Beating the odds

Key inventions that changed the world.
No 24: The pooper scooper.

All freelance writers have a perennial set of challenges to get their heads around:

– Writing content to order.
– Meeting deadlines.
– Revising work where requirements have changed or were less than…ahem…fully defined.
– Establishing which rights are being sold and who owns the work.
– Agreement on bylines and back links.
– Getting the client’s sign-off.
– Getting paid.
– Getting a testimonial or recommendation.

And, of course, there’s one significant challenge that freelance writers share with anyone who runs their own business – that of finding the work in the first place. The good news is that  the internet has opened up the entire world for writers. And the bad news is that the internet has opened up the entire world for every other writer too.

Word-of-mouth recommendation often goes a long way, but it pays – literally – to have several sources of work and a range of pies to stick your fingers in. Yes you can trawl through Craigslist (it’s worked for me), Gumtree (not so useful for me) and a host of other sites, or you could register with sites specifically set up for copywriting and other types of writing. 

Step forward Copify – my most recent signing (or that may be the other way around). I like the fact that they’re in the UK, as it’s a market I want to grow for my business. I also think their blog is pretty funny. It’s early days yet – and I’ll keep you posted, but the signs are encouraging. If any other freelance writers want to give them a go, click on the link you’ve just passed.

So what can you do about those odds?

Two words for you: over deliver

Not, I hasten to add, in terms of the client’s must-haves. They, after all, know what they want in terms of topics, word count and tone. 

Here’s where you over deliver and ‘add value’*

1. Distinguish yourself from the competition by delivering error-free copy that hits the mark, ahead of schedule.
2. Once you have an established and successful relationship with an editor, suggest variations on their requirements for additional pieces.
3.Take a single theme from the piece and suggest something totally new from a fresh angle.
4. Offer to take on short deadline work (editors will love you) if ever there is staff sickness or unexpected problems. But only promise what you know you can deliver.
5. Offer to promote their business in comment back links on writing sites and blogs.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a client to impress!

* I know, you can take the boy out of the corporate world…and you ought to.


  1. Thanks for the link Derek. There is a lot to think about in our world of writing, let alone the actual creating part! I work it out on ratio, the more I send out the more chance I have of getting published – sounds good in theory, doesn't it?

  2. Derek says:

    HI Diane, I agree with you. I think it's about playing the numbers, as well as choosing the best options for your time. There's usually some refinement along the way too. When I started out, not that long ago, Adsense was often cited as a viable means to earn a regular income. I tested it in the field and it wasn't one for me. Horses for courses!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I'd like to add a Point 6. Sell your soul and work for rates that barely satisfy the UK's minimum wage requirement

  4. Derek says:

    Hi Anonymous, while that certainly does happen, I'm not clear how that 'adds' value!

    Sometimes (not always, I grant you) there is room for negotiation. I saw a quickie request for some copywriting, where they were offering £6 per hour. I bid for the job at £16 per hour and – because of my experience and approach – I got the job at my price. True, this is the exception and not the rule, but it shows that what seems isn't always what is.

    But sometimes, we have to accept – like every other business seeking paying customers – that a deal isn't viable for us and walk away.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You recommend writers sign up to Copify in your blog. They pay new writers less than 2p per word. How can you advocate dumbing down a professional business like copywriting in such a way, noty least given your own track record?

  6. Randy Murray says:

    Those rates are shockingly low, but not uncommon here in the US.

    My solution: don't try to compete for the bottom. It may not be easy, but working yourself into a position where you are working with better clients and charging 10x as much means that there's very little competition. If a new client doesn't wince at my pricing when they first see it, I'm not charging enough. But the level and quality of work should be what they want, not the bargain basement price.

  7. Derek says:

    Hi Anon, I advocate people who want to write – whether it's non-fiction or fiction – starting somewhere. Some people want to get experience and it's a step up from writing for free, albeit it a small step. I took a pay cut when I wanted a magazine column in Canada (ironically, the mag folded).

    My preference would be to start at 10p per word, or using a time-based model around £15 per hour, but I know that's not always going to happen.

  8. Derek says:

    Hi Randy and thanks for coming over. I agree with what you've said here. The key is 'working yourself into a position…'. Speaking personally, I don't always have the clients or contacts to support that approach. Yes, it sucks when you don't get paid what you deserve, but building up a portfolio is one way of getting evidence of skills and experience.

  9. Alconcalcia says:

    Hi Derek. As you RT'd my tweet about this article, I thought I'd give you a reply on here too as 140 characters is a bit restrictive. Whilst I agree with your comments about delivering and adding value, I was disappointed to see you recommend a copy house that pays its writers such awful rates. Yes, people may want to get experience, and that's fine, but should they accept the fact that they need to cut their writing teeth on writing articles for 1-1.5p a word? You yourself say your preference would be c. 10p a word, so when or why would you possibly justify anyone working for ten times less than your preferred rate, or the equivalent of £3 for a 300 word article? By my reckoning it's barely the UK minimum wage and us writers are trying to sell a service that not everyone is capable of providing. To cheapen it in the way these copy factories do does no one any favours.

  10. Derek says:

    Firstly, thanks for taking part. I'm not looking to win people over, but I am keen to prompt some conversation. And it's only fair that I take on board the views expressed here. So I've dropped a line to Copify to get get some info on the spread of their rates and I'll put a follow-up post together. I'd welcome a view from you in the post as well, when I get there.

    From my own experience, if it's a subject I know something about, I can put together a 300 word piece in 30 minutes, comfortably. That equates to £12 per hour if I have two pieces on the bounce. Still nowhere near 10p per word, but far above minimum wage for the writing. And, of course, I have other work sites I frequent, where the rate is well above that. I just don't always have anything regular from them. Some might say that surely, in those circumstances, it's better not to write at all. Some might, but I prefer writing.

    I'll keep you posted on any response I get and look forward to dialogue.

  11. Derek says:

    Which? Mine? I was serious. I put it together myself and it's in need of a redesign. or rather, a design.

  12. Derek says:

    I haven't had a direct response yet, but it's possible, I suppose. Are you still writing comedy regularly?

  13. Alconcalcia says:

    Was only jesting, I actually have a rather nice mug that they sent me when they first started up. Can't imagine why anyone would slag off my website. I wrote and designed it myself, yes, but I had feedback saying that it was good as it was also mobile enabled, which i didn't even aim for! I only embarked on the exercise as I needed a fast turnaround and web developers all quote me 3 or 4 weeks rather than days. Am I writing comedy still? Bits, but nothing special. I peaked with a sitcom that was in development a while back i think.

  14. Derek says:

    I have enjoyed the points you made today. Your credits list is impressive (one or two that I'd avoid, but who am I to judge?!). Mine is a bog standard GBBO one – virtually idiot-proof to put together. Limited templates and functionality though. I wrote three different sitcom pilots but they never got past the BBC revolving door (or any others). I still write gags and sketches, and some greetings card content – and when they sell, that does pay brilliantly per word ;o)

  15. Alconcalcia says:

    Indeed, I did get through the hallowed doors of tv centre and met comedy guru Jon Plowman. Had a show in development for a while and was paid a fee, which was nice. By my credits list I assume you mean clients I have written for? Needs must, but I do have limits. I used to work on the account for a company that makes nuclear weapons in my ad agency days. Machine gun police at the entrance and all. Wouldn't do that these days!

  16. Derek says:

    Very good. I met Iain Morris (Inbetweeners) and swapped a few helpful emails with Geoff Atkinson, but nothing of mine has appeared on screen yet. Despite what Bill Hicks said – and I speak as a fan – I like the idea of ad writing. Of condensing an idea, a brand or an approach into a few symbolic phrases. Ah yes, the Nuclear Police – I looked into them for a subplot for a novel, but it never flew. Come to that, I'm still waiting to hear about the novel!

  17. You guys write in a different world to me and I don't think I can
    contribute anything useful. I can see both sides of the coin on it. £12 is £12 when you need to put food on the table but if you're advertising them as well – aren't you helping to bring the wages down by setting a precedent?

  18. Derek says:

    That's true – for both sides of the coin. See another post today entitled We Need to Talk. I do accept that I have a responsibility as well as a business to run. It will certainly inform my future choices.

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