After 17 Years of Freelance Content Writing, It Took 10 Minutes to Figure Out What I Was Doing Wrong

3 Vital Things All Freelance Content Writers Should Know

Adrian Cruce
6 min readSep 28, 2020
Image from: Needpix

It was sometime during Autumn 2003 that I got my first freelance writing job. I was 18 and it took me 30 days to cash my first check because that was how banks operated.

Things were different.

There was no Upwork, WordPress was only a few months old, and most online freelance work revolved around coding. Writing jobs were pretty rare.

Fast forward 17 years, there are 12,816 content writing and copywriting jobs open right now on Upwork. You can get paid instantly through Paypal and who knows how many publications around the world pay writers?

The world is going digital so content writers should be really happy.

They are not!

Most content writers struggle. They are paid close to nothing and it seems there are so many problems with freelancing that it is very hard to recommend this career path to anyone.

On March 16, 2019, I wanted to quit. I wrote an article called 7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Working From Home and I started to write less and less. I was very upset with low payments and the stress got to me. Hell, I had zero vacations for years.

Months passed and then the pandemic happened. The first couple of months were particularly taxing. Businesses wanted to pay less and less and that was when I decided to change industries completely and move towards gaming.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t because the pandemic was making things tough.

One day, Arthur contacted me. I worked for him many years ago and he actually offered me a job. I talked with him for 10 minutes and I started working for him in one week. As a writer and SEO manager.

The job made me stable again but what was really important was the small conversation I had with Arthur. The fact that someone from my past got in touch with me when he needed a new trusted employee brought me clarity.

And it did not take me long to figure out what I did wrong for so many years.

In those 10 minutes… well… those 10 minutes and the time it took me to drink a bottle of wine because I was happy, I figured out the following X things about freelance writing.

Good writers never stop learning

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King

I was not unhappy because of how much I was paid. There was no problem with volume.

I was just not enjoying writing. And I was not and am not the only one in this position.

What I figured out was that I was practically doing the same thing, over and over again. I was writing roughly the same things, in the same niches, in the same style, you get the idea. During the years, I stopped learning.

One of the best parts of writing is the research you do before you write. This is when you inadvertently learn new things. You keep gaining knowledge with every single article you write and this is valuable because of so many different reasons. My preferred one to mention is the fact that this knowledge allows you to talk to every single person you meet.

When your knowledge is spread out, you can start conversations, join them, and interact with any group of people. I cannot tell you the number of times I ended up saying things I did not even know I knew. Like one day, the topic of menstruation came up and after 5 minutes, only me and the women were talking about it. Normally, I wouldn’t have known anything about that and other related topics but because of my writing jobs, I had to research such topics and write about them.

I stopped reading and I stopped learning. In time, this made my job horrible since I just kept writing the same things over and over again. Writers need to be engaged and have their brains challenged, one way or another, or they will become miserable.

Payment should be about time, not words

“The actual writing time is a lot shorter than the thinking time.” — Harlan Coben

Most freelance content writing jobs pay per word. And they do not pay well.

In the past months, I saw thousands of jobs that paid between $2.5 and $5 per 500 words. This is a VERY BAD price. However, let me tell you 1 thing.

I am very experienced. I wrote everything from product descriptions to eBooks. And there is one trick that most freelance writers do: they rewrite content. They find an article online and then they just rewrite the content so that they pass plagiarism checks.

If I were to do that, I could easily write 500 words in 15 minutes because I have been writing for years and my typing speed is very high. At the same time, I know exactly how to rewrite the content so that no software can detect it as plagiarized. This sums up to $10 to $20 per hour. Multiply this by 8 hours per day and it means I could make $400 to $800 per week, $1,600 to $3,200 per month. Basically, $19,200 to $38,400 per year. This is actually a very good amount for people in some countries, BUT…

What you write when you rewrite sucks. The result is always bad content.

Good content writing takes time. You need to do research, create a structure, write, proofread, rewrite some parts, and more. So, writing those 500 words can take a day in some cases. In fact, I could say that the average time needed to write very good content, after talking to some of my friends that are writers, would sum up to around 1 day for 1,000–2,000 words. Can you live with $7.5 per day? This is close to impossible in most parts of the world.

As a freelance content writer, how much you are paid is very important. But most writers make mistakes with their quotes. They have a per word rate and they never really change it.

The best way to charge for writing is to think about how much time it takes to do the writing. When you need to spend a lot of time to do research, it is normal to be paid more. In fact, research companies are paid a lot more than what the writer would be paid.

Why not add research time in the quote? This is one of the biggest mistakes freelance content writers make right now!

Writers need an online presence

“Your network is your net worth” — book by Porter Gale

The best jobs I ever got came from people and businesses that looked for me, not the other way around. In fact, I have 3 separate pen names set up. One for each of the niches I enjoy writing in. I already told you that Arthur got in touch with me and this name you see, Adrian Cruce, is actually the one for which I have the lowest reputation. Even if it is the real one.

Years ago, I understood that writers are just like most other service providers out there. Writers just provide a service. And what counts the most with service providers? Reputation.

I forgot this really important thing when I had my bad days but I quickly remembered it when I got back on track. A writer without an online presence is nothing in 2020.

Now, it takes a LOT of time to build an online presence. There are thousands of writers that try to do this and fail. This is simply because of failing with the learning aspect I talked about above.

When you want to promote yourself online, you need to learn about branding, SEO, social media presence, and more. This takes time but the investment is more than worth it.

The fact is that when people know you, there is a much higher possibility they will consider you for a job. Also, when other writers are full and cannot do a job, they might refer clients to you.

Build your online presence, create a blog, make your portfolio public, stay active on social media, take pictures, basically, put yourself out there!

Hubspot has a very good article on this if you have the time to read it. Check it out here and remember that this is just the start.

Final thoughts

Sometimes, it only takes 10 minutes to figure out countless things. This is how much time it took me to change my life around. Obviously, fully putting things together took a longer time but a short conversation led to all this. It is only another reason why we should keep communicating, sharing, and working with people.