7 Simple Tips to Grow Your Online Freelance Writing Income

Carol Tice

Are you wondering where the good-paying online writing gigs are hiding?

7 Simple Tips to Grow Your Online Freelance Writing Income. Makealivingwriting.com

I get this question from a lot of freelance writers. When I ask them what they’re doing, the answer is usually the same. They’re answering a lot of online job ads, and not doing much else.

Here are a few quick tips on how you can break the cycle of low online pay:

  1. Stop answering Craigslist ads that ask for free samples. Luke, it’s a trap!
  2. Stop answering ads that say you can write about any topic you want. These never pay well. Never ever.
  3. Find better ads. I like the kind where the employer has to pay to place the ad — say, like on LinkedIn. Or some professional association job boards.
  4. Look beyond ads. The vast majority of available work is never advertised. Start proactively marketing your writing business and tapping the submerged part of the iceberg.
  5. Get off Elance. And Guru, and all the rest. While the occasional gold nugget can be found in here, in general bidding sites put you in a race to the bottom. Unless you enjoy being the low-price leader, you want to get out of here.
  6. Understand that most revenue-sharing offers are a pipe dream. Have you got time to drive millions of eyeballs to your pages? If not, you will earn pennies. And waste oodles of your precious, precious time.
  7. Learn how to identify good-paying clients. Solid companies and publications that hire writers at professional rates are all around you. My starter tip: Look for companies that sell a real product or service in the real, offline world — ideally, ones that have been around since before the Internet.


  1. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    A few other good strategies (mostly related to your #4):

    Look for job postings (from REAL companies) that are seeking full time copywriters, and then pitch them as a freelancer (even just to fill the ‘gap’ until someone is hired permanently).

    Hunt down the VP Marketing reps from really large companies that are scaling fast (you can find those companies by reading press releases about fast-growing start-ups or following twitter hashtags along those lines) and ask if you can help extend their internal marketing resources.

    Ask existing clients for referrals. Even if you have done work for only one or two companies, if they are pleased with your writing, ask if they would mind initiating some introductions to other folks they know in the industry.

    Great post Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      Terrific points, Ruth! I’ve done very well pitching companies with full-time job openings — I find they usually assign freelance while they’re hiring, and that hire can take 6 mos-1 year easily.

      I think many writers think big companies have marketing departments, so they never use freelancers. But it’s just not true — sometimes their in-house people are overwhelmed, or they don’t have the expertise for the project, or the company wants outside eyes and a fresh perspective.

  2. Cindy

    Great tips! I am in a frustrating place…still on eLance, b/c I am desperate for grocery money until I can get other things up and going. Got underbid today by someone…looked at her profile…for the SAME client…she started off at $19 an article…moved next to $15 an article…is now at $13 an article! wt? I thought one could INCREASE rates as one goes!

    I am so ready to go work at Trader Joe’s to fund my writing career. Seriously–this is so demeaning and humilating, these bidding sites. (not to mention DS before, which is now, more or less, dead in the water)

    So…Trader Joe’s? Or Elance? Until I get things ‘up and going?’

    • Carol Tice

      I vote for Trader Joe’s.

      I think there’s a self-esteem problem that happens for writers who keep taking extremely low-paid work, that’s very negative. Working a side job that’s legit and allows you the breathing room to pitch and get quality assignments to me can be a better way to go.

      I once interviewed the owner of a shoe boutique, who told me the first couple years in her business were very rough. When she complained to her dad and asked for money to keep it going, he told her to get a night job. She worked as a bar-back for a couple of years at night, and did the store in the day. She was willing to do anything to keep her business alive. I also knew a fiction writer who pumped gas for years before his books hit it big. When I was a songwriter, I was also a legal secretary. Sometimes, you need a side job just to eat, while you pursue your dream.

      The problem with mills and Elance is you end up working around the clock, and you’re still never scraping together enough money to be able to wait 2 weeks while a good-paying client writes a check. You can never escape.

      Writers have to do what makes sense for you to build a pro career. Realize that Elance and other race-to-the-bottom places aren’t a good place to hang out. This is actually exactly what we’ll be talking about tomorrow in session one of my bootcamp!

      When you keep finding insulting pay from looking on mass bidding sites or Craigslist ads, it’s a sign that you are swimming in the wrong pool. You need to get out and try another pool. If you need grocery money in the meanwhile, have a side job.

  3. Samie

    I love these. I especially agree with #5.

    I’ve been trying to find work on elance, and though I still plan on applying for a few jobs here and there on the site, I’ve decided that it’s not a great market. I’ve lost some gigs that I would have done fabulously at for people in India (or another lower income country) that’s willing to do articles for $5. I still advise my friends who are ‘looking to get started’ to check out elance, mostly because it does actually teach some helpful things.

    • Carol Tice

      You’re losing out to people in India willing to write for $5, and yet you recommend Elance to your friends? Guess I don’t follow.

      • Erin

        I learned about Elance pretty quickly when I bid on projects with my professional rate (sometimes even lower) only to have my bid instantly rejected along with nasty comments i.e. “Bid is way too high.” or “Bid doesn’t seem at all realistic.”

        Basically, I get the impression that most buyers on those sites are either Internet marketers looking for $5 keyword-stuffed “articles” or small business with next to no budget whatsoever and/or no clue about working with professional writers. I gave up after about a month, but left my profile on the site in the hopes that the odd legitimate company would perhaps see it and contact me directly.

        • Carol Tice

          I love that strategy! I call it “lurk, don’t work.”

          • Cindy

            Well, no Trader Joe’s *yet*…I got a writing gig on Elance today that landed me $50 for an hour and a half of work. (That would take more than 5 hours ringing up groceries at TJs…and the choice to wear a flowered shirt or not as I write is mine.)

            So, money for groceries, for now.

            Still…I am ruthlessly searching for a PT office gig to fund my freelance writing dream…but it has to be more than $9 an hour. That’s what I was making at DS, after all!

      • Samie

        Basically, if they’re still in college and thinking about ‘trying it out’, I tell them to check out elance. It helped me figure out how to write a decent proposal to get decent paying gigs. I’ve only worked a couple of jobs because I won’t work for less than I make at my retail job, but if you chose projects you like, you can use it as a marketing strategy.

        Since the clients can review you, it’s an easy way to get into it and get referrals. For my friends who don’t have time to market anything, I tell them to go on there, apply to jobs they like at a rate they want, and write a good proposal. If they aren’t desperate for money and just wanting to try it out, and if they stick to their guns, they can start building a presence without having to spend as much of their time or money to get it.

        So it’s basically I tell my full-time college friends to check it out since they might not stick to it and they will likely not have the time to market. I still tell them about the other options, but they usually like the idea of elance better…

        • Carol Tice

          Yep, and all the bottom-feeding clients on Elance are counting on that.

          • Samie

            Point taken, though I’m not sure where else to send my friends who are looking into freelancing (besides the book store). Most of them aren’t even sure if they want to do writing or graphic design.

            They basically see me doing it and think it’s a great way to make easy money fast, despite my arguments that it isn’t easy, or necessarily fast…

          • Cindy

            I think that’s a good strategy for your friends, Samie, as long as they stay away from the bottom-feeders. I landed another gig on Elance today doing data entry for the next 4 weeks at $11 an hour…no, it’s not $50 an hour, but it pays the bills. And it beats bagging groceries at TJ’s for $9 an hour, and also buys me some time to find a job-job in the meanwhile. The key is to be selective–*very* selective–and say no to anything that’s not going to move you forward toward your dreams (even if it’s just to buy the catfood and toilet paper…which is a necessary component to dream-building). The key is to ignore the $2 articles, and look for the people willing to pay you a decent, respectable wage. I’ve been lucky enough (and stubborn enough) to find them.

          • Carol Tice

            I’m not sure it does, as TJ’s would pay your employment tax, healthcare and other expenses. When you figure those in, getting a couple bucks more as a freelancer really means earning much less.

          • Cindy

            These are good points and I am certainly not arguing for using Elance long-term, or even exclusively once a freelancer has set up outside clients. I am certainly not arguing against Trader Joe’s. I was becoming frustrated earlier in the week looking for gigs on Elance (after some time away from the site), but since then I’ve landed and completed a gig that paid $33 an hour and today I won one that will pay $32 for an hour’s work. Certainly not $75, or even $50, but not bad. In addition, I found a 3 week data-entry gig on there that only pays $11 an hour, but I’m okay with that–it’s a low-skill position and I can do it at home. Meaning I can answer calls from potential clients. It also buys me some time and gives me flexiblity while searching for a long-term part-time gig that will fund my writing dreams. For what it’s worth, I was doing this by working as a proofreader in a corporate postion until the gig fell through three weeks sooner than I expected two weeks ago, leaving me high and dry without cash coming in. I was getting paid $16.60 an hour after the temp place that got me that position took their share and that came down to $13 an hour once the IRS took their share. No health insurance. My point is: there are more than just ‘occasional gold nuggets’ on Elance and it’s a good place to go for stop-gap income…I’m learning to scroll right past the bottom feeders…and seek out the others (usually in European countries, oddly enough) who are willing to pay a decent amount. It gives me hope during a time when there is no money coming in *now*, and it’s putting some groceries in my cupboards while I play the waiting game that comes with making cold calls and writing queries and putting in applications for part-time jobs and going to interviews. I’m just grateful to have money for food, at this point. I’m finding if you work Elance right, it can provide this. It’s not like DS where they say ‘$16, take it or leave it.’ On Elance, you can actually find some legit, good-paying gigs, particularly in copywriting and editing.

          • Carol Tice

            Come back tomorrow — I’m doing a blog post about this whole issue of hourly-rate freelance vs full-time job.

            I do agree that you can find some decent gigs on Elance if you look hard and are picky — had a guest post about that on here a while back.

  4. Rosalia

    Excellent tips! I liked all your tips and feel that they all are helpful. Most important is to get off Elance. I had been there for three months but could secure jobs that would be pay me as less as dollar one per hour. I felt exploited and stopped using it. Thanks for other amazing tips!

  5. John

    Writing is my passion and I am working online for the last four years. I have realized that for good writing pay you need to hone your skills and then follow your last tip. Finding well paying clients is very crucial if you want a worthy pay. Companies that are looking for quality can also pay you well while there are companies that want quality at a cheaper rate.

  6. Sharon S.

    Your list give me something to think about. It open my eyes in some truth about the matter in hand. I think I start identifying my paying customer before going into it.

  7. Pinar Tarhan

    Hi Carol,

    You know some of the good advice is internalized and it becomes common sense after a while. Like getting off Elance and other such sites (quit them almost as soon as I started), avoiding ads that ask for free samples, avoiding revenue sharing job ads and such. But for some reason, even when I think I figured it out all out, it turns out there is some stuff I still have to work on internalizing- such as looking beyond the ads (I do, but not on a specific schedule) and actively looking for well-paying clients who didn’t get into the business with the start of internet.

    Thanks again for a great checklist!

  8. Norbert Chinor

    I am happy to learn from all these practical experiences. but sites like elance can stiil lead one to something better.


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