Three Misperceptions that May Be Stunting Your Growth as a Writer

Okay … you can write … that’s good!

You’ve invested in your education …

 … and burned the midnight oil learning your craft … great!

You’re willing to do the hard work necessary to get your writing business up and running … fantastic …

But the #1 challenge in starting (or re-energizing) a writing business is finding clients …

Now … imagine if you knew where to look and how to look for those prime writing assignments …

You could amble from your breakfast counter to your computer, and with a few keystrokes, see a list of several thousand eager clients looking for writers today … right now.

And on that list, you could easily identify a handful of writing assignments that are teed up precisely for your skill set, expertise, and temperament.

And you’ll do it all using online services, including Elance, oDesk, Guru, or any of the other 200+ freelance job and project networks you may have used in the past and dismissed because you didn’t get results.

As I hear from other writers all the time: “You know, I went on Elance and bid five jobs and didn’t get anything … and I didn’t see how I could compete with all those people charging much less than I would charge for a project.”

Those types of comments are quite common. And they highlight the misperceptions many freelancers have about these sites.

The truth is, you can find plenty of work on sites like Elance … when you learn how to use them the right way, as I‘d like to show you today.

Misperception #1: These sites don’t work. Nobody can get a good project.

I have this problem with cricket … don’t get it, couldn’t explain it, and would never play it … yet millions of enthusiasts around the world enjoy it.

There is a disconnect … but that’s okay.

What’s not okay is when a freelancer takes a look at a website like Elance and concludes that there is no opportunity there for them … that lack of understanding hits them squarely in their bank account. Because most people that stumble on these sites don’t understand this, they try it out “their way” and are doomed by their erroneous assumptions from the start.

There are five distinct phases I’ve identified to working on project networks.

If you bid too aggressively when you first join, you’ll never build your reputation.

If you’re not raising your fees once you get your first three to five small jobs done, you’re probably leaving money on the table.

Tip: When you go into a new freelance network, think of the first few jobs you do as auditions designed to build your reputation. Once you have built a little bit of a reputation, you can increase your rates.

Misperception #2: It is hard to bid on jobs and win them. There are just too many choices.

Every day, there are an estimated 300,000 open freelance assignments on these job and project networks – Elance, the largest, has typically about 50,000 assignments open every day.

On Elance, 2,000+ of those are writing assignments … another 2,000 to 3,000 are working with words in one way or another … editing, proofreading, developing copy for the web and email, and over 6,000 involve Internet research … something almost every writer does every week as part of their writing work.

Problem is, most of those jobs probably aren’t right for you and are extremely competitive.

If you know how to look for the assignments that are a “perfect fit” and you understand what uniqueness you can use as a writer, you can compete much more effectively.

By translating your skills, career, and life experience into a unique set of keywords, you can, within a few minutes, quickly pare down 50,000 assignments into the handful that are just right for you.

Example: I was working with a client who was frustrated trying to get started on a network. She had the right idea of starting off with easy proofreading assignments to get familiar with the process and quickly build her reputation … but she wasn’t getting what she wanted.

She would go onto the board nearly every day and look up proofreading assignments. On Elance, there are about 150 to 200 open proofreading jobs every day. She was just another in a long line of bidders for the jobs she selected.

I asked her about her career, background, and previous work experience. Turns out she had worked for an organization where she had to know a lot about aviation … airplanes, commercial jets, and airport traffic.

Together over the phone, we both typed in the word aviation, and there were 6 jobs that popped up.

She saw at least three of those jobs that were a very good fit for her skills.

Rather than piling on to jobs where you have no uniqueness, it can be very helpful to identify keywords that help you narrow thousands of jobs down to the handful that really fit you.

Tip: Doing jobs where you have a uniqueness is key to building repeat business from the same client.

Misperception #3: Jobs always go to low bidders. There is too much competition from foreign writers who work almost for free.

Yes … these networks are worldwide systems and it is easy for someone living in India or Pakistan (or any other country) to bid on a job.

Because those living in other countries might have a lower expense structure, they can bid jobs at a lower cost.

The big secret is that the low bid rarely wins. For most buyers, a well-written piece that meets their business needs trumps a low bid almost every time.

What most new freelancers don’t realize is that many of the writing, editing, and proofreading assignments require both a technical understanding of the English language, but more importantly, a cultural and contextual understanding of the English-speaking world.

Anyone who has struggled with a web page translated from something other than English by a non-native English speaker immediately understands the issue.

Tip: Don’t just look at the literal job description. Look for assignments where (whatever your native language is) cultural and contextual factors are also present in the assignment.

Another client who was a native English speaker also spoke and read Portuguese well. She was delighted when she found an assignment for a translation from Portuguese to English.

But the job was bigger than that one assignment. The company wanted to sell their products to English-speaking markets and needed a person who could not only translate but also “smooth out” the writing. What started as a simple translation became a copywriting assignment with repeat potential.

And, as she pointed out to me, if they were looking for a literal translation for a legal document, she wouldn’t have had as much leeway. Since it became more of a copywriting assignment, she was able to bring a lot more expertise to the job.

Online project networks represent a major opportunity for freelance writers.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, over half of all jobs in the recovery are coming from the freelance sector.

One job network has grown by 54% in the last year, according to this same article.

If you haven’t looked at freelance job and project networks in the last year, if you’ve discounted their effectiveness, and if you haven’t invested in understanding how the ”game” is played, you might be whistling past a rapidly growing mountain of opportunity as close as your computer.

Get started today:

  1. First, build your reputation when you start on an online network. Raise your fees only after you have done your first three to five small jobs. Remember, most people bid 10–20 jobs on these networks before they win their first one. Persist and you will be rewarded. And what you learn will improve your win rate.
  2. Learn the keywords that will help you whittle down the thousands of jobs available every day to the handful that are "teed up" just for you.
  3. Learn to find the assignments that require a cultural and contextual knowledge in your native language … you’ll have an inside track and lock out bidders who don’t.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: October 10, 2011

3 Responses to “Three Misperceptions that May Be Stunting Your Growth as a Writer”

  1. Everything I have read about Elance is that is is a major scam.

    Guest (Cybill)October 18, 2011 at 12:50 am

  2. Although I believe Elance is legit, the great majority of writing and editing jobs, excepting those requiring technical writing skills, pay an average of $5. Those that pay half decently have so many bidders that your chances of winning a job are slim unless that "uniqueness" you talked about really is unique.

    What if you are just that -- a writer or editor -- with strictly a journalistic background (and not a very high-level one at that) and you really have no "uniqueness"?

    Guest (Ana)January 18, 2014 at 12:02 am


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)