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  • Diana Schneidman

Freelance writing: 6 trends for 2011

What do you see ahead?

Back in the mid-1990s I belonged to a group of Milwaukee-area freelancer writers who met monthly. While not every freelancer the metro area belonged, I believed the club was an almost scientific sampling of local professionals—except they were perhaps somewhat the cream of the crop—and that what happened to them was representative of the broader freelance experience.

Today the marketplace is so big—it’s a single, international marketplace—that it’s impossible to develop a credible list of trends. There are billions and billions of freelancers, like Carl Sagan counting the stars.

About five years ago there were still surveys of what freelancers charged. Haven’t seen any lately because the freelancers surveyed would be too few in number and too narrow in their specialties and countries to provide useful results.

In the past you could say that “rates went up 5% last year” or “prices moderated with only a 0.3% rise,” and we would think that since we saw it in print, it must be true.

Now that it’s 2011, only a fool would generalize. I’m that fool!

My observations are problematic since they are based primarily on my own recent experience as a freelance writer and on what I read online, but I make them anyway.

Here goes.

  1. There is a heck of a lot of competition. It’s intimidating for those of us who are human.

The good news is that there aren’t that many good people competing for the opportunity we want. Here I am applying my experience in looking for people who do IT support of internet marketing for small businesses. When you start looking for someone to do what you need done, you’re surprised to see how few people have enough breadth in their abilities to do what real businesses need done yet still have time available for new assignments. So I take comfort in believing the same is true for writers.

  1. The demand for freelancers writers is tremendous. Back in the olden days when everything was supposedly oh so good, you’d call a corporate marketing communications executive and they’d tell you everything is written in-house by staff. That’s no longer the case.

  1. Better not compete on price. There’s no telling how cheap some people will work. Take That’s where people offer work for $5. Why would someone who can actually do something worth doing do it for $5? I don’t get it.

Yeah, yeah, I know there are people in other countries where the cost of living is lower who can buy a whole bolt of mosquito netting for $5. But I still don’t understand how people who have the sophistication to offer computer-based writing, graphic, technical and other services for international consumption can be so totally naïve in pricing their work. Unless it functions as a loss leader to bring in new clients.

In discussion groups I see that people who want to volunteer to write for free for charitable organizations of some repute can’t get the time of day to present their offer. So even free isn’t always good enough.

  1. Some people continue to get top dollar for their work. Sure, self confidence in walking away when they don’t get the money they want is part of the reason. But it’s also about the more specialized or demanding assignments they seek. Some of the assignment boards (e.g., define quality in terms of grammar and spelling. adds in word count—articles must be at least 400 words long to count in their 100-articles-in-100-days challenges.

Higher paying work sets the quality bar much higher. In pricing, as in life itself, it’s not always fair. But if you stand back far enough, overall the characteristics of higher-paying assignments differ from those of crappy-paying gigs.

  1. Telephoning businesses for assignments (unfortunately called “cold calling” by other people) still works today. In fact, it works better than ever. I still freelance and I still phone strangers for work.

Now that caller ID is ubiquitous, fewer people answer their phones. But overall, the contacts we reach are more receptive, in part because everyone is more comfortable with what freelancing is and how the process works. Also because any staffers still on payroll are too busy to take on even more work.

  1. The most important talent for a freelance writer is keeping our spirits up. Freelancing has more to do with maintaining the right attitude so we can compete out there than it has to do with ability.

Back when we worked in a company office, a boss would tell us what to do that day and if we were feeling kind of down, we’d sharpen some pencils and shoot the breeze before getting to work. Then the adrenalin of an artificially tight deadline would kick in and we’d focus. Stress would kick us in the tush.

But in freelancing, it takes more than stress to motivate our marketing. First, we have to get out of the dumps.

Originally posted 1-2-11

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