

    And I’m old enough to have found myself thinking like an “older writer” at times and letting excuses get in the way of learning tech stuff, social media, new marketing strategies, etc.

    But if you really want to learn something new, you can, REGARDLESS OF YOUR AGE. The Internet makes it infinitely easier to learn new skills. (For example: Thanks to YouTube videos, I probably saved a few thousand dollars in 2016 alone on car and home repairs by learning to fix stuff myself.)

    Try. Start. Fail. Learn. Improve. And try again, to build your freelancing business. (Exact formula works for learning to run a 100-mile race, too.) And use The Den resources to cut your learning curve.

    Carol, thanks so much for debunking excuses to help writers (old and young) to keep going.

    • I love your response, Evan. I am 49, also old enough to have done research without the internet. At any moment, there are people who refuse to keep up. I don’t think it’s a matter of age — people who don’t want to keep up at 50 are often the same ones who just wanted to go through the motions at 25!

    • Carol Tice says:

      RIGHT ON, Evan! And I’m the best proof of that — I have NO natural tech inclinations, and have learned SO MUCH in the past 8 years. If you’d told me all the programs I would know back then, I would never have believe it. We can do this!

  11. Nora King says:

    Hi Carol,
    I am not looking for full-time work, but for temporary contracts. A retainer contract or two would be nice. I have been on Indeed and anywhere else I can find but these have been of no good at all. Indeed is primarily full-time and on-site and jobs are in major cities far from my rural town. I have been on Linked and earlier this month enrolled in their free trial Premier offer. So far I am not seeing any benefit. One thing I think may have been a problem, but I have fixed, is that I did not have all of the copywriting Skills listed. I thought it was enough to place enough “copywriting” text to make for good SEO. I have identified companies who are in my niche market and have sent e-mails to those who I’ve not been able to reach on LinkedIn. There are little-to-no opportunities for work in my rural community. Any other ideas?
    Nora King recently posted…Show Off Your WorkMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nora — it’s time to join Freelance Writers Den and learn how to identify prospects and pitch them successfully. As you’ve seen, haunting online job boards is NOT a route to great-paying gigs, for most.

      Stop trying to figure out what ‘copywriting text’ mass job ads want, where 1,000 responses mean your statistical odds of getting the gig are tiny, and find your own clients. You can also check out my ebooks tab above for Get Great Clients, while you’re waiting for the Den to open — I think you’ll find the techniques in there useful for identifying and closing with better prospects.

  12. Nora King says:

    Hi Carol,
    I’ve been reading a lot of job postings lately and, for those that are on-site jobs,I see many that list the so-called benefits of the job first. They refer to the workplace as “hip”, “fun”, etc… Sometimes I am left to wonder what the job itself is about. I am not interested in jobs like these, at any age.
    Nora King recently posted…Show Off Your WorkMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nora, are you looking for a full-time job? If not, I recommend you stay away from reading online job postings — there are few good clients to be found there. The good clients don’t place ads — they use their referral network or do searches on LinkedIn.

  13. Lynn Bissell says:

    Thanks so much, Carol. I have been reading you for awhile and this is the first time I have commented, but you always inspire me. Like the mom in the comments above, I am 44 and feeling like I am just getting started as a serious freelancer, although I have been writing for over 20 years. My degree is in journalism, from a top school, where I had a 4.0…BUT, life happens–I married my sweetheart, we moved all around the country with his job, and had four babies who are now getting older. Along the way we had some major medical setbacks with our kids and debt to pay that prompted me to get a job waiting tables to pay the bills for the last 3 years. As of December I work part-time with a digital marketing agency, which helps me to keep up with the tech stuff! Also I am taking an online course through Northwestern University’s School of Journalism on content strategy. I will keep reading your posts for encouragement! Thanks again.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Not sure what they know about content strategy at Northwestern…but you seem super-qualified to get some clients, between that gig and your journalism background! And as my friend Gail said…you’re FAR from too old.

      • Gail Gardner says:

        Colleges and universities tend to have courses that don’t keep up with how quickly things change. I would lean more towards looking at whatever courses Carol Tice offers and if she doesn’t have anything specifically content strategy, look at the content marketing training Simplilearn offers. They update their courses continually and their instructors are owners of digital marketing agencies.

        Carol, do you have one link that lists all your courses?
        Gail Gardner recently posted…Do Not Let Your Images Blow Up Your BlogMy Profile

        • Lynn Bissell says:

          Thanks! I appreciate the information very much. I selected the Coursera classes by Northwestern because they are designed to give free access to education to those who may not be able to afford to pay for classes (like me…mama of 4 with one in college). I was not familiar with this site when I began the classes, but I am open to suggestions for further learning in the future. Always learning!

          • Carol Tice says:

            Hm…Coursera…does not have a good reputation for having anything great in the freelance writing space. Have never heard a good word, and I know thousands of writers, at this point. They are cheap, though.

            You might take a look here — http://usefulwritingcourses.com — the classes I co-teach with The Renegade Writer’s Linda Formichelli.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Thanks, Gail! I didn’t want to say…but I’ve coached so many writers with MFAs who have NO IDEA how to get a freelance writing gig.

          • I’ve been taking the Northwestern Courses on Content Strategy and personally find them to be excellent. I do a lot of content strategy and keep up with industry and have presented at Content Marketing World Conference by the Content Marketing Institute
            and everything in the courses is very similar to the best practices being talked about elsewhere. I know other content writers that have taken the whole certificate and felt it was a good use of time.

  14. Martha, she is a mind reader, especially in her ‘Play to your demographic’ section. Her call to education couldn’t be better.

    Ageism vs Skill-ism pulls it all together.

    Carol, I like the added tweet breaks but tweeted the whole post instead.
    David Gillaspie recently posted…BABY BOOMER BOUNDARIES: CODING BOOMER LIVESMy Profile

  15. Great post, Carol! I began freelancing in 1990 and I was in my late 30s at that time. I did mostly magazine and newspaper articles then and in past 14 years, I’ve done very little freelance writing, because I was busy trying to get another business off the ground (which I left a couple of years ago), and got stuck in a ‘mill’ of multiple part-time jobs teaching English as a Second Language to adult immigrants. I am no longer teaching and am getting a freelance business off the ground. However, things have changed a lot, so I am learning how freelance writing works. There’s quite a learning curve, but fortunately, I love going to school. The technical stuff is a challenge, yes. But, I just keep at it.
    Debbie L. Miller, Den member

  16. Judy says:

    This is such a sensible, practical and useful post. It is genuinely encouraging.
    Thank you.

  17. Linda H. says:

    Love this Carol. I totally agree and when I heard a group of copywriters complaining about being turned down due to age then expressing fears about ageism in the freelance world, I immediately thought of you. You confirmed what I already knew, which by the way you taught me. πŸ˜€

    When I returned to freelancing in 2010 I was new to the Internet. Yet, after building a website I started making $55,000/year writing. I allowed myself to succumb to fear and listened to too many naysayers, so crashed and burned. But I’m back on my feet and just scored two new freelance contracts that paid well, and a longer term retainer contract that equally pays well.

    I’ve been told my LinkedIn associates that being a seasoned freelancer is a gift. I agree.

    This is a fabulous post with so much truth. I’m going to share this to break the naysayers and make them aware, as Rohi said, that we get better with age. I look forward to scoring mid-high five figures this year with my freelance writing and I’ve been with AARP for over a decade!

  18. Martha says:

    To echo the above comments – “WOW, just WOW!”

    I’m convinced now that you are a mindreader, among your other skills…

    I’ll be printing this post and will have it by my side as I work each day. I’m soooo over the hill age wise, and I’d been succumbing to the thought of just giving up.

    Thanks for the kick in the keester! I’m now back on track.

    In gratitude,
    Martha

    • Carol Tice says:

      My pleasure!

      My favorite Dear Abby ever is the one where someone who’s 50 wants to go to medical school, but it takes 7 years. They’ll be so old when they get out!

      And Abby says, “And how old will you be in 7 years if you DON’T go?”

      We each have this one, finite life, and nothing to lose in going for our dreams.

  19. Nida Sea says:

    I love this! This is so true for my older career seeking clients. They’ve experienced age discrimination in their previous job, or while hunting for a new one, and they feel devastated. It can be difficult in the job world, but there are ways to get around it. Plus, if you focus solely on your age instead of picking up new skills and learning new tools, you’ll never move on. Such a good post, totally inspires me to write a post for my career clients. Thanks, Carol!

  20. Dan Brooks says:

    Great article, as always, Carol. Thanks for all the useful details you dig up, and the fast, frank, forthright way you tell your stories. Love your whole thang!

  21. Rohi says:

    Hi Carol,
    Wonderful, wonderful post.
    You’re absolutely right – it’s more a matter of skill-ism than ageism. Skill-ism – love that word!

    As Luis Bunuel said, β€œAge is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”
    Rohi recently posted…Beyond Satisfaction – Book ReviewMy Profile

  22. Cheryl Rhodes says:

    I never thought about ageism in writing the way it is in the job marketplace. Then again, I’ve sent about 3 queries to AARP over the years but no assignment. Maybe I’m not old enough yet!

    • Carol Tice says:

      They’re the biggest and most-competitive publication in the country — them or Costco Connection. I’ve pitched them without success as well!

      But what that means is…nothing. Just keep pitching!

  23. Nell says:

    Wow. Just wow. You don’t even KNOW how timely this post is for me Carol! I’ve been subscribing to you for some time now, even while I was working full time, and you’ve been such an inspiration. I kept saying, “I’ll get that freelancing stuff going at some point.” Now, here I am, a 42-year-old single mom, recently laid off my corporate marketing and communications copywriting position of 10 years! I created a website, but the biggest thing in my head has been, “You’re too old!” “People want millennials.” “You’ll never get a freelance gig.” And then I open my inbox to this post. All I can say is THANK YOU!!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nell, a lot of writers I coach are 60+ — you’re SO not too old! I’d consider you in the prime of your career. And your background is a staff job in copywriting? You’re so well-positioned to do this freelance.

    • Gail Gardner says:

      Carol is absolutely right. And in my niche, the most in-demand freelancers are the ones with the most business and writing experience.

      The social and project management tools you can learn much easier than younger writers can gain business, marketing and writing experience.

      You can pay someone else to build your website and keep WordPress updated and edit your CSS and design so you can focus on writing and promoting.

      No one has EVER asked me how old my writers or or how old I am (although they can figure that out by what is on my LinkedIn profile). 42 is young. Many of my best writers are in their 50s and 60s.
      Gail Gardner recently posted…9 Essentials to Becoming a Successful Business LeaderMy Profile