- Melissa Petro is a New York-based freelance writer and mother of two.
- In more than 10 years as a freelancer, Petro says she’s learned to ask for and be paid what she’s worth.
- Work for money and not for influence, always negotiate and exchange information with other freelancers.
Working as a freelance writer may seem alluring to those who want to escape a 9 to 5, but being your own boss isn’t always easy. When you’re no longer tied to an employer (or salary or benefits), it’s up to you to make freelancing a reliable and lucrative source of income.
As a freelance writer for over a decade, I’ve been through many ups and downs. In my experience, rates are now lower than they were 10 or even five years ago. As inflation rises, it can be difficult for a freelancer to make ends meet unless you figure out how to raise your rates.
In my time in the freelance writing industry, I’ve learned a lot about how to make sure I get paid what I deserve. Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been freelancing for a while, here are four strategies I recommend you follow to ensure you get paid the right amount.
1. Work for money, not influence
When I started, I was desperate to share my point of view and practice my craft. I also wanted to establish myself in the industry and connect with editors of well-known publications. But sometimes, in pursuit of these goals, I’ve taken on assignments that paid very little or nothing at all.
I soon realized that if my goal was to make money, I had to keep an eye on that prize.
After years of collecting bylines from as many different publications as possible, I’ve learned that the most respected publications don’t necessarily pay better. I also understood that writing for the exhibition rarely, if ever, amounted to anything.
Until my child’s daycare accepts “likes” as payments, I will continue to work for employers who pay me well, no matter how influential.
2. Stop taking low-paying work
If you’re literally hungry and just have time, it might be a good idea to post blog posts for pennies on the dollar, like I did when I was just starting out. One of my first consistent writing gigs only paid $35 per 700-word post.
I was grateful to have what freelancers call a “bread and butter” assignment – an employer you can count on for consistent work – but when I did the math, the hourly wage I was making from this mission was abysmal. I realized that it would be better for me to stop writing for this low-paying publication and use the time I would have spent creating content to seek out higher-paying gigs.
Passing on low-paying assignments raised the bar and led to me paying better and better for the bread and butters. It also changed my mindset about what I was worth. I no longer saw myself as an ambitious writer but as a seasoned professional. I quit playing lowball myself, and if I got an offer below a certain predetermined number and they didn’t raise the rate, I respectfully declined.
3. Always negotiate
One of the first things I learned as a freelancer was that rates are not set in stone. They vary by publication, publisher, freelancer, assignment, and probably even the time of the month.
When a new employer accepts my pitch, I always ask for the rate in advance. Then I ask them if they can do better. I just say it like, “Can you do better on the rate?”
Or I could say, “I produced a similar assignment for this publication and they paid me this amount. Can you match that?” Of course, sometimes they will say no, but very often they will offer more.
It has only happened to me twice that a publisher backed out of an order after I asked for a higher rate. The first time, the publisher’s quoted rate was so much lower than my usual rate that I’m sure she assumed she was doing me a favor. The second time around, the editor’s phrasing was so crude it sounded like a serious red flag, and I figured I probably wouldn’t have liked working for him anyway.
4. Join freelance networks and share information
You may think we’re a competitive breed, but as a freelancer, it’s absolutely in my interest to introduce other freelancers to my writers who will make their lives easier by producing quality work.
When I pass a writer the contact of a publication I write for, I will tell that freelancer what I am paid. Granted, my publisher might not start them at the rate they pay me, but it will give them an idea of the payout range.
Likewise, when I see that a friend has written for a publication I’m interested in, I’ll reach out and ask who their publisher is and what their usual rate is, so I know if it’s even worth introducing to them. . .
I mostly pitch and write for the same publications, but always keep my eyes and ears open for new publications at competitive rates.
Joining freelance forums online is another great way to learn more about pricing and make connections. I joined networks like pitch acea website for journalists and editorial professionals who wish to sell or buy articles, Who pays the writersan anonymous and crowdsourced database of pay rates in print and digital media, and Union of freelancersa non-profit organization that educates and advocates for freelancers of all stripes.
Being a writer is a dream job for me, but it’s still a job. I enjoy almost every aspect of freelance writing, from brainstorming and accepting pitches, to working with my editors and putting my byline online. But the best part will always be seeing the money deposited in the bank. You should have fun writing, but make sure you get paid.