I am a big proponent of writers getting paid what they’re worth. I do not advocate for platforms that require you to pay money to access jobs, nor do I encourage new writers to "write for exposure."
Writing is hard. You deserve to be paid for it. End of story.
That all being said, I've been writing for a PR company for about a year now. They are by far my lowest-paying client -- they pay me roughly half of what my next-lowest paying client pays me per article, and other clients go well above that.
So why do I stick with them? I reflected on this for a while and came up with five reasons. I wanted to share them in the hopes of helping you, Reader, figure out when it makes sense to stay with low-paying clients, and when you should go to greener pastures.
Get paid to expand your experience
I get paid to create ghostwritten thought leadership for industries like aviation, B2B SaaS, fintech, AI, health tech, martech, many other kinds of tech, etc. That means I get paid to get experience writing in all those fields.
What they pay is very much on the low end of my salary, but the alternative would be writing these articles myself and posting them to my website, where they'd earn very little if anything and confuse my blog's purpose.
Furthermore, I've written other types of content that I didn't originally have experience in, like pitches, press releases, awards submissions, leadership bios, and website copy. This has allowed me to expand my experience beyond blog posts, thought leadership, and SEO to other services.
Outcome: I have gotten at least two direct clients that I know of due to that expanded experience.
I have written upwards of one hundred articles for this company, averaging around two per week. None of my other clients have the capacity to give me that kind of work, in that range, at that scale.
Doing the reps has helped me improve my craft. It takes me roughly 15% less time to write an article, and I am more comfortable researching topics I'm not an expert in.
Outcome: I was confident enough to apply for and receive a writing job in a field in which I am not an expert.
This may be particular to the specific company I work for, but they hired an editor who edits every single article I write, to help produce only top-tier work for clients.
And I've written more than 100 articles for them. That means an editor has given me detailed notes on how to improve, when I've done something well, and overarching themes that I can focus on, on over 100 articles.
Normally I'd have to pay to get that kind of writing development. Instead, I've gotten paid to receive it.
Thanks to this, I am much better at incorporating the "how" into articles versus just the "why." I'm less likely to make small grammatical errors, like "comprised" versus "composed of." (Comprised is used alone, rather than comprised of as I'd always assumed.)
Tangible outcome: Another client commented on how I'd grown as a technical writer and upped my monthly work.
A reliable income
They don't pay me much. But that income is reliable. It's steady. Even if some of the agency's clients fall through, not all do, which means that every month, I can count on a certain amount of income.
That steady, reliable income hitting my bank account every month gives me a semblance of normality and stability that I don't have from every other client.
Medium? Who knows when I'll get a viral article.
Other clients? Could go bust, fire me, increase or decrease work at any moment.
This company pays me very little compared to other clients, but it's consistent. That let me, for example, make the choice to decrease the time I spend creating videos for YouTube, and instead invest time in developing my website and newsletter funnel.
Tangible outcome: My website now gets ~10k hits per month, up from ~5k this time last year.
Last but certainly not least, I get companionship, which is a very rare resource in my world. I got to join a company Slack group. I go to a weekly writer's meeting. I have ranting sessions. I chat to other writers, PR experts, and marketers about their jobs. I've met up with a few local employees.
It can be very lonely to be a writer. This job lets me go to meetings, learn from others, and have an overall more social time.
Tangible outcome: It's hard to assign anything concrete to this one, since companionship is so nebulous. I can say, somewhat cornily, that I have more friends, I feel less lonely, and I have peers and contacts in the industry I didn't have a year ago.
Do the math
I don't always love working for a PR company. Aside from the low wages, I have to spend a lot of time turning sales speak into something interesting and relevant that a journalist might like to publish or write about. I write about topics that don't interest me, or that I find pointless and useless in the real world.
But for me, the tradeoff is worth it.
Even with the knowledge that this company is not paying me what I'm worth, the algebra works out for me:
- I got experience in new niches and content types.
- I got an enormous amount of writing practice.
- A professional editor reviewed and improved my work.
- I have a reliable, if small, income stream.
- I have a bigger network of friends and peers.
I did the math, and it works out in my favor. If you're looking to get experience without having to pay for it, I recommend looking for a low-paying job, as long as you do your own math and it checks out.
Hopefully this email illustrates two takeaway lessons for you:
- The worth of a job to you is more than the salary. My take-home pay is just one part of the overall value I get from the job.
- You can get paid to improve. You should certainly never feel like you have to pay to improve, though courses and coaching can certainly be useful ways to get shortcuts, clarity, or just accountability.
Any questions? Let me know. I'd also love to hear what you think of this email.
P.S. It occurred to me just before I was going to send this email that you might be keen on looking for these jobs right away!
Here are a few resources I've used to get these kinds of low-paying, but high-value writing jobs:
- The Superpath Slack group. Also just a nice place to hang online; come say hi if you join!
- Qwoted job board. A shocking number of openings I haven't seen elsewhere. Pretty good rates, too.
- LinkedIn, searching for PR agencies. I use my Medium portfolio to apply.
- Scripted. They have a low acceptance rate and pay 5-10c per word, but it's my favorite content mill.