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How to Avoid Low Paid Work – A Guide for Rookie Freelancers

When you’re first starting out as a newbie writer, the temptation to say yes to jobs that pay peanuts is high.

  • How else are you going to break into the writing profession?
  • How else are you going to build a portfolio?
  • How else are you going to actually get clients?

Shane McLendon has been there, done that – and it wasn’t pretty. (Working for minimum wage rarely is.) But Shane was determined to move his way up as fast as possible. 

Today he share the strategies he used to level up. Day by day. Article by article. Word by word. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Shane!

Rookies don’t always get treated the best.

Rookie football players get taped to goal posts in training camp. Rookies on a construction crew are used as gophers and the butt of most jokes.

Even writers aren’t immune to the rough treatment rookies get.

It’s hard out there when you’re first starting out. And most of the time the field you’re in doesn’t make it any easier.

Does the struggle to avoid low paid work sound familiar? How about clients asking you to work for free until they can decide if you’re any good?

The online writing world can be as nasty as George R. Martin is to his most beloved characters.

Doing what you love is awesome. Doing it for less than minimum wage is not what dreams are made of.

How to Change the Game in Your Favor

Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom.

There is good money to be made as a writer. If someone else has done it, then you can too.

(Just take a look at how many people are making a thriving income online. Each week we feature a different established freelancer in our Freelancer Spotlight series.)

It’s not rocket science either.

The writing biz is just like any other industry – you need to gain some experience before you can make the big bucks.

I.e. It’s difficult to make potential clients believe you’re worth $250 an article if you don’t have much of a portfolio.

As a rookie writer, one of your top goals should be to create a healthy showcase of your work.

Even though building up your portfolio is tough when the sales funnel is bone dry, it’s not impossible.”

And if you have any reservations about putting on your marketing hat, you best set your sights on a 342 calorie per day diet. The number one cause of the Artist Starvation illness is the refusal to market yourself.

If you put the same effort into reaching out to potential clients as you do in your actual writing, I promise your sales funnel will begin to fill up.

Ready to Kickstart YOUR
Freelance Writing Biz?
Grab two of our most popular workSheets and get started TODAY!

Here is what I did to get work when I was a newbie writer.

1. Research what Potential Clients ACTUALLY Want

I once read an article about a businessman who loved selling golf clubs. He said that if the demand for his clubs stopped, his love for that product would end. He would find out what his market wanted and would offer that new fad instead.

Contrary to urban legend, ice has only been sold to an Eskimo on one occasion.”

Here’s how I went about finding what writing services were in demand during my rookie campaign:

  • I browsed forums related to my niches in order to find pain points that could be solved with my skill set and expertise.
  • I spent time on eBay and Etsy to find product descriptions that were less than inspiring, and I offered to spice them up. Just remember to stay in your lane. My knowledge wouldn’t help sell many candles, but I could whip up some mean copy for outdoor living items.
  • I simply asked questions in Google’s search bar like, “Why is no one responding to my landscaping flyer (or Facebook posts)?” If the results were plentiful, I knew an opportunity existed to help lots of folks with their marketing.

(Gina’s tip: Lisa Kimrey shared a similar research approach recently. Solid research helped her write a guest post that went viral.)

2. Pitch, Rinse, Repeat

Pitch your services directly in emails to websites that fit your niche. Gina’s cold pitching template can make even a rookie pitcher look like a pro.

Click here to download Gina’s Ultimate Pitching Blueprint.

Rinse the bad taste of rejection out of your mouth. Repeat the process. Improve your pitch, and tweak it perfectly to the person on the other end of your email. A lot of other freelance writers have given sound pitching advice, so I’ll just direct you to their words once you’re done here.

How to avoid low paid work3. Charge What You’re Worth

Once your marketing hat fits better, I have no doubt your workload will pick up.

Now you can up your rates. There are volumes of information on what “real writers” should charge, so I won’t wade too far into those waters. I will say that $50 an hour is a good goal for most new freelancers. In addition, you can also consider transitioning from an hourly rate to a retainer rate.

I hate the idea of writing for free. I don’t like to tell folks what to do, but… don’t do it!

If a client wants free work, then they are saying your writing has no value.

That’s a terrible foundation for a business relationship. Once you have a few paying clients, it won’t take you long to figure out which ones you want to keep for the long haul.

You can begin raising your rates and not be afraid of losing one or two low paying clients along the way. You want to keep only clients who appreciate what you bring to the table and can actually afford your writing services.

Make sure to consider how much freedom your client offers. If she gives you free reign over what you produce, then you have to factor that in, even if she can’t afford the highest rates.

Writing without restrictions for 10-15 cents per word on a topic you love could actually be more productive than projects that pay five times as much for topics you have to research deeply.

4. Take on Side Gigs

Mundane tasks like mowing lawns or detailing cars pays by the project, not by the hour, so you can often make as much in ten hours as you can in a 40 hour office grind.

If the thought of lowering yourself to cutting grass bothers you, just remember best selling author Dan Miller used to paint houses while building his writing career. I ran a lawn service for over twelve years.

I know first hand that simple services can generate $300 – $500 per day. Those twelve years of landscaping also made me a perfect fit to write for one client’s website that now hits the top spot on Google with several keywords.

(Gina’s tip: I started my freelance career as a writer, but a few months in I added a virtual assistance side gig. I’m still doing VA work for three clients even to this day.)

5. Keep at It

I was a rookie once.

I did plenty of freelance writing that wouldn’t be worth my time now. Yet it gave me the experience I needed.

Now I’m more selective about my workload. I also charge more. And I don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to complete projects that don’t really interest me.

One of my first customers came from a content mill. While I did get the chance to write about the NFL, my favorite topic, the pay was pitiful. It took about three mundane, keyword-stuffed articles and some harsh looks from my wife for me to drop that client.

About one month after dropping the low paying gig, I started writing NFL articles for another client. After I quickly proved myself, the pay went up quite a bit. Not to mention this client gave me free reign to write as much as I wished for his site.

And I had full control over the story angles! I still do work for this individual. I make steady income with him, and it has led to some very cool connections.

There is no perfect path to a successful writing career. You have to make your own way. Just never forget the financial aspect.”

We all have to eat. None of us would work a 9-5 job that didn’t pay us what we were worth.

Writing is no different.

It will turn into a hobby if you don’t create the cash flow you need. Your goal as a writer is to level up.

Day by day.

Article by article.

Word by word.

As you get better, the pay will naturally increase. I’m all for that natural evolution – just make sure to take every action possible to speed up the process.

That involves some side hustling as a rookie. That means separating the best clients from the average ones.

Most of all, it means keeping your marketing hat right beside your keyboard. The more demand you create, the more you’ll be able to charge.

No Shame

I’d love to hear how you all kept your writing business afloat in the early days. Hopefully, you didn’t write 1,200 words about NFL backup quarterbacks for $5 like this idiot tapping away on his keyboard.

But most likely you did do something that didn’t thrill you in order to stay in the game. And since there are probably a few rookie writers out there reading today (maybe on the verge of giving up), we’d appreciate you sharing your stories in the comment section.

Ready to Kickstart YOUR
Freelance Writing Biz?
Grab two of our most popular workSheets and get started TODAY!

Shane McLendonShane McLendon covers everything NFL and UFC related. He’s a self proclaimed football addict and a daily fantasy sports expert… at losing. Shane also does copywriting for a few small businesses when he’s not getting lost on a hike. You can keep in touch with Shane on Twitter.

Gina Horkey

Gina Horkey


Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook and loves helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.

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