Seven-Step Process for Shifting Your Freelance Career from Low-Paying Gigs to Well-Paying Projects

by Paige Taylor on June 24, 2014

Say Good-Bye to the Low-Paying Grind – and Hello to the Expanding World of High-Quality Content for Reputable Companies and Publications

Seven colored pencils

Pencil in time for these seven to-do’s to take your freelance writing career from low-paying thankless jobs to the better-paying, higher-quality work demanded by Content Marketing. You can do it!

Content mills are dying. So is product marketing. And some forms of journalism are on life support.

But you know what’s just now coming on the scene like gangbusters? Content Marketing.

And with it comes the demand for high-quality content.

Why? Because only quality content matters now – to the two entities that matter most: The readers and Google.

Unless it’s quality, no one is going to read your content. And if it’s not high quality, Google is going to rank it so low that it will virtually disappear.

This isn’t a prediction. This is happening now. The last few Google updates set this in motion for good. And future updates are expected to be even more unforgiving to the blatant abuse of SEO – with its keyword stuffing and focus on quantity versus quality.

Add to this the reality that today there are volumes of high-quality content available on every subject under the sun. Why would anyone spend any time reading low-quality content?

So what is a freelance writer to do? Transform your career from the low-paying thankless grind to the new well-paying world of Content Marketing – where companies need a never-ending supply of quality content to attract customers through blog posts, articles, ebooks, and more.

If you don’t think you can make this shift, you’re wrong. Freelance writers – who see the writing on the wall – are doing it every day.

Here are seven ways you can, too.

1. Change Your Attitude – You’re Worth It.

Recently I communicated with a freelance writer who had signed up with one of the many online freelance writer marketplaces. But he felt that the good-paying jobs (largely from major companies and publications) were going to the writers with more experience.

While waiting for his big break, his philosophy was to continue working for the low-paying content mills – and to “always be writing” (his words).

I cringed. This is a terrible philosophy for a freelance writer. It will lead to burnout, disillusionment, and the poor house.

When I started freelancing, my attitude was: I am a great writer and I deserve to charge a decent fee for my services. If I am going to do this for the long-haul, I didn’t want to be poor – or “always be writing” for a low pay. And for my entire three-decade career, I have found freelance projects that have paid well.

Naturally, I didn’t start freelancing at the top rate in my marketplace and niche. But I increased my rates to the highest possible level as quickly as I could.

It should be noted that when you work for content mills, you completely forfeit the opportunity to raise your rates. You get paid what they pay. Period. Never a good long-term strategy.

So if you are stuck in the content mill grind, please look first at your own attitude. Until you change that, you’ll never be able to move onward and upward as a freelance writer.

2. Drop Your Low-Paying Jobs Now!

As soon as you change your attitude about being a freelance writer, the next step is to drop every single low-paying freelance project – immediately!

This is critical. You must turn your back completely on ALL low-paying content mill jobs. There is nothing to be gained – and so much to lose including:

  • Your valuable time
  • Your income
  • Your self-worth
  • Your morale

Here’s what I mean about your valuable time: Time is our greatest asset. And it’s a limited commodity. We only have so much time in a day, week, month, year, and our lives. Any time we waste is wasted forever – because we’ll never get that time back.

Every time you write a low-paying article, you’ve just spent valuable time that you could have spent finding new clients and writing for high-paying jobs.

Here’s a simple math example: Say you write a content mill blog article and get paid $25 (I’m being generous, as that is the high end). If you spent the same amount of time writing for a reputable, well-paying company you could have earned $100 to $300 for a blog post of the same length.

Similarly, continuing to write content-mill-level jobs will keep you mentally a “content mill writer.” This will lower you self-worth and morale when looking for better-paying jobs.

So cut the low-paying job cord now.

3. Write a Few Stellar Projects – Any Way You Can.

High-quality work begets more high-quality work. Translation: You’ll never find high-paying jobs with your content mill writing clips.

You are going to need some high-quality writing samples to show your prospects. If you don’t have them already, here are a few ways to get them:

  • Good Clients. Find a few great clients and just start working for them.
  • Good Magazines. Write for some reputable publications in your niche even if it’s for low pay. Note: This is not the same as content mill writing. The fact that you have published in a reputable magazine is impressive.
  • Non-profits. Write pro bono for non-profits, preferably in your niche.
  • Targeted Prospects. Write a project or two for free or a low introductory rate for companies in your niche.

Your goal should be to get just a few great clips, then move onward and upward, financially speaking.

4. Create an Awesome Blog – and Use It.

Every writer needs a blog today. This means you. It’s nearly impossible to market yourself without one.

But there’s a catch: It needs to be high quality. Why? Because it’s a reflection of the quality of work you produce. Your potential clients will look at it and judge you – instantly.

If you are wondering about how to produce a blog that will impress your clients, send me an email. I’m creating an online course to guide freelance writers on how to launch a great blog, called Blogging Best Practices for Freelancers. It will be launching soon and I’ll give you a special pre-launch price.

5. Become an Authority in Your Niche.

People respect authority figures. But guess what? So does Google.

So it’s worth your time to become an authority in your writing niche. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Write articles for industry publications in your niche.
  • Write guest posts for blogs your target clients read.
  • Give talks on your expertise, then promote the videos or slide shows.
  • Connect to the main people in your niche on social media.
  • Maintain a strong presence on social media.

6. Build a Huge Prospect List.

You’re going to need a great prospect list to find your dream clients. This will require some research. You need to know:

  • Company name. One of my targets is software companies in my city. So I stay as current as possible on who’s out there.
  • Phone number. In my niche, many software companies only list their customer support number on their websites. So I often have to do a bit more digging to find an actual office phone number – or, the Holy Grail, the direct number to my contact.
  • Contact name. In my case, my contact is the person in charge of marketing.
  • Email address of contact. This one is tricky and, in fact, I’ll be writing a separate blog post about this soon – as I’ve recently found a cool way to find MOST email addresses.

Needless to say, I spend a lot of time online, off-line, and on the phone building my contact list and keeping it current.

To make this work, you’re going to need a database for tracking and organizing your prospects. I used to use a customized software program, but without tech support it’s challenging to keep the software current. I tried Salesforce for a year and hated it. So now I’m just using an Excel document. It simple to use, low cost, and works great for what I need.

7. Regularly Touch Base with Your Prospects.

The first contact with your prospects is your introduction. You can either introduce yourself with a phone call or an emailed letter of introduction. I used to prefer cold calling (as you’ll learn if you read my book – cold calling allowed me to build and sustain a great freelance career for decades).

But lately I’ve seen the advantage of contacting some companies with an email first – especially if they are impossible to reach with a phone call.

A cold call offers the advantage of finding out if the company is a true prospect or not. I’ve received thousands of “no thank you’s” over the years. And I don’t mind at all, because then I know not to bother marketing to the company.

Sending a cold email is more of a crapshoot – because unless they email you back, you really don’t know if they are a hot or cold lead.

After the first contact you make with a company, you need to set up a regular contact schedule. That could be anywhere from monthly or a couple of times a year, depending on your market and niche.

So freelance writers, are you up to the challenge of moving your low-paying career into high-paying gear?

If you are, I believe you will succeed – because the most powerful force of all is determination.

Are You Ready to Super Charge Your Career into the World of Content Marketing – and learn everything writers need to succeed in this growing and evolving marketplace, where content is king? Then take a look at my eight-week online course – Content Marketing Masterclass for Freelancers. The in-depth lessons and my coaching will set you up to launch in the next two months.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Janai Robinson June 24, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Hi Paige!

Thanks for this valuable information. I would like to add something to your section on cold emails. One strategy I’ve found that works well with getting a response is first engaging them through social media. I am in love with Twitter. I will say again. I am in love with Twitter! It’s so easy to share an article from a potential client and tag them in the tweet. That puts you on their radar and begins the ‘getting to know you’ process. I’ve had great luck engaging with companies through Twitter since they are quicker to reply there than if I engage through Facebook. Then, once I’ve built a rapport with them, it’s not as daunting sending a cold email because they already recognize my name. I sent an email to a marketing guy I engaged with on Twitter and, while my prices were too high for him for blog articles, he said he would definitely keep me in mind for future projects.

Anyway, that’s my new strategy. It takes longer than sending out cold emails since you need to take the time to build communication between you and your target company but, if it’s a company in your niche that you are passionate about, it’s worth it!

Reply

Paige Taylor June 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Wonderful tip Janai – thank you for sharing your experience with Twitter.

It’s definitely well worth being active on the social media platforms where your target audience is active.

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Glenn S. June 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Can’t call it any better than that Ms. Taylor. I only recently wrote my first article vs. ‘just’ commenting on someone else’s, and I’m *very* glad that two previous boss/references of mine responded positively to events around publishing of my book– one bought it and sent a hand-written note with check, other said he’d be in Pinehurst the night of my first event, or he’d have come to heckle. THOSE are responses you get staying in touch with someone vs. “I don’t have a job any more…” calls or e-s.

I’ve also blogged for 3-plus years, but specific (and free) project I’m involved with for SC HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership organization, as Director and lead-writer) is Fables project, which is directly responsible for developing the DISCIPLINE that moved me directly to completing ‘CARDS & CONSEQUENCES: Return of Marlena the Magnificent’. The product (essentially a small group essay– 130 of states finest rising sophs divided evenly), which I did ‘up close and personal’ social media on for a passionate 10 minutes on– late on a Friday night but with a very motivated group– was remarkably better than last year.

In a very real way, there are LOADS of places that can utilize good writing, and yes, the real objective (I usually credit Shaw) is getting paid, “otherwise one might not have bothered at all.”

Solid rationales every step.

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Paige Taylor June 30, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Hello Glenn,

Thank you for your kind words. I’m happy to hear you liked the article — and appreciate you letting me know.

Best,
Paige

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S. Anonymous July 2, 2014 at 1:22 am

Hi. I love this article.

I’m actually about ready to throw in the writing towel and get a desk job someplace because I’m having such a difficult time finding clients. I cannot sell myself. I can write on nearly any topic someone needs, I know the differences between then/than, can not/cannot (and other mistakes I see on the web continually), but cannot sell myself to save my life. My LinkedIn profile is boring, and whenever I try to get a decent writing gig, and tell someone my price, they counter with, “Was that a typo?” I’m not charging an arm and a leg, I don’t expect $4.00 a word, or anything. I just want a steady gig that pays well.

My last paying private client was in 2012. Things fell apart there because the guy who hired me couldn’t write at all despite how much he thought otherwise, and I asked if he would like me to revise some things he put on his company’s live web site. His piece was actually very unprofessional and rude, saying things like, “Don’t order this product if you can’t follow directions.” I wish I were joking, but that’s really what his article said. He fired me for offering to clean it up, and never used any of the work I’d been paid to write. Haha

Anyway, since then I have tried to decide what my niche is, and I don’t really know. I’ve been enmeshed in the content mill grind off and on, and I know what I LIKE to write, it I don’t really think of it as niche, really, although, I suppose it could be. The problem is, there is a glut of this type of content already, with new sites and blogs devoted to it. It isn’t written well, though, and contains so many mistakes that could be avoided if someone would take a bit of time to study writing formally, which I actually have.

Do I sound despondent? I am. Does a person just pick a niche based on what he or she loves to write? And how does a person get around the low pay? So many of the sites in my preferred topic only offer unpaid internships in exchange for my name in lights, or they want to pay $8 per post.

Seriously, I really don’t know how much longer I can hang on without putting my daughter in day care and getting a desk job somewhere.

How does a person create a really good bio to sell herself? Have problems embellishing my truths, and I have been either home with my kids so long, or in school so long, I’m no longer aware of my own marketable skills, other than being able to write.

Reply

Paige Taylor July 4, 2014 at 7:21 pm

HI!

I hear your pain. But without knowing more details, including the niche you are talking about, it’s hard to give you a good answer. Overall, I think your issues need a bigger answer than is reasonable to put here in the comments.

Email me privately and we can chat.

Also please subscribe to my blog to get my regular updates. I address business issues for freelancers.

All my best,
Paige

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Sima Ballinger July 3, 2014 at 1:08 am

Hi Paige, thank you so very much for your expert advice on writing on content mills. You are on point! I have been writing on a couple content mills for 4 years, and have not seen any significant increases in my income. However, I have seen better success on Elance, where I bid on writing projects. Unfortunately, many “would be” clients cancel projects, therefore – wasted time.

My challenge has been finding my niche or accepting what I enjoy writing and excel at: Christian and African American. So I am trying to narrow down my strongest writing projects that resonate with my audience.

I found that when I created a free website for myself, my morale Instantly boosted! You have encouraged me to step up my game. Thanks again for the post, it definitely put a fire under me.

Reply

Paige Taylor July 3, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Hi Sima,

That is such great news — and thank you for sharing it. I’m happy to hear the article helped inspire you — that was my hope for it.

Pleases stay in touch. If you are interested in learning more about Content Marketing, let me know.

Best,
Paige

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Irwin July 4, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Hey Paige!

First time I saw your blog and one thing’s certain: this isn’t going to be the last.

You’ve raised a very important issue that many new freelance writers (and some experienced ones too) are more likely to face. Content mills may provide a more stable job because the orders are steady. But they aren’t exactly the most productive. I’ve written for some of them because I didn’t want to be jobless for a certain period. They do have some advantages (you get regular work, you learn something new each day), but they’re so time consuming it can be stressful. You’re asked to complete 10 sets a day. They need to be topnotch and are subject to strict quality control. And you get paid a measly $4 or $5. That’s just not right. It isn’t productive and won’t help boost your career.

I totally agree with Number 2. Drop them like they’re hot. Now. I did that just recently. It was tough because I didn’t want to lose a regular gig but the stress it gave me was so huge I literally got sick. You spend 10 hours (or more) a day finishing orders. You’re so exhausted at the end of the day and then you get up early the next day to do it all over again.

It wasn’t the freelance life I pictured when I started out. So, even without a lot of backup plans, I quit. A huge relief came over me.

Reply

Paige Taylor July 5, 2014 at 2:34 am

Hi Irwin,

Thank you for writing and sharing your experience — and for having the courage to dump the mills. I sure hope you can find the kind of jobs that allow you to freelance and have a life. They are definitely out there. You just have to be proactive to find them. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer about the freelance life.

Best,
Paige

Reply

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