Monday, March 26, 2007

3 Reasons Freelance Writers Are Underpaid & What They Can Do About It

If you're a freelance writer, then you are probably abhorred at the rates offered nowadays - especially for web content.

BUT, as I advise freelancers all the time, what clients are willing to pay you is based on your value to them - not your talent.

Following are three reasons freelance writers are underpaid, and what you can do to turn the tide.

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1. Everyone Can Do It: "If you know your ABC's you can write, right?" This is the attitude of many when it comes to freelance writing.

"What's so hard about it?"

"Why does it cost that much for a simple brochure?"

"My secretary can do that for me."

You may have run across these - and many other sentiments - about freelance writing.

So, how do you combat this "anyone can do what you do" attitude?

Solution: Do a freebie. I know many freelancers are against this, but when I say freebie, I don't mean an entire project - but a sample version.

Clients with this type of attitude are ones you've probably solicited; they probably haven't sought you out simply because they don't realize how much they need your services.

As for doing a freebie, you might take one page from their website and rewrite it. There's nothing like comparing a professionally prepared piece of copy to a amateur's version. The difference will be clearly visible.

I've gotten many clients this way. I'd approach them about redoing their web copy, for example and have gone on to rewrite a lot of their sales aids - primarily brochures and direct mail pieces like postcards.

Even if they don't realize the value of your work right then, trust me, they will store that nugget away for future use. I've been contacted by clients two or three years later who've kept my samples on file.

2. Misjudging Projects: As in, most freelancers don't know how to judge a project, so they make the mistake of undercharging - usually for fear of losing the assignment altogether. This happens to experienced and inexperienced freelancers alike. Why?

It can happen for a myriad of reasons, eg, because clients sometimes change the parameters of a project in mid-stream; it's a type of writing you've never done before in-depth; clients request add-ons (eg, a newsletter in addition to the brochure), etc.

Rather than offend a client, risk losing a project or stopping to renegotiate mid-stream, many will just finish the project and vow never to work for that client again.

Solution: Get as many details about the project up front. For years I used a spec sheet for my projects. What is a spec sheet? Simply a questionnaire for each type of project that comes in.

If it was an editing project, I might ask the following:

What style of editing?

How many pages?

Are changes to be made on hard copy or right into the electronic document? If on hard copy, should they be transferred to the electronic copy?

Due date?

This is a basic, general overview. Some projects can be really detailed, especially writing projects. So you want to find out as much as you can.

Sometimes you'll get a client who has no idea what he wants, so ask for samples of sites/writing/graphics, etc. that they've seen that they like.

TIP: Let clients know that while your intake may seem a bit tedious, you've found that the m ore information they provide up front, the better you can deliver what they want without a lot of back and forth.

I've found that pre-qualifying clients in this manner does three things: i) it lets them know that you're a professional; and ii) it helps them clarify what they want; and iii) it shows (without you saying a word) how much work actually goes into what you do.

3. Fear of Losing a Client: As I alluded to above, many freelancers fear that they will lose a job if they quote a price too high, so what they often do is undercharge.

Most small business owners suffer from the same problem - this is not a freelance writing problem, it's a small business problem.

Solution: Show clients your worth. How? For example, if they contact you and want a brochure done, you might ask:

"Will this also be in downloadable form on your website? The reason I need to know is that writing for the web is different than a direct mail piece. Knowing how you plan to use the piece will help me optimize its uses to fit your purposes."

It's up to you to prove your worth to clients, not for them to be intrinsically aware of it.

This means constantly selling you and your worth -- which has less to do with your writing ability, than your sales ability.

Good luck!
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Lillie Ammann said...

Excellent advice. Also, I think it's important to be flexible and nurture the client once you get the first project so you become indispensable to them. I usually charge a flat hourly rate (on the high end of the Writer's Market guidelines) because for most of my clients I don't work just on specific projects. I do whatever they need - whether it's researching online , writing a letter or newspaper article, or editing a book. Not all writers want to be as flexible as I am, but it builds a relationship with clients and results in a steady income from only a few clients. It's nice to know that a few minutes several times a day doing quick jobs between major projects guarantees forty to fifty billable hours every month.

Inkwell Editorial said...

Thanks Lillie. I, like you, tend to be flexible with clients -- especially if I have a long-term relationship with them. The more they know my work, the more they trust me to do. So, it works out well.

Nice to know there are freelancers who charge on the high end of WM guidelines -- good going! I get so many emails that say the opposite.

Continued success,