3 Basic Reasons Many Freelance Writers Are Broke

Carol Tice

3 Reasons Many Freelance Writers Are Broke. Makealivingwriting.comBy Carol Tice

Three years into the economic downturn, gripes about pay are still common among freelance writers. But there are 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.

To earn well, you’ve got look constantly 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 an important freelancing rule: 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 lately I’m dizzy.

I’ll write about a business topic for a Canadian conglomerate, then a U.S. magazine, then a corporate Web site, then a U.K.-based business blog. 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? Up your marketing game and do your writing assignments more efficiently. Then, your income is bound to rise.

This post is part of the e-course How to Move Up and Earn More over on The Freelance Writer’s Den. To read and view the other 25 posts and multimedia presentations in this course, join the Den.



  1. Suresh Khanal

    What a sweet idea – Every assignment should be the beginning of beautiful friendship. Truly kudos for that.

    So, marketing is equally required for writers too! What about the idea of outsourcing this idea of marketing so that you can concentrate writing?

    • Carol Tice

      I don’t really know any writers who are successfully outsourcing their marketing. Certainly you might outsource parts of it — if you’re doing a direct-mail campaign you’re going to hire a printer, for instance.

      But most of it is about making that personal connection and having people get to know YOU…so hard to outsource that!

  2. Rob F.

    I’m working on the start of my freelancing career right now, and in the midst of writing posts for my web log and building a resume, it’s easy to forget that the best way to get work is to present myself to prospective employees and ask, “Hire me?”

    Thanks also for the advice on not letting my bridges rot behind me, Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      Well, building your website and all is good stuff too…but this is why some writers are fans of cold calling.

      You don’t overthink it…you just pick up the phone and say, “Hi, I’m a freelance writer specializing in (your niche industry). Do you work with freelance writers? Could I send you some samples?”

  3. Ali

    Hi Carol,
    I have a question please, how do you manage a 24-hour day to: write a lot; stay in social media, market yourself, eat, sleep… ?

    • Carol Tice

      Sleep? What’s that?

      Seriously, I fortunately don’t need a whole lot. 6 1/2 hours is typical for me, then maybe a 15-minute nap early afternoon recharges me.

      The other secret is TV. Give it up. It’s boring. I watch maybe 1-2 hours a week. Amazing how much time that frees up when you kick the TV habit.

      This whole question of how you fit it all in I’m finding is one of the hottest topics in the Den.

      In general, if you don’t have enough work, you should be spending the majority of your time on marketing. Once you have more, you start to spend less time marketing (but keep finding better clients to raise your rates!).

      Currently my inbound marketing is bringing me more clients than I need, so I’m not having to do a lot of active marketing. But I’ve had times where I spent a LOT of time on it.

  4. Harleena Singh

    Those are sure great tips Carol, and I think I hardly pay much attention to reselling story ideas, as the clients differ each time- though it sure would be a time saver if they needed the same kind of content.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Carol Tice

      I was always a lazy reseller…until just the past few years. Then I lined up some clients who didn’t compete directly but had similar needs and started writing three versions of every topic I did. Huge timesaver and money-maker.

      Look proactively for clients who need similar material. If you have one magazine, one might be a business, another a trade publication…or maybe one’s in a different country (I’ve resold business-finance stuff in Canada myself). Maybe they all need to tell readers something fairly similar. I have topics I’ve done 5-6 times now, exact same information but for a slightly different audience.

  5. Linda Hamilton


    This advice is so true. Since becoming a Denizen and connecting with your weekly calls, I’ve started more marketing and each time it gets easier. I’m constantly thinking of possible clients and slowly getting beyond the occasional nervousness to reach out even more. I am increasing my marketing, but I’m building those relationships too.

    One of the key successes to being a resume writer is developing the relationship with the client during an initial connection. That truly makes the sale, and when those clients are happy they send referrals and return for additional writing, especially after getting hired in a management position. This is also happening within a networking group to which I belong. Each meeting everyone is reminded that building the relationship is key to successful networking because people will buy from those they know and trust. Plus, as one person gets to know you their positive feedback about you echoes throughout the group so others want to meet you, which creates even stronger ties.

    Just like repeat business from a connection, multiple sales of articles is also key. I recall being taught what rights I should sell for an article so I can successfully resell it multiple times to other publishers. Exactly what you mention here.

    As always, great advise about marketing, writing and sales. If writers follow your advice, they will indeed find success and laugh all the way to the bank. Thanks for the post.

    • Carol Tice

      So glad you’re using the materials in the Den and growing your business!

  6. John Soares

    Great advice. Reselling can also be applied to selling new ideas to the same client. I’ve had one client who’s given me many thousands of dollars of work every year since 1997.

    • Carol Tice

      You can also sometimes resell the SAME idea to the SAME magazine! If it hasn’t been written in about 3 years, it could be time to write it again.

      I wrote virtually the exact same story 3 times for Entrepreneur magazine at one point. Some magazines have a kind of rotating subscription base, where people tend to subscribe for a year or two and then move on, so every few years they do the same evergreen topics over again. I also just resold a topic Entrepreneur.com had done 2 years ago for online again.

  7. LaQueshia Jeffries


    I found you website on Twitter (via @HopeClark) and it has been a godsend.

    The piece on Lame Excuses Poor Writers Make was just what I needed to get me moving in the right direction.

    I do have a question about determining your market. Say I’ve written for parenting mags and educational blogs, what do I say my “market” is? Instructional pieces?

    Thanks for all the info. You’re amazing :o)

    • Carol Tice

      Well thanks to Hope! And *blushing*.

      Sounds like you write about parenting and education. Those are your niches.

      You might write for any number of market types on these topics — you might write white papers for businesses that sell e-courses, or magazine articles, or white papers about education trends for nonprofits focused on parenting or education…the possibilities are endless. This is exactly the kind of stuff we get into in the Blast-Off Class…how to pair up your experience and interests with good-paying markets.

  8. Mike Carlson

    Not terribly related, but this is why I don’t read blogs that have comments disabled. The conversation that follows a quality post is often as beneficial as the post itself.

    I guess I have to go market now ::stomps feet::

    • Carol Tice

      Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg is always telling me I leave another blog post’s worth of info on the comments and I should cut it out — but I love the conversations on this blog.

      Sorry about the marketing…just gotta happen.

  9. Sophie

    It would have never crossed my mind to re-sell. I thought that when I wrote an article for a big company for example, they became the owner of that article. Do you re-write?

    • Carol Tice

      You resell the IDEA, not the article. Topics, and even headlines, are not copyrightable, and you can sell them over and over. You give them a little different slant, add one different expert and take another one out, rewrite, reorganize a bit and presto — a new article. But it tends to take less than half the time of starting from scratch.

  10. Michael

    Absolutely, Everything we do online comes down to building strong relationships that lasts. It’s not easy getting those clients in the first place, why lose them to another freelancer when you can convert them to repeated clients.

    We don’t have to assume the work is over, business setup never ends. Someone you worked for today maybe needing a bigger project tomorrow. One thing though I picked up from this awesome post is that we should handle and deliver each gig on time, and quality.

    Once this is done, earning more is just a stone-throw.
    God bless you

  11. Ayo Oyedotun

    Great post Carol.

    The reason I can’t stop reading your posts is that, you practice what you preach. We actually need to take freelancing as a serious business instead of keeping one leg in and the other out.

    Thank you Carol.

  12. Jane

    The concept of recycling content is great. Of course, it has to be done properly for sure. Otherwise the articles might sound as if they came out of a spinner. Otherwise, it is a great way to get more exposure and money in very less time and effort.


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