How 2 Low-Paid Freelance Writing Gigs Helped Me Move Up and Earn More

by Luana Spinetti

I’m a happy freelance writer now, but it wasn’t like that when I started in 2009.

Low on self-confidence and not a native English speaker, I was so sure I didn’t deserve high pay for my writing that when I got the chance to become a regular niche blog contributor in 2011, it felt like a big honor.

For over a year, I worked my butt off to write for two IT blogs that paid me peanuts β€” as low as €1 and $5 per article. But I needed clips, so I put in every effort to research, write and edit at the best of my possibilities.

In the end, my posts were all well received by the readership. Perhaps I really deserved to get paid more for my work.

Initially, I considered asking for a rate increase, but I immediately discarded that option, because I knew these clients just couldn’t pay me more. Instead, I used the clips I got from these clients to find better clients.

Why I didn’t drop my low payers

There were a few concrete reasons I hung onto these low-paying blogging gigs:

    • Their readers bring in targeted traffic. My low-paying clients maintain reputable blogs with a loyal readership that appreciates and follows my work, sending high quality targeted traffic — and possible clients — back to my own websites.
    • A solid, professional friendship. Both of the blog owners were open to discussion and exchanging resources since the beginning, a trait that helped build the foundation for reciprocal trust. These clients are no longer just people who pay me for work — they are business partners and interesting buddies.
    • Good source of niche news, reports, discussions and case studies. I lost count of the many business and learning opportunities I encountered thanks to my low-pay clients. Their help and support has been crucial to my advancement

 

  • Great exposure. Most of my current high-paying clients are loyal readers of my low-paying clients’ blogs. One of them contacted me from my contributor posts and comment replies.
  • Not too time-consuming. I don’t spend more than eight hours a week on the low-pay clients, so they won’t rob precious time from queries, pitches and assignments to magazines and clients who can afford to pay me more.
  • Article ideas I can reuse. For every post I contribute to the low-payers, a lot of ideas get discarded, but never wasted. I use them ‘as is’ or re-spin them for publications that can pay me $30 to $300 more.
  • Referrals. Word of mouth really works!

How low-pay clients help you get good pay

If you give low pay assignments enough attention and spend some time to research the topic at hand, they have as much power to attract high paying clients as elite magazine articles. However, you should always monitor time spent on each low-pay article and keep your available hours free to pitch higher paying pubs.

Another secret to get the most out of these low pay gigs is to network a lot: Share your work on LinkedIn and Twitter and link it to relevant comments on niche blogs.

Only get low paying clients that count

Don’t rely on content mills to find your low-paying clients, because mills are not reputable and you need clips from reputable clients to fuel your business.

Pick a nonprofit in your area, a niche blog you like, or a community magazine. What counts is that the clips are relevant to your niche and provide value to the readership. When it comes to creating useful clips for getting better-paying gigs, writing for Demand Studios and other content mills can’t help you.

Luana Spinetti is a freelance writer, artist and blogger based in Italy. She recently drew an inspiring 5-page comic on a beginner freelancer’s life for the readers of her blog, Writer’s Mind.

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21 comments on “How 2 Low-Paid Freelance Writing Gigs Helped Me Move Up and Earn More
  1. Anne Wayman says:

    Luana, there are some good distinctions here… good on you.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…This Freelance Writer Finds First Things First WorksMy Profile

    • Thank you, Anne. πŸ™‚

      I was lucky. My clients were all honest and open to productive relationships. Some writers are not that lucky from the beginning, but it’s important to discern when all we’re doing is slave work and quit immediately! There are better low payers out there. ^^

      ~ Luana S.

  2. Kitty says:

    Hi Luana, it’s me. Wow, very informative and interesting. Like you, English is not my native language and above all, I am not very creative. So while I am interested in making money through writing, I just don’t have the confidence and above all, I don’t even know where to start.

    But I’m glad it works for you and I wish you all the best. πŸ™‚
    Kitty recently posted…I’m a post-grad student!My Profile

    • Hi Kitty!

      Glad to see you here, and glad you appreciated the article. πŸ™‚

      I’ve met writers who were scared to write for money because English wasn’t their first language, but most of the time their language skills were excellent. Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence to stop people from trying.

      A good place to start is freelance writing websites with job boards (eg. MediaBistro.com or BloggingPro.com), or ‘job blogs’ like Write-Jobs.blogspot.com. The latter has a category for Free writing competitions, too. They’re all opportunities to break the ice and start collecting samples to show to future clients. πŸ™‚

      Thanks!

      ~ Luana S.

  3. Thomas says:

    Interesting post…

    Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

    Interesting.
    Thomas recently posted…Violent Mice & Public TransportMy Profile

  4. This post just goes to show that there are a lot of ways to break into freelance writing. I, too, started at rock bottom and used whatever came my way to leverage myself up. I worked my way “up” to Demand Studios and wrote about 50 articles for them because they paid $15, which was more than the $10 I was getting from others. It’s not something I’d recommend, but after awhile, my byline started appearing and I used those articles as part of my portfolio to show new clients. That was when it also finally dawned on me to ask every client for a byline as part of the deal. It was also when it dawned on me what a sucker I was. When I saw my travel reviews on USA Today, I thought, “How much did Demand Studios get for these?” and started thinking about direct self-marketing.

    Cheryl mentioned skipping content mills and guest posting instead. This doesn’t make much sense to me. In my opinion, writing for free is just shooting yourself in the foot. I think you’d be better off getting work through a bidding site if you’re not ready to market yourself directly. At least you get paid a little and don’t support this worrying trend towards free guest posting “for exposure.”

    Again, my opinion only, if you’re going to write for free, why not start your own blog? My travel blog ultimately landed me a job as correspondent for the area I live in. It’s pretty fun to go to the beach, take a few photos, return home and get paid to write about it. I also make a little money from affiliate sales on my blogs.
    Rob Schneider recently posted…Freelance writing gigs β€” the good, the bad, and the indifferentMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…I don’t actually agree about the free guest posting thing.

      If you guest on authoritative, very large blogs, you can get a lot of great clients from that exposure.

      What I like about doing free posts is you never get confused about what you’re doing. You’re getting samples so you can go get paying clients.

      Where with Demand a lot of writers start thinking, “If I just go fast enough, I can turn this into a living.” Then they become like gerbils on wheels, and soon they’re exhausted and can’t remember why they even wanted to write! And there’s never any time for marketing.

      Guest posting usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum…it’s in service of your own blog, and all those great goals you talk about above. If you have your own blog, you need to guest post on other blogs to get the exposure to build it. It’s a marketing activity for your blog, and one that can be a pretty good ROI on your time invested. And doesn’t cost as much as, say, Facebook ads.

      BTW, if you want to know how much Demand made off your post, you can just read their S-1 filing from their IPO. As I recall, they pay you $15 and get paid $54.

      And the real irony — they lost money on the deal. They weren’t profitable on that margin. Which is why their stock has gone nowhere but down.

      Where at $50 a post, I bet you could figure out how to live off it. That’s the difference. πŸ˜‰

      • Hi Rob!

        Guest posting won’t earn you a living, but it can go along well with it: most of the time, highly reputable blogs may not pay you dollars, but they WILL pay you in authority, exposure, traffic and trust. These factors may not bring food on your table, but they can help bring more to it!

        In fact, the more reputable you become, the more you will earn. πŸ™‚ Reputation really counts, as well as networking.

        ~ Luana S.

  5. Karen says:

    What a great article, Luana! And inspiring too. I currently write content and “how-to” articles for a small business website (that can’t afford to pay much above a “Good job” and a handshake either) and I’m hoping to eventually leverage that into higher paying jobs. In the meantime, I use this experience to grow my skills in fostering a professional relationship, content/article writing and editing.

    Thank you again for sharing this!
    Karen
    Karen recently posted…4 Reasons Why I Love yWriterMy Profile

  6. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for this article, Luana. This is great advice!

    I am still in the planning stages of breaking away from my 9-5 job. Demand Studios and other content mills were on my list of sites to apply to, but not any more. Instead, I’ll volunteer to guest blog on other sites.
    Cheryl recently posted…Comment on How to Handle Uncertainty by Cheryl HarrellMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, guest posting is only useful if you have a blog of your own that the guest post leads people back to.

      But monetizing your blog is really a different strategy than freelance writing. On that side, I say instead of mills, just start marketing and find your own clients. You can’t help but earn more.

      • Carol’s right, Cheryl.

        Stay away from content mills, but don’t disdain honest low paying clients to get started. They’ll be your first network professionals, and if they love your work, they’ll help you find new gigs or refer you to higher paying clients. πŸ™‚

        Work on your blog as a first thing. That will help you a great deal.

        ~ Luana S.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Luana’s advice is right on target. I write very regulary for a client that only pays $75 an article, but the assignments lead to other gigs, including a nice one time fee for web copyediting all the way up to a six-month consulting gig at $500/month! You must choose your publications wisely, you must always provide top quality results, and you must never fail to market yourself when the opportunity is right!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Does Your Business Need a Social Media Coach?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      For a while I had a client that was my lowest payer at $300 for 800-word articles…but I held onto it for several years because those articles turned up on the front page of Yahoo and got me huge attention. There’s always more to consider in a gig than just the pay rate…sometimes there are other goals the client can meet.

      I’m sure Luana will have more response for us once it’s daytime over there in Italy!

    • Way to go, Elizabeth!

      Congratulations on the new gig, and my apologies for coming here so late. Looks like there was a funny ‘bad timing’ with notifications— I didn’t see the post coming up. But I’m here now. πŸ™‚

      When you choose the right clients, be them high or low payers, they’ll bring you new opportunities. So, keep it up!

      ~ Luana S.

  8. Samar says:

    It’s so good to hear how you strategically used your low paying clients to land better opportunities. Way to go Luana!

    Considering that most freelancers start out working for low pay, it’s so important for them to realize that you can move up if you choose your low paying clients wisely.
    Samar recently posted…5 Reasons Freelancers Accept Low-Paying Work And How To Break Free Of ThemMy Profile

    • You’re righ, Samar!

      Sometimes we’re a little to scared to ‘pay our dues’, when it’s not necessarily a bad condition: it’s a chance to build professional relationships that last and bring new fruits. πŸ™‚ That’s what I learned.

      My hope is for people to never lose hope, that they won’t be poor writers forever.

      ~ Luana S.

  9. J. Delancy says:

    Congratulations Spinetti:

    Your article shows that you have used a sound strategy to move from low to high pay and keep everyone happy.

    All The Best
    J. Delancy recently posted…How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Sharks, Travel, Money)My Profile

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