Monday, June 16, 2008

Is The Climate for Freelancers Tougher Now?

Over on the Well Fed Writer Blog, there's a discussion going on about whether or not it's still possible to achieve financial self sufficiency as a freelance writer in six months or less. Bowerman first wrote his freelance writer's Bible about eight years ago, and he wanted to know if his "six months or less" promise was still possible today.

Some of the responses to this post were eye-opening. Especially Karen's. If you'll scroll down in the comments, you'll see that Karen has had a freelancing career for seven years now, and she's seen her client list drop significantly in the past few years.

Should we be scared? Is the market for freelance writers taking a nose dive? Here are some thoughts on why it might be--and why it might not be.

More freelancers = more competition. Books like Bowerman's and Bly's really increased public interest in freelance writing. Now there are so many books about it, websites devoted to it, e-books and business coaches and classes and all sorts of businesses that market to people who want to become freelance writers, it's no wonder writers are seeing more competition. And new freelancers price low. It's possible seasoned pros are seeing more competition from new, eager writers who'll do anything for that first clip--even work for free.

Global outsourcing may not be good news for freelancers. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse to freelancers, in my opinion. Clients now have access to writers all over the globe, for better or for worse, and some of these folks work for extremely cut rates. Hiring these people is like outsourcing your factory to China and paying six cents a day for work you'd have to pay a living wage for in the States. Freelancers face the same competition all workers in America face from low-wage workers in other countries.

Elance, Guru, et cetera. Job bidding sites give clients who are looking for a price break a single, easily-accessible place to find cheap work. I used to work on Elance, and while I charged high prices compared to the rest of the pack (and still got work), I was not the norm. Perhaps before these sites became popular, it was tougher for clients who wanted cheap writing to find cheap writers. Not anymore.

More businesses than ever need good freelancers. However, the Web has created an insatiable market for businesses looking for writers. Natural search is pretty much all writing--only a regular stream of content will get you at the top of the SERP's and keep you there. Savvy businesses understand that quality writing is the only thing that really works--you can't use $5 articles as link bait and expect to get anywhere. This is a huge market for writers.

Economic downturn = more companies hiring freelancers. Life is scary nowadays. Gas prices are up. Wages are down. The economy is stagnating. It's good news for freelancers--companies that would ordinarily hire full-time writers cant' afford to, but they still need to market their products or they won't get paid themselves. So they hire freelancers, who are cheaper than full-timers. Don't let the economy scare you.

The web gives us access to more clients. It used to be that you were stuck in the town you lived in when it came to finding clients. But the web means we can work for clients anywhere. I have clients in the U.K., in South Africa, in Canada, and even in China. When you're an online freelancer, you're not constrained by the businesses nearby--the world is your marketplace.

I'm not scared yet. The market may be changing--but I think there's still plenty of business out there for good writers.


Anonymous said...

The work's out there if you're willing to do the legwork.

If you rely on job listings or bidding sites, you won't.

Star Lawrence said...

I have been full-time freelance for 26 yrs--bought a house, cars, sole support of my family. I think the business is changing--I feel like the old crab telling kids to get off my lawn (which I also do). Bowerman thinks there is still plenty of work for high-end commercial writers like himself. I am sure there is. But I have seen my client list go from Apple and IBM to some regional magazines and websites. I am almost sick of railing about it. We are not "supposed" to tell people their fees are not market rate (or OLD market rate). We are not supposed to have an opinion on our own business or we are making a bad impression on "the web" or something. But I have been outfront in saying we need to try to hold the line. This is one reason, we created Writer's Catablog. We will say the incendiary, say the unpopular. Our work is worth something! Stand tall!

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I think the climate has changed, but I don't know if I'd label it tougher. Some aspects of my career have dried up while others have opened wide. I consider that a climate shift, not a natural disaster. I'm still staying afloat, but I'll have to see what a potential long-term recession brings my way. As a freelancer, I don't think I should ever feel too safe and secure. However, with the economy the way it is, I don't think anyone should feel safe and secure.

Unknown said...

I have to agree, Star. This business is definitely changing. The Web and all the insulting offers on it are part of the reason for it, too. We can overcome it by changing where we search for work. I've advocated educating every writer on his/her rights, expectations, and self-worth. Devon has said, and perhaps correctly, that we need to leave low-ballers to fend for themselves. That's a smart approache, but my fear is that doesn't remove the influence from the market.

Star Lawrence said...

Obviously, we can't spend too much time lamenting this (I don't even pretend to be a positive thinker, as my friends know, so I can get away with some of this). I can't do anything but be a writer--I don't drive and am down to one eye even if I could have driven. I live in Central Nowhere in a desert, no less. This is what I do--help people communicate better and take troubles and work off their hands. It used to be a good living, now suddenly (Craigs, I tell ya) it's amateur hour, mean cranky bossy people, no-answer answers, etc. But we must persist. I would like to think the marketplace would flush out the losers--but more losers seem to be joining, at least so far. Other "spokesfolk" in this area say just move on, don't complain, don't remark on it...whatever. Pooey!

Yuwanda Black said...

Jennifer I've written on this a few times myself just recently. I've been a freelance writer since 1993, and I've never been busier. I do primarily SEO writing now; and the more I learn about writing for the web, eg, meta tag writing, article directory submission, resource box writing, blog postings -- I have to say, I've never been more "well fed" to steal a phrase from Peter Bowerman. You have to learn and grow as a writer. When one sector dries up or gets tight, try something else.

The nice thing about SEO writing? Clients look to me as the authority. They usually don't have the depth of SEO knowledge I have, so it's more of a collaboration than an "outsourced gig."

The outcome: projects go pretty smoothly.