Recently, a writer in a Facebook group for creative entrepreneurs shared something that ruffled my feathers. A client wanted her to write “easy” 500-word blog posts for $25 each; she didn’t have time and wondered if anyone was interested in the project.
After 20 years as a professional writer and 11 owning my own freelance business, I’ve witnessed a slow but steady decline in pay rates for my profession. Landing assignments for $1/word (an average rate just 15 years ago) is now nearly impossible.
Writing is no longer valued, and the Internet is to blame.
Anyone can start a blog and call themselves a writer. It doesn’t matter if they have education or experience, or whether they understand grammar, ethics, or storytelling. In the last decade, these self-proclaimed writers have been competing for freelance writing gigs alongside professionals like myself.
When you’ve been writing for fun and for free, $25 for a blog post may sound like a big payday. When you make your living as a writer, however, $25 is a slap in the face.
If your “easy” blog post takes an hour to write, that’s $25/hour, right? Not exactly. As a business owner, I must pay self-employment taxes of 15.3%. I’m also responsible for paying 100% of my health insurance. That alone takes the rate down to $19/hour, and that’s not accounting for marketing expenses, computer repairs, continuing education, and other costs of running a business.
Also, it would likely take me more than an hour to write this so-called “easy” post. I take pride in my work. I research my topic, write the story, and then edit, edit, edit. I’m unwilling to churn out subpar work to up my hourly rate.
So, your “easy” $25 likely works out to less than $10/hour, which is nearly minimum wage. Unacceptable, even for someone just getting started as a freelance writer.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the business, your work should be compensated based on the value it provides.
When a company offers ridiculously low pay, it’s saying it doesn’t value your work. By accepting that rate, you’re saying you don’t either.
Even worse, when you work for peanuts you lower the bar for the entire profession, and contribute to the continuing devaluation of writers and degradation of wages for all.
(This pricing discussion cuts across all creative industries, by the way. Professional photographers, for example, are suddenly facing competition from anyone with an iPhone.)
I understand not everyone can charge $1 or more per word. I know my education (two degrees in journalism) and experience (20 years in newspapers, magazines, and corporate communications) put me at a different level than a beginning writer. I know it’s difficult to land the first paying client or to establish yourself as a writer (or designer or photographer, etc.).
The answer, however, is not to sell yourself short by accepting inhumane wages. Instead, spend more time honing your craft. Get better by taking writing courses, reading the work of more advanced writers, writing for your own blog, or finding and learning from a mentor.
Your sense of pride will be even greater if your first assignment comes with a living wage.
Circling back to that Facebook post that inspired this long rant…
I eventually posted a response (below) that I hoped would be persuasive but sensitive.
I was relieved when the original poster thanked me for my response and agreed that $25 was unacceptable (despite receiving interest in the gig from others in the group).
Even better, she emailed asking for tips on how to earn more money. I happily shared advice. She fired some clients and began charging more. In the two months since, I’ve also subcontracted to her several writing projects at 5x (or more) the rate offered in her post.
A simple change in mindset has helped her feel better about herself, her business, and her bottom line.
That’s the point of me sharing this with you. It’s not intended as a rant, but rather a reminder that we all need to stand up for ourselves and start charging what we’re worth.