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Freelancers are the worker bees of the content marketing ecosystem. While freelancers may not be as involved in the strategy and planning process for creative assignments as salaried employees, they still occupy important roles.
However, freelancers are as affected by changes in the content ecosystem — and perhaps become more affected — than their clients and marketing strategists. Changes in best practices for content can affect the types of work they get, what they get paid for completing the work, and what levels of writing they’re expected to produce. We wanted to interview freelancers to understand their thoughts on the industry. Based on our 2016 State of Content Marketing Survey, and compared to our 2014 State of Freelance Writing Survey, below are four trends in The Current Content Ecosystem from a freelancer’s perspective.
As the American workplace continues to evolve, more people are changing how they define work. Some companies define the work week as 45 to 48 hours. Meanwhile, freelancers may consider themselves full time, but that status doesn’t mean that they’re limited to a set number of hours.
Sixty-four percent of respondents said they work full-time as a freelance creative; however, only 14 percent said they work more than 40 hours per week. Additionally, 39 percent of respondents said they work between 21 to 40 hours per week, and 29 percent said they work 11 to 20 hours per week.
When asked what they like most about being a freelancer, an overwhelming number of responses carried the word freedom in it. “(I like) the freedom to work when I’m most creative,” Michele Goudie wrote. “Not being tied down to an 8 to 5 schedule is a bonus.”
Despite many respondents reporting themselves as full-time freelancers, freelance writing wasn’t exactly lucrative for all of them. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they earned less than $20,000 as a freelancer in 2015, and 47 percent said they earned less than $10,000 per year. In this aspect, not much has changed over the past two years. In 2014, 48 percent of respondents said they earned less than $10,000 per year. Considering a few respondents declined to share their annual salary with us, pay rates may not have changed at all, but rather shifted with the respondents.
Salary is an incredibly high-level view of pay rates in content marketing, so we dug deeper to see if per-word payments were changing. Twenty-two percent of respondents who write articles for the Web charge between 4 to 7 cents per word, while 20 percent charge 7 to 12 cents per word. The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) recommends businesses pay between 20 cents to $2 per word, but only 25 percent of respondents said they earn above 26 cents per word. Regardless, 42 percent said they were satisfied with their hourly rate, and 32 percent said they were very satisfied with it.
“People don’t appreciate the work and talent that goes into being a writer,” Anony Mous wrote. “They don’t want to pay much because ‘anyone can do it,’ but not everyone can!”
If you’re not familiar with per-word concepts, the EFA recommends an hourly rate of $40 to $100 per hour. In 2014, only 22 percent of respondents said they earned at or above that recommendation. Many respondents (28 percent) said they earned between $10 to $17 per hour. Clearly, writer payments for content marketing still needs to catch up to industry standards.
Once we had a clear picture of how freelancers work in the industry and what they make, we wanted to know what would cause them to work harder and what motivates them to do well. One theory was writer attribution, or receiving a byline for one’s work. Only 11 percent of freelancers said they always receive attribution for their work, and 46 percent said they rarely or never receive attribution. This statistic comes close to matching the results of 2013, when 7 percent always received bylines and 53 percent rarely or never did.
In 2014, 56 percent of respondents said they were happy with the amount of bylines they received, a trend that continues today. In this year’s survey, 47 percent of respondents said attribution would not affect the time or effort they put into their work. Only 7 percent of respondents said they charge less for content with a byline, while another 7 percent said they charge more (the remaining 85 percent were ambivalent).
The theory that bylines provide motivation is completely disproven when freelancers reported what would increase their satisfaction in the field. Sixty-three percent said higher pay, while 10 percent said more creative freedom. Only 8 percent said they felt motivated by more attribution. Only 6 percent of respondents said they wanted to get more feedback and training as ways to increase their job satisfaction.
Many of our writers worried about pay, but that concern is directly related to content. In the open-ended responses, many complained about getting lowball offers and writing content for only $5 per article. Others said low-quality writers were damaging the industry’s integrity.
“Since I began eight years ago, I have noticed a dramatic decline in the integrity of writing that is being accepted, which degrades what I personally do as a writer,” Jan Castagnaro wrote. “In addition, the industry has been flooded with so many people believing they can make a buck at this, and they lowball price their writing, making it difficult to find work that actually pays. No one should be expected to write an article which might take an hour to write and get paid $1 to $5 an article — that’s less than minimum wage. It also muddies the writing waters with terribly written content that is now littering the internet.”
If marketers are willing to accept low-quality work, then they will find low-quality writers. If they demand quality, well-written content, then they are going to have to meet the wage demands of their freelance contractors. One element has not changed since our last State of Freelance Writing Survey: Writers and marketers still can’t seem to agree on items related to compensation and work quality.