Quit getting paid peanuts: 10 tips for freelance writers

Freelance writer paid peanuts

Tired of getting paid peanuts?

Do you find yourself complaining that your SEO writing clients are cheap and not paying you what you’re worth?

Here’s a reality check.

It’s not your clients’ fault that you’re getting paid peanuts.

It’s yours.

I know, I know – I’m being harsh. But I’m doing it in a loving way. When you’re a freelance SEO writer, you are responsible for your business’ success. If you find yourself begging to be paid $50 for a 500 word post, you need to change your marketing process, pronto.

Here’s how to do it:

– Quit doing what you’ve done before. If you know that marketing yourself on Elance and Odesk is going to get you low-paying gigs, quit relying on them as primary revenue sources. Chances are, the dollar amounts aren’t going to get any better. Instead, create a marketing plan and stick with it. That probably means creeping out of your comfort zone. That’s OK. It’s good for you.

– Pull yourself out of the “I’m doing this for experience” trap. Sure, it’s OK to charge super-low rates when you’re first starting out. After that, you need to do important things like eat and pay your rent. If you think your writing isn’t worth it, your prospects won’t either (and they won’t pay you the fee you want.)

– Take things off the table. Can your prospect pay for some – but not all – of your proposed deliverables? Take something away until you can reach their price point. That way, you’re not discounting your prices – and your prospect gets (almost all) of what they need.

– Find a niche and establish your expertise. Pam Foster – who specializes in pet copywriting – is a great example of someone who has found a profitable niche. She’s the recognized go-to expert within the pet industry (and she can charge for that expertise accordingly.)

– Learn to say “no.” Does a new prospect want you to do everything for 50 percent less than your stated price? Just say no. Nicely. Practice saying “no” in front of a mirror if needed. Remember, your prospect’s budget issue is not your problem.

– Gather testimonials and case studies. That way, you can prove how you’ve boosted your clients’ bottom lines. You’re selling your value and how you’ll help your clients – so the more documentation you have to back that up, the better.

– Is your niche not making money? Find another one. You may love to work with small business clients – but if they can’t pay your bills, it’s time to let them go.

– Talk to someone who “gets it.” This could be a friend, a mentor or another freelance writer. Explain why you’re raising your rates – and share all the reasons why doing so freaks you out. It’s amazing how less scary something gets when it’s out in the open.

– Learn to say “goodbye” to low-paying clients. Yes, even if you love them. It’s scary to let existing clients go (I’ve been there many times.) But sometimes, we have to let things go to make space for better things in our lives (like better paying clients!)

– Examine your own issues. If you can’t seem to tell clients you charge $300 a page (rather than $30,) figure out what’s holding you back. Do you not feel “good enough?” Do you think that writers shouldn’t charge “too much” for what they do? What’s causing the rates to get stuck in your throat? If you’re constantly undervaluing yourself, this great article by Sean D’Souza (super-smart guy and Copywriting Business Bootcamp instructor) is a must-read.

What about you? What would you add to this list?

(Special thanks to the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group for the inspiration!)

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17 replies
  1. Jennfer Turner
    Jennfer Turner says:

    Thank, Heather, for the gentle but firm kick in the butt! My question: When you advise us to “Pull yourself out of the ‘I’m doing this for experience’ trap,” when can we say that we’re experienced? I’ve been in business full-time for two years and have written/ghostwritten over 1700 web content pieces. Yet, I hesitate to call myself an experienced professional. It sounds like I need to give myself a firm pep talk and own my resume! :)

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Jennifer-

      You’ve written over 1700 web content pieces and you’ve been in business for over two years? Yup. Let this be your gentle reality slap – you’re definitely an experienced professional! It’s time to own that resume, girl! :)

      Reply
  2. Robyn Smith
    Robyn Smith says:

    Very helpful advice; thank you! I especially appreciate the suggestion of taking things off the table. I am fairly new to the biz and have been charging hourly rates. With the advice of an SBCD counselor, I am in the process of developing package pricing which allows for your scenario.
    One question; once we are established and experienced, how do we find and move to the higher-paying clients? Thank you for your info!

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Robyn-

      Many copywriters (including Bob Bly and Pam Foster) recommend establishing yourself as an expert in a particular niche (which I mention in the post.) This is HUGE. When you are seen as the expert – and you have case studies and testimonials to back up your claims – people will contact you right and left. Plus, when clients see the value of working with you, they are more than happy to sign on the bottom line. Granted, you could be seen as the expert in small business copywriting…and you probably wouldn’t get much of a fee bump. Small businesses can only pay so much. BUT, if you’ve focused your niche around, say, organic food companies…well, there’s opportunity there!

      The key is always selling value rather than “here’s what I charge per page.” Otherwise, it’s easy for clients to say, “you’re too expensive” and hire a cheaper copywriter. After all, writing is easy and anyone can do it…right? :) (Argh)

      Thanks for your comment! Does that answer your question?

      Do you have a niche now? If so, you can start with smaller businesses and work your way up to larger companies with bigger budgets…

      Reply
  3. David Steynberg
    David Steynberg says:

    Hi Heather,
    Thank you for this very insightful post.
    I started my career as a sub editor and later moved into journalism. I have written for two national titles in South Africa (where I live and ply my trade) and was a business to business editor for a commercial property magazine for around a year.
    I realised my writing became less and less and have recently gone freelance.
    My dilemma is that my first client pays very little and expects a lot and I’m finding that it ends up taking more of my time than it’s worth. My second client is a shoddy payer and I literally find myself begging for money for the work I’ve done.
    I have been advised to let the shoddy payer go and focus more on my existing client base – even the low paying one.
    So my question is: what to do with the low-paying one and the shoddy-paying one? The low paying client gave me my first contract and I almost feel obliged to continue. Should I renegotiate the terms of the contract now or should I do it after a year?

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, David!

      What you’re going through is extremely common – but I know that knowledge doesn’t make it easier…

      RE: your shoddy client – You should never have to beg for payment. You could tell them that your new policy is at least 50% up front (with the remainder due BEFORE you finish the work.) Or, some copywriters ask for the entire amount up front. If they kick back (which they may,) you can let them go. Or, you may find that they are perfectly happy working within your new contract terms. It’s worth a try.

      RE: your low-paying client. It sounds like it’s time to raise your rates. Figure out what kind of rate jump is in order (10%? More?) What I do is give my clients at least three months warning that their rate was X and now it’s going to be Y. You may also see if you can package your services a different way so your client has options and can take advantage of a price break. People understand that rates go up – and as long as they can budget accordingly – they are often happy to pay the increase (well, maybe not happy – but they know you’re worth it.) :)

      (And if you really love the client, you can always “freeze” their rates temporarily, or don’t raise them quite as much. However, if they are keeping you from landing bigger clients, this may not be the best idea.)

      Here are some other pointers – and good luck!

      http://www.seocopywriting.com/freelance-seo-copywriting/raise-freelance-copywriting-rates/

      Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Yes! Although the “believing in your worth” part can be VERY hard to do. It helps to have a group of people around you saying, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and you should charge more!”

      Thanks for the comment, Peter!

      Reply
  4. Janine
    Janine says:

    I am a new freelance writer and I’m really tired of getting paid low rates. To be honest, I’m scared of raising my prices because I will lose clients. I find it hard to get clients who are willing to pay more. Thanks for this article! The advice was really helpful.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] not that the advice is wrong (heck, I’ve discussed those tips, too.) It’s that the advice only goes so […]

  2. […] charge accordingly for my time, set good boundaries and work when I’m […]

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