How to Make $2 per Hour Writing

By - August 12, 2014

The pay scale indicator started at $2 per hour. That should have been a clue. I had signed up for Freelancer.com, a popular freelance platform to look for writing jobs, and I poked around to see what was currently available. One project that caught my eye involved finance articles. I could do that. But I noticed the rate was $3 per article, and the client required that the writer have a Bachelor's degree from a U.S. university. I laughed, thinking this was an anomaly. Then I started to get emails like the following from the website:

Here are the latest projects and contests matching your profile and skills.

Apparently I had a horrible profile and no skills, at least if these "matches" were any indication.

In any case, my understanding of the economic expression "low barriers to entry" became very clear. It is easier than ever to write for money. The internet makes possible an almost instant connection between writers and people who need things written. This is wonderful... sort of.

On one hand, it's possible I wouldn't be writing for a living if it had been more difficult to get started. I never sold a book or an article before the internet came along, and then, suddenly, my wife and I were making a good living writing for our own websites and producing e-books. Now, as a freelance writer, it is easier than ever for me to research and write articles, and to find clients.

On the other hand, the result of these lower barriers to entry is an influx of millions of writers who are competing to see who can sell their work the cheapest.

I collected several of these emails before I started to hit the delete button without opening them. I had previously suspected that the biggest challenge would be getting chosen from among the dozens of writers bidding on any given project. Being the new guy with no ratings doesn't make it easy to convince a potential client that you're the one he needs. But I discovered another big challenge; wading through all the projects to find the small percentage that actually offer more than a few dollars per hour. This is no exaggeration. Here's one of the examples culled from the first three emails I received:

Write Blog Articles (Longtem) - More than one expert writers are needed with excellent English writing skills. I offer a fixed rate of $2 USD for 500 words. If you do not agree to rates, please do not bid. You will get a continous work from this project.

The buyer obviously needs a writer (and a dictionary), but he might not even know it if he got "excellent English writing skills" once he received his $2 articles. The budget indicator showed $2 to $8 per hour. To achieve the upper end of that range would require writing four "expert" articles per hour. And he was generous compared to other potential clients, like this one:

Submit articles for me - Need a writer who is interested in doing job on regular basis. Pay rate is $1 for 500 words. I'm looking for a long term writer, and would like to work with you for awhile if you are good.

Yes, I better be a good writer and send my best work in order to keep making that dollar per article. I would hate to lose a job like that. And then there was this:

Hi writers, I have had a big increase in the amount me and my team have to write, i can only afford 1 dollar per article, however there is as much articles as you wish, and if you work is good i will give a great review...

Hi client, if I understand your offer, I'll get crap pay but make it up on volume. Let's see... If I can crank out two articles per hour and I work 16 hours daily seven days per week for a month, I might be able to afford eye drops for those throbbing globes in my head and medical treatment for my carpal tunnel syndrome. And then...

Creative Writing Work Needed - I need an eBook written, creative writing fiction piece. 30,000 words. Payment is $100.00. Deadline: 2 weeks, with it sent over daily for review. If you do well, I can keep giving you stories like this to do.

Hey, I get to be creative and pour my heart into a "creative writing fiction piece." And the client is even offering daily criticism to keep me motivated. But then who wouldn't be motivated by the opportunity to make $100 for writing a 30,000-word book!?

I couldn't invent listings like these because I wouldn't have thought to make them this ridiculous. Many buyers wanted $1 articles, and one even wanted 30 articles for $15 total, and said "Don't bid if you don't agree to the price." One project that promised something close to minimum wage was for "technical, legal and scientific written materials." I tried to imagine the person who had the skills to take on that one and needed the money badly enough to do it. I would have felt bad except that nobody would actually bid, right? Wrong.

I clicked the links in my email to get the full details on a few projects -- just out of curiosity. I saw this posted: "ASAP! 20 articles of 800 words needed." There were a dozen bids, and probably more to come before the deadline arrived. The average was $52, which is $2.60 per article.

But I looked closer and realized that the client would probably go with one of the several bids that were $20 to $25. To research (yes he wanted that too), write, and deliver twenty of these 800-word articles would take a fast writer twenty hours. Did I mention that the freelance website takes a 10% fee? Welcome to the world of 90-cent-per-hour writing jobs!

Setting Aside the Sarcasm...

Do you and I have to compete against all those cheap writers? I don't think so. I hope not. I couldn't work for those wages anyhow. I did sell a few $20 articles to get my freelance writing career started, but when Writers Weekly bought an article from me for $60, and a short "success story" for $40, I was motivated to aim higher. I launched a new website to offer my services, and started doing some basic marketing. I've since been paid $65 to $100 for researched articles, and $169 to help with ideas for a speech.

If my clients discover those $1 and $2 article sources, I figure most will come back after the first batch they buy. There are probably some decent writers selling their work cheap on these sites, but even good writers can't deliver their usual quality when working for five dollars or one dollar, because they have to focus on speed above all else.

Fortunately several of my clients have retuned for more articles and posts. I made $585 freelancing in March 2014, the month I launched my new website. By summer I had my first month in which I made over $1,000 from freelancing. If my luck holds (and yes, there is some luck involved), by the end of the year I might be making a decent income from freelancing.

I wonder if the folks at Freelancer.com will close my account if they discover this article. It's possible, so I better work hard to keep finding decent clients, since I might have ruined my dollar-per-article backup plan. Sorry about that; I couldn't set aside my sarcasm for long, because it feels so appropriate. But really, just say no to writing for less than minimum wage.

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