Writers Worth: Helping Clients Understand Worth

Since Paula Hendrickson is the pushy type (why I’m doing a month of Writers Worth and not just a day), I’m able to be pushy right back and get a post out of her.

Actually, that’s not true. Paula volunteers it. Right there is why I adore her — she’s not afraid to push me out of my comfort zone and take on some of the work, as well.

This idea of worth is an interesting one. Is it value? Yes and no. Is it something we deserve? Absolutely not. It’s something we earn and embrace. Still, it’s a fine line to walk, the idea of worthy being different than deserving. Hell, even the definition of worthy in some cases includes the word deserving. But I like to stick with the Merriam-Webster definition, which is “having worth or value.”

To me, that’s what worth is. It’s about understanding that you come to this job holding a certain amount of skill, and that clients see value in that. And it’s what Paula is about to teach us — how to help clients see the value. Preach it, sister.

Educating Others

by Paula Hendrickson

Each May we remind one another about how much value we as writers bring our clients.  We’re smart. We engage readers. We anticipate client needs and offer viable solutions. As freelancers, we’re a bargain even when we charge $100+ per hour because we’re paid only for the work we actually do, not simply because we show up eight hours a day and squeeze in work between coffee breaks and needless meetings.

We get it.  We’re worthy of the professional rates we charge.

Good clients know it, too. Unfortunately, too many companies seeking writers via job boards haven’t yet caught on.

I’ve pretty much stopped checking job boards—except to find new candidates for Lori’s “This Job Not That Job” feature (which seem to get easier to find each passing month)—because most jobs require tons of experience in exchange for sub-professional pay.

While I usually ignore extremely low-paying job listings, this month I’ll be taking action.

How? Easy: I plan to contact the owners of any writing-related websites I stumble upon that list jobs offering sub-professional rates. Websites or organizations geared to professional writers should not be posting extremely low-paying gigs, and I will respectfully request they stop sharing job listings clearly designed to exploit writers.

I hope you’ll join me.

My goal is to encourage people running writing-centric websites to set minimum standards for the job listings they’ll share. I won’t tell them what those minimum hourly or per-word rates should be, but if it were up to me no job ads offering less-than-minimum-wage rates would ever be published on a reputable site.

The next time you see a writers’ group or writing-related website promoting job listings offering pennies per word or demanding well-researched articles for $25 a pop, don’t waste your time replying to the would-be client (exploiting writers is probably part of their business plan, anyway). Instead, contact the people running the website or organization where you saw the ad.

  • Ask how they choose or screen job listings.
  • Suggest they implement minimum requirements for future listings.
  • Explain how posting bad job offers damages their credibility.
  • Tell them you’ll give them three months (or six months, or even six weeks if you prefer) to stop enabling the exploitation of writers or you will unsubscribe from their newsletter, cease visiting their website, and/or unfollow them on social media.

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us take the time to point out how poorly these low-paying job listings reflect on the credibility of the websites promoting them, those site owners will become more selective in the job listings they choose to share.

Thankfully some writing websites already vet job listings, like Jenn Mattern’s All Freelance Writing (https://allfreelancewriting.com/freelance-writing-jobs/), which even notes if jobs pay a Pro, Semi-Pro, or Low rate.

We can’t expect all writing websites to go that far, but perhaps this Writers Worth Month we can help make a couple more site owners think twice before including exploitative offers in their job listings.

Paula Hendrickson specializes in covering the television industry, but also enjoys writing about advertising and marketing, small businesses, food, fiber arts, pets, education…and everything in between. She can be reached via her website, HendricksonWrites.com or on Twitter at @P_Hendrickson.

Writers, have you ever contacted a job poster to discuss low rates? What was the reaction of the poster?
What advice can you give writers just starting out on how to determine what value to place on their skills?

About the author




  • lwidmer May 8, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Paula, thanks again for the guest post. I appreciate your words of wisdom.

    And I love this approach — if you can’t get the job posters to stop asking for the world and offering pennies, you can sure reach out to the writer-facing resources that promote this crap. Amen.

    • Paula Hendrickson May 8, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Like you said. I can be pushy! I only subscribe to a handful of places that have job listings, so I haven’t seen any worth complaining about yet.

      One was close, due to a “generous” (their word) 8-cents/word rate, but they also offered a bonus. While it sounds low and not a job for you or me, the base rate plus the bonus might be acceptable for a beginning writer. (It might be good candidate for This Job Not That Job.)

  • Cathy Miller May 8, 2017 at 10:16 am

    I’d like to think, Paula, that all the campaigns against the content mills had some effect. At least Google eventually stopped filling their search results with them. When I first started freelancing, I didn’t know what content mills were. I did apply to Demand Studio but when I saw what they were about, I walked away without ever using them. Even with my lack of freelance business know-how, I recognized a bad deal. And trust me. In those days, I did more than my fair share of undervaluing my worth.

    That’s why your campaign and Lori’s to encourage writers to understand their value is so important. Your business starts and ends with you.

    • Paula Hendrickson May 8, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      You’re right, Cathy. People are more aware of content mills these days. But it seems there’s a new wave of independent “content marketers” (in quotes because they don’t get that the only way content marketing can really work, long term, is with informative, well-written content) trying to fill their empty web pages as cheaply as possible.

  • Anne Wayman May 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Paula and Lori, here’s where I play devil’s advocate. Although I totally believe every writer should be paid well, back when the content mills were just getting started, I started lamenting their poor pay. I got my comeuppance when a woman who lived in the mid west commented that the $2 or $3 she made every time she wrote something was a huge help to her family.

    I was shocked. I realized I had no idea at all what any writer’s worth was to them in terms of dollars earned. Although I did suggest to her that if she was consistently earning $2-3 an article she could probably earn more, I also realized it isn’t up to me. I can and do encourage writers to charge what they’re worth, and to examine their assumption about that worth regularly. In my experience most under charge and for me it’s been a learning curve.

    So I don’t and won’t do as you request – although a survey of how boards choose would be interesting.


    • Paula Hendrickson May 8, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      That’s a good point, Anne, and it’s precisely why I decided against suggesting any minimum standards when contacting the site owners.

      Years ago I remember one site owner defended including some lower-rate jobs on her listings (“low” being $10/hour or maybe a penny per word) by reminding us that costs of living can vary greatly from one community to another, and less experienced writers need to start somewhere. If I recall, she wouldn’t include jobs with hourly rates that were less than the national minimum wage.

      The only site owners who will be hearing from me will be the ones who include listings that are clearly exploitative.

      • lwidmer May 8, 2017 at 2:02 pm

        Anne, excellent point. Though I still have to ask why she didn’t think she could make more with her skills… that’s where too many newer writers fall into the content mill trap. They don’t trust in their own abilities enough to go beyond the low-paying stuff. It’s cyclical, and while it may be helping their financial situation in the short term, I think they avoid looking at freelancing in the long term. Contentment helps dig the rut they eventually find themselves stuck in.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    What a great idea, Paula 🙂

    • Paula Hendrickson May 8, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks Sharon. Of course, I haven’t seen any blatant posts this week to follow up on. (I don’t dig for them, either. I’m just talking about ones that cross my path.)

  • Jenn Mattern May 8, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks for mentioning the AFW job board Paula.

    I do accept very low-paying gigs there, but as you say, they’re labeled as such. Visitors can see the pay group before ever clicking on an ad, so they can quickly skim for ones in their target rate range. I’ll also be adding customized displays soon allowing people to filter the job board to view categories and rate ranges they want while weeding the rest out.

    I also don’t add any during curation. When they’re posted it’s only if a company pays to advertise it there. The way I see it is if they want to pay to be labeled in such a way, I’m fine with that because I hope on some level it shames them by showing them just how far outside the professional norm they are. Similarly, I’ll put listings in that I curate that don’t list pay rates, but I won’t allow advertisers to post those. That’s because the ads have to give me reason to think they probably cater to mid-level to pro writers rather than being volunteer gigs or on par with content mills.

    My board used to have strict minimum rates. I was the first in the freelance writing industry to do that — something that’s since been copied and dropped in numerous places.

    I stopped doing that because any rate chosen was arbitrary. And I remembered writers trying to “unionize” to demand minimum professional rates at the time — only their own idea of a professional rate was insultingly low. It would have told clients that pros that me, who had been around for a while and had expert knowledge in a specialty area, were basically screwing them over because some writer with an English degree decided $100 per blog post was actually what they should be playing. Those writers meant well, but they knew so little about freelance marketing that they themselves were clueless about what actual professional rates looked like. They were limited based on what they’d seen publicly advertised.

    Between seeing that unfold and not being able to support it, and hearing from quite a few international writers in my community who were quite happy to accept $25 per quick blog post (I think my minimum was $50 at the time for beginners), I dropped the minimum. It wasn’t doing my readers justice, and they were adults capable of deciding for themselves. So I focused more on giving them the info they needed (rate ranges) while making it clear where those rates fall in the grand scheme of things. Basically, helping them make more educated decisions without those arbitrary limits.

    The other issue as a job board owner is a simple, but unfortunate, one. Most of the best freelance writing gigs are not publicly advertised. And they will never be. Now, I curate listings in addition to accepting them directly. But I feel for job board owners where the primary purpose is an income source for the site. No amount of asking them to post higher-paying gigs is going to increase the number of those gigs available to post. Wise clients don’t post job ads. They ask for referrals. They find top contractors via search. Or they tap internal networks. They don’t need to advertise, and they don’t have the time to be bombarded with applications and pitches that result from that, many of which come from unqualified writers. The more they pay, the worse this is for them. (One of my clients — a small business — advertised on just my board once and told me he received hundreds of applications and was too overwhelmed to want to do that again. And that’s a small board.)

    So while I agree it would be great to see better paying gigs on job boards, that’s just a bit of background from someone who runs one. Things are never as easy as we’d like them to be, that’s for sure. 🙂

    • Paula Hendrickson May 8, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Interesting POV, Jenn. I wish other people who ran writing-related websites were even half as conscientious as you when it comes to posting job listings.

    • lwidmer May 11, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Thank you for weighing in, Jenn. It’s a really tough line to walk, and I agree with you that any minimum you place on what to post would be too arbitrary.

      What makes it hard is that some writers will accept lower rates (hence the reason for this entire month). It could be because in their region, that low rate would work quite well. But I see that as a BS excuse or someone who’s uninformed. We work nationally, not regionally (or not very often). The idea that someone in Council Bluffs, Iowa can’t demand the same rates as someone in Manhattan, on the surface, seems logical. But they can if they’re working with companies that are used to that rate.

      Good points you bring up, and an interesting twist to the discussion.