Why Arrogance Avenue is the Road to Ruin for Freelancers

A large part of what I read concerning freelance writing inevitably touches on the subject of rates, and for good reason. After all, we writers love what we do but we also do it to get paid, not as a charity (although some clients might not yet have pieced this together).

I am all for earning a decent rate for the work you do, regardless of your profession. I completely understand that working for a low rate is not the preferable option. I mean let’s face it, if someone offered you $20 an hour or $8 an hour which would you take? That’s rhetorical, everyone would choose $20.

But when it comes to freelance writing, I feel like many people are given some poor advice. Namely, that advice goes something like this: “Don’t you dare work for anything less than $X/article and X per word because you’re worth more than that and those fees are pitiful.”

This is usually followed up with a “and don’t ever work for content mills”.

Yeah, I know, this seems to be totally contradictory to what I’ve said before about not working for a low rate. I still don’t think you should settle for it permanently, but I’ve had a change of heart and I’ve been thinking about things in the freelancing world – from my observatory standpoint – and I have a slightly different outlook on it.

Okay, it’s no secret, content mills pay almost nothing – like a cent per word to two cents per word and, if they’re really high end, 4 or 5 cents per word, maybe more. That’s a horrible rate, I wouldn’t argue that at all. Most corporate clients will pay you at least $50 per shorter article, sometimes more, and even selling on places like Constant Content you can earn $0.10 per word, which isn’t horrible. At least not to me.

If you have the option to write for magazines or write for corporate clients at $1/word or $50 an article, by all means don’t bother with sites like Textbroker. But I have to say, this attitude that somehow because you create words for a living you should never under any circumstances work for a content mill is a bit absurd.

Now before you all go throw your coffee at the computer screen and scoff in haughty derision, let me explain why I say this.

Magazines and corporate clients are obviously the way to go if you can get the work, and I think you should actively cold call corporate clients (gasp, I know) and query magazines daily. I wouldn’t, if you want to make a full-time living as a freelancer and still have a life, suggest that you base your entire livelihood on content mills forever.

However, consider that magazines have an average turnaround time of, oh, 2 to 3 months to respond to your query. And that’s usually only if they want your story or want to offer a nice rejection with the “please pitch us more ideas” clause. Then you usually have what, a month or so from what I hear, to write the story. And, if they pay on acceptance, you have been paid but if they pay on publication that could be another six months for all you know before you actually get paid.

Corporate clients are kind of the same way. Once you get a few that need continual content, great. But while you’re prospecting like crazy and querying, how are you making…well, income?

This is the problem I have with the suggestion that you should never consider working for content mills. Is it degrading at times? Sure. Is it boring? Sure. Do you get paid a ridiculous fee? Yup. But you know why I do it? I get to sit at home, or wherever I want, and write all day. I know that I have a lot of queries and pitches out for work, and when those start coming in maybe I won’t do content mills anymore.

But in the meantime, I get to make a living – albeit not an ideal one – while sitting around in yoga pants and a tank top on my couch. See to me, freelancing is more than just how I make a living. It’s also freedom from the corporate grind. If it means I have to work 13 hours a day six days a week to meet my personal income goal until bigger projects filter in, so what? I’m still the one in charge of my time, and not somebody else that is off in Tahiti on their yacht that my working at their company helped pay for.

I mean really. If you work at a corporate job, you can earn a good living, but you’re earning a better living for your boss. If you like that, great. Some people do. But for those who find it a little demeaning, I invite you to freelance. Anything. Writing, tech skills, whatever.

If you do freelance, though, don’t get lulled into the “I deserve better than this so I’m not going to accept this kind of work” mentality. I think it’s destructive. I’m grateful to be able to earn anything while not going to an office, let alone the ability to pay my bills doing it. Do I think my writing is worth  more than 2 cents a word? Of course. Have I gotten some higher paying clients? Yes. Am I seeking higher paying work? Always. But am I going to sit back and scoff at 2 cents a word when I type fast enough and work fast enough to make a good living from it while I wait for more, higher paying, more ideal work to come in? Not on your life.

If you don’t mind staying at your corporate job while you wait for corporate and magazine jobs to roll in, then that’s what you should do, because you’ll be working less hours and have more time to focus on queries and marketing. However, if you, like me, feel panic and dread likened to that of Sam and Frodo approaching Mount Doom and feel the weight of the One Ring (usually a phone ringing but you know) every day, call in the eagles and take off. Textbroker and other content mills are like the eagles – they get you out – and corporate/magazine clients are like the Shire – you’ve made it.

The eagles aren’t that comfortable, but at least they aren’t where you came from, am I right?

And, if you don’t understand these references, please stop whatever you’re doing and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy right now. Go. Don’t come back until you have.  🙂

But really, it’s a matter of attitude. There is a balance between “I’m just a lowly freelancer so I’ll take what I can get and never try to further my career” and “I’m a freelancer so I’m too amazing for that kind of pay”. Be grateful for the work you have and if it isn’t satisfying or you can’t make what you want off it, constantly seek new work. That’s the balance.

Hopefully I haven’t morally offended anyone but that’s just how I see things.

What do you think about the subject? Would you work for a lower rate for a time to escape the corporate grind?


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