A recent post on the Struggling Writer blog chronicled his decision to stop writing 650-word Web articles for $15.

His reasoning was simple: He wasn’t making a living wage.

I’m not here to denigrate low-dollar Internet article jobs. But I would ask those writing them a hard question.

Are you really making a living wage?

Even a basic wage requires two articles per hour. And that’s without benefits. Plus you’re paying your own overhead (Internet, Web hosting, PC, software, office stuff, etc).

Some writers are productive enough to make it work at those rates. Most of us aren’t.

Of course, writing low-cost Web content isn’t wholly bad. If you’re targeting a specific industry but lack experience, writing cheap can provide it.

One day, your portfolio contains nothing in the financial services industry. The next day you’re a published “expert.” Every job brings its own intangibles. But – as you know – you can’t eat intangibles.

It’s time to get paid for what you do.

What’s Next for the Struggling Writer?

Fortunately, our friend the Struggling Writer has a few ideas in mind.

I want to pursue other article opportunities, probably in the print media rather than the web. I want to follow up on that grant writing opportunity. I talked with my cousin over the weekend who writes grants and she says NIH grants are a real specialty and some writers do nothing but. I should also push the technical writing more. I need to revise the front page of my website because it’s, well, crap. I tried too hard to do the marketing thing and it sounds just awful.

OK, he has ideas. But are ideas enough?

The Five Steps Every Underpaid Writer Should Take

  1. Ask Yourself “What Do I Want to Write?” Most people know what they don’t want. What is it you do want? What do you want to write? Get clear, and your self-marketing efforts improve 100% – because you really want what you’re seeking.
  2. Build a Messaging Platform. Who are you? What are you selling? Why would anyone work with you? If you can’t answer these questions, your prospects can’t either. I list the elements of the messaging platform here.
  3. Target Specific Businesses or Industries. The world is a big place. Don’t market to all of it at once. Be selective. Pick companies and markets. Develop expertise and contacts, and leverage them into more work. Equity leverage allows you to sell a small house to buy a bigger house. Use your “career leverage” to do the same in writing.
  4. Look For Work Where You’ve Already Got It. Are you overlooking opportunities with existing clients? Are you writing low-dollar Web content for a company that lacks customer success stories? Writing press releases for a company that needs white papers? Pitch them.
  5. Make Concrete Plans. Don’t rely on vague promises – they tend to fade away. Develop a plan of attack that includes who you’re selling to and how you’re going selling it (direct mail, e-mail, phone, adwords, etc). Don’t forget the deadlines. And then make it happen.

There is a lot of work out there, but a lot of its is low budget. Write it if you have to. Get paid for it. Leverage it. But always work at moving beyond it to better-paying work.

[tags]writer, freelance writer, freelance, marketing, [/tags]