Why Freelance Writers Get Paid Less Than Web Designers

Hey writers, can we get real for a minute?Getting Paid

Web designers are kicking our butts in terms of earning potential at the moment, and I felt like this article needed to be written in an attempt to explain why.

While right now is one of, if not the best time to be a writer in general, there is great disparity in the earning power of most writers online.

That is to say, a majority of ‘freelance writers’ tend to be fighting for bottom-of-the-barrel rates for work that isn’t rewarding on any level (in terms of creative expression and personal branding), while a smaller selection of folks are killing it with their writing.

While this sort of food chain exists in every industry (even web design and development), I can’t help but feel like the divide is getting dangerous for writers.

There has been so much coverage on why it’s hard to be a well paid writer in a world that wants writers work for free, that I can’t help but notice how crappy things are for so many writers these days (be sure to read this article from a web developer on the subject, it’s eye opening).

But there is a reason why this is happening, and I’m sad to say that the writers are partly to blame.

You see, they have a problem that web designers don’t have to deal with, and that problem is that they label themselves as “freelance writers.”

Why is that a problem?

Because Nobody Wants to Hire a “Freelance Writer”

Yeah, I said it.

No high-paying client that I’ve ever talked to has been interested in getting some “freelance writing” work done. Not a single one.

Do you know what they actually want?

  • Content marketing work
  • Copywriting work
  • Technical writing work

Businesses want to hire folks who can head up a successful content marketing strategy that brings in new customers through relevant, well written articles. They want folks who can write copy that is memorable, persuasive, and that gets customers to take action. They also want writers who can break down technical jargon into easy to understand tutorials and guides.

High-paying clients think about their goals, not about your process.

Since content marketing strategy is what I know best, let’s take a close look at a high-paying client who recently emailed me, DESPERATE for someone with writing skills:

Full Time Greg

My buddy Clark Valberg is the CEO of InVision, an awesome, successful company that pays well to hire people who know their stuff.

Clark recently let me know that he wanted to hire a “Full Time Greg” (someone to handle content strategy), but look at the exact language that he uses

 Is the best label for this person a “content marketer”… or what?

He is far from the only client with this problem: in the past month alone I have had 14 requests for ‘How can I find a content person?’ hit my inbox from a wide breadth of successful companies looking to pay someone.

You know what they never asked for? If I knew any freelance writers.

Here’s the kicker: You and I both know that the skill that separates good content creators from great content creators is the ability to write incredibly awesome articles. In other words, these companies are actually looking for a writer, but they don’t know it, and they will NEVER use that language when they are searching for someone.

Freelance writers are basically shooting themselves in the foot (and killing their earning potential) by classifying themselves as ‘freelance writers.’

In a world where this nonsense is deemed acceptable:

Crazy

…and where even major publications ask people to contribute for free (“for the exposure,” you can kiss my ass), freelance writers are basically fighting an un-winnable battle against newbie’s who will write for free and folks in developing countries who will spew out 500 words for $5.

Do you know who isn’t having this problem?

Web writers who are targeting clients that are willing to pay. In other words, clients who aren’t hiring for pageviews, but are instead looking for someone who can handle a complete content marketing campaign or write copy that just oozes with persuasion.

“But I’m Not a Techie… So, Tough Luck?”

The above is where most freelance writers smugly dismiss my argument and go back to getting paid less than I do.

I need you to read the following 2 articles…

The former will give you an idea of the explosive growth in the demand for online content creators, and the latter is a perfect example of why writers should actually feel confident when they get into tech or marketing fields that require great content.

The reason?

They already have the most difficult skill.

Yes, you need to brush up on how to find a decent keyword and how to promote yourself online, but you should also recognize that your ability to write content that stands out in a sea of crap is actually one of the toughest skills to obtain, and it’s why being a writer first is still the most important element of these new ‘online only’ professions.

It’s just that nobody wants to hire ‘a writer‘ anymore!

“But I’m a Web Designer… So, Hooray?”

The web designers are probably wondering why I included them in the title up there.

In a nutshell, the answer is that web designers aren’t feeling the heat as much as freelance writers due to the name of their profession: people are still willing to pay for web design, although designers certainly deal with a ton of crap too.

That doesn’t mean they are off the hook though!

I see struggling web designers falling for a miniature version of this trap all the time.

They try to sell “web design” and give very little thought to what problems they are actually solving for clients (as if any client sat and thought to themselves, “I need to buy me some web design!”).

Instead of positioning themselves as an expert in eCommerce, landing pages, or local business sites, they focus on ‘what you get’ (3 design iterations, blah blah blah). This makes them look like a commodity rather than an investment, and they get paid as such.

A good example of doing the opposite comes from teams like Marketit and their Landing Page Makeover service, which makes bold claims such as this:

Design

This sort of selling ostracizes people who just care about things being pretty (ex: a painter who just uses their site as a showcase) and attracts people who are willing to pay big for a site that converts.

By not falling for the trap of trying to appeal to the widest client base possible (like the catch all ‘freelance writer’ term), web designers can make more money by offering less, but to ideal clients who are willing to pay for that exact service.

There’s Always an Exception

Everyone’s favorite argument for articles like this is to find that one piece of anecdotal evidence that they know about and parade it around like it disproves everything.

Let me beat you to the punch.

I know a few successful “freelance writers” myself, and have even featured some of them here on the Bidsketch blog, such as Kristi Hines and Carol Tice, as well as Tom Ewer.

They actively describe themselves as freelance writers, but they are also really good at what they do, and tend to be the exception to the rule. Furthermore, they generally do “content strategy” for most of the brands that they work with, despite how they might prefer to label their work.

Point being: this article isn’t for them, it is for the majority of freelancers out there who are struggling to get great rates and who are floundering simply because they don’t know how to sell their services in the right context and to the right people.

Trust me, I know quite a few…

Since I’ve grown the Help Scout blog to 20,000+ newsletter subscribers in mere months with written content, now everybody and their mom has been asking me if I can refer a content strategist to them.

And I would love to, except I don’t know many content strategists, I just know a bunch of damn “freelance writers”!

Rescources

We have some great tools available to help you get started. Take advantage of this free freelance writing proposal template. If you want to see a freelance writing proposal sample, we have that too.

Your Turn

I not only expect but in fact demand passionate, well written responses down below, even if the point of your feedback is to tell me I’m dumb and totally wrong! 🙂

Know that this piece was only written to showcase a huge problem in an industry that I care a whole lot about.

I want you to get paid well, but if you’re going to be hard-headed and continually refuse to specialize, keeping in tradition with the majority of underpaid freelancers I know, you are going to at least need to make your case.

So, what say you?

About Gregory Ciotti


Gregory Ciotti loves small businesses & startups and gets nerdy about behavioral psychology on his blog Sparring Mind.

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Clara Mathews

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself.

Joel

Really well written, Gregory.

As someone who is transitioning into writing freelance full-time, this grabbed me by the collar and gave me a few shakes.

The demand for “great content” is huge. But the reality is that a lot of writers are great writers, but miserable marketers – which is surprising, given how much marketing material they work on.

How many writers do you know who have built up a personal brand? Given themselves a recognizable name and image? Treated their little company of 1 like something bigger than themselves? Personally, not many – which is why I’m taking the complete opposite approach with my own work and devoting a lot of my time, effort and money to branding myself in a way I know will demonstrate that I can do a hell of a lot more than write blog posts for people.

I endeavour to market myself as an addition to a team; not someone you assign a single task to, but someone who can contribute to the big picture. “Writers” complete tasks and pieces. The label doesn’t say enough about what we can do for people.

Anyone with two hands can “write”. If you’re good at what you do, find a better way to sell it.

Serge

Wow! Thank you. That article is an eye opener. You’re right, it’s about perception. What kind of value your prospect expect to obtain from you.

Oli

I would much prefer you using the word – developing countries in place of 3rd world counties. Overall great insightful article.

Caitlin Moriarity

All right Greg, you’ve convinced me.

I found your training at the Freelance Writers Den over the weekend and listened to it, and I was blown away. I love technology, and startups, and I’m already involved with my local startup scene — but your training gave me the missing piece I’d been looking for, how to reposition myself to appeal to them.

But this blog post is what tipped me over the edge. I don’t need to wait until I’m “ready” to call myself a content strategist, I need to call myself a content strategist and go out there, get clients, and work my ass off for them.

So I’ve already changed my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new title, and I’m updating my website this evening.

Thanks for the reality check I needed.

Carol

Brilliant. “Freelance writer” has never meant much. It gets a sexy response at parties but doesn’t sound compelling to anyone who needs us.

Julian Kingman

As a web designer/developer, I really appreciate your article.

You know, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own design work, in part prompted by articles like these (and the fact that SEO and good content are part of a good website and thus, to me, are part of web design), and have come to the same conclusion, although without the facts, data, or experience to back it up. Thanks for the article, it’s good to know I’m headed in the right direction.

How do you connect with the right people, though? It seems content marketing is so new, not everyone is looking for it.

Thanks again!
Julian Kingman
Technically Smart Guy

David

Writers aren’t the only ones with the race to the bottom problem. As an architect, I’m finding that so few architects realize that the floor is eroding under them not because of the quality of their work, but that they are so focused on doing more for more people instead of doing the best work for the best clients. Also, too many, like writers, fail to recognize that anyone with training can design a building. What clients want is a building that provides return on investment. The content writers are creating needs to do the same- bring a return on investment.

Great article!

joe

Great article, companies aren’t buying writing/words they are buying solutions and results. Really appreciate it.

Mary Rose

Immediately revamped my LinkedIn profile after reading this. My home page is already SEO’d for “content marketing” but I’m going to be doing much, much more.

Thanks so much for this. I’ve observed the same sea change as you and have been talking to other writers about it. It isn’t important what we call ourselves but is extremely important what our prospects call us.

I say “tomay-to,” they say “tomoh-to,” as long as they hire me, I don’t care what they call it!

Willi Morris

Here’s the deal: I downloaded your app, used it to create a rate and then dropped it. But I still subscribe to this blog for posts like this. I’ve been struggling with this in another side of my business. Virtual assistant versus administrative consultant. One is the “norm” term, one is more complex. And folks who advocate for the latter say it’s two totally different things. In a way I agree with them.

I use freelance writer, because that is indeed what I am. I do content for a client, but I also write for magazines and newspapers. I can’t consider myself a “content strategist,” as I’m still new to the world of online content creation and copywriting. I don’t think it’s hindering me from landing big deals. I think it’s simply your mindset about the words you use and who you choose to market your services.

And Fiverr is a perfect example of how writers and web designers who want great clients at great rates are getting shafted. Great post.

Jeff

Great points, Greg! You mentioned writers and web designers in your article but really this can be generalized to many, many more people and positions and you already made the point: people position themselves to “look like a commodity rather than an investment.”

A writer doesn’t write articles; they produce strategic content.
A designer doesn’t just create new designs; they sell an experience.
A makeup artist doesnt sell markup; they enhance beauty.
A car salesman doesn’t sell a car; they provide luxury.

Kris Emery

I’ve known for a while ‘freelance writer’ isn’t doing justice to the work I’m doing. The problem has been: if not that, then what? Very grateful to have taken some ideas from this. The next question though: dare I call myself a marketer?

Kris Mausser

I had my own freelance writing business for close to 10 years and people were amazed at how much money I made. The secret: ask for what you’re worth. Most writers never truly ask for what they are worth, and as a result never make the kind of money they should be making. I learned early on that if I priced myself as “expensive” relative to the industry, my clients’ perceived my work as worth it and were happy to pay me to be on a project over the competition. Of course, I had to follow up with great results, but I just think writers undervalue themselves sometimes in terms of just how necessary they are. Nobody is a “freelance writer”, you’re a “writer” plain and simple and you’re worth it.

Gregory Ciotti

@Kris — I notice you use the past tense when describing your writing business…

Again, it’s not that I believe being a writer is bad profession to get in to, but that today, when writing online, the term “freelance writer” just doesn’t appeal to a growing section of high-paying clients in the business world.

And saying that you just need to charge ‘what you are worth’ is oversimplifying things a bit; all freelancers know that, the question is how do you get there? In my opinion, positioning yourself with the right title for the right clients is step #1, and that is what I advocate here.

Thanks for your thoughts!

rachel

This makes perfect sense to me. Even when speaking with the general public (not clients), the phrase “freelance writer” always raises a lot of questions. No one knows quite what it means!

For me, there’s a fear that if I define what I do too narrowly, I will lose potential clients. But if they’re confused about what I do to begin with, they will look elsewhere to meet their needs.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

Sid

Interesting read. As a ‘freelance writer’ as well as a freelance web developer I found it extremely useful. I never charge by the hour, always per project. After reading this I actually went back and measured how much time I spent on writing one blog post and how much time I spent on one web dev project. I then divided my pay for each by their respective times and guess what I found out – my hourly writing rate is higher than my hourly web dev rate!!
So it looks like I need to increase my web dev rates!

Kathy

I’m primarily a graphic designer (for print) but am positioning myself to be print designer/copywriter/web designer/marketer as anyone with one hand can do all that but not necessarily very well or do all of it. It is good to know that I am thinking along the right lines!

Thanks for the article.

Reciana

This is such a valid point… ‘No high-paying client that I’ve ever talked to has been interested in getting some “freelance writing” work done’. This is completely and utterly true. There are so many other specific terms that can be far more effective and interest clients more. Great article!

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