Rates: what determines them?

Before you start into this article, you need to read the Being Relevant In A Modern World post, because it’s the first part of this particular article.

So, at the end of the last article on being relevant in a modern setting, we left readers with the question of standardized rates. Now, as we discussed in the previous article, there are various factors which can effect rates.

With print publications, they are generally located in a regional setting. Let’s say you have two different print publications. One is in New York, another is in Delhi. The cost of living and the country the publisher’s city is located in are just two of the very many factors which can influence the rates a particular publication can pay its writers. As we discussed in the first article, region dictates pricing to some degree. A magazine from New York is likely going to have a higher budget to work with, meaning their standard rate of pay will be higher than the magazine in Delhi, due to the difference in cost of living, economy, and otherwise.

It’s extremely important to understand that standardized rates only apply dependent upon the country, the quality of the publication, the size of the publication, the city, and various other factors. This is why every publication pays differently, because they each have their own standardized budget that they are working with. What you have to do is find publications that fit within your particular budget and qualifications and work with them.

But how do standardized rates work in the digital world?

The easiest way to answer this is: they don’t.

Most print publications will hire local writers. Why? Local writers have the expertise, they are local, and their rates will be within what is considered the applicable budget of that particular publication. It is rare for a publication in, say, Pakistan, to hire a writer from Alaska, or South Africa. Firstly, there is the language barrier. Secondly, there is the regional influence in rates. The magazine in Pakistan has a budget which is in sync with Pakistan, not South Africa, America, India, or Canada. As such, hiring writers from those particular areas is generally out of league with what they can afford to pay, because writers from other countries may want more per article/word/hour then the publication can afford to pay.

But when we get into the world of digital publications, all those standardized rate equations go out the window. Suddenly anyone with an Internet connection and a grasp of whatever language the publication is looking for is a potential candidate, provided they meet the qualifications of the publication in question. We aren’t talking about a publication in Pakistan with a budget that is dependent upon a local region. We are talking about a publication that anyone in any part of the world can write for, as long as they have an Internet connection and are willing to do the work for the rates set by the company in question, and have the necessary qualifications.

There is a lot of frenzied analysis and panic from print writers about the declination of rates over the past decade as more and more people gain access to the Internet and uncover the world of freelance writing. What many of them fail to grasp is simple economics. They want print rates to write online content, and are upset that online (digital) writers are doing the work for such a low price, and doubly upset at the companies in question for paying what they think is an obscenely low rate for the work.

Firstly, you have to remember that online publications are not working with the budget of a print publication, in most cases. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule. But we are talking about the majority here. Secondly, the pool of writers isn’t limited to their regional base. Let’s take the U.S. for example. For years, the print writers in America have been allowed to work for X amount per article/word/hour. Enter the digital age. Now, at the start, only major industrialized nations had access to the Internet. Print writers began to transition into the digital world, and found that the rates were lower, but still within their “standardized” frame they had become accustomed to.

Enter the 21st century. More and more countries have Internet. Nearly ever cafe has WiFi, regardless off where you are. Suddenly those writers from America are competing with writers from the Philippines, from India, from Pakistan, from South Africa…places where the cost of living is dramatically lower than exists in the U.S. As a direct result, those writers–many of whom have the same qualifications necessary to be considered competition–are suddenly “stealing” the jobs that the American writers were so used to getting by default of simply being in in the U.S.

It’s not theft. It’s simple business. If five different people are qualified to write an article, and the highest rate is 100 dollars per article while the lowest rate is 20 dollars an article, most employers are going to look at the guy charging 100 dollars an article, raise an eyebrow, and immediately move down the list to look at the other qualified candidates. Why? Because the 100 dollar per article writer isn’t even in the ballpark when it comes to global relevancy. He’s still trying to live in the past, back when the Internet was just the U.S. and a couple of other countries.

A lot of freelance writers clamor for standardized rates for digital work. It will never happen. Why? Because in order for that to happen the entire world would have to become standardized. We would all have to have the same economy, income level, and cost of living. In much the same way that print publications in different countries have different budgets based upon the same statistics, the digital world is in even a greater state of flux due to the fact that the pool of writers is that much larger. Since there is no such thing as a standardized rate of living, economy, or income level on a global scale, there can never be a standardized rate for digital content, because the rates are dependent upon each and every writer and where they are writing from.

The key is to find clients who fit into your particular budget, regardless of which country they happen to be from. You need to be the farmer using the threshing machine, moving into the next age of technology and global awareness. You cannot afford to be the laborer, standing in the field with your torch, defiant that the world has passed you by and adamant in your refusal to adapt to the times. That only leads to a lack of work, a lack of money, and stagnation. If you truly want to be successful you have to learn how to evolve with the times, and the only way to do that is to become globally aware.

The world is not limited to the Western countries anymore. The entire world has access to the Internet, which means you are competing with a global pool of competitors. But that also means there is an entire world’s worth of opportunities out there just waiting for you to take advantage of. Get out there and find the ones that are perfect for you.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Being relevant in a modern world.

Similar to the concepts presented in the Where Do I Get Started article, part of understanding the modern freelance market is understanding the differences between the print market and the digital market. This is a distinction that many writers fail to make, which can lead to frustration over rates, frustration about being unable to find work, and frustration over what “the other guy” is doing.

First of all, stop worrying about the other guy. It’s none of your concern. Your rates, your niche, your personal requirements for an annual income, all of these are your business. Not your fellow writer’s. Yours, and yours alone.

Now, moving onto the relevancy. When looking at the print vs. digital markets you have to understand several things. First, you need to be aware of the history of the industry. Print publications have dominated the world for centuries, ever since the advent of the printing press. The industry has a very long and very distinguished history. After all, the world as we know it today would not exist without the printed word. Secondly, you need to understand the difference in overhead between print and digital mediums. Print mediums have an extremely high cost of overhead for several reasons. First, they have to rent a physical building. Either as an office, or as an office plus a printing warehouse and shop. Secondly, they have to pay for printing. That means paper, ink, manufacturing, layout, design, and more. Thirdly, they have to worry about the weight of the publication, because this directly affects the cost of shipping that printed publication on both a local and international level. And there are many more “little things” that we aren’t going to go into detail in this article. Suffice to say, running a printed publication is a project on a relatively massive scale. All of these things factor directly into the cost of the publication and the rates they are able to afford paying their writers.

Now let’s take a look at the digital medium. Firstly, the digital medium doesn’t have a centuries-long history stretching out behind it. In terms of the Internet and websites, they have only really existed in the public arena since the early 1990s. That means we are around 20 years into the industry as a whole. That’s not a lot when you compare it to the lauded centuries that printing has behind it. Secondly, websites don’t have to have a warehouse. They don’t need an office. Many websites are simply ran from home offices. There is barely any overhead in comparison to a printed publication. They don’t have to worry about the weight of the publication, because all they have to worry about covering is the cost of renting or purchasing a server and hosting their website. This is a negligible cost in comparison to the print market. This directly affects the costs they are allowed to charge for their services, and the rates they are able to pay their writers.

Imagine, if you will, a painting by van Gogh. We know it will fetch hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Why? Because it has a long history behind it, it has a personal touch to it, the hand of the painter was physically involved, and a variety of other factors. It is a physical painting. You can hold it in your hand, place it on your wall, and know that it is the real deal. It is a physical painting. Now, picture a painting by a prominent new digital artist. They create images in digital form. There is no paint. There is no physical presence. You can print a copy and put it on your wall, but it doesn’t have the depth, it doesn’t have the character, and it’s new. That digital artist hasn’t yet had the centuries to build up his reputation, nor is his painting as physically dominating as the van Gogh. There is no physical presence to worry about, so there is no insurance that needs to be carried, no vault needed, no security system, and relatively no overhead. The digital artist might be able to charge a few hundred dollars, or maybe even a few thousand, for his work, but he will never obtain the same pricing as the van Gogh…at least not in this lifetime.

This different between the print industry and the digital industry is important to understand, because it directly affects the rates that each industry charges. It also affects you, because you have to figure out how to be relevant in the modern industry. Print writers might get paid anywhere from .50 cents per word to well over a dollar per word for the major publications, but the digital medium is nowhere close to that as a general rule. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which have been described in this article. But it’s very important that you know the difference when it comes time to analyzing how you charge for your work.

The digital medium is still a baby. There is a lot of money to be made, but it’s still a relatively low-paying market. That’s not to say that thousands-of-dollars projects don’t exist; they do. But liken it to the difference between playing in a local American football game with your friends every weekend and playing in the NFL. You don’t get to jump from your local weekend game to playing for the NFL. You have to train for years, and you either had to play football as a star player in high school or been a star player in college in order to land a professional American football contract with the NFL. In order to start getting into the jobs which pay the exceptionally high rates, you have to have a list of credentials that allow you to get into the door, because most of the publications which are paying the really high rates comparable to printed publications are generally the printed publications themselves simply establishing their online presence. And just like you can’t walk into the New York Times on your first day and demand a position as Editor-in-Chief, you can’t expect to simply hop online, start writing blogs and content, and suddenly start making 100k+ a year.

Being relevant in the modern industry means understanding your niche, your target audience, and the market you are qualified to write in. Keep in mind that freelancing is not a get-rich-quick industry. The vast majority of freelance writers are normal people, making normal wages, between 40k and 60k USD per year. Some write for print, some write digital, and some do a mixture of both. If you want to make 100k+ a year, you need to have the relevant skills and education, combined with a tried-and-true work experience, to demand that kind of salary and respect.

The hardest part about writing digitally is that there is no such thing as standardized rates. We’ll get into that in our next article in the Freelance Writing 101 series, so stay tuned!

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

How do I write quality articles?

The first step to writing a quality article, regardless if it is for yourself or for a client, is to remove the concept of individuality from your head. When you take on another client’s project, it’s not their project anymore. It’s your project. After all, they are paying you to perform a task. You are now part of their team, and as such, your passion for the project should be just as intense as their own.

One of the phrases that gets thrown around a lot in the freelance writing world is “writing in multiple voices”. This concept is something that ties directly into becoming part of each individual project that you work on, because the only way to really write a quality article is to be enthused about the materiel. If you aren’t passionate, if you aren’t enthused, if you just don’t care, it’s going to show up in your work, and you could quickly go from being  the “go to” writer to the writer nobody wants to work with again because your work comes off as being poor quality.

Now, obviously you don’t want to write articles that are too far out of your league. That’s not to say you can’t research a given topic and become knowledgeable enough about it to write topically, but it would be impossible for you to really write an in-depth article about how to properly perform brain surgery to remove a bullet unless you happen to be a practicing surgeon with X amount of years beneath your belt that make you qualified to write about that specific topic. But in the content world of digital media, the chances of you coming up against something you aren’t qualified to write about are slim to none. After all, the Internet is a wonderful resource, and finding contact information, phone numbers, and all the various ways to dig up information are literally just a search engine click away, and as long as you can research a given topic and write about it coherently, then you can write content.

But generic content isn’t the same as quality content. True, anyone can Google a topic and read a Wikipedia article and put it into their own words to create website content. That’s the easy part. What seperates the generic content writers from the quality writers is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your client. To become them. To take on their passion for the project. Once you have mastered this, the difference in writing quality shows through in absolute measures, because it goes from being simply a re-written content article to something filled with passion and enthusiasm.

Not everyone is capable of doing this. And there are always going to be projects which come across your table which don’t exactly strike you as something you could really “get into”, and while yes, you do have the option of turning such projects down, it’s better to get into the practise of taking on the guise of your client and turning their project into your own personal project. After all, they are paying you, and you are not only staking your reputation on their happiness with your product, but also any future work you do for them, not to mention word of mouth and referrals.

Remember, the difference between writing content and quality content is your passion for the topic. Master the art of persona, and you will become a master of content writing.

Posted in Freelance Writing Tips Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Where do I get started?

Freelance writing is a wonderful career opportunity in the 21st century because almost anyone can do it. It’s not rocket science, it’s not a medical profession, and it’s not overly difficult. All it really requires is the willingness to spend time refining your craft and having a passion about something that you want to impart to others.

Writing has been around in some form or another since nearly the dawn of time. From the earliest days of man when we were still scratching crude pictures onto cave walls to tablets of stone to hieroglyphs to papyrus to the printing press to blogging, mankind has always had people who were masters of the written word. Transcribers of emotions. Motivators of the spirit.

The digital age is upon us. People are making millions of dollars writing blogs. Blogs aren’t journalism. They aren’t deep, thoughtful prose. They aren’t poetry. And they certainly aren’t philosophical arguments to change the course of human history. Blogs, websites, fansites, and more, all of these have one thing in common: they need writers to fill the voids on the pages with words. And that’s where you come in.

Getting started as a freelance writing is easy. What’s your niche? Do you like wine? Food? Football? Birds? Pottery? Quantum physics? Polka dots? Zucchini? Gardening? Quilt-making? Crackers and caviar? All you need is a particular passion, something that you enjoy more than anything else, and you have something you can write about. Something you can make money from. You are a writer.

Content writers get a lot of flack from print authors. That’s natural. In my “The World is Your Oyster” series at my old blog I talked a lot about the threshing machine in England when it first came into play. Picture digital media and writers as the threshing machine. Prior to the advent of the Internet and the dawn of global communication, print writers owned the playing field. And the only way you could become a writer was by getting a journalism or creative writing degree and going through registered channels that required proof of education, membership in the club, and so on and so forth. These print writers are the laborers.

Now, back when the threshing machine first came onto the scene, the farmers loved it. In this case, the farmers are the consumers. The people who want to use the threshing machine. See, the threshing machine allowed them to move into the next part of the era. It allowed them to streamline production. They could suddenly produce twice as much grain in a shorter amount of time, and they didn’t have to have all these physical bodies working.

Now, of course the laborers didn’t like this. And who could blame them? For years they had been the only people capable of harvesting the grain in those fields. They had come to rely upon that income, and they had gotten used to being the top dog. Along comes this “machine” which replaces their value, and suddenly they are left without a job, while the farmers are using these new-fangled contraptions.

The labourers tried to revolt. They rose up in arms. They burned farm houses. Destroyed dozens of threshing machines and burned entire crops as a means of protesting against the advent of the new age. But you cannot stop human evolution. In the end, the threshing machine took the place of those workers. Eventually the threshing machine was taken over by new technology, and that new technology was replaced again, and the cycle continues.

Print writers are upset over the digital age because people like you and me have been able to enter into the playing field. We are the digitally-savvy writers. We write website content, we blog, we write e-books, and we are the threshing machine. We write without the constraints of the printed word because we are in the digital medium.

How do you get started on your path to being a successful freelance writer? Pick your niche. Maybe you enjoy writing about food. Maybe you are into vampire history. Or maybe you enjoy talking about flies and their mating habits. Either way, you have a specific area that you are knowledgeable and passionate about and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be making money off of that. There are millions of people on the Internet, and they all have something to say. Find someone that is hiring in your particular area of interest and go write something for them. It might be a small start, but it is a start nevertheless.

Freelance writing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, but it is an easy way to make money. This is your hobby, after all. Getting paid to write about what you enjoy doing is like icing on the cake. One of the best examples I can give people is how I got my start: through video games. I grew up playing console games and MMORPG computer games, and I took that knowledge and applied to a website who was looking for people to write strategy guides for a couple of MMORPG games that I had played in the past. I had zero writing experience. I had no college degree. But what I did have was a passion for video games that gave me enough motivation to write about it, and after I’d spent some time with the editor I was able to refine my writing style, and with more skill and some sales under my belt I was able to move on to the next job and the next, each time looking for clients who wanted to hire someone to write about a topic I was passionate about.

Take what you know, and run with it.

Posted in Freelance Writing Tips Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Content sites: are they worth it?

This is a hot topic in today’s freelance world. There are absolutely varying degrees of yes and no when it comes down to answering this question, but it largely falls into the area of “it depends on the content site, the content itself, and the personal skills and requirements of the writer in question”.

Now, the most common assumption is that people working for content sites aren’t real writers. The word “hack” gets thrown around a lot. A lot of the writing elite (see pompous) claim that content writers don’t really come up with anything original, they aren’t really writers, they aren’t skilled, or that they are bastardizing the industry by doing work for “too cheap”.There is also an assumption that content writers don’t have “real” editors, that they just throw out SEO-stacked articles to get the hits on Google, and so on and so forth.

There’s a lot of assumptions being made. And we all know the golden rule about making assumptions, don’t we?

First of all, there is no such thing as original these days. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. Encyclopedias of today are copies of encyclopedias  from the previous generation, which in turn were copied from the generation before them, and so on and so forth. Almost every movie coming out in the 21st century is “based” upon something else, or is a remake of another, older movie. Authors of novels credit other books and authors for their inspiration. Painters find inspiration in other people’s paintings, in other people’s architecture, in other people’s music, and so on and so forth. Everyone, at some point or another, is “copying” from someone else. So to claim that content writers are simply copying someone else’s work is a farce. We all copy, not just content writers.

Secondly, what is skilled/successful? The ability to form a coherent sentence? Personally, I’ve always subscribed to the Stephen King theory, which is simply this: if you wrote something, and got a paycheck for it, and the paycheck didn’t bounce, and you then went out and paid a bill with the money you made from writing, you are successful. If you are getting a paycheck for your work, does it really matter what another writer is saying about your work? Not really. (I’ll explain that in greater detail further on).

To say that all content sites are evil, demeaning, low-paying, or otherwise is not only naive, but extremely short-sited. Until you know all the details behind something you cannot realistically comment on whether or not it is good or bad, because you lack the information necessary to make such a judgment call.

I completely disagree that content writers and content sites are perpetuating low-paying systems and poor quality of writing. I think it’s a case-by-case basis. Yes, some sites are notoriously low paying and yes, some sites do allow exceptionally poor quality work to get pushed through simply to pad someone’s website with a lot of SEO wordage, but here’s the thing: if someone wants to do that work, good for them. Just like if someone wants to clean the sewers, be a janitor, or be the guy who scrapes dead animals off the road, the person who works at Wal Mart as a cashier, or the person who flips burgers at McDonalds, or a pilot for an airline, or the guy who drives the taxis I ride around in, or the people who run the ISP I use, or the people who make plasma TVs or….

You get the picture. Bottom line is, if it’s not directly related to you…it’s none of your business. If someone from the Philippines wants to work for a content site and get paid what is (to me) a scoffable wage, that’s entirely their prerogative. I’m not going to judge them, nor am I going to judge the site that’s letting them work for so cheap. It doesn’t affect me. It’s none of my concern. I make a living working for a different type of client, and I get paid an entirely different wage that is entirely up to me to determine.

Freelance writers need to pay less attention to what everyone else is doing and focus more on what is good for them and their own business. I certainly don’t make any money by going around telling other people how to think, what rates are/aren’t acceptable, and whether or not a certain company is worth working for. I keep my eyes peeled, I work hard, I love what I do, and I connect with people who want exactly what I can provide.

At the end of the day the only thing that matters is whether or not you have money in the bank and food on the table for your family with a roof over their heads. Not whether or not so-and-so is making such-and-such or anything else.

Now, another thing to look at is the pay.

Let’s say there are two people. Person A works for a content site. Person B works for various clients. Both work as a sub-contractor, or a freelancer.

Person A makes 25 dollars an hour and works 5 hours a day working on articles the content site sends to him. He writes 4 articles per hour. At the end of the day he has put in 5 hours of work and made 150 dollars.

Person B makes 75 dollars per article. He spends 3 hours a day browsing the Internet for leads because he doesn’t rely on a content site. At the end of his 3 hours he has found two clients, each of whom need him to write 1 article apiece for. He spends an hour per article, and charges 75 dollars for each article. At the end of the day he has put in 5 hours of work and made 150 dollars.

What is the difference between the two? There is none. Both of them spent 5 hours in front of their computer, “working”. Now, some people could argue that the time spent browsing for leads is not actually work, but that is an incorrect assumption. Any amount of time invested into a project counts as hours worked. If it takes you 3 hours per day to find 2 articles per day to work on, you still spent 3 hours a day looking for leads plus 2 hours of work for 5 hours a day. And if you spend 5 hours a day purely writing, you still spent 5 hours working.

In conclusion, while it’s true that some content sites have a bad reputation (and rightfully so), make sure you aren’t one of those people who goes around making assumptions about other writers, other websites, or the quality/quantity of work someone does. Until you are in their shoes you are not only unqualified to comment, but you lack the requisite knowledge to make a factual comment regarding the matter at hand.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Branching out.

As I have discussed in recent months on my personal blog (which has been doubling as a means of showcasing my work to potential clients), I have been working on branching out into a new direction. A new company, a new name, and a world-wide client-base that has been established over the past two years of working as a freelance writer.

Over the next year, this business will continue to grow. Our expansion will eventually include specialized content for Bulgarian websites and clients, as well as translations. Complete Writing Solutions will continue its quality of excellence, and our client-base will continue to grow. Stick with us as we find new opportunities and discuss new ways to be competitive on a global scale in the coming decade of the 21st century.

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