Is This Inappropriate Emotion Killing Your Freelance Writing Rates?

The Inappropriate Emotion That Kills Your Freelance Writing Rates. Makealivingwriting.com.NOTE: Feel like you’re stuck with low-paying clients that will never pay higher freelance writing rates? This post is for you. Enjoy! โ€”Carol.

Want to make money from home as a freelance writer? I’ve got a question for you today, writers. How do you feel about your freelance writing rates and the clients you work with?

I ask because today’s topic is just that — the feelings we have for our clients. Because business isn’t all dollars and cents. It’s also relationships. Our clients are people, too.

Some of the feelings we have for them are appropriate and useful feelings, such as enjoying a client’s easygoing personality or the feeling of satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a complex writing assignment.

But some feelings freelance writers have are sadly misplaced, and really hurt your ability to earn higher freelance writing rates. Check out what a couple of writers said to me recently, and I think you’ll start to see what I mean:

“My client is great and has given me a rave review on LinkedIn. I’ve worked with him for years, and continue to out of loyalty, even though the pay isn’t the best.”–Shari

“I’ve been writing for a ‘content mill’ and I do enjoy the work. It’s varied, the people who run it are genuinely lovely, and the man in charge has been happy to give me advice, and permission to email examples of work to clients, even though we publish without our own names on the work.

“Of course the pay is very low. I earn a penny a word (in the UK). But I have some loyalty to them, because they’ve really helped me out.

“I’m a qualified librarian (my degree is in English linguistics and literature, and my postgrad librarianship qualification is in information management). I can write well. Any suggestions?”-April

Yes, April, I have suggestions. Let’s start with this:

Don’t be misled

As you can see, some freelance writers are highly susceptible to the problem of misplaced loyalty.

We fall in love with our clients and stick with them, even though if they are radically underpaying us. When we should run for the hills instead.

We say they’re lovely people, even as they compensate us so little we couldn’t buy a bag of groceries with a week’s pay.

Let me drop the scales from your eyes, folks: While you are doggedly sticking with these clients out of “loyalty,” your client has no such similar feelings for you.

Try raising your freelance writing rates to an appropriate professional freelance wage, and you’ll see just how loyal your low-paying clients really are.

Then you’ll see this has been a one-way relationship all along. It’s you, being used by a crummy client. It’s a dysfunctional relationship like an abusive marriage.

It will only end when you decide to quit. Because the client has a great deal — a wonderful writer they’re getting for a song!

If they find another writer who will work for less, they’ll drop you in a minute. Make no mistake.

Why we cling

There’s one other point to consider about why writers hang onto to crummy clients.

Often, it’s because getting rid of them would mean admitting that you’re just spinning your wheels here. You’re filling your time with work that’s not paying your bills, and often isn’t even building your portfolio.

Also, that you need to be out marketing yourself to find better clients. If you really hate marketing, you tell yourself loyalty is the reason you can’t do any right now.

After all, loyalty is such a wonderful quality, right? You wouldn’t fault yourself for being loyal.

But you should, when it’s aimed in the wrong direction — one that could cost you your dream of earning a living as a freelance writer.

Where your loyalty should lie

Anytime you catch yourself experiencing feelings of loyalty to a low-paying client — wishing you had better clients but feeling you should stick with this loser just because they’re already a client, and you have all this history together…stop.

Take a step back.

And ask yourself this important question: Why are you in business?

I’d bet it’s to pay your bills, or to feed your family. The people in your life who depend on you — they are the people who deserve your loyalty.

Your business that helps those people is what you should be loyal to. If you don’t care about it and make it grow, nobody else will.

You need to act in the best interest of your business, before you run out of money and have to take a day job. That is priority one.

Otherwise, you’re not a business, you’re a charity. And soon you might be a charity case, too.

How to move on

Don’t delude yourself that nice people who underpay you are still good clients. They’re not. Theyย  are sucking the life out of your business and putting your freelance writing business at risk of failure.

I know…but they’re so nice! Maybe when you chat on Skype they are. But really, they’re screwing you.

Freelance writing rates exercise to drop bad clients

If you need to, here’s an exercise that may help: Put up a poster next to your computer with your low-paying client’s face and a little talk balloon that says, “I don’t pay you fairly, and I don’t care about you.”

Then remember that every minute you spend on a low-paying freelance writing client is a minute you’re not out finding the clients who will pay you what you need and deserve for your hard work.

Are misplaced loyalties holding back your writing career? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.


What kind of freelance writer are you? (New Writer, Mid-Career Writer, Just Thinking About Writing?) Tell me and get a free custom report. Get Your Report.

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77 comments on “Is This Inappropriate Emotion Killing Your Freelance Writing Rates?
  1. GM says:

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for sharing.

    I am paid well, but I am sick and tired of the 9 to 5 paradigm, corporate politics, disrespect and crappy treatment. I had enough. It’s time for a change.

    My husband and I are moving to the country because he wants to farm. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we have no mortgage and very little debt.

    My question is: How do I find clients while living in the country? Is is possible to network strictly online? Or, do I have to network in person? The nearest town is only 15000, and the commute to the city is over an hour. In winter, the commute can be 1.5 hours or longer.

    Next question: I’m thinking of writing an e-book. I don’t know where to start. Can you recommend some resources that can provide reliable information on how to market my book?

    Thank you.
    GM

  2. Sara says:

    Thanks Carol for this excellent post!
    I just had to comment here because last night I dropped my lowest paying client–who was always very nice to me!–and this morning I feel absolutely fantastic and freer than I have felt in months!! What a relief… That constant stress of putting in too much work for no reward (it was definitely not a portfolio booster) is gone, and I suddenly have so much more mindspace and actual free time to query better markets where my experience and background will be taken seriously and paid accordingly. I highly recommend this to all other freelance writers out there–KNOW YOUR WORTH and cut off those clients who don’t!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad this helped you, Sara!

      It’s amazing how writers get into scenarios with virtually no upside — pays poorly, work isn’t building portfolio, isn’t referring any good prospects — yet somehow we get the idea they’re a ‘good’ client.

      • Linda H says:

        I agree. I’ve raised my prices a little for my resume writing and have gotten away from the lower paying clients. It’s made a huge difference in my attitude toward completing the projects and how I feel about myself. I no longer worry when someone balks at a price because I realize they don’t value my work or me. Plus, it frees up time for other writing. I’m making serious changes to build my business and marketing. Focusing on better markets that pay higher fees is truly motivational. Way to go Sara.

  3. Lisa says:

    Unfortunately, I am sitting at the bottom of what sounds like a big pyramid. I am now considered a ‘dedicated writer’ but still part of a team, and we work for several different clients. I get the impression that my client is a great guy, who is also being horrifically underpaid. Is there a way to ask for a raise in this case in a way that makes sense? I get the impression that he’s paying me (literally) all that he can.
    I’m only making 5 a post, though. And as pointed out, that’s So.Not.Cool.
    I do feel loyalty, and I like this client as a person. I don’t want him to lose his bad clients, by asking for a raise for me, but honestly, I’m working fulltime for 40 dollars a week, and I just can’t.
    I’m also frightened that if I just drop this (my only) client, I won’t find another.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Lisa, step one is to find another client. Then, you drop this one. He probably doesn’t have the ability to pay you more.

      And the problem with clients like this is, you need to be paid 10x more than they’re paying you. At a minimum. I have yet to see a client suddenly have the insight they should pay a multiple of what they’re paying now. They might decide to pay $7 or $10…but it will never be professional wages.

      But at the risk of repeating myself…stop feeling loyal to this gig! He’s not really your friend here. If you have a personal friendship, keep that — he may turn up somewhere else where he can pay real wages.

  4. Nadia McDonald says:

    I totally agree with the comments made. In my experience, there are people who take advantage, particularly of inexperienced writers trying to establish themselves. Loyalty is good, but it does not pay the bills or put food on the table.

  5. Shelley J Beeby says:

    Carol, you always write such insightful posts. This post is one of the most valuable I’ve read so far, and it’s why I keep reading your blog.

    One thing I’ve learned in my working life is that you can only be exploited if you set yourself up for it. Yes, there will always be low-ballers in any industry. But if you keep taking the crappy pay and going back, and going back yet again, you’re kind of asking to be abused. The fault really does lie with both parties.

    Writers need to value their skills because they’re so important and rare these days. We’re a talented group, and we should be compensated accordingly.

  6. Nadia McDonald says:

    I agree Carol! There are too many nice people sucking the energy and life from people who aspire greatness. Loyalty means nothing when bills are due and food has to be on the table. Nothing is wrong with being nice, but at the same time we are trying to run a business.

  7. Rhonda says:

    Yes indeed. This piece spoke to my soul! Clients either want to negotiate you into a lower rate, low-ball you or the worst case scenario BARTER! That is my latest four-letter word. Any client that wants to barter is a client I REFUSE to work with after each and every one of my clients that initiated the barter disappeared the moment they got what they wanted or even worse, made me feel like they were doing me a favor. I would never ask someone to barter out their services, but I seem to attract people who want to barter in lieu of payment all the time. I realize now, that when someone asks me to barter my services, what they are really saying is, “Listen, I need this work done, but I’m not trying to pay for it.” If only I could muster up the disdain for people to operate in that manner, I’d have everything I need by now. Don’t get me started. My loyalty is out the window at this point. At least where my business is concerned.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, I’ve done some really mutually beneficial tradeouts myself…but they should be fairly few compared to your number of paying gigs.

      I was just chatting last night with a blogger who’s getting paid mostly in gift cards for doing reviews — that’s not a business! You can’t pay the mortgage with gift cards.

  8. Risa says:

    I have this experience working as a freelance babysitter. Maybe being a freelance writer will be a lot like babysitting! (Joke haha) I am glad to read this I don’t want to make the same mistakes anymore.

    Afraid to ask for what I need sometimes because less feels like a lot when it’s compared to none ๐Ÿ™

    • Karen J says:

      Oooh! Oooh! This:
      …because less feels like a lot when itโ€™s compared to none

      Thanks for pinning that down, Risa! So True! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Marcie says:

    I recently turned down $500 for a 100 page book editing project from someone who is starting a publishing company. I immediately questioned myself after I did it. However, after I considered the amount of work required, as well as the fact that I would probably be sharing this amount with the publisher, I got over it. He tried to sweeten the deal by telling me that there are more opportunities in the future. At this rate?? I’m good.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ah yes, the excitement of possible additional work at horrid rates! Glad you were able to pass. Not sure what you mean about sharing the fee with the publisher? But that sounds low to me even if the book is in pretty good shape — and so often, they’re not. I personally just edited & rewrote 30 pages into 20 for $2000 on a rush.

      There is SO much ebook writing/editing ‘opportunities’ out there to do what should be many thousands of work for a few hundred bucks. All we can do to fight it is say ‘no.’

  10. Karen J says:

    “…the bottom one in terms of pay and how they treat me personally…”
    ~ That’s an important co-factor in the Who do I drop? equation that Dan Stetler brought up. Also, look at Do I really enjoy doing the kind of work they give me?
    I’m seeing another triangle here: Pay, (my) Pleasure, and (their) Personality – but this one *does* have a balance point, determined only by the person actually doing the work – you!

    What makes it “hard” is the distorted Little Voices in our heads, implanted as we were growing up, about “being nice”. I’ve learned to offer my “I really like working for them, except for the pay” clients a chance to pay me better. If they won’t go for a reasonable raise, then they get the axe anyway.

    Great article, Carol, and as always, great comments, too! Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Casey says:

    “I love my business, and my vacations, and my chance to send my kids to amazing camps, and my retirement account, and paying my mortgage, more than I love any client whoโ€™s not paying my rate.”

    Yes, indeed, Carol! I love being a team player but I also love making sure my own team (home, kids, pets) is running smoothly, and that takes money. On a similar note, I find that I have to stifle my urge to help fledgling businesses upgrade their marketing copy at “friends & family” rates, or to work with prospects who’ve never hired a writer before. The buzz from feeling useful and generous isn’t worth the buzzkill when it’s time for me to pay my bills.

    • Carol Tice says:

      “Buzzkill.” YES.

      I think we all do and should do some projects where we just love the story and want to help out, or it’s a relative…but it needs to be a small portion of what we do, and the bulk needs to pay well for clients who love US. We need to worry more about real love flowing our way in the form of ample cash from clients.

      That’s true love. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Too many writers fall in love with how nice it is to feel needed…by desperate/dysfunctional businesses that can’t pay.

  12. I did some ghost writing for a financial guru who was on television, traveled the world to investor meetings, and was an all-round big deal. Except he didn’t pay his writer.

    Luckily I saved my best writing for my resignation letter, a real love-fest, and he paid with a bonus. But I was done working for the cobbler with holes in his shoes.

    He was an incredible insider whose forecasts felt like he saw the future first, but he wasn’t as tuned into the outside world where I lived.

    Thanks for the post, Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think you mean done BEING the cobbler with holes in his shoes. This guy wasn’t living small…just small-minded when paying freelancers.

      Not sure what you mean about making your resignation letter a love-fest -are you being sarcastic? Or it was so persuasive it made him finally pay up?

      But I got my training on falling for the whole “isn’t it glamorous to work for me? And I even pay a little!” line way back when I was a secretary at the (then) William Morris Agency. Ooh, you get to see movie stars come in sometimes, and we pay a couple pennies as well! That was their deal…and I got out as soon as I could for a better-paying day job.

      • Good point Carol. Since it was such a big ordeal signing up to write for my money man I didn’t want him hacking me back with ill will, so I wrote the sweetest resignation letter I could. After he paid up, I bought new shoes, ones without holes.

        Another writing job was similar to your experience with William Morris. Low pay excused as ‘Points in Heaven’. No movie stars, though.

  13. Alejandro says:

    GREAT article, I couldn’t agree with you more. Cheapskates are toxic, and toxic people should be removed from your immediate circle of influence, otherwise you become who you hang around.

  14. “Itโ€™s a dysfunctional relationship like an abusive marriage.” –Yep yep.

    I remember when I had a client that was *super nice* but didn’t pay well. As cheesy as it may sound, the feelings of resentment that I had towards him were very similar to how I would feel when I dated a jerk who didn’t treat me well.

    So I gave myself the “You deserve better” speech and asked for a raise.

    Outcome: We broke up.

    His loss.

  15. Willi Morris says:

    Carol, this is brilliant! I’ve had several clients like that over the past couple of years…I raise my prices and suddenly they no longer need my services. Sad, really. I’m still wondering about approaching them for a testimonial since they dropped off the face of the earth. Because I did great work! We shall see.

    The clients who are truly good relationships will stick with you and support you no matter what.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Definitely ask them for a testimonial Willi! Obviously, it’s better if you ask while you’re still working for them, but no harm in asking now.

  16. Dan Stelter says:

    This is an absolutely wonderful post and very true. I’ve found for me that I tend to cling to crummy clients because I’m fearful I’ll never find anyone else who pays more.

    I just remind myself it’s a false belief, and that there are plenty of people willing to pay me more to do better work.

    The trick? Making a list of all my clients, figuring out who’s the bottom one in terms of pay and how they treat me personally, and then replacing that client with other clients. Simply keep repeating the process.

    And you know what? The bigger, better-paying clients don’t complain nearly as much (if at all), and they pay on time without me having to harass them into it.

    What experienced pros tell you is true – there’s better pay and less stress as you climb up the ladder.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s a weird irony, Dan, but I’ve had the same experience — better-paying clients are also usually easier to work for. They understand how to work with freelancers. They have a functional corporate structure. It just all goes better. Glad you’ve experienced that!

      And I STRONGLY recommend every writer do the process you’re talking about, Dan — at least 2-3 times a year, analyze your clients, figure out who the biggest loser is, and make plans to drop them. Lather, rinse, repeat. That is the whole story of how I ended up with only top-drawer clients…I just kept cutting the worst one and replacing them with a much better one.

  17. Linda H says:

    This article is right on the money, Carol, pun intended. Just today I dropped a potential client because it was obvious he didn’t value my writing talents and expertise despite is desperate situation within his career. He not only told me I charged $100 more than my competition, he started giving me reasons why he questioned whether I was worth that much. In researching the competition he mentioned, I found my rates were parallel to his or perhaps $50 more.

    I’ve also raised prices for writing projects and been paid accordingly. While my marketing lacks because, honestly, I’m avoiding it because I’m afraid slightly of it, I’ve decided to face it head on this week and find better markets that pay higher rates. And recently I charged a small business owner a higher fee for writing a brief marketing piece he’s used in a marketing flyer. He said he had no problem paying me more, he knows the value of my work.

    Your post is a great reminder, Carol. I’ve saved it for re-reading when I’m feeling shakey about fees. Quality clients will pay higher fees when they recognize the value of your writing. One of my proofreading clients gave me a raise on her own saying I was worth the additional cost. I smile every time I complete one of her projects. I appreciate knowing someone values my work.

    • Shingi says:

      I have to admit that I am still working for a mill client for low pay.

      Dropping the client and taking my game higher is proving scary. Maybe because I am focusing on the fact that I should not bite the hand that feeds me.

      Otherwise thanks for a great article that reminds freelancers like me to market themselves

      • Carol Tice says:

        Shingi, moving on from clients who don’t pay well is NOT biting the hand that feeds you. That would be flaming them on the Internet, calling them rude names, posting on Writer Beware or something about how awful they are. Burning the bridge.

        Moving on is what you do because it’s your business and it needs to grow. Simple as that.

  18. Rob says:

    A client I found on Elance about 4 years ago gave me a bunch of work at a reasonable rate for Elance. She knew it wasn’t great money, but that was her budget. Over the years, she has continued to send me leads. Most recently, she found a corporate client for me and helped me prepare my quote. I wouldn’t have gotten the gig without her help. And no, she isn’t getting a cut from the corporate client. They pay me directly.

    The size of a business often determines the budget. She appreciated the work I did for her then and has gone out of her way to help my career since.

    That said, I have dropped clients because they couldn’t pay me well enough, but can only think of two who probably could have afforded to pay more. Others were just small businesses with small budgets. In a couple of cases, clients have given me less work for more money when I’ve raised my rates. That’s worked out well because it has freed up time to find better paying gigs.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The fact that they are small businesses with small budgets…it not your problem. Just means they’re not a great client for you. Not saying you should feel bad only if it’s a client who really could have paid you more. The reason is irrelevant. The fact is, you’re not getting paid enough — you shouldn’t be ‘loyal’ to that client.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know Rob, sometimes low-paying initial clients can turn out to be useful in terms of referrals and recommendations.

      The trick is not to be hooked on the relationship in an unhealthy way, where you imagine the client cares about you, and you continue working for low rates for years and years.

  19. Mike says:

    Carol,
    Fantastic article and your advice is dead-on correct. My wife and I are Canadian expats living in China since 2001. In 2009, we established a corporate consulting company here. We provide soft skills training for the staff multi-national companies who are operating in Asia.
    One of the most difficult tasks I have is trying to help my sales people understand that we do not provide discounts for ANY client unless they purchase in volume. Even then, the discount is only 10%. You may know that in China relationships (guanxi) are extremely important if you’re doing business. Therefore, we continually hear from clients “we want a long-term relationship with you,” right after they have asked for a discount.
    Funny thing is, when I explain that we do offer a discount if they purchase X number of days of training, the long-term relationship gambit suddenly becomes “our budget is limited.” Of course, all of these negotiating tactics are a bunch of lies, but it’s very difficult to help my sales people see that.
    When we stick to our guns and clearly explain the advantages and benefits of our training and especially our training style, what do you think most often happens? Do we lose the business? Very rarely. Once the individual we’re dealing with realizes that we offer the exact same rates to ALL of our clients and that we stick to our fee structure because we offer REAL value, they purchase our training.
    And for those who end up telling us that we’re too expensive and they have chosen another vendor, we sincerely wish them the best with their training plans.
    Do you know what often happens six months down the road? That client comes back to us and asks for another proposal because the CHEAPER vendor’s training was complete garbage and the feedback from the staff who went through training was very negative.
    So my point is this, for those of you who are writing for a living, you need to make sure you’re offering high-quality work, meet your deadlines, always be professional, and charge what you’re worth instead of charging like your worthless (worth less).
    And remember, despite everything you’ve been taught, the customer IS NOT always right. Sometimes your customer is dead wrong and simply using you to boot! Get rid of those types of customers.
    Remember that a business relationship should be a “relationship.” And healthy, positive relationships are mutually beneficial; they go two ways and they involve compromise from both parties.
    Sorry for such a long post, but if you’re doing what you love for your living and you’re providing something of real value to your customers, your customers should be compensating you in a manner that shows they VALUE you and their relationship with you.

    • Mary says:

      That’s a terrific post, Mike. I really need to get this into my head. The old saying that we teach people how to treat us is just as true in business as it is in other areas.

      The blog and all of the responses are so dead on. I just *love* feeling appreciated. Somehow to the extent that I forget I work for money. Sure, there are other reasons too, like enjoyment, pride in a job well done.

      But the fundamental reason is to pay the bills. Just like the client. Each side needs to look out for herself.

      And it engenders respect in the client. So I need to simply disregard feelings of letting someone down. That has no place in the process.

  20. Kerri says:

    My daughter sent your article to me in an email. I can appreciate all that you have to say and love the purpose of your mission. However, it is very difficult to climb the ‘rates ladder’ – even when your writing and research skills are far beyond average.

    I write for peanuts and I know this. But the amounts I am being paid are nearly the same with every offer I receive. I am just not sure that I can apply this advice because when I cut these employers loose, who am I going to write for? Where do I find people who will pay the appropriate rates? The market is saturated with good writers charging the same as I am.

    Marketing is a start I know. I have social media marketing in place but again, the rates I am being offered is average and while most employers are kind, a few treat writers as if they are easily replaced.

    Thanks for the article and going to read some others.
    ~K~

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kerri — it’s about swimming in a different pool and getting away from online job ads, mills, and places like Elance. I have a whole bootcamp in Freelance Writers Den called Get Great Clients that goes into 4 hours of detail on how to identify and market to better-quality prospects. Trust me, they’re out there.

      I actually just heard back from one mentee who reports she went for it with her marketing, and now she’s a speechwriter for Harvard. For just one example of the great success stories I’ve heard. There ARE great-paying opportunities.

      Because really, if everyone was writing for peanuts…why would there still be freelancers? Why would the sector be growing each year with every projection that it will continue to grow? That wouldn’t make sense if no one was earning.

      It’s not about the offers you receive — it’s about the opportunities you proactively prospect to go out and find.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, I’d also challenge the idea that the market is saturated with good writers. The market is saturated yes, but ask marketing managers in any sophisticated niche if they have a surplus of great writers and they’ll tell you they can’t get anybody. You need a specialty you build expertise in to earn more.

      At one point, I tried to replace myself in a business-finance gig I was doing…and I worked my network, told everybody…and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find anyone with the chops they needed. So truly talented writers continue to be sought after.

      • Sean says:

        Thanks for the post, Carol. I’m currently working on transitioning from content mill clients to better ones. I still have mostly the mill prices (starting to get $2-$3/100 words rather than $1), but I’m having a bit of a psychological problem with it. Namely, I’ve been writing for mills for about a year now, and after getting so many jobs that pay pennies, it’s tough for me to make that jump in my own mind to the fact that I’m really a much more valuable writer. I don’t know if I’m the only one in this boat, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions for making the mental jump.

        • Carol Tice says:

          You hit it right on the head, Sean — the obstacle is primarily in your head. And you are definitely NOT the only one in this boat! Speaking as someone who’s talking to thousands of writers.

          I think when writers only troll online job boards, or hang around mill chat forums, and you’re all earning next to nothing, it’s easy to believe $5 for an article is all there is. But it’s only all there is in that pool of writing.

          If you get out of that pool and into the better one, where you are proactively marketing your services, raising your profile with a strong blog, writer site, or social media presence, doing in-person networking, you discover a completely different pool — one that highly values writing services and pays handsomely for it.

          The problem is..writers are lazy and/or hate marketing themselves. This is why mills have flourished. It seems many writers will take any level of low-pay abuse rather than run their writing business like a real business.

          Would you expect any retail boutique you’ve ever shopped at to remain in business without marketing? No. But writers expect their own businesses to magically grow without effort.

          I’ll just say that over on this side of the fence, the last article I wrote paid $1,000, and I just did a short. 1-week writing project that paid $2,000 and has already led to nearly $1,000 more in assignments that will be a snap for me.

          The whole reason I started this blog was to help writers discover the world of professional-pay writing markets. It really does exist.

          What makes the difference? Community, marketing, and understanding the difference between good-paying markets and mills.

          I’ve often said the biggest problem with mills is exactly what you describe — they wear you down mentally and make you feel hopeless. But my Freelance Writers Den community is FULL of writers who joined us writing for mills, and now write for their own clients and have grown their earnings exponentially.

    • Linda H says:

      Kerri,

      I relate to your concerns about raising rates when the norm is what you’re currently earning, but I do challenge you to raise your rates and try for a higher bid.

      I’m in the resume writing field and based on Carol’s posts and other freelance mentors, I decided to raise my prices to a better living wage for writing resumes, cover letters, and then freelance materials for small businesses in my area. My rates have been noted as $100 more than the average, however further research showed I’m spot-on with some competitors who market cheap and raise the rate after hooking the client.

      Do I lose clients, sometimes yes, but the ones I get are not PITA clients but higher quality professionals that understand the value of my writing talent and expertise. And recently I was told I’m charging $300 too low a price based on others in my field in certain services.

      If you know your expertise and talent is worth more, undercutting yourself reflects more against your sense of confidence in yourself. You CAN switch clients to higher paying ones.. marketing is one way, referrals is another. If your work is worth it, higher paying clients will see it and pay your worth while those paying low fees are using you with no concern or loyalty.

      Just sharing from experience.

  21. What about this version of the same scenario: You’re just starting out and you quote a crap price to a client because your rookie pricing model isn’t as good as you think it is. So even as you gain other clients that you quote good prices to now that you’ve developed a better pricing model, you’re stuck working for a terrible rate for your original client because it’s not their fault they’re underpaying you because it was you who quoted the price in the first place. You’re then stuck with the awkward situation of either dropping an awesome client because you can’t afford to work for them, or suddenly asking them for a 3x pay raise, which they would completely understandably balk at. Total catch-22. Maybe gradually raise the rate so they’re less likely to balk?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Or you drop them. Or you let them know their rates are way out of range of your norm, and 60 days from now, they’re going to have to come in line with your rates or you’re moving on. That gives you 2 months to find a replacement if they turn you down.

      And if they’re only underpaying because it’s your fault for quoting too low and they get the value of what they’re receiving from you, they’ll raise you. If not, it’s time to move on. You’re not stuck working at a terrible rate for this client…you can leave anytime. That’s the thrill of freelancing.

      • Very good point, Carol! Some of us (like me) are way too nice. But I do really love this particular client, and enjoy working on her stuff. I think she would up the rate if I asked her, as I don’t think she has any idea I’m undercharging and I think she could afford a higher rate. I’ve found that part of the challenge of freelancing is educating the client, so they know what you do, and how you do it, and the value of it, which is what I failed to do at that point. I just feel like a bit of a half-wit saying, “Hey, I’m not charging you the right rate because my pricing model sucked when I was starting out, so can you please triple my rate, effective (almost) immediately?” Which is why I wondered if it would be worth raising the rate in stages.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Yeah…you may love this client, but I’m betting it doesn’t flow both ways to the point of tripling your pay overnight, Lindsay.

          You don’t really have to explain to them that you didn’t know how to charge when you started out. Just say your rates have risen since you started. Which is normal. Now, your rates are X, but for you, darling, I’ll do Y — maybe it’s halfway to where you want. Or it doubles her rate, for now.

          But at some point you have to think about WHY you love this client when they’re so underpaying you.

          You know, I had this one client I loved too, their work was fun! About college and careers, a topic I was enjoying because I had a college student at the time. And it landed me on the front page of Yahoo a lot, so great visibility. I got to talk to really fun experts, and do data-dive stories, which I really enjoy.

          But they only paid $300 an article, and I wanted my floor to be $500. So one day, when I did that analysis Dan and I were just talking about above, I realized they had become my lowest payer. And we had to part ways.

          Because I love my business, and my vacations, and my chance to send my kids to amazing camps, and my retirement account, and paying my mortgage, more than I love any client who’s not paying my rate.

          • Yes, the end of the day you are running a business. I am have slowly been learning these things in the year that I’ve been freelancing. The most important thing, especially once you’re established, are your margins, otherwise it’s not worth doing it! It will be interesting to see where things go from here, especially in this case.

            I am happy to say, though, that even the crap rate I was quoting when I started was three times what I was making per hour on the content mill. And I’m even happier to say I haven’t touched the content mill in almost 10 months, thanks to the advice on this blog! Thanks again for a great post, Carol. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Bonnie says:

    Great post. I have a client who pays low and while I don’t want to write for them anymore, I’m reluctant to cut them loose. Why? I hate to say no and I can cite them as a client. The editors on me just switched, so now is the perfect opportunity to leave. And spend my time marketing. I know I deserve to make more, and I have. Why should I spend any time thinking up story ideas for so little pay when I should focus on bigger fish? Thank you for the reminder.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Another option is to try to scale back how much you write for them to gain marketing time, if you can’t afford to just drop them right off. Then you can hopefully land a better client and cut them loose altogether.

      • That’s true. I did tell them I would write only articles that I could do in a couple of hours based on my expertise, rather than writing on topics that took a lot of research.

    • Nadia McDonald says:

      I agree with many of the comments. While I endorse the concept that you need capital to begin, action is very important. The freelance writer should be energized and passionate about their career. Failure is a teacher that should propel the writer to persist. In reference to loyalty, choose clients who are there to support and help the business grow. I think it is a misconception that those clients who don’t have the funds don’t care about your business. There are genuinely good clients who have fallen on economic hard times that may need grace periods. While there are persons who suck the energy and life out of your business, there are others who may not fit the description of parasite.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Nadia, I’m afraid you missed the point of this post!

        Maybe low-paying clients are good people and WISH they could pay you appropriately…but if they don’t, they’re not good clients. Freelancers need to get paid well or they go bust. Buying into their sob story about their health problems or their business reverses (which often turn out to be just that — a STORY they’re telling you to get more for less!) impoverishes you and puts your business in peril.

        Writers need to keep their focus on the fact that they’re running a BUSINESS, and need to stay in business. When I have a client who starts paying slower or wants to renegotiate their fee lower, I’m out the door.

        You should drop low payers as soon as you can, not stay with them out of some confused sense of ‘loyalty’ because you like their personality. Misplaced loyalty causes your business to die, because you don’t earn enough.

        Also…here in the US “economic hard times” officially ended by about mid-2010 at the latest…so I hope nobody is buying that story from clients.

  23. Heather says:

    Great post. Loyalty should be something that people who truly care about you receive. Low-paying clients don’t fall in that category.

  24. Melissa says:

    Carol, you are so wise. I made the mistake of being “invaluable” once. Then twice. Then I asked to be valued with a living wage and suddenly I wasn’t invaluable!

    It’s hard to walk away from work that pays peanuts when that’s the only prospect on the horizon. Reviewing my published rates — even though I’m the only one that sees those “published” rates — makes it easier to walk away from insulting offers. My rates drive my planned income for 2014, and when I think about it that way I have little trouble saying “no thanks.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great way to go about it. Have a rate sheet for YOURSELF and then ask: Is this client fitting my business plan?

      And yeah, it’s amazing how we fall into fantasies of how invaluable we are, when the relationship is really based on the client loving us because we’re underpricing.

  25. Annie says:

    Hi Carol,
    This post got to me on several levels. The first of course being that loyalty is a big thing to me. I personally value loyalty and consider it an important characteristic in people.

    But you’re so right – my desire to be loyal is hurting me.

    I have a client, who was my very first client actually who I’ve done hundreds of projects for. The rate she pays me is reasonable except…she always takes as long as possible to pay me, tells me the check has been mailed when it hasn’t, and recently has offered jobs below my rate because the ‘budget is low’. My fault, I excepted them. However, she does play the loyalty card a lot. She’ll mention a project but talk about how she can’t really pay much for it, I assume hoping I’ll jump at it. Which of course, I have. She had on me on several ongoing projects, which have now dwindled down to one. Which at this very moment I am putting off because I know it will her forever to pay me, so why should I rush to get it done?

    That’s the other thing, I turn projects around really quickly because I want to service my clients promptly and show them that I care. But that is really misguided I think, now that I’ve read this. It doesn’t matter to her that I care, that I work through the weekend to get her project done, that I give up my free time to get the work to her. Because she doesn’t rush to pay me and give me the next project.

    I’ve been toying with this idea but I think I’m going to just go ahead and quit this client. I’ll finish the last assignment and be done with it.

    Thanks for giving me the push I needed.

    Annie

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah…bad news. She’s just exploiting you, and you’re letting it happen.

      I find it fascinating how often people report this is a ‘first client’ that they get into this inappropriately enmeshed relationship with. It’s like first love. We never want to break up. Even though we really need to grow up and move on. We’ve grown. They haven’t.

      I too have a strong ethic of being a person of my word, being responsible, coming through for people. But we need to be loyal to our families, our businesses, and clients who pay us appropriately, not who are constantly dropping hints we should do stuff for less, turn it around extra-fast for no additional money, or just do it for free.

      And sacrificing weekends to do rush work for slow payers? That is definitely doing your life and your business a major disservice.

  26. Angie says:

    It boggles my mind how writers can be loyal to a content mill, or to any other low-paying client just because they tell them how great their writing is. All the compliments in the world can’t pay my rent. Put your money where your mouth is. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  27. April says:

    Thank you!
    This is very well timed as I’m still trying to increase my freelance work and make it pay appropriately. I’m bookmarking this post, and I might print it out and put it in my diary to remind me when I’m negotiating rates, too.

  28. Alicia Rades says:

    I’m guilty of this. I have one client who I’ve been with since the beginning, and I love them, but the pay isn’t the best. (I have since landed other higher paying clients.)

    I like the message in this article, but I have to disagree with one point. I don’t think clients are always taking advantage of you by offering low pay. I think sometimes they are thrilled to have you, but they don’t have the budget to pay you more. Yes, I realize you should get out of this situation at the same time, but I don’t think all low-paying clients are out to get any writer at low pay.

    It’s also hard to justify leaving a client you’re loyal to when you don’t have any other work lined up. Yes, that extra time will allow you to market yourself, but what happens during those weeks you’re marketing and not making a penny? I totally see where you’re coming from, but it’s difficult to justify leaving a paid position to spend time not making any money. I know it will pay off later, but there’s the issue of justifying it for NOW.

    • Angie says:

      “Itโ€™s also hard to justify leaving a client youโ€™re loyal to when you donโ€™t have any other work lined up. Yes, that extra time will allow you to market yourself, but what happens during those weeks youโ€™re marketing and not making a penny?”

      The answer here is to spend every “free” moment marketing. Got a few minutes of downtime before you have to start that next assignment? Find a new market or client to pitch. Got an hour free on an evening or weekend? Write an LOI.

      No one’s saying you have to jump without a net — but if you’re not proactive and downright stubborn about marketing to bigger and better clients, then it’s waaaaay too easy to fall into that “But I’m too busy/broke/etc. to leave this client now” trap.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Alicia, I’m actually very risk-averse myself, and prefer to line up the next client and then drop the low payer. Of course, you have to commit to working longer hours to get the marketing done for that strategy, but that’s always how I’ve played it.

      The thing to note about your first point Alicia, is that writers shouldn’t really care WHY a client is underpaying them. Once again, it’s misplaced empathy — oh, poor them, they’re just starting out and don’t have a dime! (Or so they claim.)

      You should hear the misplaced empathy stories I’ve heard from writers, “Oh, but the owner is battling cancer! I just feel for her.” Oh brother.

      If their business model is a failure or their life is in chaos, and so they don’t have any money, that’s not my problem — it’s theirs. By working for them for peanuts, though, I MAKE it into my problem.

      And to circle back again…why do you love them if the pay isn’t the best? How can you love that? Yes, it’s nice when people are pleasant and the work is enjoyable, but to say you love it is to lose track of why you’re in business.

      • Alex Yong says:

        And by accepting low pay or gifts as payment (same animal), then I’m feeding the notion that there are more writers out there compared to available work. “Making the market” with my choices.

        I love your article Carol. I shared it to StumbleUpon.com

        • Carol Tice says:

          Cool — thanks for the share Alex!

          When I first started, my dream was to organize writers to all stop taking $5 for an article. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered there are too many suckers with low self-esteem out there for that to happen.

          But you can decide what part of the market you want to be in — that subbasement of tiny pay, or the world of getting real pay from clients who sell a real product or service in the real world.

  29. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Carol,
    I thought this would be about avoiding negativity towards clients and instead it’s about misplaced loyalty. You’re absolutely right as usual. I guess another reason to stick to low-paying clients is to avoid the stress of seeking new clients. Bliss in a fool’s paradise. ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Excellent, excellent advice. Anyone who won’t pay you a fair wage needs to high-tail it, period. They’re looking out for their businesses, and you need to look out for yours. Plus, there ARE nice clients who pay really well, too.

    One thing I’d add to what you said Carol, is that we writers can be a needy bunch, and we love it when clients say they love us. So, we’ll allow ourselves to be underpaid, as long as we’re feeling the “love.” Sad.

  31. I love this post, Carol — it’s exactly the reason I got into freelance writing in the first place!

    I used to work for a small business as the “office manager,” and that included writing all the newsletters, the marketing emails, the promo fliers, and many of the blog posts (and the ones I didn’t write I was responsible for copyediting). It also included a two hour commute every day, and barely paid a living wage.

    I finally got up the nerve to ask for a raise, and the owner flipped out and told me I should be grateful to have ANY work at all.

    That was when I decided “Hey, I could make a lot more money doing this exact same work freelance, and I wouldn’t have to deal with crummy bosses!”

    It was an awful experience, but I’m glad I had it, because it taught me exactly what you said here — loyalty to someone who consistently undervalues you is an unhealthy relationship that gets you nowhere!

  32. Jordan Clary says:

    Carol โ€” Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned from you and your blog is to value myself, and it’s been huge. This post is another example of why it’s so important. My first “no” was after I quit my full time newspaper job. They had been very nice people to work for, but I couldn’t live on what they paid. Saying no was terrifying at first, but it gets easier. And now I rarely say no because I’m only getting good assignments.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know what – I turned down my former business journal employer as well. They only paid $200 an article tops to freelancers, and I knew that wasn’t going to work for me.

  33. Ah yes, Carol

    I remember that awfully nice client of mine, who was driving around in a top-of-the-range Porsche while I was driving an old banger.

    I was so grateful for the work. Pay was poor โ€“ but he was just so nice.

    Then one day I discovered just how much he was charging his client for the writing work he was farming out to me.

    The markup was nearly 10 fold.

    So, at the end of the financial year, I decided to ask for a formal writing contract and a 15% pay rise. I was sure he could afford it. After all, he was still getting a bargain.

    But NO. He flipped his lid.

    Our relationship soon came to an end thereafter.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sad story there — and yeah, I think most writers would really blow milk right out their nose if they knew how much a middleman is marking up their writing work. Why I recommend writers find their own clients.