How a $5 Article Writer Landed a $900 Article

How to land a $900 Article Writing Gig. Makealivingwriting.comWhen I started out as a freelance writer, I knew nothing about finding clients that pay well.

I started with bidding sites and general job boards, because I thought it was easy money. But I quickly discovered you can’t build a successful career as an article writer if you’re only earning $5 per article.

It was clear I needed to make more money for each article.

So I stopped hanging out on the bidding sites and targeted higher-paying writing jobs. In one year’s time, I went from earning $5 dollars an article on bidding sites to earning $900 for a feature article.

How? Here are the steps I took:

Leverage experience

After starting at the bottom of the barrel in pay, I had nowhere to go but up, right?

And I did. I used testimonials and clips from bidding sites (published and ghost-written clips with the appropriate permissions) to apply to potential clients on job boards. This change in my marketing approach quadrupled my average pay per article from $5 to $20.

Differentiate

Although I had a tiny victory in raising my per-article rate to $20, I knew I had to keep learning to command professional rates. I looked for a way to set myself apart myself from the competition.

My first approach was to learn Associated Press Style, the leading compendium of writing conventions that newspapers and magazines follow. Taking the initiative to learn AP Style using the latest guide, online resources, and my clients’ unique style guides showed I was eager to learn and a quick self-study.

I used that knowledge — and my testimonials — to reach out to editors at trade publications and online magazines. This shift put me into the $.10-a-word range, ramping my income up to about $50 per article.

Learn and improve

One trick I used to find my writing weak spots was to run my articles through Copyscape, comparing the draft I turned in with the final version. Comparing lede to lede, nut graf to nut graf, and so on, Copyscape highlights what clients kept — and what I needed to improve upon.

I also asked editors for feedback on what I did right and, more important, what I did wrong. This was helpful because the editor pointed out things I missed. I learned more about the publications’s voice, better ways to introduce quotes, article depth, and details on the intended audience.

Build a portfolio

Creating a portfolio gave me more confidence to quit bidding sites completely and rely only on reputable job boards that pay professional rates.

After a year of perseverance and prospecting to clients, I made a pitch to a nonprofit organization, and got an assignment for a $900 feature article!

This win came from my pitch to Best Friends Animal Society. The story focuses on how therapy dogs saved U. S. soldiers from physical/emotional disabilities (PTSD), and how the soldiers saved the dogs from being euthanized. A topic close to my heart — and a great fit for my chosen nonprofit.

How have you worked to earn more as a freelance writer? Share your tips in the comments below.

Thomas Hill is a freelance writer specializing in legal, personal finance, pet, and business development topics.

Writing Tips: Join the New Freelance Writer’s Launchpad: A small-group mastermind for new freelance writers. Presented by: Carol Tice & Angie Mansfield. LEARN MORE

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40 comments on “How a $5 Article Writer Landed a $900 Article
  1. Gina Gardner says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I hope you still get this since it is October and the last comment was posted in January.

    I have just one quick question. I am new to freelancing and so I am trying to build up my clips and samples. I currently have little to show since most of my writing experience has been for business needs such as reports (lots of them), some marketing materials like press releases and brochures, and content for two websites. Would starting out with a content mill be a good idea to get my foot in the door in order to gain testimonials and samples?

    I would like to gain more experience, but I also need to support my family. I’m anxious to get the balling rolling and really use my talents.

    Thanks! I loved this article.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Gina —

      I advise NO ONE, no matter what their situation, to start out with a content mill. It gets your foot in no door you want to get inside of. Often, that’s ghostwriting as well, or done in situations where you don’t know who the end client is, and doesn’t generate samples or testimonials.

      Here’s the good news — your copywriting work you described above gives you legit samples! Just get a testimonial from THOSE clients, put up a writer site that has them in your portfolio, and start pitching your prospects. Lots of us have work we’ve done that doesn’t carry a byline — but unless you signed a nondisclosure agreement, you can certainly claim them as samples you wrote.

  2. please ma friends help me to know how am supposed to start as a freelancer because i don’t have a clue and yet am very very good when it comes to writing………am a kenyan

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kanyuira — based on what you wrote, you’re probably not fluent enough in English to earn as a writer in this language. I can recommend the book How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda for working on your English grammar.

      I hear from many English as a Second Language writers who are hoping to make their living writing in English, and only those who are extremely fluent will be able to do so. I don’t want to give anyone false hopes about this.

      If you are interested in learning about freelancing, you can check out my ebook The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success. The steps it outlines for getting your first clients can be applied in any language or country. Consider writing in your own language, for businesses near you, as a way to get started.

  3. dailytut says:

    Building the portfolio is not an easy job at all. You have highlighted all the essentials to become a great article writer with best income 🙂 Thanks and going to follow your advices.

    Robin.

  4. Stacey says:

    Reading your storey Thomas made me feel the same way many of these stories make me feel: sad at first that someone else got sucked into a content mill then happy when they got out!

    I am so happy you’re acheiving your writing dreams and now have an awesome portfolio behind you! Good on you!

  5. Willson John says:

    Thank you for sharing how you used the bidding sites to build your reputation and skill. This will very helpful for those who just started their career in writing.

  6. Bryan Smith says:

    Hi, this is my first time commenting on one of these articles.

    However, that being said, I have been freelance writing on oDesk and the like for quite some time. As I read this I was curious about the specifics of finding better clients that actually pay well. On oDesk it seems that the going rate for any writer on those is about one cent per word or below if you want steady work.

    While I have managed to land a few clients here and there that pay better rates than that, I’ve never been able to get my pay per word up beyond three cents with any consistency.

    For you is it always a networking game to constantly find better clients? I’m fairly good at communicating and working with clients once I’ve got them, but reaching out to people has always been a bit of a challenge to me since I’m so socially inept.

    I’ve just never been able to find a well-paying client that’s consistent or a literary agent for any of my fiction work. Any advice?

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Hi Bryan,

      I understand your frustration with finding a consistent client — sometimes it’s a one-off project, sometime getting more consistent work is asking/pitching more article ideas to the editor/client. You really can’t tell how/if things will work out because they always don’t. I like to start off small with a client; you get to know each other and see how your work/writing styles mesh. Often times it naturally takes its course one way or another.

      Prospecting to clients has been my primary method of gaining a client, especially when I first started, and that method is still my primary way to find new (and better paying clients). However, as you establish a network of clients, I’ve found that kindly asking for more work and referrals saves marketing time.

      Trust me, the first client is the hardest, but it takes consistent and smart marketing to develop and keep growing your income. Looking back, one of the things I underestimated was my marketing — I should have reached out to two or three times the number of potential clients.

      As an introvert, I’ve found that marketing via e-mail is quite effective because marketing by phone is not my strong suit. A good portion of my clients I’ve worked with I’ve dealt exclusively through e-mail and regular mail.

      Since I don’t write fiction and haven’t attempted pitching literary agents, I really can’t speak to that. However, self-publishing may be a route worth exploring.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Daryl George says:

    Thanks, Thomas, for your valuable insight.

    My one question is: where did your testimonials come from? Were they directly from the bid sites or other sources?

  8. Lem Enrile says:

    When I was new to online writing, I actually didn’t know the usual rate for a 500-word article. I actually started writing $1/article. But after reading great blogs like this, I learned to increase my rate. This is a very inspiring story.

  9. Kinya says:

    I love how you mentioned learning AP style. I actually learned it through a client of mine a couple of years ago. Now I just default to it when writing. I didn’t realize it was important until I started landing higher-paying clients. A lot of them would request it.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You think it’s not so important, until you start reading blogs where they make errors with it, and it’s so jarring, because we’re all used to AP from reading newspapers.

  10. Elke Feuer says:

    Great tips, Carol! I’m in the process of building my client list and gaining experience, but these tips are handy. Thanks.

  11. Maeve Johnson says:

    Hello Thomas

    Thank you for the article. Well done and congratulations on your success.

    It appears that there’s a similar principle applied to international writers from other countries. Being original is definitely an advantage. Any other insights for writers outside of the United States of America? Many writers often get scammed before they have a well deserved market related breakthrough.

    Once again well done and looking forward to more relevant posts.

    • Daryl George says:

      Hey Maeve,

      Could you clarify a bit when you say that non-US writers “often get scammed”? I’m a non-US writer and although I have worked on some crappily paying jobs (my first gig was 1200 words for $10, $9 after Paypal fees) I can’t say that I’ve ever been scammed before.

      As a non-US writer I pretty much just concentrate on pitching or gigs that I already have demonstrable experience in. I’d say that the bid sites helped a bit because I was able to secure “easy” gigs which let me get my foot in the door. The trick is to keep moving up!

  12. I’m planning to focus my “Priority A” work in the first quarter of 2015 on the “find a need and fill it” principle–and I don’t mean exclusively through job boards. What other techniques in finding needs have worked for the rest of you?

    I’ll state upfront the things that *haven’t* worked too well for me (understand this is speaking for my experience only, and isn’t intended to start any arguments on the general value of any of these approaches):

    Job ads (too much competition, descriptions often too generalized);

    “Cold calling” (by phone or e-mail) based on industry, recent news, or lack of a blog or “Resources” page on the target client’s website (hard to intuit a specific proposal focus from these alone, and tends to encourage a quantity-over-quality approach);

    Following social network accounts (haven’t seen too many comments there on specific writing needs).

    … Which is not to say I’m completely ruling out further efforts on any of the above, just that I wouldn’t go back to them without evaluating the details my approach, which I suspect has been overly self-centered in inner attitude if not actual words.

    In case anyone’s wondering, no one has ever suggested that my writing itself (or my dependability on meeting specifications and deadlines) is deficient.

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Katherine,

      Have you looked for holes in the publication’s content? What haven’t they covered?

      If you haven’t already, take a loook at their editorial calendar — developing a pitch in-line/related to it increase the chances of garnering an editor’s interest.

      I’ve connected with different publications that develop and assign their content at different times of the year — so some of it’s a matter of time….

      • I wasn’t thinking about publications–I can handle querying THEM–but about businesses whose primary mission isn’t producing reading material but who do need social media articles, white papers, etc. Particularly those businesses that are looking for long-term contractors on retainer or other such near-guarantees of being called first for regular work. These are the places that have no official “writer’s guidelines” and rarely advertise for writers, but are located primarily through word of mouth on both sides, or through networking online and off.

  13. Lorianne says:

    @Amanda Boyt. Actually the connection between Best Friends Animal Society and the Process Church of the Final Judgment is not quite as direct as you state. There are some unsettling associations between the two, to be sure, but to say that the organization is “run” by ex-members of the Process Church of the Final Judgment is overstating things, IMHO.

    Also, Charity Navigator — a very well respected charity oversight service — gives Best Friends Animal Society an overall 87.30 score (out of 100), 90.13 for financial and 85.00 for transparency. According to the Charity Navigator profile, Best Friends Animal Society devotes 7.8 percent of its budget to administrative costs and 15.9 percent to fundraising. The rest goes to program costs.

    So while it’s understandable that someone might feel squeamish about the history of Best Friends Animal Society, it’s not really fair to make an accusation like “rescue pays very well if you keep the money for yourself” — at least for this particular organization.

  14. Gina Horkey says:

    Great article. I’ve gotten a couple of good gigs via Elance and PPH, so don’t discount them completely (one project yielded $1200), but I agree in that you should typically always be moving upstream:-) Fun to look back at your progress, huh Thomas?

  15. Riss says:

    Thanks Thomas. I’m just starting out with my freelance writing journey, twenty years after an earlier promising start that I was unable to follow through on at the time. It’s so inspiring and comforting to have people like yourself to lay out maps of the path that lies ahead. I know it’s not as easy as one-two-three but your article makes it feel like on some level it really is just a matter of following the steps and being diligent about them – and following your heart, best of all.

    I just joined the Den this month and although I haven’t been in there to participate and to learn as much as I’d have liked, it feels good to know that it’s there and to be part of this encouraging and empowering community. So thank you Carol, and everyone else who makes this place what it is. Here’s to a wonderful 2015 for all of us.

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Riss,

      I’m happy to hear you’re reinvigorated with your freelancing career. Yes, it took a LOT of hard work, a bit of being at the right place at the right time. But perseverance is definitely a factor on the road of freelancing!

      Glad to hear you’re in the Den and will see you there!

  16. Cherese Cobb says:

    Thomas,
    What an inspirational article! I really love that you went from $5 to $20 to $50 to $900, especially with a great cause like the Best Friends Animal Society. I love the Copyscape tip, and I now plan to learn Associated Press Style.

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Cherese,

      Yes, the Copyscape tip isn’t perfect, but it definitely saves me time and helps me focus on what I still need to learn. It helps me work smarter to keep improving. It beats smushing two Windows of Word together comparing paragraph to paragraph and so on!

  17. These are the kind of stories mainstream journalism needs to be promoting.

    Real people. Real dreams. Real solutions.

    Solving problems instead of just selling dreams.

    Without promoting a sense of self-empowerment to counter the negativity publicity, even the capable ones bail out on their dreams in fear. There is such a thing called sensible hope, and simple and honest stories like these make me happy to embrace writing as a career. Cheers!

  18. Hi, Thomas. Thank you for addressing what everyone needs to learn: get away from bidding sites that pay lousy fees. I myself stopped writing for community newspapers. It was easy to get an article placed in those, but the pay was terrible. I had more than enough clips, so I had to just say no. The challenge is putting yourself out there and taking rejection (or getting no response, which is more likely). But it’s worth it. And once I got paid more, my confidence level went up.

  19. Amanda Boyt says:

    Best Friends Animal Society is run by ex-members of the dangerous 60’s cult “The Process Church of the Final Judgment”. That cult had involvement w/ the Manson cult and the Son of Sam Murders. I suggest that you stop writing for them. (They got in the animal rescue business because cult leadership changed, and rescue pays very well if you keep the money for yourself.)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Amanda, I note with others in this thread that their ratings seem to be good. If you have evidence that there’s something nefarious going on at this seemingly good-hearted charity, please provide the evidence, or I may be removing this comment as it’s potentially slanderous without proof.

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Amanda,

      Could you please reference the source(s) to back-up your claim?

      Along with Charity Navigator and other non-profit watchdog organizations, I just checked and BFAS is on the IRS’ “Organizations Eligible to Receive Tax-Deductible Charitable Contributions.”

      Please let me know where you found the information to make these allegations.

      • AliceB says:

        Amanda is correct! I spent a month there and was horrified by what I learned behind closed doors. They are a cult! Google them along with the Process Church and you’ll see a ton of references, even animal sacrifices. I’m surprised you relied on charity reporting agencies alone. Especially since their sole accountant is a founder and board member. Last I checked all their board members are founders and no one from the outside is on their board. That may have changed when the papers got ahold of their nefarious practices several years ago.

  20. Thomas Hill says:

    Mia,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    Good luck in 2015 with your freelance writing!

  21. Hi, Thomas. Your topic is close to my heart. As a writer, and in other areas of my life as well. Global competition has made it more and more difficult to get paid enough for our articles and blog posts for others, unless we plan stragetically to climb the income ladder. Thanks so much for this post, showing us how to differentiate our way to success! That Copyscape tip is a keeper. for sure.

  22. Penny Hawes says:

    Congratulations, Thomas! What a great job you did in not only identifying areas where you could improve, but then taking those necessary steps to make it happen!

    I have also worked with veterans with PTSD (with horses), and have had the honor of meeting some of the people responsible for the building the program for dogs for veterans. Two of the veterans I know have dogs to help with their PTSD – and it’s made an incredible difference to their lives, and the lives of their entire families.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Hi, Penny,

      Thanks for the kind words and for your work with our nation’s veterans.

      Yes, learning and improving our writing is the only way to climb the freelance ladder!

  23. Christy Iiames says:

    Thomas, thank you for sharing how you used the bidding sites to build your reputation and skill. Which sites do you feel gave you the best opportunity to interact directly with the client?
    Which job boards do you consider to have the best legitimate writing gigs?
    Thanks again, Christy

    • Thomas Hill says:

      Hi, Christy,

      Years ago I used Elance primarily and actually was contacted by a Greek men’s magazine on Odesk. Those experiences gave me a broad experience in the types of freelance writing, naturally steering me into the magazine side of freelance writing, but I’m always trying to learn different types of writing.

      Regarding the “best” type of job boards for writing jobs, I take a holistic approach when reaching out to a new website or publication — does my background (education, experience, work and writing style, etc.) match the potential client? I always ask myself, is my unique background/skill-set a match for the client? The more in-line it is, it’s a more efficient use of time for the potential client and my marketing time.

      Thanks!

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  1. […] There’s a great article on Make a Living Writing from Thomas Hill. The article explains how he managed to grow his business from $5 an article jobs through bidding sites to landing $900 for a feature piece by leveraging the experience, testimonials and building his portfolio from his bidding site work. […]

  2. […] need to familiarize yourself with Carol Tice and her fantastic website Make a Living Writing. In this single blog post alone, she touches on how to leverage your experience as you grow, how to differentiate yourself in a […]