Why I Took on a Low-Paying Writing Job & Hated Every Minute of It! Reminders for New Freelance Writers, Desperate Freelance Writers & Others Who May Be Tempted by Low-Paying Gigs

The following is an editorial by Nina Lews of Nina Online.

I finally got my dream writing gig. It was perfect; it was in the industry that I wanted it to be in, the topic I wanted to write about and I had the passion for it. I mean this was a gig that I have been waiting for my entire writing career.

No more writing about lumber and transportation; I finally got a chance to write about something that truly matters. There was only one problem; the gig was low–paying — and I mean very low pay for what the client wanted.

At first, I didn’t care about the pay because I thought that this type of writing job would be a perfect addition to my writing portfolio. However, that all changed when the client called me and started to question me on my already low–rate (which was less than $100!).

“How Dare They Call Me and Question My Already Low Freelance Writing Rates!”

One Freelancer Reveals the REAL Cost of Taking on Low-Paying Freelance Writing GigsI thought I was in the twilight zone. I mean . . . REALLY — is this person really calling me to challenge me on my already low rates! It struck a nerve — a real big nerve with me. I couldn’t believe it.

I wanted to explain that I usually charge around $500 for this service and I know many of my colleagues would probably charge at least $1,000. I should have said that right then and there. But I didn’t. I just bit my tongue and took on the project . . . with a healthy amount of resentment, mind you.

I sulked and sulked some more. I couldn’t believe that I had just taken on a project where the client challenged me on my already freelance writing rates.

I started to question myself, thinking, “Do they not think I am worthy of more?”

Then I had to remind myself – hey, you’ve had $1,000 days as a freelance writer.

You have clients who don’t flinch when you quote them a fair market rate on writing projects.

You have monthly recurring income from social media clients who sometimes pay you three to six months in advance.

In short, “You’re worthy!

The Conversation I Had with Myself about Taking on Low-Paying Writing Jobs

This little talk had me really talking to myself, ie:

Nina after this, you have to get a tougher skin. You are not a starving writer anymore; you have proven yourself and you have been in this game for 5 years. Now is not the time to start people pleasing!! You are a bona fide business, and you have rent to pay. You are no longer sleeping on your sister’s couch!”

How I Went about Handling This Particular Job – Some Lessons for All Freelance Writers about Taking on Low-Paying Gigs

There were a few times that I thought about calling the client and saying, “You know what? I don’t want to do this project.”

Yes, I could have increased my fees, but I knew this client would have gone elsewhere. (I should have let them do just that!). When it came time to doing the actual writing the project, following is what I did.

  1. Procrastinated . . . Like Hell! Even though this was my dream writing gig, the only thing that played in the back (heck, front!) of my mind is how dare the client challenge me on a low rate for such a semi-complex project that they needed in a such a short time.

    Therefore, when it came time to write, I would always find something else to do. Whether it was update my own website, manage a client’s account, market my blogging course, call a friend, or go for a walk, I avoided writing this assignment like the plague.

  2. Didn’t Enjoy the Process. While I was doing research, all I could think about is, “I should be getting paid at least a few hundred dollars for this. Why oh why did I take on this work?” I would research, jot down notes and then focus my attention elsewhere.

    I tried my best to say, “Nina, just use this as your portfolio sample.” But, my pride got the best of me. I didn’t care.My thought process was — they are only paying me peanuts, so I am not going to go above and beyond of what they need.

    If they were paying me what I was worth, I would have gone into LexisNexis, took a trip to the university library and dug up information that couldn’t be found on the web.

    But every moment of this project as I put my pen to paper, all I could think was, “I need to be marketing; I am losing money by doing this work.”I simply couldn’t wait until the project was over.

  3. Handed in Mediocre Work. While I like to provide clients with the best work possible, this wasn’t the case.

    Now don’t get me wrong, my work was good, but it could have been much better than what I turned in.As I was writing, there were things that came up where I could have done more in-depth research and got into the nitty gritty of the subject matter, but the voice of “you are only getting paid peanuts” played over and over again in my head.

    I just couldn’t bring myself to the point where I was going to give them my best. I had the mindset of “they’re paying me peanuts, they’re getting peanuts.

It took me 10 hours to complete this project. This included research, thinking about angles, outlining, writing, editing, fact checking and citing sources.

I didn’t even charge enough to outsource some of the editing and fact checking tasks. Let’s just say I profited negative $500 for this project. Lesson learned, ie, don’t take on low-paying work that is going to cost you more than you earn.

In closing, I recently started following a big time person in social media who shared a piece of advice that can apply to every business. I am paraphrasing a little, but she said something along the lines of:

If people have to challenge you on you rates, they are not the right clients for you.”

I understand that people like to negotiate, and that’s fine. However, I think negotiating on a price under $100 is absurd.

The Real Cost of Low-Paying Freelance Writing Gigs

With that being said, I am going to have tougher skin and learn how to say NO!!!! Take it from a professional people pleaser, when you say yes all the time, you will never grow and wonder why you are still broke.

Share Your Thoughts and Experiences on Freelance Writing

Have you ever taken on a freelance writing project that you regretted — low-paying or otherwise? Please share in the comments section below.

Want to submit a guest post / editorial?

About the Author: Nina Lewis is Founder and President of Nina Online, LLC, a Social Media & Content Marketing Firm. She and her team of talented, online rock stars help small- and medium-sized businesses build relationships, rapport and connection with their ideal audiences via social media, online press releases and various forms of content marketing. To discover 5 Sizzling Secrets to Writing Hot Web Copy That Sells, visit http://www.ninaonlinelv.com to get instant access to her F^R^E^E report.

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    1. @Laura:

      I’m always amazed when clients “throw in” stuff like this at the last minute (eg, intensive research). In my experience, these types of clients fall into two camps: (i) they either REALLY have no idea how much time stuff like research takes; or (ii) they’re trying to get over after you’ve already agreed on a price.

      It’s why I always build a minimum amount of research time into all my writing contracts, even if they insist “it won’t take that long.”

      Thanks for sharing — and good for you (for firing that client). You’re right, freelance writers all too often forget that this is a viable option for them too!

    2. @Paul:

      As you know, I visit Jamaica a lot, so I can totally understand what you’re talking about when it comes to third world wages. I know many people in Jamaica who work 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day for $100 to $150 per week. And things are not as cheap as you’d think, especially food — which I feel the pinch of on my budget when I’m there for long stretches. So I can’t imagine how people make it there.

      We are spoiled here in this country — even at the lowest wages.

      But, that being said, every freelancer has to determine for themselves what their “worth” is, and although I’ve done the low-paying gigs (eg, $15 for blog posts), I worked my way out of that “mentality,” which is the hardest part of charging more in my opinion.

      You must BELIEVE that you’re worth more before you get up the courage to charge more, and this is where so many freelancers hit a wall.

      For everyone who’s reading this, I’ve done it, successful freelance writers like Paul have done it — and you can too!

      Trust and believe; believe and trust — and have the guts to charge appropriately.

      Thanks for dropping by Paul. You always have such insightful knowledge to impart. Much appreciated my friend. 🙂

    3. @M. Andrew:

      You hit the nail on the head. I talked about this in the post, A Freelance Writer Has Her First $400 Day within a Month of Doing This: How She Did It – And You Can Too!, stating:

      In those early days, I even went as low as $15. Whenever I went this low though, it always stuck in my craw, so I rarely did this. When you work for less than what YOU feel you’re worth, (not based on what some OTHER freelancers THINK you should charge), it’s not a good feeling. And you’ll know it; your gut will tell you.

      No matter how much I needed work, I learned to never go against this feeling. I always regretted it.

      Your experience bears this out.

      Thanks for sharing.

    4. Uh, yes! I have definitely taken one on. The guy wanted to pay me an incredibly low rate, but it was on tasks I thought I could knock out quickly. I did about 3 hours of work for him and sent it over. Turns out the “brief research” he wanted also involved SPSS analysis, close readings and reports of government documents, etc. His hourly rate was a full $15 less than what I normally charge, so when he replied demanding these changes (and daily phone calls to discuss this project) I called up and suggested that I wasn’t the right fit for the project. We often forget that we can fire our clients. Now that I am well versed in reading these “red flags” I haven’t had to fire any clients since then, but it’s so true never to just take these people on or to weed them out extremely early. Thanks for this article- loved it! Made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

    5. Thank you for sharing this story Yuwanda! This is a great lesson to all of us. I have felt this way myself early on when I took some lower paying work like $15 per article kind of stuff. I guess I was fortunate to be living in the Philippines at the time. Being surrounded by people who work for an average of $6 per DAY helps you keep proper perspective. Even when working gigs that paid lower than I was worth, I still tried to stay thankful for being blessed with the ability to put words together in a way that others will pay good money for. Bottom line is even on our worst assignment, there are billions of people in 3rd world countries that would gladly trade places with us.

      But still, I can see how Nina could become frustrated by this. She’s right, the best thing to do is not work for less than you will be happy with. In other words, if you accept a job for whatever terms you agree to, make sure it pays enough to be worthwhile for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with turning down work if you can’t agree on the right price.

    6. M. Andrews says:

      I recently experienced taking on a low-paying gig. Imagine… 100 articles for $400. This was a big mistake. The articles required a lot of research and I fell behind because I was burnt out. I am no longer lowering standards for peanut shells (not even peanuts).

      I recommend to anyone who is tempted to take on low-paying gigs to avoid it at all costs. It’s not worth it, but you are worth more as writers.