From $2 to $300 Per Project – Elna Cain’s Pricing Evolution

Welcome back to Freelance Mom’s “How to Grow Your Freelancing Business” three-part series!

Elna Cain joins us again in part two to continue the discussion of her freelancing journey. In part one, we talked about how Elna discovered freelance writing only to be paid a measly $1.62 on her first piece!

Today, we’ll look at how her business began to grow after that.

Elna’s Hard Work Finally Paid Off

After trying her hand at content mills and bidding sites, Elna discovered they weren’t worth it. She was lucky enough to realize this early on and ditch these “opportunities” before they sucked up all her good marketing time that would eventually pay off.

Instead, she tried another route to earn income through her freelancing business. Elna turned to freelance job boards.

In recounting her story on Blogging Wizard, Elna says, “I pitched to anything and everything – from health to finance, if I thought I could write about it, I’d send off a pitch letter.”

It was two months after she’d decided to freelance write—in November, 2014—that she finally landed a decent gig. This one was for an auto blog, and they were paying her $100 per 800 words.

Can you imagine? Going from $2 per post to $100 in just two months? But she did it!

“I was elated!” Elna told me. “I pitched and pitched my little heart out, and I finally received a response. Before I landed the gig, I needed to do a phone interview. I wasn’t too sure I would land the gig since they were also looking for a writer who was a photographer, but they hired me at $100 per post. I knew right then and there that even a non-journalist could make it as a freelance writer.”

She Continued Learning and Growing

Of course, Elna didn’t stop at $100 per post. Elna’s next goal was to learn how to attract clients to her site, so she began researching digital marketing, a topic she now specializes in.

That’s when she created a lead magnet for her site. A lead magnet is basically an ethical bribe to get people to sign up for your newsletter. It’s usually in the form of a free digital gift or discount. Elna’s lead magnet was a short eBook titled “8 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Email When Pitching to Clients.”

She persisted in expanding her skills and learned how to create Pinterest-style images for her blog posts. She was also commenting on other bloggers’ blogs to build her network.

Within two months, she was able to go from $0 to $1,000 and then continue making $1,000 per month before growing even further.

Landing New Clients

With Elna’s hard work in guest posting, commenting on other blogs, blogging on her own blog, and managing her social profiles, her business started to grow. Soon, prospects were contacting her from her website’s contact form.

This type of marketing is called inbound marketing. It’s where you get clients to come to you rather than going out and trying to get their attention. According to HubSpot, inbound marketing is 61 percent less expensive than outbound marketing. Elna was smart to adopt an inbound marketing strategy early on since it saved her time and money attracting paying clients.

It wasn’t long until she was earning $250 per post from a client in the financial industry. These posts, she told me, were 600 words per piece, and the company needed 1-2 posts per week.

“At the time, it was my biggest achievement,” she says.

She also started offering additional services, such as eBook formatting. By March, 2015, Elna had secured eight different writing clients. In just six months, Elna replaced her full-time teaching income while working as a freelancer part-time.

Continued Growth – And Six New Clients

Ten months in, Elna landed another six clients in addition to her other eight clients. She was able to attract these clients through referrals, guest posting, and pitching. During this time, she was charging flat fees that typically fell between $0.12 and $0.20 per word.

At this point, Elna was already outsourcing part of her writing, editing, and research to other writers to help scale her business. Essentially, she was hiring other freelance writers to ghostwrite for her! Then, she took a cut of the pay to cover the time spent managing her clients and projects, and she paid the writers for the writing part of the project.

Elna says this strategy has helped her business grow.

“It’s helped me free up some time, as well as build a network of awesome writers I can call on if I’m in a pickle. This, in turn, has helped me connect with more small business and entrepreneurs, and has opened the doors to bigger projects.”

Elna’s Mistakes

While $250 per post sounds impressive, Elna admits to making a few mistakes along the way during this point in her freelancing journey. Among them, she says that saying “no” was a struggle.

“I was desperate for work and had a hard time saying no,” Elna tells her blog readers. “So, if a client negotiated a rate below mine, I still took it, because, hey, it was paid work.

“I totally regret that now.”

One of Elna’s biggest pieces of advice? Know what you’re worth!

“The best advice,” she says is:

“Know your worth and have the confidence in commanding your worth . . . I find many new writers haven’t got a clue on how to set their rate and then how to confidently ask for it.”

Although everyone’s rates will differ, it’s smart to set a “minimum” rate for yourself. If a client tries to negotiate below that rate, you know it’s an immediate deal breaker. It’s tough, but saying “no” can have its advantages. For example, if you take on several low-paying clients, you’ll find that you have less time to marketing to better clients whose contracts will end up earning you more in the long-run.

As Elna continued to learn and grow, her business followed in suit. In part three of this series, we’ll take a look at where Elna is now and where she plans to go with her freelancing career in the future.

Stay tuned for Part III!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Stein owns FreelanceMom.com, is a college business professor and a mom to Gabriela and Elle. Lisa is dedicated to playing a part in helping women and moms run a business they love, help support themselves and their family and create a flexible lifestyle. You can find her online on Facebook and Twitter or at home burning something in the kitchen.

  • Nicole White

    This was such a great read! As a freelancer myself, I was totally baffled by the way the pay structure seemed to work when I first started out. Now, with a few more administrative skills beyond just writing, I’ve been able to create a pretty good deal for myself! Congrats on all your success and I look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Nicole. Glad you have been able to navigate these waters a bit. Also, glad you can relate to Elna’s journey!

    • Elna Cain

      Thanks Nicole!

      So happy to hear my story has helped you navigate this whole freelance thing!

      Whenever you can provide more than just your writing – whether it’s your online presence, your marketing ability, your editing or social media or blog management skills – you can use that to help you with setting your rate. More value means that you can charge more!

  • It’s completely true–freelancers just starting out often have NO CLUE whatsoever to charge. I sure didn’t. The road to charging livable rates can be awkward and painful. The first time I heard a “no” from someone who thought my rates were too high, I felt like I had screwed up big time. It was tempting to just backtrack and offer the would-be client a discount or start pitching lower rates, but I managed to hold off until I was able to consult another freelancer in my field who had years more experience than I did at the time. When she told me that my rates were still too LOW instead of too high, I was glad I had let that client pass me by. I’ve personally found that the clients who are happy to pay my rates are the best to work with, too–they are the most polite when communicating, and grateful when you do a good job. Good for you Elna, I love reading about your story. I’m looking forward to part 3!

    • Good to hear your thoughts on this Nicole. I have also have found that people that want discounted rates tend to be the most challenging clients to work with.

    • Elna Cain

      Thanks Nicole!

      It’s definitely tough to set your rate, especially if you have no idea what the standard is. For me, I set my rate in the beginning at $.04/word, but then I landed that $100 gig. That was at $.10/word. So from that point on I started in that range since it gave me confidence that I’m “worth” that and more.