As a Freelance Writer, You’re Exposed to Competitors from Around the Globe
Here Is a (Mostly) Untapped Market for Freelance Writers
Going local is a powerful strategy that insulates you from most competitors; here’s how I did it
It would turn out to be the worst year since I started my business. The federal “sequester” had slowed down the pace of NASA projects I’d been supporting, dropping my income by 80% for almost a year.
This, right when we had just closed on an office condo and I needed to pay a general contractor to turn it from a shell into usable office space.
I had to find something productive to do, fast, to bring in desperately needed income, and to help maintain my sanity.
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Not knowing better options, I became a freelance writer on Elance. I’d always been good at both verbal and written communication.
Over 20 years in academia, writing an endless flow of papers, proposals, technical notes, memos, and emails, helped hone that talent.
Of course it also taught me to write in the passive voice so beloved by academics the world over — so I had some unlearning to do too.
It took a few months, but I started landing nice gigs on Elance. I ghost-wrote ebooks on investing in real estate, blog posts on digital marketing, sales letters, employee self-evaluations, letters to senators, and… well, you get the picture.
Having the talent, experience, and earning history that I did, I wouldn’t compete on price. I would look for clients looking for top-notch writing at professional rates. Then, I’d prove in my proposal that (a) I understood what they needed, and (b) I could deliver that, guaranteed. Finally, I’d quote professional rates (at least $0.50/word or $100/hour).
I wouldn’t compete on price. I would look for clients looking for top-notch writing at professional rates. Then, I’d prove in my proposal that (a) I understood what they needed, and (b) I could deliver that, guaranteed. Finally, I’d quote professional rates.
Strategically Pricing Your Freelance or Consulting Services
Hourly? By the project? Top-down? How about all of the above?
This foray into freelance writing ended up getting me back into NASA consulting, but that’s a story for another time.
The point of our story here is that it taught me that freelancing job boards like Elance (later subsumed into Upwork — a good development for clients, but less so for freelancers) are not the way to freelance writing success.
Indeed, my easiest and best-earning-rate writing job wasn’t through Elance. It was ghost-writing a blog post for a local business.
The owner’s daughter and my daughter played youth sports together, and we enjoyed chatting on the sidelines while watching them play. One time, he told me that he needed to write a post on a dry topic, but wanted it spiced up with quotes from “Fifty Shades of Grey.” He wasn’t looking forward to this writing exercise, to say the least.
I offered to do it for him and he hired me. It took two hours to complete and deliver. He was stunned. He had figured it would take him over a day to write it himself. He insisted on paying me $500.
This taught me a valuable lesson on breaking into freelance writing. Go local. Face-to-face contact insulates you from having to compete with third-world providers. They can afford to sell their services for $2/hour, 50x lower than what I’d quote. What they can’t do is meet my local clients in person, and talk and write in the same idiomatic English as these clients.
This taught me a valuable lesson. Go local. Face-to-face contact insulates you from having to compete with third-world providers who can afford to sell their services for $2/hour. What they can’t do is meet your local clients in person, and talk and write in the same idiomatic English as these clients.
To tap into this market, you need to seek out owners of such small businesses where they hang out. This may be local networking events, meetup groups, local Facebook groups, or even on the sidelines of kids’ soccer games.
Joining some of these, like your local chamber of commerce, BNI, or similar networking groups, isn’t free, but may be worth the cost.
If you can only afford free marketing, find meetup groups that cater to self-employed professionals.
Join local Facebook groups and see what you can contribute to help other members free of charge.
If you can only afford free marketing, find meetup groups that cater to self-employed professionals. Join local Facebook groups and see what you can contribute to help other members free of charge.
Offer to give local groups free talks they’d be interested in, such as:
- “The Top 10 Things You Need to Know about Content Marketing”
- “How to Avoid Over-Spending on Website Contents”
- “Social Network Marketing Dos and Don’ts”
To be even more effective, choose a niche even within the local business environment. Concentrate on businesses that require a lot of time and effort on the part of the owner, and where successful professionals earn well.
This includes accountants, attorneys and realtors. These professionals would often prefer to pay professional writing rates for top-notch content so they don’t have to waste their valuable time on such non-billable work.
In the case of the blog post I described above, assuming that business owner’s time was worth at least $300/hour, the 8 hours or more he would have spent writing the post himself would have cost his business over $2400. That made paying me $500 instead a no-brainer. Wouldn’t you agree?
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This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be considered financial advice. You should consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.
About the Author
Opher Ganel has set up several successful small businesses, including a consulting practice supporting NASA and government contractors. His most recent venture is a financial strategy service for independent professionals. You can connect with him there, or by following his Medium publication, Financial Strategy.