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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On price tags, ROI, quality, service and more...Cheap buyers aren't necessarily a problem for content writers...

I was doing some market research this morning and accidentally stumbled across a forum post from about a year ago:

"I think the main problem for us, content writers and content firm owners, is that most people are far more interested in buying cheap content rather than quality content. They would rather go to rentacoder.com and get 50 articles for $100 than hire professionals to do the job right. Professional writers do eat and do have to pay the bills, especially if you are a fulltime writer."

There's a nice big nugget of truth in that statement. There are many buyers who are basing content purchase decisions on price tags and very little else.

However, I don't see it as "the main problem." It certainly adds a dimension to one's efforts as a freelance writer, but it isn't an insurmountable challenge.

Prices, are dictated by the market. The market sets prices based on two primary variables: supply and demand. Thus, writers must be able to adapt to market forces in order to operate successfully. We can all remember that from high school economics.

So, if everyone is looking for cheap material, what does that tell us? That there are producers out there willing to generate content inexpensively. As a writer, I have a few remedies for this situation at my disposal.

First, I can break price to remain competitive with those who are offering cut-rate service. Of course, as the commenter noted, one must still bring home the bacon. Thus, there are some limitations to how low a content writer in the U.S. can go and still remain competitive in a crowded international marketplace. I might not be able to match the prices offered by those in India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, but if I can close the price gap while maintaining a viable business, that makes a lot more sense than sitting on my hands griping about prices and the absence of available work.

Second, I can create demand for my particular product. There are countless ways to do this in terms of marketing and advertising. One can also create some specific demand by offering better customer service or a greater degree of professionalism, etc. Being ready and able to educate potential buyers about an improved ROI for quality content purchases also helps a great deal.

In my eyes, "main problem" mentioned in that year-old post isn't the willingness of buyers to spend what freelance content writers want. The problem is an unwillingness or inability on the part of some writers to combine reasonable pricing, superior service, quality outreach and an understanding of how to add value to a client's project relative to other outsourcing options.

In other words, the "main problem" for many writers is that they are writers only. They understand words and how to use them but don't necessarily understand why anyone else will be using them, how to explain their relative value, etc.

That's why too many content writers work at rates that crush them and burn them out. In an effort to survive, they break price to compete with the cheapest option on a $/word basis, forcing them to overload and crash.

One's ability to work within market constraints successfully will be dictated, to some extent, by their ability to produce work quickly.

Plus, virtually everyone in the freelance content writing world must have the ability to work at a rate that at least approximates prevailing market rates for similar work. Convincing someone to go from a half cent per word to four cents per word is not impossible. Getting them to go from a half cent to a dollar probably is. That's because no amount of great writer promotion can imbue content with the kind of economic value it would need in terms of eventual profit production compared to cheaper options. Writers must remember that clients buy because they want their content investment to produce a profit.

So, there are limitations. One cannot "set one's own price" for freelance content writing based on his or her whim.

However, a freelance writer with an understanding of content's value to buyers and an ability to work at a price that makes sense can be combined with quality work, customer service and marketing to produce success.