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There’s something funny going on in the freelance writing world. Usually when you take massively talented people, sprinkle in an entrepreneurial drive and add extreme customer demand you get, well… a room full of ballers making dollars.

Too much? Okay, agreed.

But seriously, the number of amazing writers out there trying to make it on their own is astounding. What may be even more shocking though is how little they are making.

How little you are making.

Sure part of the problem is those writing skeezes who churn out garbage for a penny a word and convince unaware business owners that THAT is quality content.

Another problem though is you.

You thought that you had to start from the bottom and work your way up. This is probably based on some archaic, generations-passed idea that you could only become a CEO if you started in the mailroom or something ridiculous like that.

So you took a job that paid $30 for a 1000-word article.  You crafted an incredible piece; you earned a “paycheck”, but then were barely able to fill the gas tank in your car with it.

I will tell you, that is not a paycheck. That is a big, red “For Sale” sign on your work. You’re not Walmart, you’re a writer. And a damn good one, but you made a mistake that could follow you through your freelance career.

You Decided Your Going Rate by Accident

Putting a price tag on your passion is the most painstaking part of being a writer. Whether you believe you’re God’s gift to the written word or – more than likely – you doubt the value of your skills, you’re going to struggle assigning a dollar amount.

There’s a secret to making sure your going rate is above average though and it’s a lot simpler than you think.

Get paid big on your first gig.  Or at least try.

The reason you’re not earning more is because you took a job that didn’t pay enough. I know it might sound overly simplified, but it’s true.

You decided on the first day that your 1000-word, well-written, expertly-researched article was worth $30. So that’s what you’re earning many jobs later. And even worse, that’s what you’re seeking out in all future jobs even though you know you’re worth more.

You’ve conditioned employers and yourself to accept less than what you’re worth. Bummertown.

But it’s not too late to turn things around. You can restart.

Get Your Golden Goose

You know that job? The one that’s offering $100 – $200 for one blog post? You stare at it with envy, mock your own ego for even reading the job posting and proceed to the freelance writer clearance aisle.

Stop it. No seriously, stop it. Apply for that job.

What’s there to lose? What are you afraid of?

At the risk of tooting my own horn (or just flat out looking like an arrogant ass) I’m going to tell you what I made my first freelance writing job.

$180 per post

I had writing experience through the company I worked for, but I had never attempted to branch out on my own.  I saw the job, submitted an application and boom. I wasn’t the most experienced, the most talented or the most practiced freelance writer, but I just went for it.

It was a better confidence booster than I could have ever asked for. More importantly though, it kept me from undervaluing my work moving forward and gave me a reference point for when future employers asked me to name my price.

The Price for Taking on Higher Paying Jobs

While winning that job did wonders for my confidence, it brought the crushing realization that there are some serious expectations that come with that figure.

The fantastic employers who know an amazing writer is costly don’t fork over the dough without a dose of heavy scrutiny.  They want your writing to be on point, your response time to be immediate, and your flexibility to be boundless.

Sadly,I lacked the business sense at the time to hold down a job like that. I took for granted the investment they were making in my skills and was less attentive than I should have been.

But for round two I was able to do something amazing. When the employer asked what my rate was I told him: “My last job was around $180, but I’d be willing to start at $150 per post and work up based on your satisfaction with my performance.” (Obviously I still was unsure about my value, but willing to throw out a top-shelf rate to see what happened.)

And guess what I got paid for that job?

$180

The company saw my samples, heard my price and were content with number. It was amazing. But I know for fact that had I taken a $50 job the first time, that second job would have earned me $50.

What if I don’t get the big dollar job?

For me, nabbing a big-dollar job felt like a fluke, so make sure you don’t avoid applying just because you “know” you won’t get it. If you don’t get it though, it’s still a good learning tool.

The reason for rejection could be more than “you just weren’t worth that much.” Maybe there’s just a mismatch of writing styles. Maybe you didn’t have the experience in their topic that they were looking for. How will you know though if you don’t ask?

Don’t just take the rejection and run away. Ask the employer if they would specify why you weren’t a good fit. Uncomfortable as it may feel to professionally ask “Waaah why don’t you like me?” it’s worth getting those details and swallowing some pride.

The reality could be that you need a more varied set of writing samples. Or that your storytelling abilities require some fine-tuning. Either way, it’s better to walk away with either a bigger paycheck or some valuable information than to continue about your career expecting small change for big projects. Test your own self-worth and apply for the perceived unattainable job. You just might surprise yourself.

  • I have just started out as a freelance writer/editor and, my goodness, did I need to read this. Thanks so much for your article.