4 Habits Keeping You Locked in Low-paying Freelance Work

What’s on the iPod: Different Drum by The Stone Poneys w/ Linda Ronstadt

For the first time in a while, I’m glad to see a weekend behind me. Last week, my dad ended up hospitalized (he’s home now). He has serious lung issues — asbestos and emphysema — and he was having trouble breathing. He’s on oxygen, but for some reason it wasn’t helping. So my mother called the ambulance.

She’d have driven him herself, but she’s nursing a stress fracture in her back from a fall, not to mention two discs overlapping in her spine. My mother is tough — she walked for four months on a broken pelvis, partly out of stubbornness, partly because she didn’t want to hassle with Canadian health care (and wait for her American insurer to pay the claim when she got home).

But this, this has her leveled. She’s about to turn 80. My dad is 81. I’m five hours away. Let’s just say worry was my weekend.

So I concentrated on other things, such as the holiday party we attended (I diverted my attention with cooking). I was able to read (and I’m reading a best seller that, frankly, sucks) and clean the house a little.

I read some LinkedIn forums, as well. It’s amazing just how many would-be writers (or more disturbing, working writers) think that any job is better than no job. Let me quote what I learned decades ago when I was in real estate training:

If you start selling low-priced houses, you’ll always be selling low-priced houses.

In reality, it was more like “you’ll become known as the agent who sells low-priced houses.” Either way, in real estate, that makes sense. People whose homes were not the highest valued in town didn’t hang out with people whose houses were worth a lot more. Referrals kept you going laterally (if not lower) on the food chain. That matters to a real estate salesperson, whose commission is directly related to the price buyers pay for the house.

It makes sense in the freelance writing world, too. We don’t earn commissions, but we do earn a fee. That fee is directly related to the client’s ability to pay. Yes, we’ve all taken low-paying stuff at the beginning, and sometimes just to get by, but know this — chasing the low-hanging fruit nets you the same kind of client.

Here are a few habits that could be holding you back:

You take whatever comes. That’s not necessarily awful in the beginning, but if you’ve ever continued to work with that client who won’t pay nearly enough, you’re holding yourself back. Take that experience you’ve just earned and go find a client who needs that same experience and who’s willing to pay more for it. If you’re needing to take the low-paying work, set an end date in your head, and look at the job as a stepping stone — take it if the work you’re doing is needed by higher-paying clients.

You divulge too quickly what you’ve been paid. Personally, I have never worked with any client who has asked what I’ve been paid by previous clients. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what agreement you had with another client. I myself would ask why they need to know that — no reason ever why you have to answer those types of questions, and their answer would reveal quite a bit. But if their answer is acceptable, such as “I simply don’t know how to price this and I need to understand what others are paying”, then I would be inclined to answer like so: “That’s confidential information protected by a written agreement.”

You doubt your ability to do better. It’s a risk to stick your neck out, but guess what? Anyone who has ever succeeded sat where you are right now and made the decision to go for it. Give yourself what I call the “What the hell” moment — try, knowing you can always come back to the beginning if it doesn’t work (Pssst…you won’t be back).

You’re too focused on the present. It’s easy to get tangled up in “I have to earn now” thinking. Getting a freelance writing career off the ground is rough, especially if it’s your only source of income. But are you also focusing on building relationships elsewhere? Always be thinking of connections now that could be future sources of work or referrals. Social media makes it ridiculously easy to befriend people who work for (or are) your ideal clients.

Writers, how did you progress your career?
How long did it take you?
What would you do differently if you could?

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