I know what you’re thinking, even considering low paying clients flies in the face of everything I’ve ever said and goes against every expert’s advice.
Nobody wants to work for peanuts. Unfortunately there’s going to be a point in your career where you’re working for one of those clients that doesn’t pay well. You can either accord them a level of effort equivalent to the fee they offer, or be a professional and reap the long-term benefits.
Start from the Bottom
The internet has lowered the entry requirements for becoming a professional writer. Anyone with a spare five minutes can set up their own blog and use it as a portfolio to launch their career. This has led to an incredibly saturated market giving potential clients the opportunity to be incredibly picky on who gets the gig.
You’ve probably read some of the copy out there and thought ‘ha, I can do better than that’, I know I have. However, creating a few nice sounding sentences doesn’t qualify you to command the top writing fees.
In a piece I wrote a few weeks ago I touched upon my first paid writing gig. At that point in my career I’d read a lot of information and, despite my lack of experience, decided I wouldn’t accept anything below $50 per piece. After all, I was a former English teacher and language graduate [edit – A pretentious twat], I didn’t need low paying gigs, I could go straight in for the mid level clients.
My inflated opinion of my own abilities set me up for a shock. I turned in the finished product and after a day or two received an email with the following opening line.
You can obviously write, which is why I gave you the work. But copywriting is a set of skills that have to be learned. Not all of them are to do with actual writing.
This client hit the nail right on the head.
Stringing words into pretty sentences is completely different to professional writing.
I now realise that despite my linguistic background, I had no experience and hadn’t developed my professional writing skills.
For a time after this failure I continued to pursue mid level clients, still believing low paying clients below me. The result was weeks, maybe even months of struggle. It seems ridiculous now. You wouldn’t expect to walk into a mid or high level position at a new company without having first developed the necessary skills. Freelance writing is no different.
You’ve got to start at a realistic level and work your way up, unfortunately the pay at that realistic level can be quite low.
Low Paying Clients are Your Proving Grounds
I’d taken the advice of the professionals to heart and decided that anything below $50 wasn’t worth my time. What I didn’t consider was the extensive experience and portfolios these experts had. I on the other hand had a blog with a dozen visitors a month and a deluded opinion of being in the same league. No wonder no one wanted me.
I didn’t see sense until I was writing 600 word blog posts for $25 a pop. Not a great fee, but it did give me the opportunity to develop my writing, experiment with a few different methods and understand what a company wants from writers.
It was writing for this client that I realised low paying clients are the proving grounds and journeymen for freelancers with no prior experience.
Tackling an easier target is a great way to prep yourself for the larger challenges. Think of it in terms of professional boxing. You don’t throw the kid with promise straight into the ring with the champ. You build him up with a series of increasingly difficult bouts.
Journeymen are used to fluff the ego, boost the confidence and hone the skills of the potential contender until he’s at a level where he can stand toe to toe with the big names.
Lower paying clients aren’t your end goal, but are in fact your very own writing journeymen. Use them to improve your craft and to send a message that you really are a contender for the bigger, better clients.
The amount of confidence and experience I earned writing for low paying clients seriously outweighs any monetary compensation.
Don’t Half Arse It
A lot of writer’s will tell you to work out your minimum acceptable rate (MAR) and work your schedule to hit your desired hourly fee. It’s not bad advice for when you’ve got the ball rolling your career but when you’re just starting out I’d recommend you focus instead on doing a good job.
When I first started working for the $25 client I’d give each piece around 30 minutes, an amount of time I’d worked out to be fair for $25. This was an incredibly stupid decision.
Working out your MAR is a vital step in helping understand your career. It gives you goals to work towards and helps identify which of your clients isn’t helping you get to where you want to be.
When you’ve only got one or two clients, limiting the time you give a client based on what they pay lacks respect and foresight.
I was limiting myself to 30 minutes for each of this client’s pieces. Understandable if I had more profitable work waiting for me but at that point I didn’t have any other clients. I was simply doing it because the experts told me to and it made me feel as though I had an acceptable hourly rate.
I’d get my $25 but the content I produced was so poor I was too embarrassed to use in my portfolio. Every Monday I’d waste 30 minutes creating a piece of work I couldn’t use to further my career or increase my earning potential.
If I’d have ignored all of the advice on MAR and instead focused on creating quality content for the client I’d have a solid portfolio to speed my progression in landing the higher paying clients.
Treat every client with the respect they deserve and always do the best job you can. It will pay off in the long run.
Low Paying Clients do Have Their Uses
I’m not trying to tell you that working for next to nothing is always OK. What I am saying is if you’re new to the game or trying to break into a new market there’s no shame in taking a lower paying client to get the experience needed to later land the big fish.
You’ve got to be careful and not become one of those writers forever working for the content mills and low paying clients. They’re nothing more than a short part of your journey to success.
They are your journeymen.
They’re not your priority but a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Despite them being nothing more than a step in your path to success, treat them with the respect and professionalism you would a large client or you may find yourself stuck at square one for longer than you can handle.
Did you work for a low paying client to get to where you are now or did the blanket advice of only working for high payers keep you away from them? I’d love to know if working for low paying clients was a clear step in your path or whether you managed to avoid them with no real slowdown of your progression.
Image – Ari Bakker