Is good writing worth more than $15 an hour? Anna Kassulke thinks so.
"Mercymathews" was recently rated the top earning freelance writer on freelance.com. Based in Bangalore, she charges US$15 per hour. Mercy’s listed qualifications are brief: "certified SEO copywriter from SuccessWorks".
Although you can upload résumés, Mercy hasn’t. Neither has she uploaded a portfolio. But she has loads of testimonials, such as: “I am very satisfied with overall quality of the content provided and the fact that author followed very well my instructions.” (One wonders how the instructions read.)
In a mushrooming digitalised international free market, anyone can claim to be a writer. In this climate, clients will grab the cheapest option, not necessarily the best. And many clients are clearly indifferent to the quality of the copy.
Hungry freelancers are often forced to bid for work and accept a pittance for their craft. But each time they do this they undervalue their profession. The current bidding market is hurling qualified copywriters back to the pre-union, pre-rights Dark Ages.
On another site, freelancer.com, most ads run along similar lines:
"Hello Freelancer. My project is ongoing articles writing project. Article body words counting can vary from 150 to 500 words. My current rate is 1$ per 500 words. Rate will be increasing as you be regular writer in my team … New Freelancers are welcome to show their skill and earn unlimited/day."
The posting is dodgy in every respect:
- It is very badly written (so how do they recognise good writing when they see it?).
- There’s a promise about becoming a regular (not).
- They are asking for new (vulnerable) freelancers to hook in (don’t get hooked).
- Pay is $1 for 500 words, compared with the Media Alliance’s 2011 recommended rate of 91c per word.
Freelance writing sausage factories such as Elance, WriterFind and Freelancer should be treated with caution: they deprive freelancers and clients of what they deserve.
If writers have qualifications, experience and a good portfolio they should be paid for them; these things are valuable in the current copy-hungry world. But this is something we can forget. What is more, offering cheap services will not pay admin and office expenses, superannuation, insurance or holidays.
So how can freelancers promote themselves and their professionalism, as well as educate potential clients about the downside of hiring the Mercymathews of this world? It comes down to how we value our work and being consistent in saying no to exploitative clients.
If the majority of freelance writers refuse poorly paid projects they will also be promoting ethical standards. Then we could start regaining the ground that is rapidly slipping away. It may be a slow process, but the profession needs to come back to a lucrative and valued future.
It is possible to stand your ground and make a point about professionalism. I was between jobs, that time when you wait for the outcome of a quote. So I cold called a Sydney real estate agency about copywriting for them. I was given a writing test to complete to a deadline and a rough idea of pay. A subsequent email informed me I had to make myself available every day during the week.
I had no guarantee of work, the pay was less than half that offered by other real estate companies I have worked with and I was expected to drop everything for them. These shameless conditions made me seethe.
I decided to speak up via email, because I was incapable of speech. Their reply was:
"In the absence of national salary benchmarking and other relevant data, it may be wise to keep opinions gathered through personal experience to yourself. For your information, we have two experienced copywriters… happily working on these rates. The rates are very much in line with industry standards.
I didn’t keep my opinions to myself. I told them categorically that companies like theirs will get less – poor English, poor grammar and copy that lacks vim. It is not just about saving on pay, it is about valuing professional output, too.
When a “Hello Freelancer” tells you there are other writers working for less, tell them politely that you charge according to the value you add, based on your qualifications and experience. You will be helping yourself and the integrity of the industry, as well as other freelancers.
If you must write articles for bidding sites, ignore the lower bids and stand firm on quality and recommended rates of pay. And don’t fork out any money for “membership” unless an organisation is reputable and gets you the work you want. Membership rates can be as much as $47.60 per month. Join the sites but keep researching more lucrative, ethical markets.
Mercymathews has a very elusive online presence. In a way it is hardly surprising – could she stand up to scrutiny? If you create a professional online presence for yourself through a website or blog, you can promote excellence and professional rates as well as changing the way clients think. Showcase your best samples of work and list your qualifications. Update your blog regularly so potential clients can tell you are a good and committed writer, and that you do not shy away from scrutiny.
Together, freelancers and their organising bodies must try to maintain and negotiate for high standards. Join the Media Alliance and professional writing associations – the Australian Society of Authors, the Australian Writers’ Guild, writing groups, and network with other writers.
Discuss rates with other freelancers. As the writers for Offpress (the Queensland Society of Editors) suggest: “Don’t be modest. Knowing someone else who charges higher fees can provide incentive and encouragement to others to raise their rates, and this is likely to have a flow-on effect.”
Charge what you deserve for quality copy. It will keep you, and other Australian freelance writers, well fed and suitably recognised.