Freelance writing is definitely not what it used to be. Once upon a time, the freelance writer was the expert. The highly trained, highly skilled, and highly paid expert that businesses of all sizes sought out when they wanted the best. It wasn't unheard of for a freelance writer to rake in hundreds or thousands of dollars on one project. Clients were found through traditional marketing and referrals, and freelance writers had the experience to back up those high prices. Even smaller projects brought in enough money to pay the phone bill.
And that was back when we had to pay for our long distance as well.
Times have sure changed. The Internet brought a way for clients and freelance writers to come together. In fact, there is an entire industry based solely on introducing freelance writers with these clients. Websites like UPWork, Guru, Fiverr, and Freelancer make huge profits while the overall pay freelance writers are taking home continues to go down.
Why do you think that is?
If you're answer was that they are greedy businesses taking advantage of freelance writers, you're only part right.
You see, these sites promise you the opportunity to start (or continue) a career in freelance. And that's what they deliver. And that's all they deliver. They don't teach you how to run that new business. They don't teach you how to market that new business. They don't even teach you how to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other freelance writers on their sites.
And what do you end up with? You end up with hundreds of thousands of clients who don't know anything about freelance writing or how to vet or interview a freelance writer sifting through one generic-looking profile after another. And you get hundreds of thousands of freelance writers who all look the same and all say the same things:
- My goal is to provide the best service to my customers.
- I provide fast, quality service.
- Blah, blah, blah.
- Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And what happens when you get hundreds of thousands of people who all do the same things and look the same? Some of them start trying to stand out. Unfortunately, for the majority of people at these sites, the only way they know how to stand out is to lower their prices.
Then bidding wars happen.
Clients hire the cheapest. Sometimes they luck out and get someone really great who just didn't know how to market, and sometimes they get what they paid for. Either way, the world of freelance writing has turned into a rat race. And those freelance bidding sites are the mazes with electric shocks and cheese wedges. They don't care if you're making money, they care that the clients are coming back (which is also why all disputes always favor the clients over the freelance writer). Because if you don't work for them, there are hundreds of thousands of other people who will.
So, how do you get out of the rat race? That's simple. Kinda. Just get out of the maze. But getting out of the maze means learning to market yourself as a freelance writer instead of relying on those sites to find you jobs.
Here are some steps you'll need to master in order to do that.
- Get out there and be useful. Of course freelance writing is going to require at least some time hunting down clients. Looking for those posts on job search forums or craigslist. Yes, that's important. Meanwhile, there are also dozens of people asking questions on Quora and Yahoo Answers. Hop on and answer some of those questions. Be useful and engaging, and not at all spammy. Invite people to follow you back to your social media channels and eventually your website. When those people are hiring again, they will know where to find you.
- Partner up with other freelance professionals from other areas. Know a graphic designer? Try swapping ad space on your sites, or offer bundles to clients who solicit services from both of you.
- Learn Linkedin. For that matter, start thinking about upgrading to a premium account there. Linkedin is known for professional connections and networking. And the job boards on Linkedin are monitored much better than those on sites like craigslist — and pay tends to be higher than those on UPWork or Freelancer.
- Get a website or blog set up, and let your clients know it's there. Almost every freelancing site out there has some clause forbidding you from poaching their clients. Meaning that you cannot ask a client who has a job posted on their site to hire or pay you off-site for anything. This guarantees they get their money and helps keep everything in good standing for their bookkeepers. But that doesn't mean you can't tell your client about your website, and it doesn't mean that once the other job is done and paid for that should the client ever want to hire you again they have to go through that freelancing site. Once a contract on any freelancing site is paid and done, that client can go about hiring you through any means they want. Not to mention, with your own site or blog set up, guess who starts popping up on search engines when potential clients are searching for “freelance writer for hire.” That's right. You do.
- Talk to your clients on social media. Even if you don't have any clients yet, get talking. What are some tips you might be able to offer that might save them money other than hiring a cheaper freelance writer? People do business with people they know and trust first. Let your potential clients start getting to know you.
If you're looking at a sinking freelance writing career, or if you're thinking of starting up a new one, you'll need to find a way to stand out away from the other freelance writers. Screaming from the pages of freelance sites using the same generic profile and words won't be enough to get you hired or even noticed. Not if you're looking to write freelance full time.