I’ve been reading a lot lately about pay rates for freelance writers. (Obviously, it’s a topic of high priority for me.) Yes, there are plenty of content mills out there that pay pennies per word. Most of the project bidding sites aren’t much better. And then there are the big players like HuffPo that consider the privilege of being published on their site payment enough. I’ve even been approached by a site that wanted me to pay them to publish my work!
So, yes, low pay is an issue. But I think a lot of my fellow freelancers are looking at it the wrong way: from an employee mindset. If you approach your work with an employee mindset, it’s easy to start resenting your “bosses” for wanting to pay the lowest rates they can get away with. It’s easy to start feeling entitled to a higher “salary.”
But here’s the thing. Freelancers aren’t employees, and your clients aren’t your employers. When you’re an employee, your employer has both power over you and a degree of obligation to you. When you’re a business owner, on the other hand, there’s no hierarchical relationship: You’re partners negotiating a deal. It might seem like an unimportant detail, but it’s a shift in mindset that changes everything, because you stop blaming your clients for not paying you enough. You realize that they have a fiduciary responsibility to control their business’s costs. It’s part of their job. Your job (and mine) is to figure out how to produce and deliver the product (in this case, content) at a price that the customer is willing to pay (because it adds value) and that still returns a profit.
When you approach your work with a business-owner mindset, you understand that your clients don’t owe you anything except payment for work you’ve completed. You understand that your competitors have no obligation whatsoever to stop working for rates that are less than what you’re willing to work for. You understand that, if you’re not making enough, there are only a few options if you want to stay in business: create a better product, create your current product with lower costs and greater efficiency so that you can get more work done, find clients who are willing to pay more, or negotiate better rates with your current clients. It’s business — and it’s on you, not your clients.
Is it easy? Nope. Is it guaranteed to work? Nope. Businesses fail every day, and yours might, too. So could mine. But if you try to approach freelancing with the mindset of an employee, you’re going to always be waiting for somebody else to treat you better or pay you more. You give away all of your power. So, to all of my fellow freelance writers bemoaning low pay rates…please, please stop seeing yourselves as underpaid employees. Start seeing yourselves as business owners who need to figure out how to make a bigger profit — and then go do it.