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Move-Up Markets for Freelance Writers

By Carol Tice

After writing on my own Make a Living Writing Blog about how freelance writers should aim for making $100 an hour, I heard from many writers. Mostly they wanted advice on how to achieve more modest goals — just moving up from the $8-$15-an article level and perhaps making $30 an hour.

So that’s my topic for my first WM post of the new year — move-up markets. If you’re writing $15 or $20 articles now, you should be looking for $50-an-article clients who would allow you to slowly drop your lower-paying gigs and raise your average hourly rate.

Personally, I was approached by several folks at the $50-$100 an article level in the past few months…so I know these markets are out there.

The Los Angeles career magazine Working World pays $70 an article, for instance, and I was also asked to write for a section of AOL for $50 a piece.

To investigate move-up markets more, I spent the past few weeks trolling the online job ads for gigs that paid around $50-$100 an article. These aren’t ordinarily ads I look at, so I was surprised once I focused on this price point to find quite a few listings.

Obviously, this doesn’t include the many, many higher-paying gigs you could find by networking, approaching small businesses in your town, using social media to prospect, and otherwise aggressively marketing your business. This is just a selection of what I gleaned from a quick browse through online job ads.

The Nature Conservancy of Texas offered $200 for four 450-word columns a month — so that’s $50 an article, and more than $.10 a word.

StreetAuthority was looking for a freelance financial writer for $75 an article.

Not For Tourists in New York was looking for local writers to write $100 neighborhood descriptions, with pay ranging up to $500.

Life123 offered $50 an assignment for a “wide range of subject matter.” I can remember when nothing in general subjects paid over $20…interesting, huh?

Audio Academy was offering $100-150 a post for a music blogger (the job has since closed).

In addition to these, Writers Weekly lists many jobs at move-up rates….the issue linked here had quite a few, including $125-$300 from Alaska Business Monthly, and assignments from $75-$150 about hockey from Puck Life.

And over at All Freelance Writing each Tuesday, Jennifer Mattern posts job listings only for gigs that pay over $50 a post. What easier way is there to screen out the slave-wage jobs and concentrate on move-up markets? This week, for instance, one of her listings is B2B publisher BG+H, which pays $100-$120 an article.

Here’s what I’ve learned — the marketplace will not set healthy pay boundaries for you. There will always be cheapskates. You have to set the boundaries yourself.

If you entertain the notion of $15 articles, you end up writing them. If you turn down low-paying jobs as simply below your bottom asking price and keep looking until you find better-paying ones, you’ll likely end up being better paid.

Why doesn’t everybody do this? Because switching up can cause a short-term cash-flow problem while you get new clients lined up. You have to overcome your fear that you’re going to starve if you hold out for better gigs, or even spend part of each week prospecting for better assignments instead of writing your current cheap articles. Saying “no” to prospective clients — or to that oh-so-easy to access assignment page on a content mill — can feel harsh, scary, confrontational, maybe in this economy even a little crazy. But that’s exactly what you have to do to move up.

I’m polite with prospective clients who call and offer me $20 an article, or $50, or $70. I thank them for their interest, and let them know they’re not in my ballpark. I offer my rewriting services in case they discover the content they got cheap isn’t up to snuff, and encourage them to be back in touch when they can pay professional rates. I don’t go away mad, I just go away, and leave the door open. Try it — you’ll find that valuing your time enough to turn down lowball clients feels great. It also leaves room in your schedule for better-paying clients.

What’s your move-up goal for 2010, and how do you plan to achieve it? Drop us a comment and let us know.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

It’s Time to Raise Your Rates

By Carol Tice

Well, 2010 is just around the corner. Time for my first pep-talk for writers for the new decade. Do we feel all fresh and shiny and ready to benefit from the economic recovery? I sure hope so!

Job one: it’s time to raise your rates.

I can hear you quaking in your boots from here. And I live way up in the northwest corner of the U.S. But I want you to consider this. The approach of a new year is a naturally great time to break the news to existing clients that rates are going up. Ideally, you want to put the news out to them in the waning days of ’09, but at worst the first week of ’10. Message: it’s a new year, an improving economy, and my rates are going up.

Maybe not for every client. But if you’re going to keep raising your average hourly rate, you need to keep raising rates.

So it’s time to take a look at who you’re writing for, and what they are paying you. Who pays the least, on an hourly basis? Make a list of your lowest payers.

Now you’ve got a decision to make. There are only two ways to make rates go up: Either existing clients have to pay more, or you have to go out and find better-paying clients, and then drop the lower payers.

So first question: Do you think there is any chance you can get these clients to pay more? If you write for flat-rate content sites or bidding sites, that would be a big no. Their pay will likely remain exactly the same in the coming year. If your clients aren’t negotiable on rates, it’s time to look at your marketing plan for adding better-paying clients ’10.

Will you write advice articles on Biznik? Attend in-person networking events? What’s been working for you in the past? What do you want to try that’s new? Figure out how you will attract new clients this year, and create a schedule for when you’ll do your marketing.

If it is possible your existing clients will pay more, it’s time to write them a letter. Let them know your business is growing and thriving, and rates are rising.

I actually just did this with a client I had on a two-month contract at $1,600 a month. The project suffered from massive scope creep as it went along and became really $3000 or more a month of work. When they let me know they wanted to extend the contract, I informed them I was happy to keep working for them, but not at that rate. I proposed a new rate — not $3,000 as I was sure that would make them bolt, but one that gave me nearly a 30% raise, to the point where I felt the account would be worth continuing and wouldn’t lower my overall average hourly rate.

I documented how the project had changed and what going rates were for the types of work I was now doing. I showed them the massive discount they would still be getting. I mentioned that the economy is turning around and many clients are competing for my time.

And bottom line, rates had to go up. Or I’m walking.

Feels scary, doesn’t it? But you’ll need a little courage if you’re going to increase what you earn year to year.

At the moment I sent this proposal, in mid-December, January was only about half booked up, and a lot of assignments were still hanging and uncertain. But it had to happen, because the point of it all is I need to make a living.

With the economic upswing, now is the time to lock in better rates. You never know when the opportunity will disappear to talk rate increases. I had one hourly-rate client back in late 2007 that I was getting $85 an hour with. I had the sense other freelancers for them were making more, so I told them my rate was going up in the next year to $95 an hour. They grumbled a little, but went for it. (I later learned others were getting $120, so I was still a deal.)

Of course, my timing was great. By early 2008, the economy was collapsing, and I wouldn’t have dared to broach a rate increase. The payoff: it turned out to be a very busy time for this client, and I earned more than $5,000 of additional income over the next 2 years. That’s right, 5 large for doing exactly what I would have done…just getting paid more for it. Because I simply asked for it.

So ask for a raise — you deserve it, and it’s worth the risk.

How will you increase your rates for ’10? Let us know your strategy!

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Do You Believe You’re a Writer?

By Carol Tice

I received a very moving email message from a longtime professional writer and single mom of two. She’d recently been laid off from a lucrative editing job.

Now, looking out on today’s freelance world full of $15-an-article assignments, she doesn’t know how she will support her family. She’d have to work around the clock at content-mill rates to make ends meet, and doesn’t want to do that kind of work anyway.

“I am just not capable of slapping things together and calling it writing,” she says. “I’m truly afraid that things will not get better.”

Well, she wrote to the right person. Because I’m not afraid. And she needs to be fearless too, and so do you.

In this economy and fast-changing writing landscape, attitude is everything. I believe prospective employers can smell the fear and negativity on applicants from miles off, and they steer clear. And that feeds the cycle of no work, and more fear.

I think the secret of why I’ve had such a successful year is that I never feared. I believe that I am really a talented writer, and that I will continue to find paying clients, no matter what. Somewhere in the enormous, multi-million-dollar sea that is the freelance writing market, there’s enough lucrative work to provide a good living for one little me. I believe it. I’m such a small part of the whole marketplace, that there doesn’t have to be a recession for me. That’s my belief. And that’s why I’ve found good-paying clients, all through this recession.

I am not sitting around mourning the shrinking world of traditional journalism. I’m wide open to new possibilities in my field, so I find them. I sign my cover letters for jobs with “Enjoy!” I am communicating my excitement to everyone I meet at the new opportunities that are arising in the world of writing. I think editors find it refreshing – I’ve often gotten responses with an hour.

When I talk with writers, the ones in the worst shape have very negative attitudes. They don’t believe there’s good-paying work out there for them anymore. They waste time mourning the loss of a job, the loss of the old world of journalism, they want to vent about their raw deal, and mostly they can’t stop wishing things would go back the way they were.

That’s never going to happen. And hiring editors don’t want to hear it. The negativity becomes self-fulfilling prophecy, and when I check back in with them, usually they’ve given up and are looking for full-time jobs, or have decided to be stay-at-home moms and forget about having a writing career for now.

Do you believe in your writing abilities? Do you think there’s a place for you in the new media order – and are you excited by that? Then find the good-paying work that’s waiting for you. I believe it’s out there. Do you?

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

3 Reasons Why Writers Don’t Earn More

By Carol Tice

Gripes about pay are an epidemic these days in the writing world. But there’s still a lot of good-paying assignments out there. So why aren’t you making more money? In my experience mentoring writers, there are three main reasons:

#1. You’re not marketing. When I talk to writers who’re stuck making $10,000 or $20,000 a year, I usually begin by asking them about their marketing. Are they not getting responses to their queries? Feel they don’t do well at in-person networking? Need help with their cold-calling skills?

The answers are always the same. It isn’t that they need help improving how they do these things – they simply aren’t querying, aren’t networking, and aren’t cold-calling. To sum up, they’re not marketing their business, aside from perhaps shooting the occasional resume to an online job ad.

You’ve got to constantly be looking for new and better clients to keep your slate full. This is also how you raise rates – you find better-paying clients, and then one day you look at your roster and realize you’re so busy you can drop the lowest-paying account. If you’re actively prospecting, you get more new clients and can drop low payers faster, leading to higher average pay. If you’re writing for $15 an article, it’s because you’re not taking the time to market your business and find better-paying markets.

#2. You’re getting assignments instead of building relationships. New writers often get so excited about having an assignment that they forget — every assignment should be, like they say at the end of Casablanca, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. You should link in social media to that editor so that you never lose track of them, even if they change jobs.

When you turn in your story, don’t let the relationship momentum die. You should be ready with two or three additional story ideas. If you don’t have ideas, at least ask the editor what their needs are coming up. Instead of a one-off, try to turn each relationship into a steady gig.

#3. You’re not reselling. One great way to maximize your earnings is to take each story idea you have and sell it multiple places. Personally, I’ve recycled story ideas so much this year I’m dizzy. I’ll write about a business topic for a Canadian conglomerate, then a U.S. magazine, then a corporate Web site. Reselling accelerates earnings because you leverage the research and expert interviews you did once across many paychecks, making you more efficient. You can interview one source and sell the story to their university magazine, a business magazine, a local newspaper…and so on. You fit more articles into each year more easily, you bill more, you make more.

What’s it all boil down to? Be willing to go out and actively look for better-paying clients, and do your writing assignments more efficiently. Do that, and your income is bound to rise.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

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