In this category, you will learn how to get copywriting clients, Well Fed Writer style.

Why Writers Don’t “Deserve” to Make More than $5 to $10 an Article…

Something a little different for a change… This post originally appeared on Lori Vidmer’s Words on a Page Blog during “Writers Worth Week” in May of 2012. When I first sent it to Lori in response to her invitation to submit something for WWW, I thought it might be a bit…blunt, but she loved it, saying…

“That is one of the most honest, transparent, and spot-on posts imaginable! Fantastic! I agree 150 percent (if that’s even possible). I think you’re going to find a good bit of support for your point.”

And judging from the comments it elicited in its original appearance, it apparently did strike a positive chord with many readers.

Now, I know that most of my “regulars” here—commercial freelancers who routinely get healthy rates for their writing—don’t need this reminder, but I suspected you’d enjoy it nonetheless.

And for those regular readers who are still working the low-pay sites discussed here, I figured you’d appreciate the confirmation that you indeed have options when it comes to where you seek your writing gigs, and that there’s a whole other “well-fed writing” world out there.

Regardless of who and where you are, if you enjoy it, I hope you’ll spread the word by forwarding this link to anyone you feel would benefit from the message, tweeting it, Facebooking it—whatever and however you’re moved to share it. Enjoy!

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Question: Do you consider yourself to be a smart shopper? When buying something big or small—flat-screen TV or a loaf of bread—do you try to get the best price (i.e., watching the sales in the case of the TV or clipping a coupon for the bread)? If you’re like most people, of course you do, right? Okay, file that away for a moment…

Over the past few years, I’ve seen any number of articles and blog posts attacking people who posted ridiculously low-paying writing gigs on online job sites. Yet, as I read these pieces, and the ensuing comments, I’ve been a bit troubled—and perplexed—by the stance taken by some. No, these pathetically low-paying job listings aren’t a positive thing, but they don’t happen in a vacuum. The target of the anger and frustration (i.e., those listing these sorry offers) was the wrong one.

One commenter (Mike) hit the nail on the head when he said, “If you don’t like the terms, then don’t apply—simple. You see these ads over and over for one reason and one reason only—they work. I don’t like them either, but I simply ignore them. No amount of complaining is going to stop them.” But alas, his voice of reason has been all but buried under a mountain of righteous, if misplaced, indignation. How dare they? How can a writer make a living? Who do they think they are?

Frankly, it all smacks of victimhood. In blaming the job posters themselves, who are highly unlikely to change their tune any time soon (and we’ll get to why in a moment), you give up control of your financial future and put it in their hands. Imploring them to change their evil ways assumes writers play no part in this unfolding drama. Wrong.

Say you were looking for some folks to crank out some writing (whether for a content mill or even any one-off project someone needs to have written). And say you didn’t know what to offer said writers. What next? You’d go to some job sites and see, 1) what your fellow posters were offering, and 2) more importantly, what writers were accepting. And when you see listings offering $5 or 10 an article and a long scrolling list of writers responding with various and sundry versions of “Me! Pick Me! I’ll do it for that! I’ll do it for less!” well, you’ve got your answer.

If that same poster went to a bunch of sites, and found nothing but writers saying, in essence, “I won’t write your 500-word, keyword-rich article for anything less than $250,” again, he’d know the going rate. And in that case, think he’d dare post a job offering $5 or $10 for that same article? Not bloody likely. The cyber-hills would echo with laughter.

Of course, that $250 response is a fantasy; it’ll never happen on job sites like these. When supply (writers) outstrips demand (jobs), the reality of competition driving rates down to nothing is as predictable as the sunrise. Econ 101.

But, let’s use the argument many make: that this is even driving down rates respectable entities are willing to pay. Maybe, but here’s what’ll happen. All excited that now they can get the writing that used to cost them a LOT more done for peanuts, they hire some of these writers. And soon discover they can’t cut it. If you pay a bargain-basement writer, and then have to hire another writer to redo what they couldn’t do, it’s no bargain.

One comment read: “This vile writing segment gives professional writing a bad name.” Why should it give professional writing a bad name? Does McDonalds give the Four Seasons (or substitute any top-tier restaurant here) a bad name? Does the No-Tell Motel give Marriot a bad name?

Within many industries, there are different levels of practitioners, serving different client segments and for different rates. If it’s not your segment and not where you make your money, then what do you care what they do?

So, let me address a writer outraged by the folks placing these listings. I realize there are more issues than just price, but that seems to be the biggie, so I’ll focus on that. So, you believe you deserve to be paid more than $5-10 an article, right? Okay, fine. Question: Why do you think that? As I see it, and correct me if I’m wrong, there are only two possible answers to this question and only one with real-world validity:

1) Writers deserve to be paid a fair wage, and $5 – $10 isn’t a fair wage.

2) I deserve to be paid more because my skills are worth more than $5 or $10 an article.

#1? Sorry to say, but no writer deserves to be paid any more than the going market rate for a particular skill set, and that rate is determined by a back-and-forth process between buyers and sellers over time. Pretty much like anything else that’s bought and sold on the open market—anywhere, anytime, any place, since the beginning of time.

And the key here is “a particular skill set.” Which leads to #2: that your skills are worth more than $5 or $10 an article. Well, in the case of those running content mills or any other low-paying writing operation, they only need a certain level of writing – and no better. And guess what? Thousands upon thousands of writers have the skills to write at that modest level.

Translation? That level of writing has been “commoditized.” Think gasoline. Or milk. Or sirloin steak. There’s so much supply, and so little difference between brands, so assuming it’s not some special variety (organic milk, grass-fed beef, etc.) prices will all be roughly equivalent. Same with this level of writing.

That being the case, if those job-listers have literally hundreds of writers lining up to bid on their projects at those crummy rates, then why on earth would they need to pay any more than that? They don’t. And they won’t.

And please don’t say, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” That sounds really nice, and warm and fuzzy and all, but you don’t really believe that. Not if you indeed agreed earlier that you were a smart shopper. With rare exceptions, you won’t pay any more for something you want than you have to, and will often take time to ferret out a lower price on a particular item. Why should you expect different behavior from these job-listers?

Here’s a serviceable analogy: McDonalds, again. Okay, so McDonald’s pays burger-flippers, say, eight bucks an hour. And given the relatively low complexity of that task, there are tons of folks out there who can do an admirable job at it. Now, clearly hypothetically, let’s say a world-class chef strolls into McD’s one day and says, “I’d a like a job flipping burgers, but given my formidable culinary skills, I deserve to make $80 an hour, not eight.”

To which, the hiring manager at McD’s is likely to reply: “Well, Chef Pascal or Luigi, I’m sure your skills are amazing, but the fact is, I only need $8 an hour, burger-flipping skills. I’m happy to have you—geez, times must be tough, huh?—and I’m really sorry about this, but I can only pay you eight an hour.”

Same thing here. Content mill operators don’t need anything more than $5-10/article-writing skills. So, if you think you’re a world-class chef of writing, or at least a mid-talent short-order cook of writing, then stop applying at the McD’s of writing outlets, and instead go where the work pays far better, so your skills will, deservedly, be rewarded commensurately (like the commercial writing field, for starters).

And as many have accurately pointed out in countless posts in our industry, those higher paying writing gigs are almost never advertised or posted online. You have to dig them out, which is why they pay far better. And those freelance writers making the highest wages out there are usually those with a special skill or niche. In another words, there are far fewer writers out there with comparable skills. Just like our world-class chef.

If you decide not to bother seeking out better work (and it’s tough to retool your business, no question), thanks to inertia, uncertainty about next steps, or, let’s say it, laziness, that’s perfectly okay. But then stop complaining that these evil job-listers won’t recognize and appropriately reward your stellar wordsmithing skills—skills which, like that McD’s hiring manager, they’re happy to have—heck, why not?—but don’t need, and hence, will be unwilling to pay for.

Oh, and as for other crazy conditions some of these listers ask for (e.g., free samples, on on-call 24/7, etc.), can you blame them? Given that writers, in droves, have already established their willingness—heck, eagerness—to be abused financially, it’s only natural to assume they’ll happily prostrate themselves again and again.

No, that’s not exactly enlightened behavior on their part, but they’re simply reacting to the prevailing reality. In other words, in this scenario—no one abuses you. You allow yourself to be abused. And frankly, the sooner you realize and internalize that, the sooner you’ll be making the money you feel you truly “deserve” to make.

Yes, I know there’s been some “rate fallout” in better-paying segments of writing, but I hear daily from writers having great years, some their best ever, and getting rates well above $100 an hour (and even more getting $75+). Bottom line, if you want to believe the whole industry is in the toilet, that’s your right, but it’s not the truth.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Has “Busyness” Become an Excuse for a Lack of Professional Courtesy?

A commercial-writing coaching client of mine recently sent me this missive about the outcome of a quote she’d given a prospect for a freelance copywriting project.

I quoted, then called/left a voicemail, then emailed (waiting a few days to a week between each). The company never wrote me back. It’s frustrating because it’s so rude on their part. It’s one thing if someone asks, “How much for a blog post?” and I respond with a number, and then I never hear back, since that takes so little time.

But we exchanged several emails and had a phone call to get the project details. I may follow up again with them in a few weeks, in case something more pressing came up and they just haven’t had time. But damn! How long does it take to write back, “We decided to handle it in-house,” or something like that?

The silver lining is that, 1) I have another ballpark figure added to my internal fee schedule, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, and, 2) it reminds me not to get my hopes up until a bid letter is signed. Trying not to be bitter 🙂

I felt for her… We’ve all been there. By way of commiseration, I wrote back with a story of my own…

Sorry to hear that, but afraid to say, it happens to all of us. And I agree, it’s tacky and unprofessional.

A year or so ago, met a guy at a networking function (he and I were connected, in person, by the guy whose space the event was in, and who’s a big fan of mine; my book got him started way back when, though he’d since evolved into a big creative agency).

He knew his guest (a client of his) was planning on doing a book and thought I’d be the perfect ghostwriter.

The prospect and I clicked, talked at length that night, and he definitely wanted to pursue it. We spoke by phone the following week for 30-45 minutes, and found even more common ground. We had lunch together the next week, hammered out parameters, and agreed I’d get him an estimate the next week for the first part.

I did just that, didn’t hear back for 10 days, emailed him to make sure he’d gotten it, he said he had, and that he’d get back to me soon.

And that was the last time I ever heard from him.

Two more emails and two more voicemails went unanswered. Sort of blew me away. Like you said, if it was one contact, no big deal. But that much invested? They OWE you a response.

FYI, next time I spoke to the guy who’d connected us (we were talking about something completely unrelated), I mentioned what’d happened. He was flabbergasted. Said he didn’t even know how to react.

Obviously, he was torn, embarrassed to have steered someone he thought highly of (me) to his client, only to have me treated pretty disrespectfully. To him as well, it was completely unprofessional.

So, yes, unfortunately, that’s how it turns out occasionally. It’s like “busyness” has become an excuse to dispense with common courtesy. It says, “My time is infinitely more valuable than yours.” Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned, and expect more. I can’t say for sure if it’s a younger/older thing, but maybe?

Ever had a prospect vanish without a trace after multiple calls/discussions about a project that had gotten to the quoting stage?

Did you do anything?

What did you take away from the experience for the next time?

Have you ever reacted in a more in-your-face fashion after such an incident (figuring you had nothing to lose at that point)?

Do you see it happening more with younger than older prospects, or is it universal?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Commercial-Writing Clients with Money vs. Ones Without: Like Night and Day…

I got an email from a recent Well-Fed Group Coaching participant that made me smile for a few reasons. She wrote:

This is all becoming less and less theoretical and more real. Which is eerie. It seems I’m beginning to live in your make-believe world!

Too funny. I swear, it’s as if, until people experience these things for themselves, they imagine I’m making all this stuff up about how the commercial copywriting business-building process unfolds. I promise, it’s far easier to share my real-world commercial freelancing experiences than to fabricate a bunch of them out of whole cloth.

But it was what she said after that that had my “Blog-Topic-Alert” meter going off. She wrote:

I’m also beginning to see how differently potential clients with money vs. those with little, behave. They’re like different species.

One simple statement with so many ramifications. For starters, it’s so true. The difference in the respective experiences of working with clients who have little money vs. those with plenty is so vast as to be almost vertiginous.

In a great blog post I recently commented on (and in which I was mentioned – yay!), freelancer Kathy Shaidle says:

The cheaper the client, the more demanding they are. My $75/hour clients tend to approve the very first version of everything I send them, thank me profusely, pay me immediately, and hire me again. Clients I’ve taken on for far less (because I’ve felt desperate — or sorry for them) ALWAYS want more changes, more words, more pages, more of my time on the phone, more everything. Eventually, I (politely) fire clients like that. Inevitably, they are replaced almost immediately by more professional ones with larger budgets (and brains).

And in our world, $75 an hour isn’t even that much; but her point is sound.

If you spend your time hanging out with low-ball writing clients, and in turn, being run ragged by them, it will very likely have you question your career decision.

But find the good clients, and your sense of the overall viability of freelancing will undergo nothing less than a radical transformation. It becomes a whole different word. Less hassle, more creative fulfillment, and, of course, more money.

Better-paying clients are almost always easier to work with than the low-ballers, as my coaching client above noticed. She observed:

The one who wants to get things moving knows the value of what a writer can offer. The one who said he was interested in having me work for him, but then took a long time getting information to me, and was antsy about pricing, didn’t seem to fully accept the cost of doing business. Or he just doesn’t have as much of a budget set aside for marketing. The folks who are hardest to negotiate with are the ones with the smallest budgets.

To her comments, I’d add that, for the kinds of clients we want to work with, money is never (within reason) the main issue. Rather, it’s a predictable superior outcome they’re seeking. And that motivation always trumps money.

But know this: if you’re in the early days of building your commercial writing business, lower-paying clients are the ones most likely to be willing to work with you when you have little to recommend you other than a few unimpressive samples and an abundance of enthusiasm.

As such, they serve a wonderful purpose: to help you build your confidence, as well as both your intangible “experience portfolio” and your real physical one.

But realize that you need to compartmentalize those early experiences with that class of client, as being a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

I say this because those coming from “writing ghettos” (i.e., the content mills, where $5 for a 500-word article is de rigeur) may feel that working with clients who actually pay $25 an hour (wow!), even if they are pains to deal with, is “died-and-gone-to-heaven” territory.

But if you indeed have writing skills far beyond the typical content-mill writer, and are eager and willing to plant and nurture those skills in greener writing pastures, then $25 an hour is only the beginning. No, it’s not easy to get to that $75-to-$125-an-hour copywriting level, and don’t believe anyone who says it is. But, it’s doable, and I hear daily from people who’ve done it.

And if you’re sadly still playing in that copywriting bargain basement, and complaining about the low-ballers who just won’t pay you what your skills are worth, then you don’t understand the dynamic at work there.

I think I did a decent job of attacking this victim mentality in a recent guest post I did (on Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog), entitled, “Why Writers Don’t ‘Deserve’ to Make More than $5 to $10 an Article.”

For most of you regular visitors to this blog, you “got” this a long time ago, but if you’re still wrestling with it, check it out. It all comes down to having copywriting skills not shared by thousands of others, and when you can stand out, you’ll start seeing firsthand, as discussed earlier, the HUGE difference between client classes.

What other differences have you seen/experienced between the clients with money and those without?

If you’re now operating in solid, higher-rate commercial writing territory, but didn’t used to, what/when was your “light bulb moment”?

And if you indeed went from low writing wages to the higher ones in our world, did you immediately notice the stark difference in client quality?

Have you moved out of the “$5-an-article” writing world, only to get stuck in the next (and still-low) level?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Speak Up and Grow Your Commercial Writing Business…

About a month and a half before my holiday trip to Ohio this past December to visit family, I Googled “Ohio Writers Groups,” and found one right in my kin’s neighborhood, Western Ohio Writers Association. Shot an email to the executive director of the group (Gery Deer, also a commercial freelancer), letting him know I’d be in the area for the holidays, and would he be interested in exploring the possibility of an event. Absolutely, he replied.

(Funny sidebar if you’ll allow me a vanity moment: In my initial email, per my custom, I didn’t assume he knew who I was, introducing myself as the author of The Well-Fed Writer, etc., etc. Apparently unnecessary. He wrote back saying his wife had recently bought him my book, and he’d been carrying it around with him like a bible since then. Okay. That saved some explaining time…;)

Anyway, in fits and starts, the thing came together. Gery even tapped his long-cultivated network of local contacts and got me five minutes on TV on Dayton’s News at Noon show (slow news week, apparently…). We had 30+ in seats come show time, and all went swimmingly. Sold a small pile of books, possible commercial writing coaching business down the line, and left some goodwill in my wake – always the goal.

Sure, it’s easier for an author of a book targeted to a specific audience to put on events like this (especially with such an involved local ally as I had in this case). But remember this: what we commercial writers do – help businesses boost their bottom line through more effective marketing and communications materials, amongst other things – is something every business potentially needs.

By extension, any business/civic organization made up of businesspeople would be a good target for a speaking offer (though don’t expect to be paid). Kiwanis, Rotary, local business associations, Chambers of Commerce, industry-specific associations, are all good candidates.

Once there, any number of topics could strike a compelling note with this crowd. Right off the top of my head (and depending, of course, on your areas of expertise…):

“The 7 Most Common Mistakes Companies Make with Their Marketing Materials…”

“Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Your Bottom Line (and a Few Ways It Won’t…)”

“The Powerfully Effective Marketing Tool You’re Probably Overlooking…” (about case studies, white papers, etc.)

“How to Do Your Own Writing for Your Business (and Why That May Not Be Wise…)”

I’m sure you could come up with a bunch of others with a little thought. All designed, of course, to showcase your knowledge of commercial writing, marketing communications, and marketing in general (and your readiness, willingness and ability to execute the aforementioned…).

Most importantly, make it Job #1 at any speaking gig to offer truly valuable content, NOT pick up business. Provide enough practical information that audience members could put your ideas in action without your help. And therein lies a seeming paradox: the more you give away, the more of your beans you spill, the more likely many will be to hire you.

By being generous, you accomplish three things – all good:

1) You showcase your expertise in implementing what you’re discussing

2) You get people thinking, “If he/she is willing to give away this much, they must know a whole lot more.” And…

3) You establish yourself as the “good guy” interested in making them more successful and profitable.

Get an okay in advance from your contact person to offer a brief “marketing minute” at the end of your talk, explaining what you do, letting people know you have business cards, and perhaps offering a free consultation, top-line business analysis, report, etc.

Truth, be known, while I’ve done a ton of speaking related to my books over the years, I’ve done very little of the business speaking described above. But a healthy number of commercial freelancers I know do, given its effectiveness as a lead-generation tool. If the idea calls to you, start with some of the ideas above – or brainstorm your own.

Put your storyteller hat on, breathing life into talks with anecdotes and success stories from your own experiences (or those of other writers – with attribution, of course). Or even made-up “picture-this” scenarios to get them thinking about their own businesses.

Just remember, as you put any talk together, always imagine yourself as a businessperson in that audience, and keep in mind what’s most important to them: profitability, competitive advantage, industry reputation, etc. Benefits, not features.

From what I’ve heard, neither the bar nor audience expectations in general are set particularly high for civic/business group luncheon speeches, so don’t imagine it’d take more than you’ve got to make your mark.

Shy? Introverted? Don’t let that stop you. I read a great piece of advice about public speaking once that went something like this: While having good nuts-‘n-bolts speaking techniques down is always a good thing, the two most important attributes of all good speakers is, 1) they’re experts on their subject, and 2) they love sharing it with others.

Some years back, I watched author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers), speak at a local Borders about Blink. Obviously shy and egghead-ish – wild hair and all – you could tell speaking wasn’t something natural for him. But, because he knew his subject intimately (AND used lots of great anecdotes), and was obviously passionate about sharing it, he had the standing-room-only crowd captivated for well over an hour. Food for thought…

Have you done this kind of speaking, and if so, how did it turn out?

What approaches/strategies have worked for you in the speaking arena?

What types of groups have you found most receptive?

If you haven’t done this kind of speaking, are you getting any ideas from all this?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Tried These “Under-the-Radar” Marketing Tactics for Your Writing Business? (Guest Post)

Got this great guest post from busy and talented commercial writer, Lori Widmer. As important as marketing is, it’s also something that so often gets turned into this big, gnarly, scary exercise that ends up reliably but unnecessarily freaking out commercial freelancers. NOT that it’s some piece ‘o cake, but, as Lori points out, it makes sense to examine – and adjust, if necessary – some of your common perceptions about marketing. Enjoy!

Marketing is not brain surgery.

There. I said it. Too many times we hear the word “marketing” and think of complicated, time-consuming plans that have to be worked to death in order to be effective. If that’s how you’re marketing, you’re probably doing it wrong.

That’s because I spend just a few hours a week marketing and I’m usually quite busy. My plan is jotted down, not charted out like an expedition map. The simpler the better, in my view. I market every day, busy or not. If you’re looking to simplify and get more impact from less work, try mixing a few of these ideas into your current strategy:

Use invoices as sales tools. Why just send an invoice when you can send an invoice that also announces sales, recent business successes, or newsletter sign-up information? These are clients who have already bought from you. Remind them why with short pieces (under 100 words) announcing your new product, your new sale, or your latest sales success.

Engage in stealth marketing. Some of my best marketing success has come from not marketing at all. It’s what I call stealth marketing, and it’s little more than showing up, befriending, helping, and maintaining the connection. In one case, a client told me I wasn’t very good at marketing. This was as she was revamping her business in order to fit my proposal into her current business model. She never realized it, but I had marketed to her without doing more than showing up, befriending, helping, and maintaining the relationship.

Close the circle. The sale isn’t over when the client buys. It’s over when you have a satisfied client. Go back to those clients who bought from you recently. Follow up on that sale by first asking if they’re satisfied. Then send the invoice. At invoice time, ask for feedback – how can you be of further assistance? Was the product to their satisfaction? Were they happy with the overall experience?

Get caught promoting clients. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are great places to promote clients when they’re not looking. Send out that press release link, give them a congratulatory shout-out, or Retweet their message with your own praise attached.

Promote a non-client. When was the last time you helped someone you knew would never be a client? It’s something so easy to do, and yet so few of us think it’s useful or even necessary. Refer someone to a non-client or former client when possible. I surprised a client I’d fired by sending customers his way. Why? Because I believed his business was a good fit for those customers. It didn’t matter that he and I couldn’t come to terms. What mattered was that I kept it business only – nothing personal.

Ask for the referral. You’ve just finished a great project with your client. You’ve done follow up to ensure satisfaction. Now is the time to ask. “Do you know of anyone else who might need my services?” Tap into your client’s network to expand your own. By asking for a referral, you’re able to spread the word about your business by asking for an introduction from an already satisfied client. It’s word-of-mouth marketing kicked up a notch.

Rethink your view of marketing. Use marketing to meet people, not sell to people. If you must, view it as networking, but remember the result isn’t about selling. It’s about meeting and connecting. Don’t go into every conversation thinking you have to sell. You don’t. You should be building the relationship. Sales come later.

How often do you market?

Have you used any of the above, and if so, can you share a story?

What are some of your most effective marketing methods?

Which of your marketing approaches do clients respond to most?

What is the toughest part of marketing for you?

Lori Widmer veteran freelance writer and editor who specializes in business writing and marketing strategies for writers. She is co-founder and co-moderator of the About Writing Squared Five Buck Forum for writers, and author of the upcoming book, Marketing 365: Daily Strategies for Small Businesses. She blogs for writers every day at Words on the Page

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.