"I have to lower my rates to compete in today's market."
"I should bid low early on and raise my rates later when I have a bigger portfolio."
"I have to take low-paying gigs, because they're the only gigs I can find and I need money right now!"
Have you ever said any of these things to yourself in your freelance writing career? Has anyone else ever tried to convince you of these things? If they did, they'd be offering terrible advice.
I see many freelance writers (especially freelance Web writers) who live by the above "rules." I also watch as most of them continuously struggle to make ends meet. They have to take one low-paying writing job after another with a constantly full schedule just to earn enough to scrape by.
You don't have to live like that!
The real key to successful freelance writing is knowing how to work smarter, not harder. You've heard it before, but what exactly does it mean as a freelancer?
Here's an example:
A freelance writer (let's call her Sally) currently charges $10 per article writing Web content for clients. She can only work 40 hours per week, and to stay on top of things like marketing (get more clients), looking for gigs, and other administrative duties she can only bill out 30 hours per week.
Now let's say that Sally's a generally strong writer. She devotes plenty of time to research whether digging up statistics online or conducting interviews. On average, let's say it takes Sally one hour to write a fairly decent article. That means Sally is only able to earn $300 per week.
She can't get by on that. Even though Sally is in a two-income household, she really needs to be bringing in something closer to $900 per week (thinking about current times, let's say her spouse was laid off from work, and now she has to be the sole provider in the interim).
Uh oh. What's Sally to do?
She can do two things: work harder, or work smarter. Here's what each would look like:
Sally needs to triple her weekly income. Her instincts tell her that she'll therefore need to work harder--basically she'll have to triple her productivity.
She has to write three articles per hour, rather than one. Either that, or Sally has to find a way to increase her billable hours each week (working "overtime" or slacking on some administrative duties to squeeze in more billable time perhaps).
But wait. There's more. This also means Sally will have to attract three times as many clients (or three times as much work from existing clients). We therefore know she can't cut back on her marketing time. Let's also say she has other commitments she can't get out of, making overtime unrealistic.
Given the situation, the only way Sally can "work harder" is to keep working those 30 billable hours, but cram in more articles per hour.
Rather than writing 30 articles per week, she now has to write 90 articles per week. Because she can't devote as much time to research, she now writes her articles from fairly generic Web-based research alone.
Sally is able to eventually make her income goal, but her article quality has suffered and she's on the verge of completely burning out--not sustainable.
Now let's assume Sally decides to "work smarter" to triple her income.
She knows what she needs to earn ($900 per week). She knows her writing quality exceeds that of most other writers in her current rate range. She has a solid portfolio built up. She refuses to burn herself out, and takes a smarter approach.
Sally re-calculates the rates she needs to charge. She knows she needs a bare minimum of $30 per article at the existing work load.
She's also smart enough to know she won't keep all of her current clients at that increase, and that she'll have to start marketing her services to a different, higher-paying market. She also knows it's very unlikely she'll have a full work schedule quickly. Therefore she decides to charge $50 per average article she writes.
At $50 per article, Sally has to write only 18 articles per week. Yes, she knows it will be harder to attract clients at her new rate, but the good news is that she doesn't have to attract as many to reach her income goal (18 articles versus the 90 she would have to secure and write at her previous rates). She'll also have nearly twice as much time to work on each article (allowing her to do more thorough research to even better justify the new rates, or she'll have several hours more per week to devote to marketing to attract those higher-paying clients.
Less time working, but earning more money--this is "working smarter."
The idea of working smart is to earn as much as you can doing as little as you can. Sounds simple, right?
That's not to say you can pull a higher rate out of thin air though. You must be able to justify those rates based on your education, experience, or other value you can offer to the specific market you want to target.
See what you can do to start working smarter in your own freelance writing career. If you currently work for $10 per article like Sally, find a publication advertising higher rates and pitch them. You may be surprised to find they do think you're worth more.
If you find yourself with free time, spend some of it writing a report, e-book, blog, or something else that can earn you money on the side. If a client isn't paying for your billable time, you should still consider it "billable." Just work for yourself on some money-making task, even if the income won't be immediate. It's better to do that than sit around waiting for more clients, and in time you may even find you can earn more that way.
We get into freelance writing because of its numerous perks. Don't end up hating what you love to do because you find yourself burning out to get by. Always look for ways to work smarter, not harder, and you'll find that you may even love your work more than before.
About the Author
Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer and blogger behind AllFreelanceWriting.com and WebWritersGuide.com. She is also the author of the Web Writer’s Guide e-book, designed to help freelance writers launch a successful Web writing career.
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