Low freelance writing rates are a major problem for writers. There are a lot of freelancers who are willing to work for very little, which drags down the average going rate. This means that when a qualified, experienced writer is up for a job, they’re offered an insulting fee.
This sucks. Period.
That said, there are times when a low rate is understandable or when you may accept meager pay. The rest of the time, shake your head and get on with your life.
Here are 9 reasons to get over low freelance writing rates (and learn from it):
1. You’re at the very beginning of your career
Every writer is paid peanuts in the beginning. Expect it. Accept it. Don’t blame anyone. It’s not a fault, it’s the beginning of a career.
You’re going to grow and gain experience. You’re going to report to people who act as your “bosses.” Those people are going to call the shots, especially when you need them to help you build your career.
Remember, this is still a job. You have to start at the bottom. Taking more of a risk than someone with a nine-to-five doesn’t mean you deserve more money right now.
Earning more money as a writer isn’t about confidence. It’s not about not settling. It’s much more specific and measurable: are you good enough to charge more and can you find clients who will pay more? You’ll only get there if you start where you’re supposed to start.
2. YOUR CHOSEN RATE IS ALREADY CRAP
If your current rate is 10 cents a word, you’ve already set a pretty low, pretty-much-garbage rate. I’m sure you have your reasons for doing so.
Now, let’s say a client wants to pay you half that – five cents a word. You cannot believe the gall. Five cents? Five cents?!
What you’re doing right now is complaining about the level of crap you’re paid.
For a 500-word blog post, you’re talking about a difference of $25. Yes, you’re losing $25, but $50 for a 500-word blog post sucks anyway. If you’re annoyed, you should be annoyed with your own rate.
I don’t think it’s fair to bitch and moan about the difference between crummy rates. If you’re accepting crap rate number one, then don’t complain about crap rate number two. Crap is crap.
3. You were hired under shady circumstances
You send a cold email to a random potential client you know little about. They hire you immediately, without even asking for samples.
The red flag is about to hit you across the face.
Always question a client who’s willing to hire you without asking for samples or visiting your website. Unless you wrote a stellar cold email – and you didn’t, because stellar cold emails are tricky to write – question their motives and their budget.
4. You’re working with a middleman
If you work for a marketing agency or another type of middleman, they’re going to take a portion of your earnings. Think of it as the convenience fee you have to pay to get out of dealing with clients.
Like with any client, find out how much you’ll be paid before accepting a project. How much the middleman is making doesn’t matter. You have your rate and they have theirs. The only thing you should concern yourself with is that you’re making your own rate.
Yes, it can sting to find out that the person you’re working for is charging double what you’re actually getting. Take that as a sign that it’s time to raise your rates or to start working directly with clients.
Also, consider this: dealing with clients is a nightmare. I would give someone 50% just to handle my clients, and I don’t even care if that’s way higher than a fair percentage.
5. Your client wants to barter
Revising an invoice for less money is understandable. There are a million reasons why a client may ask you to do this.
There are several ways to lower the cost of a project without screwing yourself over. You can suggest how to get the point across in fewer words. You can exclude one of your free revisions. You can recommend a simpler topic that will take less time to research. You can lower the cost per article if they order a large bundle at one time.
You can also say “no.” No, that’s the minimum I can do this project for. No, I’m not able to slash the price and still deliver quality writing. No, this isn’t worth it to me for a lower price (find a more professional way to word that last one, but you get the point).
You may lose the work, but if it’s so much less money than you should be getting or can live with, it doesn’t matter.
6. There are legit reasons for sticking with the client
Maybe you’re getting experience you otherwise wouldn’t get. Maybe counting on a monthly paycheck is more important than charging a few hundred dollars more. Maybe you’re so used to the topic that you breeze through the work, which means you make an inflated rate per hour. Maybe the client sends a ton of referral work your way.
Sometimes a client’s value goes beyond how much they’re paying you.
7. You’re leading with your emotions
You don’t get an award for sticking it out with a teeny startup that has almost no money to devote to website copy. There’s no gold star for taking on extra work that’s outside the scope of your agreement. Show me the medal for being guilt-tripped into doing next-to-free work for a client who can’t handle their business expenses.
I used to write blog posts for a photographer based in Hawaii. He would call several nights a week to go over “work stuff,” which amounted to him chewing my ear off for over an hour about his life. I not only answered, but I listened, and then I would lower his rate. And then I would complain about it to my boyfriend.
The lesson? Building a working relationship should be different from building a friendship. There isn’t always room for emotion or politeness in business.
You should do the work you’re paid to do, period. If you’re asked to do extra work and you accept and then that client continues to take advantage of you, it’s your fault.
8. Fairness doesn’t matter
Scroll through Reddit posts about freelance writing rates and the word “value” will come up a lot. “This person doesn’t value you or your work. Find a client who values good writing.” Blah blah.
Value is something to consider, certainly. However, judging how much each client does or does not value you or good writing is a waste of time.
Clients don’t pay what they think is fair. They pay what people accept. So long as some writers accept three cents per word, some clients are going to pay that and not a half-cent more.
The question of fairness plays far too large a role in these conversations. Because what happens if you find a rate to be unfair? Number 9 knows.
9. You don’t have to accept the assignment
The problem is so rarely the client who offers the low rate. The real problem is accepting that low rate, getting stuck with a project you can’t stand and losing money while you work on it. Avoid the whole mess by turning it down from the start.
There’s only one reason why I know all this: I’ve made huge mistakes in the past.
I’ve accepted assignments I knew I shouldn’t have because I desperately needed to make a trip to the grocery store. I’ve gotten snippy with a potential client because they weren’t willing to pay even half my rate. And I’ve spent hours complaining about the too-low-to-live-on rate I was making for a project that I willingly took on.
Solid writing deserves a higher rate. There’s no arguing that. But the time you spend obsessing over the clients out there who won’t pay more than 3 cents a word or $12 an hour won’t pad your bank account.
If done correctly, freelance writing is a busy job. Put your head down, do the work and make it great – that’s the best way you can contribute to raising the average freelance writing rate.
Ready for help getting the clients you deserve? Check this out.