4 Ways to Stop Being a Whiny Freelance Writer

I’m about to piss off a few people. And I’m okay with that.

That’s because I’m here to tell you if you’re still cruising job boards for work, if you’re still arguing with clients over your rates, if you’re still taking a verbal beating over simple edits from over-demanding client, if you’re still thinking that 50 cents a word would be a windfall for you, you’re doing it wrong.

Completely wrong.

Peter Bowerman’s post this week talks about how low-cost writers are impacting (or not) the rest of us. It’s a great conversation — give it a read, and give Peter your comment.

There were a few comments, including the initial one that Peter turned into his post, that said outright that low-cost writers were harming their own writing businesses. They’re getting flak from clients who want to undercut their rate and get more work for less money.

It’s really happening to them, that’s a fact. It’s also a bullshit problem. That’s also a fact.

Here’s why:

The problem isn’t low-cost writers. The problem is the clients with which you choose to work.

Let’s take an example:

Mark, a freelance writer, is hired by Doe Enterprises, a small marketing firm that provides SEO content to their clients. 

Doe Enterprises posted an ad online for writers. Mark answered the call. The ad didn’t state rates, so Mark and Doe Enterprises negotiated. The rate they settled on – $50 an article.

At first, they were committed to the cost. Then someone within Doe saw their profit margin. Despite making money, it wasn’t enough to make the owners happy. They’d also seen a writers’ forum in which writers were begging to take jobs at $4 an article. Since they were reselling articles to their clients at $200 apiece, they saw a chance to make more money.

So they pushed back on Mark. “We don’t really see why you should be charging $50 an article. Since it’s so easy for you, it should be taking less time. Therefore, we’ll be paying $4 per article from now on.”

What would you do?

You’d drop them on their asses — that’s what you’d do. Or that’s what you should do.

News flash — that’s what you should be doing with any client that demands you work for a fraction of your going rate.

But that would leave you without clients, wouldn’t it? So how do you fix that?


Raise your rates. Seriously, if you have a few years of experience, you shouldn’t even be in front of the low-paying loser crowd. Raise those rates and don’t look back — you’re not going that way, anyway.

Start marketing directly to clients. It takes a little research (10 minutes of your life), a well-crafted message, and the name of the person in the company you want to reach out to. That’s active marketing, and it works. My business is built on that kind of marketing. Forget job boards — that’s the short road to the same loop of hell you’re already in. Instead, put some muscle behind finding real clients.

Know your bottom line. Clients will want to negotiate, including high-level ones. Your rate is yours to decide, and your bottom line — that minimum amount you’ll accept — is yours, too. Know what it is before you enter any negotiation. Then stick to it.

Stop whining and get moving. Yes, you have it rough. Your freelance life is so damned complicated, freelancing is dead…Get down off that cross, honey — we need the wood. Spend today thinking a different way. Today, you can get better work. Today, there’s no competition from low-cost writers. Today, you’re the one this client needs. Got it? Good. Tomorrow, repeat.

Writers, do you believe that low-cost writers impact your rates? Has it ever happened? If so, how did you handle it?

How long were you stuck in the low-paying cycle? What made you change your approach?

About the author




  • Sharon Hurley Hall September 16, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Great post, Lori – writers always have the choice not to work with certain people. It may be scary the first time you do it, but I endorse what you’ve said. Turning down low paid work and raising my rates paid off for me.

    • lwidmer September 16, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Thanks, Sharon. It’s funny how it works, isn’t it? We get locked into the mindset of those around us. If they’re not willing to pay a fair rate, we think no one else is, either.

  • Paula Hendrickson September 16, 2016 at 11:42 am

    I love the timing. I had no idea you’d just written this when I emailed you last night about how annoying it is to see somewhat reputable job boards posting “offers” paying $12/hour or 10-cents/word. Why on earth would people or organizations claiming to help freelance writers even post listings that pay so little?

    One mistake I’ve made when potential clients ask my rate? Being honest. I should have double it, then “settled” for what I really wanted. I detest gamesmanship like that.

  • Jake Poinier September 19, 2016 at 11:39 am

    “CRAP JOBS” is officially my favorite tag evah! I don’t believe that low-cost freelancers have any impact on my business, for precisely the reasons you’ve enumerated above: Those aren’t clients who’d be willing to pay my rates anyway.

    • lwidmer September 19, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      It’s one of my favorite tags too, Jake. 😉