Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day in the Life: Selling Content, Hustlin’ and a Jivin’, Would the Real Freelance Writer Please Stand Up

Part 3: It's a Hard Knock Life for a Freelance Writer Like Mikey 

The Real Freelance Writer 
Here we are again, Part 3 in a Day in the Life of Mikey Freelancer. As we glide from our perch in the rafters of a tiny and hot living room, we come to rest on the corner of a couch that has seen better days. Mikey sits hunched over a blocky laptop. All we need is a quick glance at the screen to see that he’s still mired in bid hell on Freelancer.com.



As we look over his shoulder, we see that he has managed to land a few projects here and there. But the glint of light from a crinkled Ramen package hits our eye to testify to the real truth of his supposed success. The handful of completed projects described on his profile page show that he did finally achieve that high star rating and those stellar reviews he was so convinced would guarantee him access to the big-time jobs. But upon deeper inspection, it’s clear that he’s still wallowing in the shallow end of the budget pool. There’s not one project with a budget over $100.


 Unfortunately his attitude and confidence, or lack thereof, is still as counterproductive as ever. Mikey’s head has never been more firmly buried in the sand than it is now.

With that kind of simple minded blindness and stubborn complacency, how can we ever expect him to grow and evolve into the freelance hero we want him to be? If Mikey remains cloistered on Freelancer.com, he may never find the courage to step out into the bigger world that is the freelance writing business. By refusing to make a move, by letting fear or doubt hold him back, he is inching ever closer to failure as a writer and an inevitable return to the life of an underpaid and overworked carpenter.

I talk a lot about doubt and fear holding me back as a new writer. It can be a tough thing to overcome. Sites like Freelancer, Elance are not bad places or guaranteed to cause you to fail. However they can make someone like Mikey Freelancer feel safe and unable or unwilling to change or try something different. If you’re new to freelance writing, don’t let yourself get stuck bidding day in and day out on one site. Branch out and see what else is you do to earn money as a freelance writer. You’ll be surprised at the amount of jobs available every single day.

To avoid that fate, Mikey has a couple simple changes that he must make. One involves removing his head from the hole in which it’s firmly buried and taking stock of exactly what is happening around him. The other requires expanding his understanding of the opportunities that lie just beyond the virtual walls of Freelancer.com. If he fails to make either one of these changes, he’s liable to drown in an ocean of complacency before ever getting a chance to start the real journey down the road to success as a freelance writer

Now that we have a decent understanding of the dire predicament in which Mikey has gotten himself, we can attempt to glean something beneficial from his story, regardless of how it ends. Even if the writer we’ve come to know as Mikey Freelancer chooses to stay blind, deaf and dumb, even if his fate ends in a decidedly ignoble and abrupt fashion, we can, at the very least, use his example as a roadmap to help us avoid the obstacles and detours that tripped him up.

The Last Stand of Mikey Freelancer



Mikey slaps the login button to Freelancer.com for the umpteenth time and looks depressingly upon the state of his Active Bids tab. He spent hours crafting those bids last night and they're already obsolete due to other writers or cancelled projects.

Mikey grits his teeth and shakes his head. He feels the familiar twin pressures of frustration and aggravation as they press heavily upon his shoulders, forcing his back to bend from the stress of it all. He can’t afford to go another week without earning some kind of money.

“Wait a minute,” Mikey says to the too-hot air trapped in the old apartment, “what do we have here?”

He looks again at the Active Bids tab and lets his focus move to the bottom of the page. Gleaming there like a shiny nugget of gold half obscured by mounds of useless slag sits a single message from the creator of a project Mikey had completely overlooked and forgotten about. He shifts a bit closer to the screen, inspecting the message as he moves the cursor to hover above it for just an instant. A deep breath and a firm click reveals the contents of the message, for good or bad.

 Mikey reads it out loud:

Dear Mikey Freelancer,

Your bid proposal caught my eye and your samples were impressive. I can tell that you’re a reasonably capable writer. Your price of $50 is the max budget I offer and actually a bit higher than all the other bidders. But I am willing to pay that amount as long as you can deliver the same quality content shown in your samples. When could you start the project? The sooner the better. Let me know if you have any questions about the project requirements and when you could start writing if I award you the project.

Mikey leans back against the old couch to collect his thoughts. It doesn’t take long before his fingers are flying over the keyboard, crafting a response that promises he will begin as soon as the project is awarded and can deliver the four, 500-word articles within 48 hours. He sends off the message and turns back to the daily drudgery of digging through projects and writing up bids.


Several long hours later, Mikey receives a notification informing him that he’s won the project and that $50 has been placed in an escrow account until
successful completion of the buyer’s requirements. Excitement and pride swells within him over the small yet satisfying victory, and he immediately tackles the work with gusto.

That’s Our Mikey!


A simple yet extremely important fact hits its usual mark and flies right over Mikey’s head. He utterly fails to acknowledge how insignificant $50 is when compared to the amount of work involved in writing a 2000-word project. He’s never learned how writing speed and an efficient editing process can affect how much he can earn in an hour, or a day, or per project. To Mikey, simply landing a job is success enough.

All that would change if he studied the writing industry and learned even the tiniest bit about what it means to be a professional freelance writer. The earnings from this $50 project wouldn’t excite him nearly as much as it does now. 

For example, just considering how many words he can write and edit within an hour, it will take him at least five billable hours to fully research, compose, proof and edit the four articles required to complete this project. Unfortunately, our not-so-heroic freelance writer is either willingly blind or blindingly ignorant of just how small the average budget really is for a project on Freelancer.com. Mikey figures that making some money is better than making none at all.




But he’s missing two important points to a successful freelance writing business:


1.       Every time Mikey eagerly accepts a budget that equals little more than minimum wage, he’s ultimately lowering the overall rate other freelance writers can expect a client to pay. Essentially, he’s perpetrating the damaging belief held by many clients that writers will gladly sell their services for next to nothing. This underselling hurts him as well.  He’s proving that belief correct and allowing the disregard of freelance writers to continue unabated.
2.       Just because Mikey is getting paid to write, doesn’t mean he’s earning what he actually should be. In fact, if he had access to a freelancer’s rate calculator right now, he could easily determine that this project budget barely equals $10 per hour. That calculator would also show the inadequacy of a $10 hourly rate to cover even his most basic expenses and bills. To be frank, if Mikey was willing to do some research or step outside the confines of Freelancer.com, he would plainly see that $50 budget for what it really is: a downright shitty rate no freelance writer should accept.


Is There Light at the End of this Tunnel?



There is one good thing about this particular project:  the subject matter. The buyer needs four “How To” articles explaining the process of building a stationary chicken coop, a movable chicken coop and two variations on the basic portable chicken run. In the life he lived before getting bit by the freelance bug, Mikey was a carpenter with over ten years of experience. Working with wood is second nature to him, and he’s confident in his knowledge of the topics.

Even with a decade of experience to call upon, he still has to research the building plans and diagrams, determine the tools, material, lumber measurements and dimensions required to build every design and then explain each step in a style that is easily understood by the average person.


Bid sites are only as dangerous as you let them be. Mikey allows doubt and just enough success to keep him trapped on Freelancer. Many people out there make a lot of money off Elance and Odesk. The amount of success you can get from a bid site is directly related to how you approach working on one. If you read about the people who have achieved success, you'll find that most follow a process they've honed over time that ensures they create concise yet compelling bidcopy that saves time while increasing win chance. It also allows them to narrow their focus into one niche area or specific type of content, like copywriting.


The main problem Mikey faces at this point in his freelance writing career is a total lack of experience using words creatively or efficiently. He’s never had to meet an impossible deadline or write faster in order to make more money. The typical daily routine on a bid site certainly doesn’t require that he study or understand the form and function of a query letter, the nuances of negotiating or the psychology behind converting a casual reader into a customer with the power and emotion of words alone. 

In the plainest description possible, Freelancer.com has babied him, sheltered him and stunted his growth to the point of limiting his abilities. It has provided Mikey with a safe and comforting whole in which to hide his head from the bigger world around him.

Whether Mikey sees it or not, the simple truth is this: 

If he could write faster, compose more words per hour, he could increase that $10 an hour rate to something a bit more respectable. If he could write better, with more style and a cohesive flow, he could land higher paying jobs and better clients. Unfortunately for Mikey, he started out on a bid site where everything he thinks he needs is just a click away. Leaving the safe confines of such a place is understandably difficult for a new writer such as him. However, if he wants to learn about the real freelance writing business, he’ll have to step out and face that world eventually.

Seriously, where’s the Light?


Freelance Writing Jobs at the End of the TunnelThe bright side to all this negativity is that every chance he gets to put pen to paper – fingers to keyboard? – is a chance to hone his writing skill, to manicure his style into something unique. Eventually, with enough time and practice, he’ll learn a few tricks here and there and then finally settle into a process that kills it.


That goes for all aspiring writers, not just Mikey Freelancer.



Mikey finishes the project and sends the four how-to guides to the buyer. A few hours later, he receives a private communication from the client expressing how happy he is with the quality and detail of the articles. The $50 budget is quickly deposited into Mikey’s account. And the project is successfully completed.


Then the client suggests something totally unexpected.


Would you consider writing for me away from Freelancer and their fees? I could pay on a weekly basis through Paypal. Email me at blahblah@blahblah dot com if you’re interested.


Without a moment’s hesitation, Mikey responds with his own email address and then logs out of Freelancer.com for the last time.

Before we continue I need to make this disclaimer: 

What Mikey and this client did isn’t exactly approved under Freelancer’s Terms of Service. In fact, it’s explicitly forbidden. Trading private email addresses or contact info in order to avoid project fees is against the ToS of virtually every freelance writing site I have ever been associated with. (Good thing Mikey Freelancer is 100% Fictional, right?) I don’t promote or condone what Mikey did, but I do understand it. I need to make it perfectly clear to you, however. If you do follow Mikey’s lead and break sites ToS, you run the risk of getting penalized or even banned for good. That’s why I expressed the importance of reading the ToS of every site that you register with as a writer in Part 2 of a Day in the Life. Arm yourself with knowledge and no one will ever accuse you of being ignorant.


It was a risky move on Mikey’s part, taking that client’s offer to work in a one-on-one capacity. There could have been a number of unfortunate outcomes with almost all of them negatively affecting Mikey. However, in his case, it was just the thing he needed to change the way he looked at the freelance writing business. It let him open his eyes to all the possibilities available outside of the confines of Freelancer.com.

Over the remainder of 2009, Mikey works almost exclusively with that client. During those bid-free months, he has more free time than he’s ever had as a freelance writer. He begins a daily routine of dedicating an hour or more to self-education.  He learns about many other sites that will buy content. He learns how to craft query letters and where to send them. He learns how to negotiate with clients and how to confidently raise his rates without feeling ashamed or unworthy. He learns how to recognize and avoid the little things that can cause big problems.


 Within a few months, Mikey has opened the door to a vast world  full of opportunity and taken those vital first steps into the hustle and bustle of the freelance writing business.


11 comments :

Brett Dvoretz said...

Hey Mike. An enjoyable and amusing read. Certainly shows people the life of a freelance writer isn't as glamorous as they think. It takes lots of dedication and hard work and maybe even just a bit of luck too. Keep it up.

Michael Davis said...

Thanks Brett! Readers: Get awesome job updates from the master finder Brett Dvoretz in the sidebar on the right side of your screen! Or http://www.writersjobboard.com/category/freelance-writing-jobs/

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Michael Davis said...

The goal of this blog is to help freelancers and content marketers succeed. I hope you all got something of value from this post. I'm behind on my schedule with this series but part 4 should be out in a day or two

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Hey man, thanks for this series. What a unique way to tell a story while helping freelance writers succeed!

Michael Davis said...

Hope it helps!! Part 4 is live, but I'm not exactly happy with it.... I will bring the pun in Part 5.... Bring the Pun, get it???? Man, I am super hilarious sometimes. I crack myself up in the egg. Oh!!! I almost forgot:

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!!!!

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