Is This Inappropriate Emotion Killing Your Freelance Writing Rates?

Carol Tice

The Inappropriate Emotion That Kills Your Freelance Writing Rates. Feel like you’re stuck with low-paying clients that will never pay higher freelance writing rates? This post is for you. Enjoy! —Carol.

Want to make money from home as a freelance writer? I’ve got a question for you today, writers. How do you feel about your freelance writing rates and the clients you work with?

I ask because today’s topic is just that — the feelings we have for our clients. Because business isn’t all dollars and cents. It’s also relationships. Our clients are people, too.

Some of the feelings we have for them are appropriate and useful feelings, such as enjoying a client’s easygoing personality or the feeling of satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a complex writing assignment.

But some feelings freelance writers have are sadly misplaced, and really hurt your ability to earn higher freelance writing rates. Check out what a couple of writers said to me recently, and I think you’ll start to see what I mean:

“My client is great and has given me a rave review on LinkedIn. I’ve worked with him for years, and continue to out of loyalty, even though the pay isn’t the best.”–Shari

“I’ve been writing for a ‘content mill’ and I do enjoy the work. It’s varied, the people who run it are genuinely lovely, and the man in charge has been happy to give me advice, and permission to email examples of work to clients, even though we publish without our own names on the work.

“Of course the pay is very low. I earn a penny a word (in the UK). But I have some loyalty to them, because they’ve really helped me out.

“I’m a qualified librarian (my degree is in English linguistics and literature, and my postgrad librarianship qualification is in information management). I can write well. Any suggestions?”-April

Yes, April, I have suggestions. Let’s start with this:

Don’t be misled

As you can see, some freelance writers are highly susceptible to the problem of misplaced loyalty.

We fall in love with our clients and stick with them, even though if they are radically underpaying us. When we should run for the hills instead.

We say they’re lovely people, even as they compensate us so little we couldn’t buy a bag of groceries with a week’s pay.

Let me drop the scales from your eyes, folks: While you are doggedly sticking with these clients out of “loyalty,” your client has no such similar feelings for you.

Try raising your freelance writing rates to an appropriate professional freelance wage, and you’ll see just how loyal your low-paying clients really are.

Then you’ll see this has been a one-way relationship all along. It’s you, being used by a crummy client. It’s a dysfunctional relationship like an abusive marriage.

It will only end when you decide to quit. Because the client has a great deal — a wonderful writer they’re getting for a song!

If they find another writer who will work for less, they’ll drop you in a minute. Make no mistake.

Why we cling

There’s one other point to consider about why writers hang onto to crummy clients.

Often, it’s because getting rid of them would mean admitting that you’re just spinning your wheels here. You’re filling your time with work that’s not paying your bills, and often isn’t even building your portfolio.

Also, that you need to be out marketing yourself to find better clients. If you really hate marketing, you tell yourself loyalty is the reason you can’t do any right now.

After all, loyalty is such a wonderful quality, right? You wouldn’t fault yourself for being loyal.

But you should, when it’s aimed in the wrong direction — one that could cost you your dream of earning a living as a freelance writer.

Where your loyalty should lie

Anytime you catch yourself experiencing feelings of loyalty to a low-paying client — wishing you had better clients but feeling you should stick with this loser just because they’re already a client, and you have all this history together…stop.

Take a step back.

And ask yourself this important question: Why are you in business?

I’d bet it’s to pay your bills, or to feed your family. The people in your life who depend on you — they are the people who deserve your loyalty.

Your business that helps those people is what you should be loyal to. If you don’t care about it and make it grow, nobody else will.

You need to act in the best interest of your business, before you run out of money and have to take a day job. That is priority one.

Otherwise, you’re not a business, you’re a charity. And soon you might be a charity case, too.

How to move on

Don’t delude yourself that nice people who underpay you are still good clients. They’re not. They  are sucking the life out of your business and putting your freelance writing business at risk of failure.

I know…but they’re so nice! Maybe when you chat on Skype they are. But really, they’re screwing you.

Freelance writing rates exercise to drop bad clients

If you need to, here’s an exercise that may help: Put up a poster next to your computer with your low-paying client’s face and a little talk balloon that says, “I don’t pay you fairly, and I don’t care about you.”

Then remember that every minute you spend on a low-paying freelance writing client is a minute you’re not out finding the clients who will pay you what you need and deserve for your hard work.

Are misplaced loyalties holding back your writing career? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.

What kind of freelance writer are you? (New Writer, Mid-Career Writer, Just Thinking About Writing?) Tell me and get a free custom report. Get Your Report.


  1. GM

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for sharing.

    I am paid well, but I am sick and tired of the 9 to 5 paradigm, corporate politics, disrespect and crappy treatment. I had enough. It’s time for a change.

    My husband and I are moving to the country because he wants to farm. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we have no mortgage and very little debt.

    My question is: How do I find clients while living in the country? Is is possible to network strictly online? Or, do I have to network in person? The nearest town is only 15000, and the commute to the city is over an hour. In winter, the commute can be 1.5 hours or longer.

    Next question: I’m thinking of writing an e-book. I don’t know where to start. Can you recommend some resources that can provide reliable information on how to market my book?

    Thank you.

  2. Sara

    Thanks Carol for this excellent post!
    I just had to comment here because last night I dropped my lowest paying client–who was always very nice to me!–and this morning I feel absolutely fantastic and freer than I have felt in months!! What a relief… That constant stress of putting in too much work for no reward (it was definitely not a portfolio booster) is gone, and I suddenly have so much more mindspace and actual free time to query better markets where my experience and background will be taken seriously and paid accordingly. I highly recommend this to all other freelance writers out there–KNOW YOUR WORTH and cut off those clients who don’t!

    • Carol Tice

      Glad this helped you, Sara!

      It’s amazing how writers get into scenarios with virtually no upside — pays poorly, work isn’t building portfolio, isn’t referring any good prospects — yet somehow we get the idea they’re a ‘good’ client.

    • Linda H

      I agree. I’ve raised my prices a little for my resume writing and have gotten away from the lower paying clients. It’s made a huge difference in my attitude toward completing the projects and how I feel about myself. I no longer worry when someone balks at a price because I realize they don’t value my work or me. Plus, it frees up time for other writing. I’m making serious changes to build my business and marketing. Focusing on better markets that pay higher fees is truly motivational. Way to go Sara.

  3. Lisa

    Unfortunately, I am sitting at the bottom of what sounds like a big pyramid. I am now considered a ‘dedicated writer’ but still part of a team, and we work for several different clients. I get the impression that my client is a great guy, who is also being horrifically underpaid. Is there a way to ask for a raise in this case in a way that makes sense? I get the impression that he’s paying me (literally) all that he can.
    I’m only making 5 a post, though. And as pointed out, that’s So.Not.Cool.
    I do feel loyalty, and I like this client as a person. I don’t want him to lose his bad clients, by asking for a raise for me, but honestly, I’m working fulltime for 40 dollars a week, and I just can’t.
    I’m also frightened that if I just drop this (my only) client, I won’t find another.

    • Carol Tice

      Lisa, step one is to find another client. Then, you drop this one. He probably doesn’t have the ability to pay you more.

      And the problem with clients like this is, you need to be paid 10x more than they’re paying you. At a minimum. I have yet to see a client suddenly have the insight they should pay a multiple of what they’re paying now. They might decide to pay $7 or $10…but it will never be professional wages.

      But at the risk of repeating myself…stop feeling loyal to this gig! He’s not really your friend here. If you have a personal friendship, keep that — he may turn up somewhere else where he can pay real wages.

  4. Nadia McDonald

    I totally agree with the comments made. In my experience, there are people who take advantage, particularly of inexperienced writers trying to establish themselves. Loyalty is good, but it does not pay the bills or put food on the table.

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