The Curse of Being a Beginner Freelance Writer

The Curse of Being a Beginner Freelance Writer

In my recent reader survey, I got the following response as an answer to the question “what is your biggest struggle as a freelance writer?”

“As a beginner, I must start from the bottom, writing content mills and the income is little for a lot of hard work and hours spent. But I know it is necessary for my development so until I gain more experience and some money for my own blog, I’ll try to figure out what my blog should be about because I’m imagining it has to be about what I want to write about in the future.”

Upon reading the above response, I was heartbroken. I really felt for the reader who submitted that response.

It’s even more frustrating that I got perhaps a dozen variations of that same response; it’s something a lot of beginners can relate to, and that’s the problem.

The Curse of the “Beginner Freelance Writer” Mindset

I see nothing wrong with being a beginner; this is a stage we all have to be at some point, and realizing this and taking appropriate steps to quickly graduate from this stage will make a lot of difference.

However, you’ll start to have serious problems when you have the beginner mindset.

The beginner mindset is basically characterized by the attitude that since you’re a beginner freelance writer, you should take anything that comes your way… until you become a “professional/expert”.

Often, as a result of having this mindset, beginner freelance writers make the following mistakes:
  • Writing for content mills
  • Accepting low paying gigs to gain “experience”
  • Sending free samples to clients
  • Not asserting yourself more authoritatively to clients
  • Not carving out a niche because you feel you won’t get writing work

Unfortunately, This Happens MOSTLY With Freelance Writers

What’s unfortunate is that the beginner mindset is mostly isolated to the freelance writing profession.

For example, if you take a look at other professions; doctors, accountants, lawyers, etc. you’ll notice that professionals in these fields start to command serious pay as soon as they are employed.

Of course, experts in these professions often make double, or triple what beginners make, and that’s normal but what you’ll hardly see is someone “working” for free or for peanuts. It never happens!

There also isn’t a huge discrepancy between what experts make and what beginners make.

In the freelance writing industry, however, experts easily command $200 – $500 per article, often more, and averagely $100 – $200+ per hour. In the same industry, you’ll find “beginners” getting paid $10 for an article, or struggling to make $10 an hour.

It’s just so sad!

Now, unless you believe being a freelance writer is inferior to those other professions I mentioned above, in which case I’m very afraid for your career as a freelance writer, you should see why it is not only outright wrong but disastrously damaging to work for peanuts, in the name of being “a beginner”.

Now, I get it. Some people just want to work for peanuts; there’s no helping people like that, but stop trying to justify that decision with being a beginner.

It is my aim to use this blog to establish the writer and put you in charge, and I believe my greatest enemy at accomplishing this task, for now, is the beginner mindset.

Here are some reasons why it is damaging to have this mindset, and why you need to fix it ASAP:

1. It Damages You Psychologically

Being damaged isn’t good. Believe me!

I’ve been there before; in debt and, as a result, deep in thought for hours every night while trying to get a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t feel good at all, and at some point, you start to ask yourself if living is even worth it.

People can be damaged, hopefully temporarily, due to a lot of things; debt, bad relationships, abuse, etc.

No matter the reason, it doesn’t feel good at all and the last thing you want to do is put yourself in such a state by doing things you could have easily avoided as a beginner freelance writer.

Taking low-paying gigs, or writing for content mills, while constantly reading about other successful freelance writers doing much better makes you feel unworthy; sometimes, you feel worthless, confused, and sometimes even wonder if those other writers are lying about the results they say they are getting.

To console yourself, you can justify your position by saying you’re a beginner; so many freelance writers remain in this “beginner” position for years, and then they cave in and end their careers completely when they realize they’ve built it on a very shaky foundation.

2. It Doesn’t Improve You

It’s basic psychology.

When someone gives you something for free, or for a fraction of what it is really worth, you are less likely to tell the person about the shortcomings of what he gave you. You’ll keep mum, or even fail to realize the faults in what you were given.

When you’re paying a premium for something, however, you’ll be willing to ensure you get the very best; if it’s not perfect, you make that clear and demand perfection.

Paying clients’ feedback is one of the best and fastest ways to improve yourself as a freelance writer; working for free or for a fraction of what you’re worth silences this feedback, and you lose out as a result.

3. It is Not Economical

How many $5 articles can you do to break even?

If you’re writing based on a revenue share model, you’ve most likely realized that a single article might not earn you $1 at the end of the day; how many of that do you want to do?

It’s easy to justify doing this by saying it’s about the hourly pay; so maybe you can easily do 10 articles in an hour for $3 a piece an earn $30?

Let’s face the facts, it’s not that simple. Clients with crappy pay won’t necessarily complain but they won’t take crap from you as well.

A freelance writer can hardly imagine a feeling worse than doing an article for $3, or for revenue share that will probably not net you more than $1, only to be told that your article was rejected. Nothing crushes your self-esteem more!

No matter how you think about it, it’s just not economical to take those low-paying gigs.

4. You Burn Out

As I said earlier, the only way most writers attempt to justify low-paying work is by trying to do a lot of it in a short time.

Not only is this not practical, but it leads to burnout quickly.

I’ve written as much as 6,000 words in a single day and my typing speed is in the range of 87 – 90 words per minute; I’m beyond average in this regard, and I know people who are way better/faster. I don’t know, however, ANYONE that can put out 10 good articles, or even 5, in 1 hour, consistently. It’s just not possible.

When you combine the low pay, the difficulty in getting basic pay, and the fact that you don’t have a choice but to keep writing without taking a break, even with ridiculous compensation and sometimes insult/rejection for it, you just burn out at the end of the day and your self-esteem is no better for it.

5. It Damages the Industry

It’s time to stop allowing “clients” to think they can take writers for a ride.

Taking low-paying gigs sends the wrong message to business owners and they don’t get to appreciate the real work writers are doing as a result.

It’s easy to get better results by changing the environment you get clients from, but giving people the impression that writers can be hired for $5 an article damages the whole industry at the end of the day.

I know that just telling you to stop accepting low-paying gigs won’t pay the bills, so I’ll give you some practical tips.

Here are some quick tips for banishing the beginner mindset right away:

1. Just do it

Whenever a client reaches out to you and asks for your rate, confidently charge him what you’re worth.

I’m not one to believe everything can be solved by simplistic feel-good personal development advice, and that’s far from what I want to teach on this blog, but the advice to “just do it” is highly practical.

When I started as a freelance writer, I was charging clients $50 per article; I did some $30 per article jobs, and quickly went on to $100 per article.

Today, I charge anything from $200 – $500 per article and can’t remember when last my clients negotiated my rates.

Given, some clients won’t even bother to reply when they hear my rates but the few that do make it worth my while.

2. Constantly Improve Yourself

While it is important to charge clients a premium, you’re only worth as much as you can keep improving.

Clients want value and results, and they’ll give anything to ensure they have someone who can be an asset to their business; be that person by constantly improving yourself.

You won’t command the high rates you deserve just by lying on the couch, spending 6 hours daily in front of the TV, and expecting to work on that new gig that comes your way. You need to constantly up your game!

3. Don’t be afraid of feedback/criticism

Another major reason beginner freelance writers are afraid to charge a premium is that they fear criticism.

You have nothing to be afraid of.

There are two ways to go about this:
  • Don’t just expect feedback/criticism and see it as a way to improve. Actively solicit it.
  • Develop a thick skin; no matter how hard you try, you’ll have someone complain at a point.

You also need to realize that, often, those who complain the most are those who pay you the lowest so going for the low gigs doesn’t necessarily prevent complaints.

In my career as a freelance writer, the clients that complained the most were the ones that paid the lowest; people who paid more had a somewhat mature understanding of how to use my work, and they had value and respect for writers, so complaints from them was minimal.

4. Reinvent Your Thinking

By charging clients $3 per article, you need to do 100 articles to make $300. This will probably take you anything from weeks to a month. It’s boring, too!

By charging $100 per article, you only need to do 3 articles to make $300. This should take you 1 – 2 days, depending on your skills.

By charging $300 per article, you only need to do 1 article to make $300. This will most likely take you 1 day.

Which is easiest? I’m very sure it isn’t charging $3 per article. For most people, it is charging $100 per article. For others, it is charging $300 per article.

No matter what, reinventing the way you think about your freelance writing business will make a whole lot of difference.

An Insider’s Perspective

I haven’t been lucky enough to write for content mills, or to bid on $3 gigs on sites like oDesk/Elance, but I’ve taken some pretty low writing gigs before out of desperation, especially when I was a beginner freelance writer.

I easily command an average of $200+ per article today, and I’ll confidently tell you that those days of taking low-paying writing gigs was a mistake; I was in no way better off for taking those gigs.

Instead, I had to deal with nagging and overbearing clients who made me feel bad about myself, some of the most boring/repetitive/unproductive work of my life, and absolutely no pride in what I did. If you ask me to show you those projects today, I wouldn’t. This is also how the majority of people in a similar situation feel.

Are you struggling with the beginner mindset and earning what you truly deserve as a freelance writer? Kindly comment below and let us know your struggles, and what you plan to do.

Also, please share this article with at least 1 or 2 beginner writers you know. It could save their career!

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