An Open Letter To Freelancers


To My Fellow Freelancers,

I know it’s tough out there. We’re all out there, competing for the same clients, trying to make a decent wage. We all want people to appreciate our craft and it is only fair that we are paid a decent wage for our talent.

So why, praytell, do some of you choose to, for the lack of a better phrase, screw us over?

Now, some of you know exactly what I am talking about, while others are probably clueless. So for you poor, clueless wonders out there (Bless your hearts!), here is some advice from someone who’s been fighting the good fight as a freelancer for many many years.

Piece of Advice #1: $1 for 500 words is not good money. It’s not even money. When you see a proposal or ad for a writer with this kind of rate, you should ignore it and move on. You don’t apply for it, and you DEFINITELY don’t compete with others for the “privilege”. There are better gigs out there.

Piece of Advice #2: Get a portion up front. Yes, I know many potential “clients” don’t like to pay deposits, but I bet they don’t work for free, so why should you? Taking on a project without an upfront payment is, like it or not, WORKING FOR FREE and you need to stop doing it. Now.

Piece of Advice #3: If a client places a bid and the pay range is $20 – $30 per hour, do not, I repeat, DO NOT place a bid for $16, $17, $18, $19 or even $19.99. If they are willing to pay a minimum of $20, LET THEM. They’re supposed to. Our work has value — stop diminishing it.

Piece of Advice #3.5 Did I mention that $1 for 500 words is NOT good money? I did? Well, it deserves to be repeated. Matter of fact, one more time: $1 FOR 500 WORDS IS NOT GOOD MONEY.

Piece of Advice #4: Writing for content mills and just content mills does not make you a freelance writer. Freelancers don’t just write for one place — they write for many places, and many freelancers write in several genres. Saying you’re a freelancer because you write for DMS is like claiming to be a seamstress because you hemmed a pair of pants. The seasoned people are going to ask the same thing, “Okay, so you did that. What else ya got? What else have you done?”

[Note — the above is not meant to sound harsh, but seriously, if you really REALLY want to be taken seriously as a freelance writer, you need to pursue other avenues. Otherwise, you do look like a one-trick pony.]

See, here’s the thing that many of you in the freelancing world do not seem to understand: We will be paid what WE determine is fair. The reason our pay is less than a fry cook at McDonalds is because we have ALLOWED our craft to be devalued. Yeah, we can blame global competition, and it is true it is hard to compete with someone for whom $50 is a week’s wages — but that cannot prevent us from demanding that we be paid what we are worth. And to best way to make our demand is by refusing to work for the pennies clients are offering.

So, please, the next time you’re applying for gigs and you are tempted to agree to create blog posts for $0.005 a post, stop and think: does this seem fair? Is it really worth it? Then walk away.

Or could do like I do: shoot the poster a message such as this:

Hello~

I recently came across your ad on __________. I have to say, I found your payment terms insulting to both me and my craft. Writing is not an easy profession — to become merely proficient takes time and practice, and for you to want to pay me less than a truck stop busboy in return for my experience is laughable. Please reconsider your payment arrangement, or consider going to said truck stop and hiring the bus boy to do your writing for you. Any writer with an ounce of pride in his craft is not going to consider your offer. 

Regards,

A Talented Writer Looking Elsewhere.

I hope you will consider my humble and sincere request.

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13 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Freelancers

  1. Tonja Davis says:

    I’m seeing this more and more from those who practice a craft (whether it be traditional art, sewing, knitting or writing) and I wonder how much of it is those who practice the craft and how much of it is perceived value.

    It’s my honest opinion that the marketplace – consumer as well as commercial – is not really aware of what goes into traditional crafting. The marketplace doesn’t understand the hours spent crating or researching. They only see the end product and wonder why it costs so much more than (as an example) the $5 knit cap at the local Walmart store.

    I firmly believe it will be the craftsmen who will have to slowly and delicately educate the marketplace about what goes into their work. Doing so without burning bridges or closing doors to opportunity is going to be a skill that will need to be cultivated.

    Best of luck to you in your endeavors!

    • Hi Tonja, thanks for your comments.

      I have a unique perspective because not only am a writer, I am also a jewelry designer, so I agree with you 100% that it applies to all craftsmen as a whole. I spend a lot of time explaining my prices for my jewelry — the cost of materials, the time it takes to make a piece, etc. But I do find that I have better success explaining the cost of my jewelry than I do my per hour rate for writing. But it still irks me to have to do so.

      It will take craftsmen standing up and politely demanding an honest price for our work, and the steadfast refusal to accept anything less — for us to get decent pay for the work we do.

  2. Kizzy says:

    Fantastic post, very well put!

  3. Well said, it frustrates the hell out of me when clients expect so much for very little money. I don’t give those jobs the time of day!

  4. jackvsage says:

    I am through writing for clients who are not willing to pay what my time and skill are worth.

  5. Dwight Myers says:

    Unfortunately, this article could’ve been written for the photography business as well.

    • Yep, Dwight I know — which is why I left the title “Freelancers” and not “Freelance Writers.” The content was aimed mainly at writers, but it applies to ALL artisans. Thanks for the comment and stopping by! 🙂

  6. K'Lee Banks says:

    Excellent thoughts, as always!

    I agree fully – it irks me greatly every time I see “writers” arguing in “work at home” type forums that those horrible low rates “are better than nothing at all” and “you do what you have to do to feed your family.”

    Seriously? Spending about an hour writing a 500-word article for $1 – that’s FAR below minimum wage! These people who think that, would be better off working somewhere that at least pays minimum wage and they could earn several times more per hour – AND actually feed their families!

    I also agree on the crafting perspective. I can’t tell you how many times someone complains about my quilt prices and comments that they can get “a whole bed set” much cheaper at Walmart! Yeah, and you get what you pay for! Are their mass-produced products made in America, carefully hand-crafted, customized to your choice of design and colors, AND imprinted with your own photos? I think NOT!!

  7. That’s the thing, K’Lee, they AREN’T better than “nothing at all,” they are NOTHING. Like you said, spending an hour making $1 — well, you could strap a kid on your back and collect cans from parking lots and make better money. If the point of WAH or being a WAHM is to help provide for your family, then, oh, I don’t know, stand up for yourself and get paid a rate that will, indeed, help you provide for your family?

    This attitude of “it’s better than nothing” has to be eradicated from our collective vocabularies and replaced with “you’ll pay me what I’m worth.” Until that happens, we’re still going to have “clients” who feel the are doing us a favor by paying $5 for 2000 words. It’s the “we can’t pay you, but we can offer exposure for your work” mantra, round 2.

    *Whew* Rant over. Thanks for your comments! 🙂

  8. […] back to the topic at hand: Why are we paid such crummy wages? Well, I’ve mentioned it here, but that was really just one side of the coin. I’m going to break it down completely […]

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