Why Freelance Writer Job Ads Almost Always Pay Crap

Carol Tice

If you answer many online writing job ads off Craigslist or any of the big writer job boards, you’ve probably noticed something:

The pay ain’t so great.

$5 a blog post.

$100 to write a whole website.

$15 an article.

Day after day, it’s a steady stream of insulting wage offers.

Every once in a while you might find a company willing to pay a decent wage, but they’re rarer than hen’s teeth.

Ever ask yourself why that is?

To discover why nearly all posters on the mass job boards are low payers, you need to put yourself into the shoes of a prospective employer. Someone who needs to hire a writer.

Great markets for writers don’t need to put out mass job ads. Their jobs are so desirable, they know they can find the right writer without having to wade through hundreds of resumes. Having to scan that many resumes would be a huge waste of their time, so they hunt for a writer in more effective ways.

How great-paying markets hire a writer:

  • Ask writers they already know for referrals to other writers
  • Go to networking events looking for writers
  • Scan LinkedIn profiles for writers with the expertise they want (check out our LinkedIn headline tips so you get noticed!)
  • Tweet about their writer needs
  • Tap their professional network to get writer referrals
  • Pay for an ad on a specialized job board that will only be seen by a select audience
  • Do Google searches for writers in their market and then check out their writer sites

How do I know this? I’ve gotten great-paying clients in each of the above ways many times over the years.

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Now, consider why an employer might place a job ad on an online site where they know the ad will be widely recirculated and they will get an avalanche of responses.

Why low-paying markets use online job ads:

  • They can’t get referrals — they’re so nasty to work for, every past writer has quit
  • Pay is so small they need umpteen resumes to find a few willing writers
  • It’s their first time hiring a writer and they don’t know how to do it
  • They don’t know how to do a Google or LinkedIn search
  • Their startup business has a shaky business model they’re hoping to build on the backs of lots of gullible writers…
  • They don’t really know what they want in a writer, so they need to read resumes to try to figure it out
  • A request for “writing samples” from each applicant will give them all the content they need for free

I looked at online job ads daily for about 18 months at one point. I took quite a few gigs off these ads.

This is what I learned:

Nearly all online writing job posters on the big sites are dysfunctional.

There’s something about their gig that smells like yesterday’s milk.

Maybe it’ll be something you can tolerate. But all too often, it won’t be worth the trouble.

If there’s a bit of a silver lining, it’s that there are a few decent online writing job boards out there. In fact, our Freelance Writers Den has a direct referral program that exclusively posts high-paying opportunities from respected employers. FlexJobs is another one of the few high-quality job boards with opportunities for writers.

But by and large, most job sites out there are junk, and you’re far better off spending your time learning how to pitch quality clients that will pay you what you deserve.

Have you gotten good online writing jobs? Share what you did and how you did it in the comments below.

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  1. Carol Tice

    Hi all —

    I’m continuing to have technical problems…thanks to all for bearing with me and trying your best to get back on here — apparently everybody’s very interested in this topic as I’m seeing a huge traffic spike this morning. Trying to get it stable again!

  2. kymlee

    When I got back into freelancing a couple years ago, I was scanning job ads online and sending off lots of resumes. And guess what, not a single one turned into a job. I knew that I had the skill, the resume and the clips, so I knew something wasn’t right. Then I remembered what I read in Michelle Goodman’s Anti-9-to-5 Guide, the best way to get gigs is through referrals. And so I started reaching out to people I knew and/or had worked with before. Almost immediately, I landed two clients, one of which I am still on retainer with today. In fact, none of my gigs have come from applying to job board ads. Instead they have come from referrals and previous working relationships. I still scan the job boards on occasion to see what’s out there, but I don’t think I’ve sent out an application for any of those gigs in over a year.

    • Carol Tice

      Michelle is a friend of mine here in Seattle!

      And you’ve discovered the secret — get away from those ads, and you can begin to find good pay.

      I always say to people who do nothing but scan the ads…what would you do if there were no online job ads for a month?

      Now, do that. And you’ll get more and better-paying clients.

  3. doug_eike

    I am painfully aware of the problem you cite here. Thanks for your take on the reasons behind it.

  4. Oscar Halpert

    Someone out there is about to write 250 750-word articles (that’s about 20 column inches, folks) for absolute peanuts. Here’s an example from freelanced.com:

    “I am looking for writers who can provide me 200-750 word articles with high quality English. I will pay between $1.00 to $3.00 per article, no bargain. All those interested can bid for this. As for this project, you have to write 5 to 10 articles per day. You will need to meet deadlines. This is for serious bidders only. Happy Bidding!!!”

    Happy, indeed.

    • Carol Tice

      I always love the ones that go on and on about the “quality” they need for their $1 articles that they want you to crank out 10 of daily. I think we all know what the quality of that will really be.

      “No bargain” — think maybe they mean “no bargaining”? Or maybe the poster is acknowledging the obvious — that writing for him will be no deal for the writer.

      Maybe the writers are allowed to have the same “high quality English” the poster does… 🙂

      But I always think it’s unhealthy to spend time looking at these type of ads…wrote a post about it a while back, “The best thing writers can do about low-pay job ads.” Which is: ignore them, and put all your energy into getting real gigs!

      • Luana Spinetti

        I was offered that kind of pay for 5-6 articles a day, which is an amount I can’t even write due to university classes and exams. I would have ended up with yet another breakdown for what? Nothing… -_-

  5. Ashvini

    Hi Carol,
    Though I dont know about market for writers, but I am getting a lot of knowledge from your blog.

    Good writers bring their experience and convert them into great writing. To be paid like this is surely a horrible thing.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, nobody MAKES a writer take those low-pay gigs. It’s a choice.

  6. Ali's writer blog

    Hey Oscar,
    I am a freelance writer myself and believe me I have seen more terrible ‘offers’ than the one you have posted here.
    Hi, Carol
    I agree with you. I also wrote a similar ‘guest post’ to your “The best thing writers can do about low-pay job ads.” where I urged writers not to accept any job below a decent fixed rate. It is a disgrace to this esteemed profession! However, when you are at the very initial stage of your career, you might have to compromise a little.
    But those who pay PEANUTS get MONKEYS and are actually wasting a few kilobytes on their webserver 😉

  7. Tayo Fasuan

    I have never thought of it that way. I’ve applied for hundreds of freelance writing ads, with none even replying. I think the referral method is the best, but what if one has no one to refer to? What next?
    Are there networks that one could join to get referrals, maybe after writing some articles into the writers’ pool?
    Or maybe, the website of the individual can do the job.
    If the last one works, then kindly visit mine to help refer to potential clients. I am into science writing.

    • Carol Tice

      You don’t need referrals, Tayo — you need to prospect and proactively identify and pitch clients. All the best writing gigs are the ones that aren’t widely advertised. You have to turn them up, and tap into the pent-up demand for writing help that’s out there, in so many businesses.

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