Freelance Writing from Rock Bottom

rock climb in south australia
Somewhere in South Australia: circa 19998

The first website I built was for the Sydney Rock Climbing Club* sometime in the late nineties. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was when the only way to create a website was from scratch using html. I was also a beginning rock climber, so it was an exhilarating period of my life as I learned two new skills starting from rock bottom.

I preferred long climbs in remote places to gym climbing. The only downside to it was making your way across the scree at the base of the climb. Scree is all the loose rubble that has fallen from the cliff over the centuries. Crossing scree has challenges and dangers of its own, but the only reward is finally reaching the base of the climb.

Fast forward a decade or so and I find myself living in Cambodia in desperate need of work. After exhausting all my other ideas, I started freelance writing. Once again, I was standing far away from the base of a climb, anticipating the long, slow journey across the scree. In this case, the “scree” was all the poorly paying little jobs I had to take before I could start working my way up the cliff face of my new career. Some of the boulders I crossed included:

  • A six month stint writing three versions of the same article to be used in a “unique” article spinning software program. I made a whopping $6.67 for all three versions. Each one was about 300-350 words long.
  • Writing for over 50 clients I found on Elance. In the beginning, I got only one cent per word. I thought I was getting close to the cliff face when I upped my rate to two cents a word after I got a 5 Star rating.
  • About 50 articles for Demand Studios at $15 a pop.
  • 30 unique articles about Aruba. I got $10 each for the 500-600 word articles.The deadline was one week. The $300 I got from that was the biggest pay day of my early career.

Then one day I found a client off the bidding site system and they offered me $30 per 400-500 words. I was finally at the base of the climb, making my first tentative moves towards the top. One client led to another, better paying client, and now I guess I’m about half way up the cliff face of my writing career.

My progress at rock climbing was much faster for one simple reason: I had mentors. My rock climbing mentors knew the shortest paths through the scree and the routes to the tops of the cliffs. All I had to do was follow their lead. Of course, I had to be able to follow their lead, so we started on easier climbs and gradually moved on to more challenging ones.

I didn’t have any mentors when I started freelance writing. I stayed on the “scree” of bidding sites far longer than I needed to and even when I got on to the cliff face, I often moved sideways more than I should have as I looked for good hand and footholds. With no lead climber, I was free-climbing without a harness or safety rope. One slip and my career was over, or so I feared.

Some freelance writing gurus argue that you can start your career from where I’m sitting today as I take a short break from my climb to enjoy the view. I disagree. As a part-time freelancer in the nineties, I was able to earn up to $2000 for a single magazine or newspaper feature article, but they were hard to nail and few and far between. If writing is your only source of income, you need steady work and that’s hard to find until you have a portfolio and record of reliability to back you up.

You don’t, however, need to go back and forth across the scree as long as I did. If you’ve found yourself stuck in the bidding sites or content mills, stop jumping sideways from boulder to boulder. Set your sites on the base of the climb and look for a route that will take you there faster. Once you find a well-paying client and get a byline, you can use it to find more and even better paying clients.

Speaking of which, it’s time to close. I have paying assignments waiting.

Why not get on my mailing list? As time permits, I’m going to write tips for freelance writers that might help you find the route up the cliff faster than you would on your own.

* The current SRC site is not the one I created.