Do You Know What You’re Selling? Successfully Marketing Your Online Freelance Writing


If you’re writing for online businesses, you need to have a good understanding of the actual value of your work.

No, I’m not talking about “how much your time is worth” based on your personal assessment of your value and writing skills.  I’m talking about the true value of your words.

It surprises me that so many writers who focus on online markets don’t seem to have a real grip on what their words can do and why they can be solid gold for their clients.   These folks continue to trumpet vague concepts like “quality” or they rely on clichéd notions like “Google loves fresh content” in their marketing instead of explaining why their words are really valuable to a potential client.

The fact that you write well is worth celebrating.  It’s a great skill and it’s something in which you can take great pride.  All of that grammatical perfection and your ability to turn a phrase that would bring a big ol’ crocodile tear to Papa Hemingway’s’ eye is worth approximately nothing to your potential clients, however.

You see, they’re not interested in spreading glorious prose around the world.  In many cases, they might not be able to discern a truly awesome piece of writing from near-crap.  Their interest in words is far more mercenary.

They want to know that giving you $X to write something will produce $X+$Y in return.

That means you need to know why you’re writing can make them money.

That’s easy when you’re talking about a sales page or other more direct forms of copy.  You can tell them (and hopefully substantiate) that your copy generates conversions.  You write, the product or service sells and everyone lives happily ever after, sleeping on fluffy mattresses stuffed with Benjamins.

Your writing has additional value, though.  At least it does if you’re good at your job.

In addition to closing sales, good text can be a search engine booster by virtue of its ability to naturally attract high quality links.  It can play with Google’s attraction to specific keyword use.  It can pre-sell like crazy.  It can increase credibility, building up the ethos leg of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.  It can clean up messes, provide differentiation, establish brand, clarify the confusing, drive direct traffic from article repositories, serve as list-building inducements, become a go-to reference point, heal the sick, make the old young again and solve the India/Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.

Okay, those last three are a reach.  But you get the idea.

You can’t hope to successfully pitch your work at a higher rate if you can’t tell a compelling story about what it’s going to do for the client.  Sure, some of the folks looking for writers already have a clear understanding of your words’ tremendous value, but most of the people out there in Buyerland aren’t necessarily at that point.  They need a little education to go along with that negotiation and you should be providing it by pitching the benefits of your work.

It’s not good enough to say that you’re worth $X because “Google loves fresh content.”  Anyone can provide “fresh content.”  You need to be able to explain exactly what it is about your writing that will earn a loving embrace from Big G.

You can’t make that pitch if you don’t know why your writing has value, though.  If you try, you’ll end up sounding like my five year-old when she decides to bust out a big new word she heard on TV–cute, but uncertain and unpersuasive.

So, here’s the big question–and your answer is probably worth thousands of dollars if you write for the ‘Net full time–Do you know what you’re selling?

If you do, you’re in good shape.  If you don’t, you’re in trouble.  If you’re not sure, you probably don’t.  If you’re on the wrong side of the knowledge divide, you need to start carving off some time for homework.  It pays to understand your clients’ business as it relates to the value of online copy/content much, much better than they do.  In many cases, it can be the difference between settling for what people are offering and creating mutually beneficial relationships and well-stuffed mattresses.





8 responses
  1. Laura Spencer Avatar

    Good point! It is important to highlight the benefits of what your copy can do.

    I also think that too many writers focus their efforts on other writers instead of on those companies who could use their services the most.
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Are You Trapped in the Writing Web? =-.

  2. Debra Avatar

    Great post! I agree that we need to understand what we are selling–our expertise and words that make a difference. Thanks for the reminder of the value of what a freelance writer/blogger offer. It certainly was/is valuable in the corporate 9 to 5 roles. Freelance is the same, we just need to do as you recommend by,”carving off some time for homework,” relating to our clients.
    .-= Debra´s last blog ..‘Give it up and let Jesus take over’ =-.

  3. LIsa Avatar

    Not sure I understand this.

    If a sales brochure sells $1 million in product on its own, with no sales person in the mix, I can make that kind of claim. And the same is true of a grant proposal: if I write a million dollar grant and simply mail it in, and the client wins a million bucks… well, I’m a million dollar gal.

    Same goes for big-name writers: columnists, novelists, big-name non-fiction writers, etc. If a publisher makes a mint on the value of a well-known name, it’s reasonable to say “Grisham is work X million dollars to his publisher.”

    But what is my most recent blog post worth to – on a per word basis? I haven’t got the vaguest notion. Nor does It’s a cumulative, large scale, collaborative effort to sell advertising on a huge site. Yes, I’m part of the process – but no, my words alone don’t make all the difference.


  4. Cecelia Avatar

    I think that it’s also important for writers to be able to verbalize their value beyond just their basic skill set. So many writers or journalists will point out their writing experience and knowledge of grammar, SEO, AP style, etc. My thought is: So what? There are thousands of writers out there that can use proper grammar and put keywords into their copy. A writer needs to be able to articulate that they have the know-how to understand the mission or goal of a company and thoroughly integrate that message with engaging, relevant content on a consistent basis. They need to demonstrate how they will sell a product by being able to sell themselves, and that’s something I think too many writers neglect.
    .-= Cecelia´s last blog ..Survival Guide: Managing a small college newspaper staff =-.

  5. Don Avatar

    When you say a client wants “to know that giving you $X to write something will produce $X+$Y in return” you are simply saying they want results. Fair enough. Our job becomes one of convincing them we can do that.

    However, far too many clients don’t do the right kind of web metrics so they are unable to accurately measure their results. As a result, they typically just want to drive writing prices down in lottery-like hopes of getting a high return from a low investment. They give no consideration to the art or science of writing and the process that goes into creating articles that are informative and persuasive. They just want online articles by the bale at the lowest possible price. Thus, even people who are “writing machines” have a difficult time making a living wage by writing online content.
    .-= Don´s last blog ..non-fiction fp =-.

  6. Emma Larkins Avatar

    Great article. I’m fairly new to freelance writing, but I’m already starting to realize that there are a lot of places out there that will give you a few bucks for an article – not enough to make a living. I find that it’s pretty obvious, based on the quality of the content, the amount of money that has been paid for it. True, perhaps the majority of the population doesn’t care whether you use “weather” or “whether,” but I think that if you find the right markets you’ll get paid well for quality content.

  7. Martin Avatar

    What’s really valuable in a piece of writing is it’s ability to change the way people think about a product or service. That’s where the power of words really outperforms any other type of communication (imagery, music). Words are the thoughts that we broadcast to the world and these thoughts have the power to influence the way other people think and act.
    .-= Martin´s last blog ..How The Law Of Attraction Works =-.

  8. ab exercise dvd Avatar

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