The Life-Changing Magic for Freelance Writers Who Need to Earn More

Carol Tice | 50 Comments

Freelance Writers: This is Magic. Makealivingwriting.comDid you know that there’s one strategy freelance writers can use to earn more, almost like magic?

No, it’s not decluttering your house. Though that does help many of us be more productive.

It’s a way of bidding on freelance writing gigs that gets you earning more, every time.

I was reminded of this successful formula recently on a Den 2X Income Accelerator mastermind. Here’s how the story went:

Agonizing vs bidding strong

One of my 2X members always had trouble deciding what to charge. She isn’t hitting her earning targets (yet!), and was often scrambling to land more clients.

She’d take an initial client meeting, learn about the writing project on offer, and then spend hours or even days agonizing about what to charge. She’d ask around her network. Is this bid too low? Too high?

She had to get this right, because she was desperate to land the client.

After finally deciding on a price and submitting her quote, if she didn’t get the gig, she’d beat herself up some more about it. She was sure she was pricing herself out of the market.

As time passed, she built her client base and became a little less desperate for writing work at any price. Finally, she took a client meeting with a promising prospect and decided to go for it.

She’d qualified this client ahead of time, and knew they had the budget to pay a writer professional rates.

After she got a sense of the project scope, she tossed out a fat rate, right in the meeting. Just off the top of her head.

And the client agreed. Without a moment’s hesitation.

What do your prospects smell?

This is a progression I’ve seen over and over again with freelance writers. When we’re desperate, we often overthink bidding and usually bid way too low, to be sure we’re not undercut.

The problem? Clients can smell the desperation, in everything you say and how you conduct yourself in the negotiation — and that makes them not want to hire you.

After all, good writers aren’t desperate for clients, right? They have plenty of work.

Your real message

Once your career gets going, freelance writers typically gain more confidence, and get educated about going rates. They learn to qualify clients, find a high-paying niche to specialize in, and get in front of better prospects.

They’re not afraid to ask for good rates anymore. They’ve learned that if the rate is too low, they don’t want the gig.

That confident vibe communicates a lot to the client. I think the subliminal messages a confident, high bidder sends prospects include:

  • I’m busy and I could take or leave this gig
  • The rate I tossed out to you is probably what pros are getting
  • I respect myself and know what I need to earn
  • I sound professional, highly competent, and experienced

In other words, projecting confidence when you negotiate is the secret ingredient for making yourself desirable to clients.

When you’re desperate, those messages run more like this:

  • I have to take anything I can get — so you can get me for a song
  • I don’t know how to run a freelance business
  • My life is chaotic, so I may flake out on you

The difference is stark, no?

How to be confident — when you’re not

You may be thinking: “But I’m currently broke. How can this technique help me?”

Ever heard of fake it ’til you make it? Yes, you can pretend you don’t desperately need this gig — even if you do. Think of it as an acting job.

I recommend you try this out if you’ve been struggling to get gigs. Because nobody wants to hire a writer who seems desperate and in danger of starving to death and not finishing their assignment.

A few tips on how to develop a confident attitude:

  • Fix your money problems. Take a part-time job if you need to, sell unwanted items on eBay, cut expenses — do whatever you have to do to create financial breathing room, so that you aren’t clawing to take any gig, no matter how little it pays.
  • Learn about rates. One cause of dithering on rates is not knowing what others are charging. Join a writer community so you have people to bounce your bid ideas off of, and you’ll pick up on going rates pretty fast. That’ll give you more confidence to quote a professional rate.
  • Practice with a friend. If client meetings make you nervous, try writing out a script on what you want to say and going over it with a friend playing the role of your prospect.
  • Qualify better prospects. If you’re applying to online job ads or mass platforms where thousands of writers congregate, your bargaining position is weak. Often, you’ll have to take the rock-bottom rates they’re offering, or pass. To strengthen your hand, proactively find your own clients and tap into the huge, hidden demand for freelance writers that’s never advertised.

Think about what you say when you negotiate with prospects — and whether you could find a way to project more experience and confidence in what you say. It’ll make a big difference.

What do you say when you negotiate for writing gigs? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

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50 comments on “The Life-Changing Magic for Freelance Writers Who Need to Earn More

  1. vinod on

    thank you so much for giving such a grate post i really have grate use of this post and appreciated for you work thanking you

  2. Kevin Casey on

    Another outstanding post, Carol. Showing complete confidence is everything in this business. As you say, “clients can smell the desperation”. I’ve never offered a discount to a single client (in fact, one client who didn’t want to lose me recently gave me a raise without me asking for any extra money!). I don’t budge on quotes, either. If someone wants me to do the job for less, I pass. Once a writer starts acting like a desperate fishmonger dickering over the price of mullet, it’s a slippery slope.

    Recently, I let a client go because of the poor quality of their feedback. Vague wasn’t working for me. And this was one of the fastest growing software development firms on earth – a multi-million-dollar business. I approach clients thinking that they’re not doing me a favor – I’m doing them one. Sounds arrogant, but it attracts a higher quality client, at least in my experience.

    I made so much writing last year, this year I’m off to Argentina for a month or two playing ‘digital nomad’. Life as a writer is good – when you attract and keep the right clients.

    • Carol Tice on

      Wow, have fun in Argentina!

      Vague doesn’t work for ME either. I know writers who are happy to simply keep racking up a bill as their client changes their mind 10 times. No, thanks.

  3. James Cochrane on

    I have gotten to the point in my freelancing work where I absolutely feel like I don’t need to settle. My writing and grammar continue to improve (because I have a daily regimen to make that happen) and I have only approached a very, VERY small portion of people that could use writing work. Out of that small population, I have gotten offers for work. Some of the offers are really low pay. While I had been tempted to take the low pay work in the past, the fact that I haven’t even skimmed the surface of work available, has made it quite easy to decline.

    But you also can’t just focus on the rate. I have a client that pays a rate that many would consider not great, but not terrible. However, they give me plenty of work and have never asked for revisions. If you have had to do revisions, that reduces your rate. This client and I have a great working relationship which is golden to me. I probably won’t get rich with them, but it helps me pay my bills and keeps me going on my freelance journey.

    I am not yet where I want to be with freelancing. But the growth is seriously positive and my prospects and confidence is on the rise. As is my belief that GOOD writers will always have work in the information economy. Don’t give up and NEVER SETTLE!

  4. Neal Eckert on

    Carol,

    Thank you for the encouragement and advice. I started freelance writing two months ago. I found your site after googling to see which writing site pays the best (out of the content mills :).

    I was a bit skeptical at first about whether content mills could be as bad as you portrayed them. After spending way too much time researching and signing up for junk sites, I completely agree with you. Some people just have to learn the hard way!

    I’m a regular visitor to your blog and hope to implement all of your advice. It can be overwhelming to know where to start as a newbie. I’m thankful to hear that others have gone through the beginner stage and made it out alive.

    I’m missing my left hand due to a lawnmower accident when I was four. Do you know of any one-armed freelance writers out there? I type decently fast but have considered Dragon Naturally Speaking. Do those voice programs work for freelancers or are they a waste of money?

    To conclude, though, thank you. Stumbling across your blog was infinitely better than tripping over another content mill!

    P.S. Fiverr is where I started. I know people say you can make real money on there but I see it more as hobby writing. I initially set my rate at 4 dollars for 300 words (Fiverr takes a dollar of each five you make, even tips!) Wouldn’t “Fourer” be more fitting? I received a decent amount of interest at that rate. What I found really sad is that when I dropped my rates to 200 words for four dollars, I became virtually invisible.

    That was a wake-up call for me. Even though I was working hard to deliver a quality product, hardly anyone was willing to pay me two cents a word. Every once in a while, I’m emailed a success story by Fiverr of someone who made decent money. I’m beginning to think one of two things about those stories. Either they are significantly embellished or a freak anomally.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Neal — I’m glad you found my site! Hope you’re a subscriber — my free ebook you get for signing up may answer a lot of your questions.

      These Fiverr rates have nothing to do with what pro writers get paid. I’ve gotten as much as $2 A WORD, not $4 for 300 words. Fiverr is one of the lowest of the low, as far as I know. I’d definitely steer clear there.

      And yes, Dragon works great! My friend Jon Morrow, who has spinal muscular atrophy and can barely speak and blink, uses it — you can see a demo here: https://vimeo.com/7674023

      • Neal Eckert on

        Wow! Jon is an inspiration to me. You are too! Thanks for taking the time to correspond. I just got your free e-book. Thank you. I’ll definitely check out the Dragon demo too. Take care.

        Neal

  5. Aleksei Afonin on

    Hi everyone!

    I would like to thank Carol and everyone in this community for sharing such valuable information!

    [After writing my entire comment, I can see that it’s not exactly on the topic of the post, and I am not a writer, I am a translator, sorry, but nonetheless…]

    I find myself in a pretty ridiculous situation. I have a university education in oil and gas geophysics, 13 years of hands-on experience in offshore geophysical surveys, and about 9 years of experience as a freelance technical translator (Russian). In 2015, when all this crisis struck, I lost my offshore income, so I became a “full-time-freelance“ translator, a really poor and desperate one, and I am shocked to see where I am now. The competition for translation in Russia is so huge that there are people who are happy to translate for $1 PER 250 WORDS! I am not far better; the agencies I work with pay me a maximum of $4-5 per 250 words. I also spiraled into offering some sort of cheap social promotion and text spinning services (that is, basically, spamming and plagiarizing services, if you call things by their real names) on Fiverr.

    But every madness must come to an end at some point.

    I came across Make a Living Writing a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, God! After reading a few posts, I asked myself, “What am I doing with my profession, am I absolutely out of my mind? Despite sitting on a goldmine, I compete with schoolchildren for those penny-paying microjobs…”

    I always thought that my bid was not low enough for clients to consider hiring me, but it never occurred to me that my bid was NOT HIGH ENOUGH to find a serious client. I never thought that a client might think, “He charges so low because he is either an amateur, or a fool, or a fraud… anyway he is dodgy.”

    I have a plan now. The thing is, I have always worked with Russian agencies, but I have never contacted any prospective direct customers outside Russia. That is what I’ll start doing now. I’ve just had a look around from the point of view of google.co.uk, rather than my usual google.ru, for the first time in my life, and I didn’t find any dirt cheap prices that I see at home! I found that the lowest prices for the most basic and simple translation start at about $0.07 per word there, and everyone knows that the oil and gas niche is like nowhere near being basic and simple…

    Thanks, once again!

    Regards,
    Alex

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, this is one of those posts that I could have addressed to ‘freelancers’ instead of freelance writers, because certainly the same principles apply for any sort of freelance creative. Glad it helped you, Alex!

  6. Williesha on

    Such a great post. Even though I’m headed to my 4th year of doing this, it’s hard. But I honestly don’t negotiate much, unless it’s a long term client I have developed a relationship with. And even then, I only budge a little.

    Me: Here’s my rate.
    Them: That seems too high.
    Me: Okay, what were you budgeting?
    Them: $
    Me: Okay, here’s what I can provide for you at that rate.

    That’s it! If you requested a 1000-word blog post but want to pay me my going rate for a 500-word post I tell them!

    • Ravi on

      If you look at the Fiverr gigs, they are really angelic. Many writers are ready to write 500+ or 700+ word articles just for $5. Maybe they would change the word count later, but those gigs made me to follow and offer the same on that platform [I’m completely new to writing articles for others]. Hope I will gain a spirit to ditch those platforms soon.

      • Carol Tice on

        Not sure what you mean by ‘angelic’ — think maybe you meant another word there?

        Yes, many writers are willing to write for $5. Each freelance writer has to decide if they want to keep hanging around these platforms and making that sort of wage, or if they’re willing to learn how to build a writing business that PAYS.

        • Ravi on

          I used “angelic” just for fun. I mean, those writers are very warm-hearted, so they agree to write tons of words just for $5!

          No, I don’t want to keep hanging around those platforms, I want to build a serious writing career.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, there’s always the strategy of taking the initial rate on a short-term contract and then renegotiating once they’ve fallen in love with you…I’ve done that plenty. But the trick is that your starting rate has to be in the ballpark of what you want. Few clients are going to pay you ten times more later on.

      • Ravi on

        Not sure, this comment was a reply to me or not. But I convinced myself to offer those $5 gig on Fiverr just for sharpen the writing and because of no clue where to start as a completely newbie.

        I hope I will reach a level by next few months to stop Fiverr and start pitching for better writing jobs. Thanks.

  7. Jennifer Stewart on

    Wow, thank you! That really helps. Now to sift through the links you included in your thoughtful reply!

  8. Jennifer Stewart on

    What is low? And what is high? I’m not a freelancer but I want to be. Does it depend on the job? The location?

    • Carol Tice on

      Jennifer, freelance rates are all over the place (and all over the world!). Factors include your experience level, the type of writing involved, the size, type, and reputation of the client, the complexity of the topic, and your own availability, cost of living, and financial goals.

      There is no ‘going rate’ for freelance writing, because there are just too many variables.

      I explain some important principles for figuring out rates here:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/freelance-writing-ratesrevealed/

      And here:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/billing-day-job-hourly-rate-freelance-business-fail/

      In Freelance Writers Den (a great place to ASK 1200 other writers whether you’re bidding too low!), I have drawn a floor for rates, below which we don’t accept listings for our job board, of $50 a blog post and $100 for short articles.

      There is a TON of work out there substantially below these rates. Your job is to AVOID those types of gigs and to constantly raise your rates as you progress through your career.

      We encourage writers to start at $35-$50 an hour as a target (not that you want to bid that to a client, per-project rates are better, but for your own knowledge). On the high end, experienced freelance writers can make $200 an hour, if they know what they’re doing, as my friend Linda Formichelli describes here: http://www.copyblogger.com/earn-more-freelancing/

      Hope that helps!

  9. Tiffany on

    This is THE biggest lesson I’ve had to learn over the past month. I had been charging a low-rate when I was “side-hustling” my business while holding down a 9-5 job. I left that 9-5 in December and jumped into my business full-time offering the same rates.
    From there, I received so many inquiries for larger projects that got me very excited. I was so desperate to land them that I was reducing my already low-rate to nab them and guess what, NOT ONE OF THEM purchased the deal. Frustrated, I prayed and asked for guidance. A bunch of information came to me from various sources (including the email you’ve sent) about pricing my services so low. I had been telling myself that I was trying to help people by providing affordable services, but the truth is that I was nervous about losing clients. When I realized that I was attracting people who were looking for cheap work, I IMMEDIATELY raised my prices. I began to understand that if those prospective clients HAD purchased, that I would have killed myself working on them and would have been grossly underpaid in the process. What I had been charging wasn’t in line with what I ultimately would like to manifest in terms of schedule or lifestyle. I was pricing my services based on my current reality, not my dream lifestyle and realized that I wasn’t properly valuing my own talent. I’ve since corrected this and am doing the mindset work to keep my confidence up. I will not settle!! Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Judith Docken on

    This is an awesome post. Ironically, I had a very similar conversation with a job recruiter some years back. My husband had just left us and I was out every day, trying to land a decent paying job with benefits to support myself and my three kids. I reeked of life-and-death desperation. One job I applied for would have been perfect and I very much wanted to land it. I sat through the interview in a panic-induced sweat. I was crushed when I didn’t get the job. What turned my job search around was the fact that the recruiter very kindly sat down with me afterwards and explained why I didn’t get the job. “You come across as desperate,” she said. “I am desperate,” I replied. She said, “You can’t show that. Go into you interviews with all the faked confidence you can muster, knowing you can do the job.” She wished me well and sent me on my way. My next interview was with a big accounting firm and I went into the interview with a “of course I can do this job” attitude and landed the job.

    Now, years later, I have the opportunity to do freelancing full-time and I will be drawing heavily on that same tactic. Thanks for the reminder that confidence is key!

    • Carol Tice on

      That was a nice recruiter, to give you that tip!

      Nobody wants to hire anyone who seems desperate. The good news is, you can project confidence no matter what your true situation. 😉

  11. Jan Hill on

    The biggest thing for me was getting into a financial position where I wasn’t desperate – it all got easier then. At that point, genuine confidence resonates and you don’t have to mask desperation because you’re not…desperate!

    • Carol Tice on

      I think there are writers who aren’t desperate who still BID like they’re desperate — it becomes a bad habit. Glad you gained that confidence! Certainly, writers who’re fully booked and earning well should treat each client nibble like…I COULD take that gig…or not.

      • harish desai on

        hi Carol,

        But, do not companies or outsourcing clients look for people who have financial responsibilities on them to be sure that the person they are hiring will work diligently to fulfill his or her financial responsibilities or in other words, will work diligently to fulfill their dreams?

        I am attending interviews right now to take up a full-time job as my writing gigs do not help me earn enough to sustain myself. I find that companies ask questions which probe our financial details to ascertain whether we will work diligently at our job if they hire us. They ask questions like “how many dependants”, they ask for references, they ask whether we are open for rotating shifts, and whether we will do night shifts. The industry in question which I am trying is the BPO industry. They only prefer people who are open for rotating shifts and who are ready to work 24×7. They do not recruit people who show an inkling of confidence.

        • Carol Tice on

          In the US, it’s illegal to ask things like how many kids you have — shouldn’t be relevant to the hiring process.

          Sounds like a horrible industry–I hope you’re able to pursue your writing and gain control of your schedule in the future.

  12. Jean on

    This is a great reminder. I fell in to the trap of being wishy-washy and outright mentionied that I didn’t know what to charge to a potential client. My lack of confidence was a deal breaker for me for that potential gig. Hopefully, I learned my lesson

    • Carol Tice on

      If you don’t know what to charge…then writers should always say they’ll think about it and send a bid in the next day.

      That gives you time to ask around your network and find out more about going rates. I’d say the biggest eye-opener new Freelance Writers Den members get is when they ask for feedback on a bid…and find out they’re bidding waaaaay too low.

    • Carol Tice on

      Yikes! The last thing you want a client to know is that you don’t know going rates. As I think I said above, if you don’t know, you just say you’ll get back to them. Then, do your research.

  13. Holly Bowne on

    Always love (and forget about!) the “fake it till you make it” strategy. It really does work! And for me, even though I’m nowhere near where I need to be financially yet, for 2016, I’m approaching each potential prospect with the attitude that if they can’t pay me a real rate for a project, then they’re just not the right client for me. Next! :o)

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Carol Tice on

      That’s the attitude to have, Holly. Writers have to stop feeling devastated and sad when a prospect turns out to be a low payer — and stop taking that gig because they feel desperate.

      That time is better spent marketing to find clients who value you.

  14. Sophie Lizard on

    Loved this post! Here’s my best recollection of a conversation I had last year with a prospective client (for an e-learning gig, as it happens):

    THEM: We pay all our writers $XX per day.
    ME: Hmm… that’s… OK, that’s about half my usual day rate for this kind of project.
    THEM: Oh.
    [Long silence, which I managed not to walk into with my big mouth open!]
    THEM: Well, I guess we could double the rate, if you’re sure you can commit to 2 days per week?
    ME: Yeah, 2 days per week at my usual rate is fine.
    THEM: Great! Can you start next week?

    Just goes to show that even clients who say they have a set rate will often flex for a writer with confidence. 😉

    • Carol Tice on

      Thanks for sharing that great story, Sophie! I’m a big fan of using silence in negotiations to let the prospect think…and realize maybe they’re low. 😉

    • harish desai on

      hi Sophie,

      For me, it has never worked out this way. I have always got budget conscious clients who have never said the golden words “I guess we could double the rates, if you commit to this much time”.

      My clients have always said “We pay all our writers $xx rate and we will not change that for anyone. Take it or leave it”.

      How can we deal with such clients? Should we take up the project or ditch the client?

      • Sophie Lizard on

        Hi Harish! If you like the rate, take it. If you don’t like the rate, say “No thanks.” It really is that simple! Scroll up this page a little and re-read what Carol wrote about how to be confident – especially the part about qualifying prospects and choosing who you want to work with. Her advice on this topic is gold. 🙂

      • Carol Tice on

        Harish, when you only seem to find low-paying clients who couldn’t imagine paying professional rates, it means you’re looking for clients in all the wrong places — online job ads, Craigslist, Elance, places like that.

        You might want to take a look at my How To Get Great Freelance Clients ebook for a lot of great research tools for identifying and marketing yourself to better prospects.

        • Ravi on

          After writing a few articles [I used Britannica for research] on my blogger site, I opened an account in a content-mill site. And I found some gigs that pay very low rates.

          As I’m a completely beginner at writing articles in English, I could not dare to avoid them at this stage.

          If those places are wrong for searching serious writing jobs, where should I start?

          P.S: I think my writing is now improved and no grammatical errors, don’t I?

        • Ravi on

          I bought “How to start a successful freelancing writing career” eBook. What’s difference between these two?

          I have an excuse for you don’t promote your eBooks or courses that much. But it is helpful if a related eBook is suggested at the end of every post.

          • Carol Tice on

            If you mean the Step by Step Guide ebook, Get Great Clients has all my tips for moving up to better pay, including a LOT of resources on how to qualify better prospects so you don’t waste time on bottom feeders.

            I often do have an ebook for sale, and of course there’s always the free one for subscribers. Right now, I’m focused on the e-learning bootcamp coming up, and on helping new visitors to this blog subscriber and get the FREE ebook. 😉 But a good reminder that I should promote the other ebooks more!

  15. Jerry Nelson on

    How do I handle the pricing dilemma? I tell the (prospective) client this:

    “You know, as well as I do, that I won’t do this work for a penny a word. I know, as well as you do, that you won’t pay ten dollars a word. But somewhere there is a range you are comfortable with; what is that range?”

    Then I sit back and shut up as I remember the old salesman’s credo: He who talks first, loses.

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