It Wasn’t Always Like This — the Exciting Conclusion

Sorry about the derailment yesterday from what was supposed to be the original topic, but sometimes you just have to say things when they need to be said. I appreciate the outpouring of support in the comments here, my Facebook page and through Twitter. It was wonderful to see that many agreed with my stance.

Now, 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 now.

Reason #1: We let others devalue our work. With the proliferation of computers, word processing software with spell and grammar checkers and websites that publish anything, becoming a “writer” is as easy as throwing some words in a template and clicking “Send.” Technically, if the only thing I ever wrote was this blog, in many circles, I could call myself a writer. And since “anyone can do it,” the value of writing suffers as a result.

Reason #2: Writers don’t know the value of their craft. Now, this I can really understand, because there are times when I really struggle with determining what I should charge. When you can write a 400-word article in 15 minutes, you might feel like an heel charging $25 for it. But let’s look at the reasoning: You weren’t always capable of writing that article in 15 minutes. At one point in time, you had to do the research on the topic or you took a class; you had to learn how to string words together coherently, you purchased software to use to write articles, and a computer on which to install the software. So, it’s not that you only need 15 minutes to write it, it’s WHY you only need 15 minutes to write it that makes the article worthy of $25.

Reason #3: Writing for low-pay is better than writing for no-pay. Three words: No, it’s not. Accepting low pay gigs as the norm (check out my YMBOC page for some examples), sets a dangerous precedent. Sometimes it is unintentional — a client might not have any idea what to charge, and so he puts out a bid for the smallest amount he thinks he can get away with. Lo and behold, someone responds to his bid. So now, this client thinks, well if Writer A. will work for this rate, then surely Writers B-Z will as well. Sometimes, this client will come up against a writer who knows his worth and refuses to work for such a low wage. It might be Writer B or it might take til Writer W before this happens.

We all need to be Writer Bs and nip these low wages in the bud. Clients wouldn’t offer these wages if they knew writers weren’t willing to work for them. There are always going to be Writer As in the world — we just have to make sure they are outnumbered.

And if you need further proof as to why you want to strive for better pay, consider this: If you had could choose to either write for 15 clients and make $300, or write for 5 clients and make $300, which would you choose? Remember the mantra: Work Smart, Not Hard. Which one seems smarter to you?

As for Writing for free — that’s what hobbyists  do. Professional writers don’t write for free, unless it’s as a favor to a friend or some other worthy cause. In other words, it doesn’t count.

Reason #4: The Global Marketplace. This is the one reason that is pretty much out of our control. If you’re competing with someone for whom $50 is enough to live on for a month, your  $350 bid is going to seem high. But that is NO REASON to lower the amount you need or devalue your work. There will always be clients who go for the lowest price. But in many cases, it’s a “you get what you pay for” situation. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve lost a job to the lowest bidder, just for the client to approach me later to “fix things.” Your mother was right — the cream rises to the top. Stick to your guns.

So those are my reasons for why we aren’t paid what we’re worth. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you have your own reasons? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to know what you think.

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7 thoughts on “It Wasn’t Always Like This — the Exciting Conclusion

  1. Ken says:

    When the economy started sliding years ago, the content market opened up widely. This is also what brought a lot of content sites onto the scene. Some paid better than others, but ultimately to a certain degree they set a standard that was (is) followed by a lot of site owners and part-time online business owners. Fortunately, the times they are a changing. The Google sweeps are playing a large factor in how site owners and bloggers approach content. Some will still try to get by using the same approaches. The ones that will prosper are the people who put quality content first. The writers creating that quality content must know their worth. Words are valuable. Certainly more than $10-$15 for 500. There is sometimes a point to take what is available, but there is also the time to go from baby steps to full-fledged walking. Writing is a business. Writers need to understand that they are a business. Businesses don’t last when they continually give-away product. And they don’t last relying on one single customer.

    The plus side to all of this though is the writers who do realize their worth and produce results consistently, will secure their financial future.

    • The plus side to all of this though is the writers who do realize their worth and produce results consistently, will secure their financial future.

      I agree with you, Ken. However, we need more writers to realize their worth so clients are forced to pay a better rate. As I said in the post, there are always going to be writers who low-ball or devalue the work they do, but it’s imperative that the rest of us outnumber and shout down those who wish to work for less than their worth. Another issue is that there are so many people who are “writers just until something better comes along.” These people make me nuts, because they go into the profession thinking its beneath them, but it’s something to do “for now,” and so working for less money than their real profession makes sense to them. But for the rest of us, that’s not only counter-productive wage-wise, it’s an insult to us and the industry.

      • Ken says:

        Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast with online writing. Remember this is the same argument that print journalist have against content sites. The market created the issue. The Internet and content sites played a two-fold part in all of this. First it created an avenue for aspiring writers to break into the industry without the rigid guidelines and having to know somebody, on the other hand it also allowed anybody who could string four words together to call themselves writers. You and I, as well as your readers, know there is a difference. But as long as there are low-budget marketers and people looking to make a quick buck as cheaply as possible, there will be low-ballers and those writers who will do anything for a dollar. Just when one wave dies down, another will rise. But writers, the real ones we’re talking about here, will always rise above the muck and continually bring in income because of the value they bring to the table.

        One thing I’ve noticed about writers who relied heavily on content sites for income is that they have allowed content site writing to define them. Writers who see a job ad and automatically say, “I can’t do that.” It is a leap from writing for a content site to writing content for clients or magazines. Content sites took much of the work out of the business of writing. It also creates a mind-set that one is somehow pigeon-holed into writing only one type of content. To those writers, I would say get hold of some marketing books or take classes at a local community college on marketing your writing business. It isn’t a matter of whether you are a writer. You already know the answer to that question. It is a matter of marketing the skills you have, brush up on the skills you don’t and marketing yourself.

        Don’t allow fear of the unknown to hold you back. Grab on tight to your dreams and passion with both hands.

      • The market might have created the issue, but it’s the writers who perpetuate it. For every writer who accepts $1 for 500 words, that’s another potential client who is not going to offer $20 for 500 words. Why should he? From a business standpoint, it would be stupid to offer $19 more than he has to.

        Yes the marketplace and the proliferation of content sites made it easy for writers to “break in.” But unless writers stop accepting pennies for their work, there isn’t going to be much of an industry left to break into. That’s why my focus isn’t on changing what clients offer, it’s on changing what writers will accept. At some point, a writer has to realize that $15 for an article that took 3 hours to write is not worth it. At some point, a writer has to realize that they are worth more than $1 per 500 words. And if that point never comes, then they aren’t really serious about their writing. And if they aren’t going to be serious about it, it’s time for them to move on to something else that does mean something to them, and quit tainting the industry for those of us who are serious and to whom it does mean something.

  2. Barbara says:

    Clients also have learned that, because so many writer As are willing to lowball a perfectly good bid (oDesk and Elance), they can put the bid at a really low rate.

    I just got an email from an Elance client — guess what he said? He didn’t choose me because “your bid was too high.” It was in the middle of the range.

    Kim, I think I’m running into this a lot more because of all the reasons you suggested. All I can do is keep bidding. Something has gotta break my way soon.

    • Just stick to your guns Barbara. The clients who appreciate that writing is a skill and therefore should be compensated as such will find you eventually. Personally, I think low-ball bids should be disallowed. If a client sets a range for the project, bids beneath the minimum should be disqualified. But, alas, that will never happen.

  3. […] who gives us her thoughts on why pay rates are so low with some clients in her second post, ‘It Wasn’t Always Like This….The Exciting Conclusion.” Of course you should really read the first post that started it […]

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