I've been a freelancer for 10 years. Here are 4 strategies that have helped me get paid what I deserve.
Melissa Petrois a freelance writer and mom of two based in New York.
- In over 10 years as a freelancer, Petro says she's learned how to ask for and get paid her worth.
Working as a freelance writer may sound alluring for those wanting to escape a 9-to-5, but it's not always easy to be your own boss. When you're no longer tied to an employer (or salary or benefits), it's up to you to make
As a freelance writer for over a decade, I've been through many ups and downs. In my experience, rates now are lower than they were 10 or even five years ago. As inflation goes up, it can be difficult as 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 that I'm being paid what I deserve. Whether you've just started out or have been freelance writing for a while, here are four strategies I recommend following to ensure you're getting paid your worth.
1. Work for money, not clout
When I started out, I was desperate to share my point of view and practice my craft. I also wanted to establish myself in the industry and make connections with editors at well-known publications. But sometimes in pursuit of these goals, I accepted assignments that paid very little or even nothing at all.
I quickly realized that if my goal was to make money, I had to keep my eye on that prize.
After years of collecting bylines at as many different publications as possible, I've learned that more respected publications don't necessarily pay better. I also figured out that writing for exposure rarely, if ever, amounted to anything.
Until my child's daycare accepts "likes" as payments, I'll keep working for employers that pay me well, regardless of clout.
2. Stop accepting low-paying work
If you're literally hungry and have nothing but time, it might make sense to crank out blog posts for pennies on the dollar, like I did when I was just starting out. One of my first consistent writing gigs paid just $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 that assignment was abysmal. I realized it would benefit me more to quit writing for this low-paying publication and use the time I would've spent cranking out content to seek out better paying gigs.
Passing on low-paying assignments raised the bar and led me to better and better paying bread and butters. It also changed my mindset about what I was worth. I no longer saw myself as an aspirational writer but as a seasoned professional. I stopped low balling myself, and if I got an offer below a certain predetermined number and they wouldn't raise the rate, I respectfully declined.
3. Always negotiate
One of the first things I learned as a freelancer is that rates aren't set in stone. They vary depending on the publication, the editor, the freelancer, the assignment, and probably even the time of month.
When a new-to-me employer accepts my pitch, I always ask for the rate up front. Then, I ask if they can do any better. I say it just like that, "Can you do any better on the rate?"
Or I might say, "I produced a similar assignment for this publication and they paid me this amount. Can you match that?" Sure, sometimes they'll say no, but very frequently, they'll offer more.
It's only happened to me twice that an editor pulled out on a commissioning after I asked for a higher rate. The first time, the rate the editor was offering was so far below my typical rate that I'm sure she assumed she was doing me some sort of a favor. The second time, the editor's wording was so rude that it felt like a serious red flag, and I assumed that I probably wouldn't have enjoyed working for him anyway.
4. Join freelancing networks and share information
You might think we're a competitive breed, but as a freelancer it's absolutely in my interest to introduce other freelancers to my editors 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'm paid. Granted, my editor might not start them at the rate they're paying me, but it will give them an idea of the payment range.
Similarly, when I see a friend has written for a publication that I'm interested in, I'll reach out and ask who their editor is and what their typical rate is, so that I know if it's even worth my time to pitch them.
I mostly pitch and write for the same publications, but I always keep my eyes and ears open for new publications with competitive rates.
Joining online freelancing forums is another great way to learn about rates as well as make connections. I've joined networks like Pitch Whiz, a website for journalists and editorial professionals looking to either sell or buy stories, Who Pays Writers, an anonymous, crowd-sourced database of pay rates across print and digital media, and Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization that educates and advocates for freelancers of all stripes.
Being a writer is a dream job for me, but it's a job nonetheless. I love nearly every aspect of freelance writing, from brainstorming and getting pitches accepted, to working with my editors and seeing my byline go live. 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.
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