Do you sometimes feel like an easily replaceable cog in the vast wheel that is the freelance writing marketplace?
If so, you’re not alone.
With all the $5 or $10-a-post writing gigs online, it’s easy to feel writing has simply become a cheap activity — and that clients don’t appreciate the work you do.
Here’s one email I got recently that perfectly sums up the problem many writers face:
“The thing I struggle with is that I am unable to land a gig where the client really values what I do. Since the clients I worked with have a number of writers on the rolls, they always treat each writer as just another disposable commodity. Which is worrying, because it means they will drop me any time they want.
“So how I do go about building a relationship where I’m not just another writer?”–Ryan
Great question! That’s exactly what you want to do if you’re going to become a successful, well-paid freelance writer. Here are seven ways to get there:
1. Learn to qualify prospects
First off, to get paid well, you have to find companies that have serious money available to pay you. They’re successful.
In general, they sell a real product or service in the real world. And they’ve been around a few years.
Realize that most Craigslist advertisers, and most online platforms promising you great “opportunities,” simply aren’t the client you want. Yes, it’s so easy to sign up for those…but you’ll be caught in the disposable-commodity trap.
You get better clients by researching prospects, identifying good ones — or finding magazines that pay good rates — and proactively marketing to them.
When you contact these prospects, they’ll be looking to build relationships with good writers, because they’re doing *real* business, not waiting for ad-clicks on a website. They don’t have time to be constantly auditioning new writers.
2. Avoid the masses
I have yet to see an online platform with hundreds of writers working for it that pays well. There is no such business model.
The presence of many writers working for a single client creates an atmosphere that devalues our skills. It’s also often impossible to build a relationship, because the work is done through an anonymous platform where you may not even know the end client’s identity.
Any ad you see from a place gushing about how they’re hiring dozens of writers and have *loads* or work for you, be wary. In my experience, that’s code for “I pay crap, and think of writers as Kleenex I can quickly use up and discard.”
Set phasers to ignore, and move on to find successful companies to work for.
3. Meet live humans
Getting out and talking to prospects in person is a great way to find better clients. Even if it’s a small business with a small marketing budget, I think they’re less likely to pay you a shockingly low wage when you’ve met face-to-face. It’s also a great way to build meaningful relationships with contacts who might do more than hire you — they might recommend and refer you.
4. Build authority
One of the most accessible ways writers can start from scratch and begin earning well is to grab attention online, through their own blog or guest posting for big blogs.
Write on topics that will show your writing expertise to best advantage. I can tell you, the best-paying clients I’ve gotten in recent years all approached me after seeing my writing on popular blogs. That includes both of my traditional print book contracts. Good clients are doing online searches to find the right writer, because it saves them a ton of time over placing an ad or asking around.
When the client approaches you, they’re dying to build a relationship with you. They’ve decided you are the writer they simply must have for their project.
5. Specialize in a topic
Another way to build authority that reliably works is to choose a topic area and keep writing on it. The more you research and write on a topic, the more sophisticated your knowledge becomes. That allows you to move up to bigger, better-paying clients over time.
This is exactly how I went from writing for an alternative city paper to a business weekly to a regional business monthly magazine, to Entrepreneur and Forbes. I chugged along covering startups, franchising, and business finance, building my source list and learning more, until I could command top magazine rates for my stories.
6. Know a product
If there is a type of product you enjoy learning about, this can be a great way to build expertise. Maybe it’s apps, software-as-a-service, oil drilling, or jewelry-making. When you’ve written about one, start marketing your services to other companies that sell a similar thing.
In any complex industry, finding good writers is a nightmare for companies. And they don’t have time to teach anybody the fine points. If you know their product, they are thrilled to find you and pay you well to stick around.
7. Sell value instead of hours
This requires a massive mindshift — but if you do it, you can earn a lot more.
Writers tend to have a wage-slave, starvation mentality. Many tell me they’re happy to get $17 an hour for writing or editing, because they imagine they can squeak by on that…and are worried they’ll be out of a gig if they ask for professional rates.
Now, flip this equation over. If you write for businesses especially, stop basing what you charge on your life circumstances, past pay rates you’ve earned at your day jobs, or the total of your monthly bills.
Instead, think of the value you’re delivering to the client. Will the sales page or brochure or Web copy you’re writing enable that client to bring in $100,000 more business? You deserve a cut of that. Considered this way, a $5,000 fee is peanuts compared to all that new revenue for the client — and that’s how you pitch it in your proposal.
Selling value instead of hours is the approach that builds great client relationships, and puts freelance writers into the six-figure annual earning category.
How have you found better pay as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.