How to choose a freelance writer: Look for shining eyes - The Write Idea

How to choose a freelance writer: Look for shining eyes

By Renae Gregoire

What's most important to you in your work?

Take a look at these moving words from Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. 

I have a definition of success. For me, it's very simple. It's not about wealth and fame and power. It's about how many shining eyes I have around me.

 Benjamin Zander 

 Conductor, Boston Philharmonic 

What do you think?

Do those words mean anything to you? Do they cause a little flash of recognition within you? 

Do you think, "YES! I know that feeling!"

Me, too.

And it is that feeling -- the feeling of wanting my eyes to shine and your eyes to shine and your prospects' and customers' eyes to shine -- that guides me as I share my stories.

Story #1: You're a peon, lucky that we contacted you

These words popped into my inbox not long ago.

Hi, Renae. I have a lot of content needed on a weekly basis, and would like to get a general pricing structure from you to see if it’s a good fit for us.

An internal alert blasted: WARNING! WARNING!

Price is the primary concern.

I hate talking turkey before understanding what’s going on.

But, being a professional, and having a tiny bit of light sparked, I responded.

“Hi. I do offer retainer packages, the highest of which is for 40 hours over the course of a month at $xxxx per month. If that fits your budget, let me know and I’ll send more details.

The response came back about a day later. And it was not what I expected.

“Renae, I'd be interested to hear your single service rates, not retainer. Already work with 2 writers every month, so this is just a luxury contacting you not a necessity.”

The alert resumed, but louder: WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! 

The phrase "this is just a luxury" implies that "you should be so glad to have received an email request from the likes of us, after all, we don't NEED you...."

Lights out.

My curt response expressed how I felt about their luxurious "contacting me."

“My rate for one-off gigs is $95 an hour. Thanks."

Of course I wanted that message to be read as, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Either that, or "You've got to be kidding me."

Cheapskates and commodity seekers, be gone!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several instances of people downplaying or dishonoring my expertise by treating me as an expendable commodity.

And although I’m willing to say that I probably am, I also know that I’m a hell’a lot better than 90 percent of what’s out there in terms of the golden trifecta of writing quality, expertise, and price.

So it’s quite annoying to have to deal with cheapskates and people who don’t value the contribution of an expert writer.

I’ve said, not altogether jokingly, that I should lead my home page with a message that says, “If you’re looking for cheap, if all you care about is price, look elsewhere.”

Or maybe I should give prominent placement to a graphic I created years ago.

How to choose a freelance writer - Choose any two

Maybe these experiences are telling me that my website isn’t doing a good enough job of highlighting my value.

Could be. Each time I look at my site, I see something I should improve.

Or, maybe it’s just that the market is flooded with “writers,” and buyers of writing services simply do not know how to evaluate and compare them--which would explain the many, many requests I get to “fix” content created by some other writer.

Story #2: Wonderful opportunities await!

My eyes lit up when this email arrived.

You have a new booking request! "I am looking for a good partner who can work with me on blog posts and other content marketing initiatives that I am unable to keep up with due to my current work. Would love to explore synergies and see if we can work out an affordable arrangement."

The word “affordable” threw me, but just for a moment.

The light in my eyes grew a bit brighter, as my rates dip way, way low when someone needs a quantity of work, whether on retainer or not.

During the call, the prospect spun tales of the many wonderful opportunities that await me if I work with his company during its start-up phase. And those opportunities did sound tasty.

My eyes were shining!

So I quoted as low as I could possibly go for editing a six-pack of blog posts.

The reply was, again, not what I'd hoped for.

Hi Renae. Thank you for the wonderful conversation and follow up. Unfortunately at this time, as a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I simply will not be able to afford your services.

Lights out. Shine gone.

Of course she added that she thinks I provide a very valuable service with competitive pricing. And that she hopes to soon have a decent budget to dip into for my services.

Is it rude to ask what you want to or can afford to pay?

Granted, the experience with this prospect was much more pleasant than the experience with the person in Story #1. And this later connection could possibly turn into a work opportunity some day.

But still--how to avoid wasting time with work that will never materialize?

Why go through the motions?

Would it be rude to start every conversation by saying, “How about if you save us both time and tell me what you’re hoping to pay?”

Or perhaps I should put my rates back on my website, although I know from experience that showing my rates doesn’t exactly discourage price shoppers.

Story #3: Can I have your friendship rate?

Rates issues also come into play with existing clients, people you’d think and hope would know you well enough not to undervalue or treat you as if you were less than.

Here's what a long-term client said in an email:

Renae, I have a personal project … and just wanted to see if you would be willing to do it for a friendship rate because I’m paying for it out of my pocket. I would make mention of you as editor, and give you acknowledgements for helping me in the writing process. Let me know if you can help.

My eyes lit up. Why, yes! Yes, I can.

We spoke. I proposed. The client accepted.

And then, shortly after, he proceeded to tell me that he “found” money in the budget at his company.

What that meant to me is that his personal, passion project quoted at the "friendship rate" would now become a slow-moving, corporate behemoth at a grossly low fee.

On top of that, he also tried to toss MORE work into the deal.

My light dimmed. My brow furrowed.

No way. I’m not having it.

I stuck with my guns in my response to his requests for more work. 

If you’re looking at more back and forth and organizational sessions, we might want to tweak the contract to account for those items. I propose to work those additional hours at $xxx per, with the fee for those additional hours being paid weekly.

He then proceeded to ask for even MORE work while hitting me with what I'm sure is an insult.

To this day, I still haven't figured it out.

Renae, stop negotiating with yourself. I think the $xxxx is fair if what it means to you is that a) you’ll do all the work I’ve talked about plus [this extra task we’ve never talked about before], and b) provide unlimited revisions.


I was fast losing my taste for this project.

The light was just about out.

Still, I replied.

The proposal I sent you didn’t include the extra tasks; it also included the two rounds of revisions you asked for. I’m happy to include the extras you're asking for, but I’d like to put together an updated proposal for the new scope of work.

A few hours later, I this reply showed up: 

Something about this note strikes me negatively. Seems a little pennywise.


What a real blow.

To my ego, to my desire to work with this client ever again, to my soul!

At that point, there was no light left. Not even a spark.

Yet still I persisted. After all, this was a long-term client. Someone I'd worked with for more than a decade.

After a few more rounds of back and forth and dickering, and having not received the advance payment several weeks after my client initially contacted me, I bowed out of the project, citing an inability to put enough time into it.

Truly though, I had no heart or light to put into it.

In search of answers: What is the universe telling me?

After these three incidents, which all happened within a month, I had to start wondering: What are these experiences saying? What is life telling me? What are these clients telling me?

And, more important, what can you learn from my bad experiences?

Let's take an at-a-glance look at the messages these people gave me:

  • Hey, what’s your rate? We don't need you ... just curious.
  • I can’t afford you, even at your most deeply discounted rate.
  • Penny-pincher! Shame on you for trying to charge for your work.

It seems that the issues revolve around rate and audience match.

Either I’m charging too much, or the people landing on my website are the wrong people.

I don’t think I'm charging too much.

A recent survey by Copyhackers shows that my fees are, indeed, competitive. I actually think they’re low based on the high level of work I do.

How much do freelance writers charge 2017

Source: Copyhackers

After thinking and wondering and figuring and searching for the light that makes my eyes shine, I've come to three conclusions. 

  1. My value is not coming across on my website; I need to look for ways to boost the perceived value of what I do. I’m not making my prospects’ eyes shine!
  2. I’m speaking to the wrong people on my website; I need to make it shiny clear that I’m not your run-of-the-mill writer who can “meet your needs” or “skyrocket your business.”
  3. The majority of people who must hire a writer have no idea what to look for in, or how to evaluate, a writer; I need to dust off a piece I wrote back in 2003, as it covers that very topic.

That though, will take me some time. (Want to be notified when the guide is finished? Become a member of my tribe (it's free) and I'll let you know when the guide is out.)

Have I made your eyes shine?

If you’ve been reading this article with thoughts of possibly hiring me to write for your business, then let me be clear with you up front:

  • Has anything I said here made your eyes shine? Or do I come across to you as humdrum, nothing special? If the latter, then you know where the “X” is.
  • I’m an expert at this writing thing. Doing the work I do makes my eyes shine! Just as a conductor sees and hears so much more than we do when he looks at a piece of music, I see and hear more when I look at your piece. I have a high-resolution experience that comes only from years and years of study and work with clients. I know when you have major organizational problems, as well as where the notes are off. Even better, I can fix those issues and turn your piece into a work of art that makes eyes shine and moves people to YES. 
  • I do a lot more than write grammatically correct sentences. As much as is humanly possible, I put myself in the heart and soul of your buyer. I want to know what the buyer’s thinking--what makes his eyes shine? What changed to make him want to change the status quo? Where did he first look for answers? Where did he not look? What brought him here, to your website or content? What pains is he experiencing? What is the “after” state he’s looking for, and how can your product or service help him get there? That empathy, that questioning, goes into the content I write for your business.
  • I’m not just a content writer; I’m also a content strategist. Which content is your audience looking for? Where are they looking? What are your competitors producing? What gaps can you fill? What questions are not being answered? What objections are not being met? Where does your product or service shine above all others? How and where should you communicate your unique value to best light up the eyes of prospects? 

In other words, if all you’re looking for is someone to quickly churn out a blog post or two, or to cobble together a rehash of all of the crap that’s already out there on the web, then I’m not your gal.

If that’s you--and there’s nothing wrong with being that person or wanting those things--then I suggest you post your project on Upwork or Freelancer, where entire worlds of hungry freelancers await your request for proposal.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who makes your eyes shine, and whose work can make your prospects’ eyes shine, then please get in touch.

I’m not going to be cheap.

And I may not be all that fast.

But I will be shiny.

I will be good.

Join my tribe?

Do you sweat the small stuff? Do you want your online presence to inspire trust and confidence? Do you grit your teeth when others don't care enough about YOUR web experience? Are you all about creating an excellent website and excellent content that makes it easy for people to get to know, like, and trust you and buy your stuff?

I think we might be soul mates. And I'd love for you to join my tribe.

When you do, I'll alert you to new blog posts, new programs and products, and new ways for you to create excellent, frictionless, online experiences that lead more people to YES! I promise to be relevant and real, and to send only thoughtful content and advice.


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About the Author

Hi! I'm Renae Gregoire, a digital conversion expert improving the performance of digital marketing content, including websites, landing pages, sales pages, online courses, blogs, and email sequences. If you're a coach, consultant, or other expert having trouble getting people to click, sign up, subscribe, or buy, I can help. My work typically involves a blend of strategy, design guidance, and wordsmithing, with a heavy focus on how your materials look, sound, feel, and function—all from your reader's perspective. Contact me to see how I might be able to help improve your conversions.