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Don’t Believe the 2 Biggest Lies about Freelance Writing

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Posted 4.19.24

Paid freelance writers: if you’re among them, you are an increasingly rare breed. If you want to join their ranks, you can. But first, a few facts.

It’s not that freelance writing jobs aren’t out there. Rather, pandemics and downsizing, and side hustles mean more people are looking for ways to make extra money and do it from home. Freelancing fits the bill. In the U.S. alone, about a third of all workers are classified as independent contractors.

But freelance writing jobs are out there

As for freelance writing, artificial intelligence systems can crank out ads and content faster than human writers. And freelance job boards have turned writing skills and writing projects into a “lowest bidder” war. Writers are fighting for freelance writing jobs and getting paid less and less.

Facts are not your only deterrent. Freelance writers must contend with certain lies about their profession. Two of the biggest whoppers can keep you from landing gigs and making good cash.

But lies are what they say they are — untruths. If you’re fighting for a piece of the freelance pie, then fight back in the most powerful way: refute the lies.

And embrace the truth.

2 lies about getting freelance writing jobs with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #FreelanceWriting #WritingTips

Lie #1: “We don’t hire freelancers.”

That’s what a prospective client tells you. And other freelance writers claim they “have tried to get gigs but no one’s hiring.” They get a variation of …

  • “We only use in-house writers.”
  • “We don’t need outside content creators.”
  • “Our staff handles our written communication.”

But that’s not the reality. Oftentimes, clients don’t advertise their need for content and copy. “The best way to remain competitive and reduce risk is by hiring more freelancers,” says the team at Upwork. Data concurs. 62% of companies already hire freelance talent.

Truth: when given the brush off, working freelancers find workarounds. Be one of them.

“Corel told me they don’t hire outside writers, yet they paid me hundreds of thousands to do projects with them,” says copywriter Joshua Boswell. “SONY said the same — and they hired me.” Joshua has worked with GM, Google, Verizon, Toshiba, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Boy Scouts of America, and Agora Publishing. Initially, these firms told him they only worked with in-house writers.

Why do prospective clients fib … and claim that they don’t hire outside writers?

1. Because they need specialty content

Thousands of leaders — particularly those in small to mid-size operations — are busy running their organizations, meeting with vendors, recruiting and training team members, searching for office space, reviewing financials…

They’re busy. They know they need content, but don’t have time to dig around on work-for-hire sites and get flooded with dozens or even hundreds of pitches from rookie writers. They may not even believe they can hire a freelancer, given that their company’s operations are so specialized. Who can understand all the medical terminology and regulations that are part of their everyday work yet make those facts accessible to everyday readers?

A freelance medical writer, that’s who.

If you wait until this client advertises, you’ll be waiting f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Instead, cultivate your niche and make yourself known. Create a list of clients in your field. Then approach them one by one.

Tell a prospect the truth: you’re a specialist. Explain your credentials. Then say, “How can I help?” You’re available when needed, you understand his niche, and you can deliver. I did this when I first started out as a freelance writer. I created a pitch exclusively for leaders of small, faith-based organizations. I’ve been working for some of those original clients for years.

2. Because they think they can’t afford a freelancer

A small business wants to revamp its website content but has a limited budget. The owner puts off hiring a full-time writer who would need onboarding, office space, benefits, and — oh, yeah — a full-time paycheck. By hiring a freelance writer, the client can get professional content at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time writer. And once the website content is finished, the owner can wait a few months before hiring you again to write blog posts, social media content, and brochures. In other words, he can use you project-by-project.

Tell him the truth. You may have to show him the numbers. But you’re cheaper than a staff writer. And you’re willing to work as needed.

3. Because they’ve been burned

True scenario: a creative director had to follow up multiple times after the deadline to get content from his freelancer. When the copy finally showed up, it was so dry and matter-of-fact that its best use was to promote a vacation in the Sahara. Unfortunately, the client was not a travel agency.

The entire publishing schedule was set back because of the freelancer’s tardiness.

The campaign could have flopped. But the creative director had another freelancer in the wings (me). I reworked the content, sent it back in 24 hours, and the campaign was back on schedule.

Once a business leader gets scars — like this creative director — he’s not eager to get back into the fire. Soon, it’s easier to simply say no to a freelancer’s pitch rather than go through the whole rigamarole one more time. That scenario repeats itself over and over, which makes it harder for freelancers to get a foot in the door.

But not impossible. The real problem isn’t that your prospects have been burned. The problem is that writers themselves believe the second whopper about freelance writing jobs.

Lie #2: “A freelance writer’s job is to write.”

Nope. That’s not your job.

You read that right. Your job as a freelance writer is not to produce words on the page for your client. Words are simply a vehicle.

Your job is to produce results.

Big companies already have writers. Small and mid-size businesses may or may not know they need one. But businesses and leaders and organizations and solopreneurs all agree on one thing. They need help getting their products and services and message and cause out in front of people who will click, engage, buy, join, comment, and use their stuff.

What do results look like?

  • Sales
  • Subscribers
  • Responses
  • Clicks
  • Engagement
  • Comments

… and so on.

Yes, you need basic persuasive writing skills in order to succeed as a freelance writer. But you do not need to have achieved Pulitzer Prize-winning status. In fact, it’s best if you can write clearly, with the ability to share complex or charged ideas at a 6th to 8th-grade reading level.

Truth: people have problems. Your client offers a solution. Your job is to put the two together. A writer’s job is to understand the target audience and use words to get them to take action.


New to freelance writing? Here’s a free checklist of questions to ask a new client that will help you get the gig.

Why do so many writers embrace the lie that their job is to write?

1. You think you “need to learn more”

We are hung up on perfecting the mechanics of writing. (I know I am.) Even if you’ve spent dollars and hours learning to write well, you may suffer from feeling like a fraud. You’ve had confirmation about your abilities, yet you don’t quite believe what you’ve been told. So many other writers write better than you. If you could just get a bit of extra practice … if you could just get better at writing a lead or doing quicker research … if only you were ready to make a better pitch …

The truth: you can always learn more. And you should.

But persuasive writing is much more than words and methods. It’s about understanding people and showing them, on paper, what their problem is and a solution that can help. You do that when you convince your toddler to try a different color of chalk on the sidewalk. Do it with a prospective client.

2. You fall in love with your words

Clients don’t care that you slave over an article through 17 rewrites or get chills from your closing sentence. They don’t see the 29 different headlines you drafted to get one that pops. In reality, they’ll often come back to you asking for changes in your submitted content.

Offended by that? If so, then you think your job is to write and their job is to pay you. But when you understand that your job is to create content that helps the client succeed, you’ll learn from the edits. “In writing,” said Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner (1897–1962), “You must kill all your darlings.”

The truth: if you want to get paid for your words, then those words become the property of the client. Don’t become so passionately attached to them that they cannot change. Set them free to do the job they need to do — which is to get results.

3. You don’t care about your prospect

News flash: getting hired is not about you. It’s about what you can do for the prospective client. They don’t know that you’re desperate for the gig. They want to know you care about their cause, their product, or their service just as much as they do. And they want to know you’re obsessed with getting their readers to buy, click, hire, engage, respond, comment, subscribe, join, or give.

You show that by …

  • Learning as much as you can about your client and his customers
  • Understanding your client’s schedule and working yours around it.
  • Meeting or beating deadlines
  • Delivering persuasive, mistake-free content
  • Encouraging your client

Embrace two truths about freelance writing

Yes, successful writers know how to use basic persuasive techniques. Your content is colorful. You use strong verbs. You present the problem clearly and offer a powerful solution through your client’s products or services or causes. You show the reader what’s in it for him … create compelling stories that are supported by facts … use testimonials and experts to give their content authority … raise objections and refute them … identify with the reader … and always, always give a strong call to action.

And yes, those mechanics are powerful. Your client needs that kind of content so his biz can flourish.

Give it to him, by all means. But don’t start there and certainly don’t stop there. Your main job is to get results and make your client’s job easier by working independently, with as few blips on his radar as possible. Become a reliable partner rather than simply another vendor.

Prospects are unfamiliar with that kind of arrangement with a freelance writer. Give it to him. Do that, and your client will stop saying “We don’t hire freelance writers.” Because he will hire you — over and over.

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