Finding Work After 50 – Episode #13 (Selling a Commodity)

Finding Work After 50 – Episode #13 (Selling a Commodity)

I don’t bid on article writing jobs anymore.

You might think that since I put myself out there as a technical writer, one of the services I would offer is to write technically oriented articles and blog posts. But I don’t. Why?

Is it because I’m no good at article writing? Nope. I’d like to think I’m pretty good, and the few articles I have written in the past, the clients were extremely satisfied. No, that’s not the reason.

What I discovered quickly after entering the freelancing arena is that article writing is a commodity. Articles and blog posts are seen as a commodity for two reasons. First, they have a very short shelf life. The typical article has a life span of a week, then it’s on to the next article.

The other reason that articles are commodities is that clients see article writers as a dime a dozen. And since articles are commodities, as you may have guessed, article writing doesn’t pay very well.

Most clients on platforms like UpWork and Guru want to pay $50 to $100 for a 1000 word article. A $150 article is exceptionally good. On the surface that doesn’t seem too bad, until you understand how article writing actually works.

I’m a fast writer and I can write a 1000 word article in about two hours IF I know what I’m writing about. But with freelance article writing you almost never do. The client will give you a topic (or sometimes a title) and you’ll spend the next four to eight hours researching the subject before you ever start to write a thing. The time spent researching an article is undervalued in article writing. And when you divide $100 by 10 hours you soon start to see why it’s hard to make a living as a freelance article writer.

Now, compare article writing to writing a whitepaper or a software configuration document. Clients have no problem paying $1500 for these items and most of the time they’ll provide the source material, so there’s very little research required.

Why are clients willing to pay so much for this type of writing? Because these items have a higher perceived value. They have a longer shelf life and require more expertise. These are value-added products, not commodities. And that’s the moral of the story.

Whether you’re looking for a new job, or you’ve decided to strike out on your own as a consultant or freelancer, you have got to quickly recognize what is a commodity service and what services have higher perceived value. That’s where you put your stake in the ground. If you’re not sure, do some research. See what freelancers get the highest hourly rate and make a note of what services they offer.

The failures in my own career have stemmed from my inability to understand and recognize what services have higher perceived value, and therefore pay a higher rate. But I get it now.

Whether you’re an accountant, a teacher, a marketer or you work in non-profit, you’ve got to identify those services that require more expertise and are in greater demand. That’s the only way to thrive today. I just wish I had learned that a little sooner. You too?

Until next time.


Also published on Medium.

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