Why so few make it as website writers

There’s no shortage of work. Ask me. I should know. I often have to turn work away these days. There was a time when I felt I should never say “no” to a client, and resolved to recruit some good writers. I wasn’t planning to turn a profit. I just wanted to keep the clients happy and share my good fortune. Here’s what I learned.

Everybody says they want to be website writer

It’s a fact. They imagine leisurely days tickling their keyboards and making magic – money from words pulled out of thin air. Website writing isn’t like that. To begin with, it’s work, hard work, and sometimes (dare I say it?) a little boring. You can make a living from doing it, but you will spend long hours researching and writing.

Second, there’s the question of skill. Not everyone has what it takes. If you let your participles dangle, mix your metaphors, and don’t know where commas should go, you aren’t going to make it. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I have seen some very bad work published on websites. If you call the “digestive tract” the “digestive track”, you’ve just shot your customer’s credibility down in flames, not that they don’t deserve it if they don’t spot the error, but nonetheless…

What I’ve discovered from working with other writers

With the exception of the writers I work with today, and they were hard to find, I’ve discovered the following faults among many aspiring website writers:

  • Overconfidence
  • Unreliability
  • Lack of staying power
  • Lack of skill
  • Excessive pickiness
  • Unrealistic payment expectations

None of these things are going to make you a good name as website writer. None of them is likely to tempt me to put my good name on the line on your behalf.

I’m open with my clients about subcontracting. If I can’t fit them in within the deadline they want to impose, I’ll either handle the job for them, allocating the work and doing a spot of quality control before it goes in, or refer them outright. Alternatively, they can wait until I can fit them in. The choice is theirs.

Website writing as a food chain

You have the big fish with the reputation and a string of completed projects to back them up. Then you have the smaller fish: up-and-coming website writers who have what it takes, but need the experience and the clients. Then you have the wannabes who will never make it because they think it’s all easy.

The truth is, most of the really big fish don’t do their own writing – or they do some and subcontract the rest. They don’t even tell their clients that’s how they work.

Often, a big fish will subcontract a smaller fish who will in turn hunt down a minnow to do the job for them. The client thinks the big fish is doing the work when it really happens two steps removed from the person who actually got the job. Is this a good way to work? Probably not.

I’ve had a “handler” who would just pretty up the formatting and send in the work. She wasn’t qualified to check it since she couldn’t write, but she was pretty good at landing projects. I expect she paid me about 50% of what she was getting, and her entire reputation was built on the work of others. It’s not unusual.

Do you want to be a website writer?

Here are my tips for aspiring website writers:

  • Build your reputation and work cheaply at first.
  • Have patience and know you won’t land most of the jobs you pitch.
  • Pitch as if you expect to get the job anyway.
  • Be willing to spend at least a year building a reputation part-time before you can make a living.
  • Never let a deadline go by without delivering.
  • Expect the occasional disappointment. Clients aren’t always as reliable as we’d like them to be. Limit payment risk.
  • Only turn down work that you absolutely can’t do, or that you see as unethical. ‘Boring’ is no excuse! As a writer, it’s up to you to make it interesting.

There is no such thing as easy money

Yes, your mother probably told you that, but do you believe her? In this instance, you can. Writing for websites is not easy money. It has advantages: you work from home, you get to set your own (very long) hours, but “easy”? No. It’s not easy. You need skill. You need determination. You need patience and you have to have a good work ethic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but these are the realities of being a successful commercial writer. It takes a certain amount of guts, determination and skill. If you think you’ve got it, go for it!


About andreadurrheim

I'm an ex-horticulturist turned horticultural journalist turned radio broadcaster and general freelance writer. I'm hoping to promote my work through my blog and find out more about other writers too!
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