Are you afraid to ask for serious money for your freelance writing work? You shouldn’t be. The number of businesses that understand how valuable great writing is has been growing, and there’s a lot of opportunity out there.
How do I know? As of mid-year 2021, I’d booked $80,000 of freelance work, in just three big-ticket projects. These wins came out of my goal of focusing on getting a fresh book-ghostwriting credit, in order to start attracting more longform work.
If you’d like to put the “free” back in freelance and live a lifestyle that includes a retirement account and nice vacations, read on. Here’s my 7-step guide on how to get hired as a freelance writer and find the clients where you can bid high and get the gig:
1. Believe you deserve to get hired
Let’s begin with the most important item: the right mindset. No one names a big fee unless they have a deep inner belief that they’re entitled to be well-paid. In my years coaching writers, I’ve found many writers have a few basic mindset problems that keep them bidding low:
a) No idea what professional rates are.
If you’ve been hanging around a content mill, you might think $500 to write a book is great. In fact, professional rates to ghostwrite a full-length book start at $35,000 and go up from there. And I do mean UP—I recently saw a $75,000 book offer in one of my networks.
Meanwhile, I meet many writers who’ve accepted book ghostwriting offers in the four-figure range. Sometimes, these books are on arcane topics or require dozens of interviews! Still, they think tiny money is all writers get. They’re shocked when I tell them what they should have been paid.
b) The low self-esteem trap.
Insecurity leads some freelance writers to believe that while other writers might earn high rates for X project, they personally aren’t worthy of that rate. The excuses for why they are undeserving of a living wage are many—they’re too new, too old and rusty, new to the niche, you name it.
When I name a typical rate for a case study or white paper, I’m frequently asked what a newbie should charge instead. The answer is: not a whole heck of a lot less. Remember, if you charge by the project–like you should–instead of by the word, page, or hour, your client doesn’t pay more if you take a bit longer.
c) The poverty mentality.
The final leg in the stool of low pay is the popular belief that freelance writers simply don’t deserve to earn a good living. Because hey, doing what you love, right? It seems like too much, to both get to work from home doing something you find fairly easy and make bank.
Check out the writer chat on Reddit or a content-mill forum, and you’ll see comments like:
“I would feel like a robber charging more than $100. No article deserves more, it’s not that hard!”
It’s a well-known fact that writers starve. Except it’s actually a myth. But many writers still assume they must sacrifice material comforts for the chance to write full time.
Check the statements you make about writing rates, and see if any of the above resonates. If so, time for a change of attitude.
I know what you’re thinking:
“Carol, my clients are nothing like this. Their first question is about how little they can pay, and they just want the cheapest writer.”
That’s because they’re the wrong kind of writing client. Usually, the kind of you found on a job board somewhere, or on Upwork. To get the kind of clients who jump at the chance to pay you big money, you’ll have to find clients in new ways.
2. Build inbound leads
Without exception, the writers I know who successfully charge high rates get their clients two ways:
a) Network referrals, from a large set of connections
b) Strong online presence that positions them as a quality provider
That presence might be a writer website, or just a strong LinkedIn profile. But well-paid writers are easily findable online and make a great impression with their sites.
It’s also nearly universal that these writers have chosen niches to focus on, and talk them up on those sites. Since that is how clients search for us—by industry–they connect with more good prospects.
Why is it so important to have clients coming to you, instead of the other way around? Two reasons.
First, you want many leads, not few. Strong inbound marketing means you have more leads and choices. It also means you can play those prospects off each other to get higher rates.
You are the opposite of desperate–you’re busy and in-demand. Clients will pull the trigger for serious money when you tell them the next contract you sign means you’re fully booked and you won’t be available to do their project. That’s exactly what happened with the other two book clients I signed (and then whoops, turned out I actually had room in my schedule for both).
The second thing? Inbound leads have already either heard good things about you from a referral, or have checked you out and like what they saw. Or both.
They’re already half-sold on hiring you, before you even talk. “We’re excited you’re able to meet with us about our book project,” one of my book leads told me, by way of an introduction. Wow!
3. Qualify value clients
When you hear from a prospect, do you hop on a call right away, or simply accept the job?
Jumping at every nibble is the road to low pay. Highly paid writers learn about their prospects–ideally, gathering some key information before deciding to meet.
When I look at a prospect, I want to know:
- How’d you find me?
- What type of business are you?
- How long has the business been around?
- How successful is your company? (Ideally, I’d like revenue numbers, but usually gauge size by looking at the number of employees linked on their company LinkedIn page.)
- Have they used freelance writers before?
- What project do they need written, and why?
This set of questions is very intentional, and each one is important.
If they can’t identify a project, for instance, they’re not really ready to hire. They want a writer to get on a meet-and-greet (or two, or three) and give them some free consulting on what they should prioritize. No thanks. If you decide to talk to one of these, warn them it’s one meeting to define a project, and beyond there you charge for consults.
Likewise, if the business has two employees, they are probably not big or successful enough to pay professional freelance writing rates.
If they’ve never used a freelance writer before, they will likely get sticker shock when they learn what pro rates are. I’ll have to do a lot of educating of this client, both on rates and on freelance project management. For me, it’s rarely worth it.
Small companies rarely understand our value or are able to pay what we’re worth. Screen your prospects and don’t waste time with people who want to commission words by the metric yard, for as cheap as they can. Clients like that are commodity clients.
You are looking for value clients, who want bespoke content that will help elevate their brand and make them stand out. Value clients understand the power of well-crafted content. You don’t have to explain content marketing to them.
4. Learn the project’s worth
Assuming I liked the answers to the questions above, it’s time to take a first client meeting. In that meeting, I try to discover the value of the project. The hope is that the client can imagine huge payoffs from your writing.
Why has this project risen to the top of their priority stack? What are they hoping this project will do for their business?
Could this book I’m about to write for you transform your business into the one every major news outlet quotes on your industry, bringing higher visibility to your brand and driving millions more in sales? Or possibly, is it an audition piece for a CEO that will help land that next seven-figure job? Could that white paper drive thousands of new leads you could then sell your products or services?
The bigger their vision of what the content project can do for their business or career, the more readily they will pay full rip. They’ll even thank you for the privilege of working with you, while you cash in big. Not joking.
After all, if that client is going to make $1 million off what you create, $30,000 is a small investment to get that payoff. That’s how businesses think about copywriting. And you should, too.
Even at top rates, what we ask is pin money, when you consider the value to the business. Keeping this in mind can help you screw up the courage to bid high.
5. Ask about budget
This is a question that scares the poop out of a lot of writers. They don’t want to ask clients what they’ve got to spend on their writing job.
But you should. Why?
Often, the client will be a bit surprised by this question, and blurt out a number that’s higher than the one you were about to quote them. You can earn thousands more, just by asking this one question.
This is what happened with the first of my three projects. I was about to quote them $15,000 for the short-ish book they wanted rewritten, because I mostly just wanted a fresh recommendation and referral source to drive more book clients my way.
But I asked what their budget was first. The content manager said, “We’ve got about $20,000.” They sounded a bit embarrassed, like they knew that was low-ish.
I pretended to think about it for a minute and then said, “I think I can make that work.” Boom–$5,000 more in my pocket.
Of course, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, the client will refuse to tell you, or admit that they honestly have no idea what to offer.
In that case, you’ll have to develop a bid. Whatever you do, don’t do that all by your lonesome.
6. Ask your freelance writer network
If you can’t get a budget figure from your prospect, the next step is critical. You need a strong network of successful freelance writers you can bounce your bid proposal off.
The place I do this is in the Slack group of my Freelance Writers Den 2X Income Accelerator coaching grads mastermind. This network of over 200 writers who’ve been through my mid-career writers’ double-your-income training has loads of $100,000-and-up earners.
Whatever I tell them I’m bidding, they’re going to say, “Not enough!” (If you’re a newbie, you can network with more experienced writers in the regular Freelance Writers Den community.)
You need to be able to lay out your project specs to other high earners and hear what they say. It will usually make you bid more. It’s incredibly encouraging to hear multiple writers say they charge more.
Here’s an excerpt from a 2X conversation chain that happened this week that illustrates what I’m talking about:
Grad #1: Question on pricing! I’m chatting with a medical company who needs some patient information materials rewritten. Right now, they’re way too academic and dense, but the information is good so no further research is needed. Overall, they’re looking for about 2,500 words rewritten, plus a one-page summary to go along with the document. Does $1300USD sound about right for that?
Grad #2: I think this is $1 a word territory. Patient materials are important. Theirs are failing. They will use the new ones you write a long time. $2000 at a minimum. Bet others here will say even more…
Grad #3: My two cents – the summary that you’ll be writing from scratch will be very important – the shorter it is, the better and harder it is. I’d probably factor in $2 a word for that piece then up to $3,000 for the rewriting. Again taking their 2,500 words and making them more approachable will probably result in a much lower word count. That’s harder than writing long, so length isn’t a good value parameter. The importance of these materials is high. I agree that $2,000 is a minimum just for the rewriting. If the base document is not awful, I’d say $2750 to $3,000. So if you estimate 500 words for the summary (which is probably on the long side), you get something like $4,000. Let us know how it goes.
Grad #4 (who checks in less often): wow I just priced something similar WAY under that. kicking myself now…
Grad #1: Ok, thank you so much. God, I was about to way underprice this lol.
This is the difference a strong writer network makes in your life: thousands more dollars in your pocket every year, after you get a perspective on what successful writers charge.
I definitely had a chat with my group before I quoted my other two book projects. See what happened in the next point below.
7. Make them feel special
Here’s a pitch angle that truly works like magic: Present your fat bid as a one-time deal you’re only willing to offer this one particular client, because you absolutely love their project. Indicate that you would charge anyone else even more.
I was thinking of giving myself a raise from $20,000 on the first book project to $25,000…but then I asked my network what to bid. And upped it.
Here’s what I said to my two book clients:
“You may know that professional book ghostwriting rates begin around $30,000-$35,000 and go up from there, in some cases quite a lot farther up.
“But right now, I see my time freeing up as my other book contract wraps up, and would really like to get onto another project. I think this project is a perfect fit for me, I love X industry and have written a lot on it. So I’m staying at the bottom of that range for now, which I’m especially able to do because your book is already well-outlined. So I’m at $30,000.”
They both accepted within a day. That’s $10,000 more income than I was thinking, before my network pulled me up.
Feel free to use other reasons in your high-bid pitches–maybe you want to get into their industry niche or break into doing this type of project.
Also pour on the compliments, as I did above about their book outlines. Make them feel you get them, you see they’re exceptionally smart. Flattery may well get you somewhere.
The overall point is to let them know this is a unique moment in your career meeting a unique situation they have, where you’re willing to make a deal.
Did I mention that both of these prospects were inbound leads that arrived in the same week? Yep. So I was able to throw shade at both that they might not be able to get me if they didn’t commit quickly. Gee, not sure I want to start two books at once, so sign up now and make sure you’re the one who’s got a writer and your project moves forward.
Tip for closing fast: When you turn in your bid, give it an expiration date. Your price is good for a week, then you could change your mind and raise it higher. That helps create a bit of urgency to pull the trigger.
Keep moving up
There’s one other way to end up with high rates, but it often works more slowly than the system above. What is it?
Simply raise your rates for every new client. Keep raising the bar. Over time, you’ll find yourself earning a good living.
Of course, if you start very low–like, Upwork and content-mill type low–it could take a looong time for rates to get to an appropriate range. So keep that in mind, and start building that strong writer network who will expose you to real-world info on what full-time, professional writers charge.
What writers do is valuable, and is only getting more valuable with the rise of content marketing.
The great news is that more and more marketers are coming to understand the value of a good writer. As a result, their resistance to paying full freight is waning, I’ve found.
Those of us who write for companies, well–we help those companies make more money. And you should, too.
What’s the top issue that keeps you from earning more as a freelance writer? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Carol Tice is the founder of Make a Living Writing and the Freelance Writers Den learning and support community. Learn more about her freelancing at caroltice.com.