I want to share a little secret with you about freelance writing.
You know those big, prestigious brands that most aspiring writers dream of working for? Here’s the dirty truth: they often don’t pay very well.
It’s hard to make a full-time living writing for these brands.
But, on the other hand, I get it. Getting your byline with a big name looks great on your portfolio and can help you land more freelance writing work.
Find a balance.
By understanding the ideal ratio and the types of jobs you should pursue, you can completely change your approach to freelance writing.
So let’s dive in! If you prefer video, check it out below.
Pay vs. Prestige: What Does It Really Mean?
When you see people saying you can’t make a living being a freelancer, it may be that they’re only trying to get work with these big-name sites.
That’s a hard living to eke out.
What’s a Prestige Job?
But what exactly is a prestige job? These are the gigs that boost your ego and your resume.
They involve working for well-known companies, the names you proudly highlight in your portfolio — think Forbes, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Investopedia, and other prominent brands.
However, prestigious jobs often come up short in the payment department, especially for beginner freelancers.
Think about a site like Investopedia. If you’re a finance writer, they are one of the biggest names in the industry. If you have their logo on your website, it’s instant credibility with a lot of companies within the industry. That gets you hired faster.
But Investopedia doesn’t pay all that well. Recent postings we’ve come across when sending the Freelancer’s Friend Newsletter range around $20-50 an hour. That means you have to write a lot every month to make ends meet.
What’s a Pay Job?
On the other hand, we have paid jobs — the ones that actually put good money in your pocket. These can range from major Fortune 500 companies in boring niches to smaller agencies with generous content marketing budgets.
But in a lot of cases, your friends or family may have never heard of them.
These jobs should form the backbone of your freelance portfolio and help you pay the bills. They might not be the most exciting or glamorous, but they keep the lights on.
So that same writer getting $25 an hour with Investopedia may find an investment management firm in their city paying them $500 a pop for four posts a month. To meet that income with the prestige job, the writer would need 80 hours of work that month.
But, without a ‘name’ on their portfolio site like Investopedia, it may be more difficult to land higher-paying jobs. That’s why it’s important to go for both.
For a successful freelance career, it’s crucial to strike a balance between paid and prestige jobs.
Ideally, you should aim for about 75 to 80% of your projects to be paid jobs — the ones that bring in substantial income. Save the remaining 20 to 25% for prestige jobs.
How to Decide if a Prestige Job is Worth It
Not all prestige jobs are worth it.
They can be way more of a time and energy suck than expected. And, while definitely helpful, you don’t exactly need them to have a long and happy freelancing career.
But I think if a prestige brand meets a few specific criteria, it’s worth the effort. Here’s how I decide:
- First, does the client have a reputable name that can open doors for future opportunities? Having that name on your portfolio can be a powerful tool to attract new clients who are impressed by your association with renowned brands.
- Second, is the prestige job in a niche you want to establish yourself in? If it allows you to build up your expertise and expand your work in a particular industry, it’s a valuable opportunity.
- Finally, can you complete the work quickly while still maintaining a high hourly rate? If you research well and write quickly, you may be able to get more out of the gig, money-wise.
If a prestigious job meets all three of these criteria, it’s a no-brainer. Go for it. Even if it satisfies just one of these, it can still be worthwhile. However, if a prestige job fails to pay well and doesn’t align with any of these three factors, it’s probably best to pass on it.
One last consideration: time.
With these gigs and any lower-paying gig, have a time limit in the back of your mind.
I wouldn’t sign a long-term contract with a prestige site (unless they pay well). Depending on the pay and work level, plan to stick around for 2-6 months or just do one or two posts a month instead of needing to be ‘on call’ 20-30 hours a week.
Using this approach can help you rack up great experience and a lot of good samples that can help you jump to the next level — without getting locked into a time commitment and missing out on other opportunities.
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Find the Mix that Works For You
Finding the right balance between pay and prestige is key.
You need paid jobs to cover your expenses and make a living, while prestige jobs help establish your credibility and provide the social proof that future clients love. There are no hard and fast rules. And your ratio may shift over time. Evaluate each job based on how it can help you with your next career move.
So, when it comes to pay versus prestige, take a different approach, especially when you’re just starting out. Be deliberate in pursuing those prestige jobs that can potentially pave the way for more lucrative opportunities in the industry, but make paid jobs your bread and butter.