It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I get:
“Where are the good-paying clients? I don’t understand where they’re hiding.”
So today, I’m going to tell you. And they’re not exactly hiding, either. It’s that most freelance writers don’t target many of the best-paying client types in their marketing.
Most of these gigs aren’t as sexy as a cover feature for a glossy newsstand magazine, which is where many freelancers aim their queries. Or writers are stuck writing for mills or small businesses, neither of which will ever grow into a high-paying situation. But if you can get your head around the idea of taking challenging assignments that offer less glory but great paychecks, there are many possibilities.
Despite what you hear on many writers’ chat forums, there are still many, many publications and companies that pay professional rates. Why is that? Why don’t they just put their article needs on a bidding site and get them done for $20 apiece by some guy in Bangladesh?
Maybe they would if they could, but they can’t. That’s because the articles, blogs, case studies, and Web content they need written require a real pro — usually, someone with a specialized set of skills or knowledge.
The skills you need to write for top payers
What are those skills? Some of the assignments I find pay best require an ability to:
- do high-quality writing on a rush basis
- intelligently conduct interviews, especially with celebrities or the CEOs of major corporations
- explain complicated stuff — variable annuities with guarantees, say, or the advantages of a particular file-sharing collaboration platform
- meet regular deadlines on an ongoing basis
- read and quickly grasp the gist of long, complex documents such as lawsuit filings or public-company disclosure documents
- execute specialized writing forms — write a compelling white paper, a textbook, a software manual, or index a book, for instance.
- demonstrate you can be counted on to deliver exceptionally compelling work, usually through a portfolio of impressive clips and/or writing awards won
Types of big-money clients
Now that you understand some of the skills that help elevate your writing to a higher pay grade, let me describe some of the less-well-known client types that tend to pay well:
- National niche publications. These serve a select — usually well-heeled — audience. One I wrote for last year is Venture Capital Journal.
- Custom publications. I hooked up with a company in this niche last fall. This particular one produces special sections that run in daily papers, but others create anniversary books for corporations, magazines for hospitals, and so on. My client gives me the sources and the articles are easy-breezy. I even interviewed a TV star for one.
- Big-company magazines and newsletters. I’m thrilled to have written for two different Fortune 500 companies’ e-newsletters in the past year. One e-news went to customers, while the other was for employees. One of them insisted on paying me $2 a word after I bid $1, because that’s just how they roll. I wrote a post a while back about all the opportunities in this niche.
- Corporate websites. Once you get up around $1 billion in sales, company Web sites can run to hundreds of pages and require nonstop additions, upgrades and revisions. It’s like painting a battleship — you’re never done. I wrote for one company at this level for more than two years and had billings nearly every month. The big company I’m doing online articles for now pays $2 a word.
- Major nonprofits. Many writers are acquainted with the low-pay or even volunteer work involved in writing brochures or Web copy for tiny nonprofits. But rest assured major United Way chapters, big relief agencies such as World Vision and big foundations such as the Ford or Bill & Melinda Gates pay professional rates. Think hospitals here, too — many have nonprofit status.
- Big, specialized organizations. These include national associations, professional organizations, unions. Anywhere where dues are paid, there’s a war chest of money for marketing. This is a niche few writers even consider.
- Trade magazines. The need for freelancers is great, as trades are considered low glamor and you have to learn a lot about things like refrigeration units in convenience stores or the training professional anesthetists need. Trade rates are usually moderate to high, and if you can write about their niche, they may well use you regularly.
- Venture-capital funded startups. Some small companies pay very well, and in my experience they are usually the ones sitting on a pot of recently scored investor money. I’ve had VC-backed startups pay $100 an hour, just like the big boys do.