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The Reality of Being a Freelance Writer

We all have career goals and aspirations. Whether you spend years at college, or start at the bottom of a company and work your way up, it’s that drive to succeed that fuels you. When I started my freelancing career, I would do anything to make it work and avoid going back to an office job. What I didn’t realise, is how hard life is as a freelancer. 

Rising to Fall 

My first role was for a content agency that paid me a grand total of 0.01 per word. I’m not joking. Churning out a 500 word article, inserting all the correct keywords and finding authority links earned me £5.00. However, my determination to succeed meant I accepted that low pay with the reasoning that I was “paying my dues”. Unfortunately, it was this mindset that trapped me in a low-paying job with little prospects. 

I learned very quickly that freelancing isn’t like regular employment. There are no minimum wage standards, which means content agencies can get away with paying writers a pittance. I knew that I couldn’t sustain a living on that kind of money. With rent and bills to pay, I was working round the clock to make ends meet. Feeling trapped in a job you hate, writing about engineered flooring and injury lawyers isn’t good for your mental health. As I sank deeper into depression, I knew I had to make a change, or go back to a nine to five. 

Working Up 

A Google search lead me to a freelancer platform that promised thousands of opportunities at the click of a button. Clicking on the link, I was greeted with a website that offered hope and the promise of success. I’d found Upwork, the largest freelancing platform on the internet. 

The thing about Upwork is if you apply as a writer, you’re usually turned away. Why? Because there are so many of us. However, I wasn’t giving up that easily. I applied to the platform as a Virtual Assistant, and after receiving my acceptance email, I altered my profile to advertise my writing services – and it worked! Now I was ready to make my fortune and finally see my name in print. 

The First Job 

OK, maybe I was naïve in thinking I’d find a high paying client straight away, but I had experience, talent and took the time to write proposals clients couldn’t say no to. Twenty proposals later, and I was losing my confidence. However, hundreds of enticing writing jobs on the screen, meant I had to decide. Do I give up, or swallow my pride? 

It wasn’t a hard choice; I mean I’d put all my hopes in a writing career, so I knew I had to make it work. Drafting a proposal to an entry-level job, I offered to write 2000 words for $5.00. Two hours later I had the job and began my first Upwork contract. 

The contract was for an affiliate website, which meant I had to write in-depth buyers guides and product reviews. It was boring, tiring and there were no real rewards because the money was worse than my first role! However, I carried on because it was the only way I could see any chance of progression. 

My hard work paid off, when my client asked me if I’d like to upload the work directly onto his website. There was no extra pay, no bonuses, but I’d have my very own authors profile. My name would be on my work and I could say “I’m a published writer”. 

The Five Star Trap 

Your Upwork ratings are everything, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get you higher paid work – believe me. On Upwork, every client you work for awards you with a rating based on your skill, quality, communication and a range of other skills. I had a five star rating, experience, examples of my work, so surely I’d get the high-paying job I deserved. Nope. 

Clients know that there are millions of freelancers around the world competing for jobs, and they use that to their advantage. A common practice is accepting low rates for a five star rating, which serves no good for anyone on the platform. Clients see a page of five star ratings, and automatically wonder if the work was high quality, or the freelancer was really cheap. 

This practice means that nobody can really trust the five star rating system and building strong reviews isn’t enough to prove to high-paying clients that you can deliver on their requirements. 

Samples, Samples and More Samples 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have writing samples. It doesn’t matter if their from a job, or something you’ve written in your spare time. Nobody can deny quality content when they see it, and this is the secret to getting clients. 

As I built up my portfolio, I noticed that I began to receive more responses to my proposals. However, my lack of confidence meant I was still working for two cents a word. It was a minor improvement, but still nowhere near enough for me to live on. Not only that, but the Upwork service charges were draining my earnings. 

The “Fair” Commission Charge 

Every time you earn money on Upwork, they take a portion of your earnings as a service fee. The company thinks it’s reasonable to remove 20% of earnings from freelancers. Yes, they charge us, not the clients. So, imagine working for 0.02c a word, and looking forward to your first paycheck…then seeing the reality of that 20% commission. 

Upwork commission charges

Take into account that UK freelancers don’t get their rates converted to GBP, so in effect we lose out, which means having to increase our original rates. 

So, Why Are You on Upwork? 

If Upwork is full of low-paying clients and unfair charges, when why even bother using it? The simple reason is, because I have to. Freelance writing is a competitive world, and unless you have a degree, you’re not going to walk into a high-paying job. 

The reality is, that Upwork has some real opportunities, but you need to find them. In my three years on the platform, I’ve found clients that wanted a high-quality writer and hired me because of my samples. Am I earning a premium rate from my writing? No, but 0.05c a word is enough for me to live on, providing I find enough work. 

I use the advanced search filters to find serious clients and read the adverts carefully. If a client takes the time to explain what they’re looking for, then they’ll pay higher rates. It shocks me to see people offering $3 an hour, but Upwork is a worldwide platform. There are freelancers in other countries that will happily work for these low rates. 

Tips For Finding High-Paying Jobs 

One technique I like to use is the keyword filter. When I’m looking for writing jobs, I type “UK Only” into the search, which means I see jobs from clients seeking people in the UK. Doing this means I avoid the low pay rates, and can find decent paying roles. Of course, there are always freelancers starting out who will offer to work for low rates, but with a strong portfolio you can convince a client they’re making a wise investment. 

Never rely on Upwork to be your main stream of income, but don’t underestimate the opportunities it offers. The main way you’ll find success as a freelance writer is to build a strong portfolio. If you’re passionate enough, and will accept that you have to pay your dues, you can make a living writing. We’ll never be rich, but at least we’re doing what we love.

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Published by Hannah O'Neill

Lifestyle and Business blogger, copywriter, virtual assistant, and coffee addict. I'm available for a range of freelance writing work, so don't hesitate to get in touch.

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