By Yohana Petrovic
Has the siren call of the flexibility and autonomy of a freelancer’s life gotten to you? If it has, and if you have already ventured into those rough but exciting waters that make up a freelancer’s journey, you now know how easy it is to underbid yourself just so that you can get a contract – just so that you can make that next small paycheck.
More often than not this feels like the only way. After all, the market is competitive. There are probably ten other people out there that look just as attractive to potential clients/employers on paper as you do. If you are just now looking into becoming a freelance writer you might think that the best way to break into the market and establish a reputation for yourself is by underbidding everyone else so that you can get a contract, or win over a client.
Please don't sell yourself short! Just don't do it! It really isn't worth it. When you try to sell your services for less than what everyone else is selling theirs for, you are just shooting yourself in the foot. How, you might ask? After all, you could get the contract, right? Isn't that all you want? No. Absolutely not. You do want to get a contract (or a client), yes, but you only want to get a client (or contract, or project) that will be beneficial for you.
Let's look at a couple of examples of how freelancers are paid:
You have just decided to become a freelance writer.
Your first step was to update your LinkedIn profile. Then you set up a profile on one of the online freelancing platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer. Now you are contract and client hunting. The first contract you apply for you get. Yes! Everything seems to be falling into place. Of course, you got the contract only because you underbid everyone else, even though you are overqualified and could have gotten more if you asked for it.
One day into the contract and you realize that you got in over your head. You have to make $400 a week minimum just to get by, and this contract will let you make that. (It is a two-week long contract to write online product descriptions, and the total pay is $1,500!)
But in order to meet your project deadline and therefore get paid, you have to work 20 hours a day, every day. This means you get 4 hours to squeeze all of your eating, showering, sleeping (and any other activities you may need to do) in to. No time for friends, for family, for grocery shopping, housecleaning, or even for walking the dog. After all, you don't get lunch breaks, and every one of those 20 hours you have to work during the day you must spend frantically typing at your computer. Quite frankly, you are miserable. At the end of the two weeks, you wonder how you can ever make this work as a career.
The next contract that you get shocks you.
You had only bid on it for fun – you didn't expect to actually get it. You only applied for it because the contract sounded fun and the client sounded reasonable. It is work that you are perfectly qualified and suited for. Not only that, you priced your services at what you really thought they were worth when you sent in your proposal. Now you get to work eight hours a day, take your weekends off (or at least mostly off), spend time with your family, eat and sleep, and work with a client who is personable and who has reasonable expectations. You are earning more than $400 a week, and you are loving both your work and your life.
Now, which scenario sounds the most appealing? The latter, right? Of course!
Let's discover now how you can be fairly paid as a freelancer:
1. Don’t Undervalue Yourself.
What do you think you are worth? No, really – think about it. Is your time, your effort, your life worth $4 an hour, or $8-$15 an hour? What do you want to be paid? What salary do you want to make? Really think about it. Compare yourself with other writers. You might not know how much another writer is making right now, but you can certainly judge for yourself just how well the other writer is writing. Look at yourself with an unbiased eye. Then price yourself out.
2. Know That You Have to Start Somewhere.
No matter how much value you have, no matter how hard you work, and how much schooling and training you have, you have to start somewhere. For your first few projects, you will probably have to allow yourself to be quite underpaid unless you have the most impressive portfolio on the planet. After all, clients are looking for someone with “experience.” Even if you have tons of experience from writing on your own and from college, that is not the type of experience that clients are looking for. (A client doesn’t want to see some treatise on modern literature when he asks for an example. He wants to see work that is similar to what he wants you to write.)
So, if you do not have relevant work experience, you will have to go out and get some. This means, at first, that you might have to get paid less so that, in the very near future, you can get paid a lot more. However, once you have that valuable work experience (that could take only a couple weeks, depending on how fast you write!) never undersell yourself! And if you already have lots of work experience, well, then don’t undervalue yourself a second longer!
3. Remember That You are Your Own Marketing Team.
It might go against your modesty as a writer, or it might fit right into your personality and game plan, but you have to advertise yourself. No one else is going to.
The Huffington Post says that to market and brand yourself well you must “understand who you are and what key skills you want to emphasize at this point in time.” So, what do you want to be known and recognized for? What makes you a wonderful and special writer? What will make someone hire you over someone else? Find that out and take advantage of your uniqueness, and you will be able to outbid and overbid most everyone else.
4. Have Excellent and Relevant Examples on Hand and Ready to Go.
Here you are, slogging through your first few days of work as you try to build a portfolio. (Now, remember, that you absolutely must get permission from your client to include the work you wrote for them in your portfolio! Check out this website for some great tips to help you build a portfolio of published work.) And you wonder how you can build up your portfolio even faster. Guess what? You can also work on building your portfolio outside of freelance contracts. After all, to build your portfolio, all you have to do is write!
So, write. Even though you won’t get paid for it, create writing that is in the area you wish to break into. Also, keep a blog. Even though you are “self-publishing” this writing, it is still out there. This helps validate it in people’s minds.
Remember to never undervalue yourself. Build up your portfolio and then charge people for what your work, your time, your creativity, and your talent are really worth.
What tips do you have for being paid fairly as a freelance writer? Drop us a note below, we'd love to hear from you!
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Yohana Petrovic is a writer and blogger. She has 10 years of experience in educating and now she is a proofreader. You can reach her on Twitter: @YohanaPetrovic.