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Why You Shouldn’t Pay Peanuts to Freelance Writers

in Beginner, Intermediate / 32 Comments

How do you fancy an hourly wage of $7? Is $5 more to your liking?

It’s surprising how many people who outsource expect freelance writers to work at those rates and how many freelancers meet their expectations.

I am a freelance writer and I have never been on the other side of a contract, but I can safely assume that most clients who hire $5/hour freelance writers would be an unhappy and harried lot.

My assumption is based on several posts I have read online, most notably Corey Geer’s example of the content he received from one of the $5/hour freelance writers.

If you are looking for freelance writers who write content that you are proud to display in conjunction with your name, business or brand, then you should be ready to pay them what they are worth. This post will attempt to prove why good writing is worth its word count in gold.

Good Writing is Hard Work

Often, outsourcers who haven’t done a lot of writing assume that all you’ve got to do is clickety-clack-clack-clack and a 500 word article is done and good to go online. On the contrary, good writing is hard work. It takes tremendous amount of skill, research and effort to create a good, high quality piece of content.

A conscientious writer would need anywhere between one to five hours to write 500 words that people will read and share, depending on her familiarity with the topic and the amount of research required. $5 anyone?

Freelance Writing Does Not Equal Flawless Writing

The first copy of any content is never perfect. Never. Good writers always put the content they write to the one-night test – write, proofread, sleep overnight, get up, proofread, edit, proofread and submit. In several instances the edit round may involve significant revisions and stretch the time required further. Moreover, this is before the content is sent to the client.

Contrast with $5/article or hour freelance writers, who can only afford to ‘write and submit’ if they wish to make hourly minimum wages. What you will receive in this instance is an article with glaring grammatical mistakes and severe readability issues – more work for you.

Weekends…What Weekends?

A freelance writer’s week is far from typical. Different assignments with varied deadlines, interviews with experts scheduled for Sundays, client meetings at 12.30 am because you are based in another time zone are all in a week’s work for a freelance writer. And believe me, most freelancers end up working far more than the typical 40 hours per week and for them Saturdays and Sundays are mythical entities.

There’s More to Freelance Writing than Just Writing

A freelance writer has to invest in his own resources. The laptop, internet connection, research material all cost money. Additionally, the actual writing process might claim about 60% of the freelance writer’s working hours. The remaining 40% (and more) is used for doing ancillary work, such as invoicing, meeting clients, filing taxes and marketing. A typical full-time writer in a firm or media house does not have to do all this. He earns his keep by doing the work he was hired to do.

A freelance writer, on the other hand, has to ensure that his earnings from the 60% writing time are enough to account for the 40% of his time that he spends doing unpaid work and the pays returns on the resources he’s invested in. $5/hour sounds perfect!

Good Writers are Worth So Much More

Lastly, you shouldn’t pay peanuts to good freelance writers because they are simply worth more, so much more. A good writer, as Snoopy puts it, will sometimes search hours for just the right word – a cheap one cannot afford to.

There are several success stories of innumerable conversions from one well-written sales letter, over 50% email open rates from one hard-hitting subject line, an incredible spike in website visitors from one awesome blog post that went viral. Good, well-paid writers make these successes possible.

So what will your next freelance writer earn? $5 sounds swell! Just kidding. For those who are wondering what you should pay, this infographic might help: How Much Should An Online Article Cost?

Share your experiences with outsourcing article writing in the comments below!

All images are PEANUTS © [2012] Peanuts Worldwide

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By Urooj Kazi|Website|Other Articles

Urooj is a freelance article writer, business blogger and magazine contributor - in short, a killer content creator. You can contact her via her website or at kaziurooj [at] gmail [dot] com. Follow her on Twitter: @KaziUrooj

    • Urooj Kazi

      Thanks Damien!

      I think most clients are happy underpaying freelance writers because they undervalue their work – it’s just ‘another’ article, or just ‘another’ blog post that they think they could have written themselves if they had the time.

    • Kristen

      I couldn’t agree more. I work on Odesk and have had to lower my rate so many times because people say that my bids are too high. I can’t remain at the same rate year after year and never give myself a raise. Experienced writers should be compensated correctly.

  1. Sandra Sealy

    Excellent post Urooj! Sometimes desperation or even just inexperience would make a writer undercharge…and make it more difficult for the rest of us.

    Haven’t gone through all of your pieces but would love to see a similar one on editing!

    I will share this post via link @ my blog Seawoman’s Caribbean Writing Opps – markets, tools and more for international writers.

    Thanks again,
    Sandra Sealy recently posted..The Caribbean Writer 2012 (USVI)My Profile

    • Urooj Kazi

      Hi Sandra,

      I completely agree with you. I commonly hear prospective clients say that they have ‘cheaper quotes’ for their projects. The ‘cheaper quotes’ are essentially from people who are either desperate for work or inexperienced. The end result in each case is below par as the former won’t have enough time to do a good job and the latter can’t do a good job.

      Thanks for the comment and share, Sandra!


  2. Jacquelyn Lynn

    Great article, Urooj. You covered all the necessary points. I think many freelancers take the low rates because they’re worried about getting more work. A better long-term strategy is to not undervalue yourself. Something I heard years ago that makes sense: If you’re too busy, you’re not charging enough.

    I wrote a blog last year about my experience with a prospective client who was trying to drive my fees down. It was for a book, not articles, but the issues are the same. http://www.jacquelynlynn.com/ghostwriter-ghostwriting/how-not-to-negotiate-with-a-writer/

    • Urooj Kazi

      Hi Jacquelyn,

      Your post reminded me of a recent client who tried to give me the same I-have-cheaper-quotes-reduce-your-price-win-the-project drift. It didn’t work.

      I think most freelancers need to understand that there is no shortage of good clients. If anything, there is a shortage of good freelancers.

      If you agree to one client’s demand for a low price, you’ll be setting the tone for all your future projects.

      Thanks for commenting Jacquelyn!


  3. venkatchari

    Very good article. It’s an eye opener to all those who think they can purchase content writers as if purchasing some peanuts. Writers also come to know of their bargaining power through this article. Very great work done Urooj! Thanks to you on behalf of all writers.

    • Outsource How

      Hi Terry, thanks for raising this issue. We’re looking into the matter and will take appropriate action if required.

  4. Rosalie Garde

    Thank you sooo much for affirming my thoughts and experience exactly. I just recently told a client I had no more time left to work on a finished article he sent back wanting it tweaked for free. He could have tweaked it himself! I was only getting $25 for it and had spent 3 hrs on it not counting submitting time, email exchange, etc. Do the math and you know why I stuck up for myself. He declined it and I made $0. I wrote a blog reflecting this at http://www.RosiesWritingTips.blogspot.com.

    • Urooj Kazi

      Hi Rosalie,

      Thanks for your comment. I dropped by your blog post and it made me LOL. I wouldn’t ask you which third-party site you are talking about, but I think I can guess.

      It’d be best if you counted in possible revisions that the client might ask in your initial bid itself. And, a time tracker might help. :)


      • Rosalie Garde

        Urooj, that private request stated it would pay $30 to $40 and the 3rd party site takes 65% leaving me to earn $26 or not take the job. Otherwise, I definitely would have priced it higher. This was one of those “Whould I or shouldn’t I? It shouldn’t take that long, why don’t I” scenarios.

        • Urooj Kazi

          You are talking about CC. I don’t know what your track record on that site’s been Rosalie, but a website that takes 35% off my potential earnings isn’t one I’d want to write for.

          I am trying to get gigs that let me deal with clients directly, instead of through third parties. That seems like a freelancer’s best bet to get good work and pay.


  5. simone

    In a globalized economy, $5 an hour can be good money for somebody living in a developing country. However, they might not have industry, local culture and market knowledge. It’s a gamble that some companies are willing to take and perhaps they pay somebody else to fix the content. I had a client who just wanted volume work and they were happy to use peanutsperhour – good luck to them.

    I see it like buying something online: if you buy from the cheapest retailer, you might have to forfeit your customer rights if something goes wrong. Legally they should replace faulty products but they might well refuse and your only option is to sue them, which might cost more than the product itself.

    • Urooj Kazi

      I like the analogy you’ve used, Simone. For projects where quality isn’t a concern, I think it’s alright if clients take the low-price route. I, personally, wouldn’t touch bulk projects with a barge pole.

  6. Jun Mallorca

    This is a common scenario in most bidding sites. Some clients are even offering $1.00 per 500 words article. They continue to offer this rate because there are still a lot of freelancers out there who are taking the job.

    Thanks for sharing these pointers. This article is a good read for companies who are outsourcing this task. They should understand that content is not a cheap commodity.

    • Urooj Kazi

      I think the very process of open bidding weeds out quality. No self-respecting freelance writer would willingly/happily work at those rates.

      Thanks for your comment, Jun.

  7. Wayne Liew

    I completely agree with this article. Writers who are willing to be paid $5 for a 500 words article are aplenty but writers who are passionate about the topic that they are going to write about, willing to do a ton of research, use the correct words and styles can be rare and in some industries, finding the right writer can be hard even if you have a huge budget.
    Wayne Liew recently posted..The Ultimate Guide to Linkedin AnswersMy Profile

  8. Heather Stone

    I constantly see the most bizarre rates offered in ads for online writers…and then I see the posts those low paid writers create. It’s little surprise this content isn’t high quality. The thing to consider is that, if your business is dependent on quality content, you’re short changing your business by paying such low rates. Quality content is an investment in your business. If your marketing is dependent upon content, lack of quality will decrease its effectiveness…and probably your success.
    Heather Stone recently posted..Biz Ladies: How to Evaluate Google AdWordsMy Profile

    • Urooj Kazi

      Hi Heather,

      I think the low pay trend started when websites started writing for SEO. The quality of content in that case mattered little (not any longer, with Google’s latest updates). It is sad that businesses caught on to that trend and started looking for cheap work too. To echo what so many others have already said on this post and elsewhere: you get what you pay for.


  9. Jennifer R. Povey

    Where are these clients who can’t find good freelancers and can somebody point some of them my way? Reasonable rates, good turnover, and if I don’t do what I say I did it’s because, you know, I lost power in a hurricane or something.

  10. Christine

    Thanks for this well-written post on what us wordy people are really worth and why. I stumbled across it while looking for info on those freelance/outsourcing bid sites. Nicely done.

    As a writer/editor, I want to write quality work, not more keyword-ridden drivel clogging up the Internet. If some outsourcers want to hire writers from the developing world on the cheap, and that’s what fits their needs, I guess that’s the way the mop flops, but I am hoping one can still find clients who appreciate quality at an honest price.

    When I need something done, I pay what the job is worth and respect the skills required, and I just expect the same from others.

  11. GK

    Hi Urooj!

    A Lovely writeup….very honest and up to the mark I must say!
    I hope people who are hiring do take notice of this and allow good writers to make decent money with respect!
    I wish you would also write something on actually bagging the writing projects for freelancers for sites like Elance etc..

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