Freelance Writing Career in the Philippines

Last July 27, I attended a seminar hosted by Freelancer.com (which is the same as Freelancer.ph, in case you’re wondering) on “How To Start A Career As A Freelance Writer in the Philippines” held at the 47 East events venue at Esteban Abada Street in Quezon City. I have been a freelance writer for the most part of my working life, but I went anyway, thinking that any additional piece of information sure wouldn’t hurt.

The seminar was headed by Ms. Ime Morales who has been in the freelance writing business (yes, it IS a business!) for 17 years, and a regular contributor for publications like Rappler, GMA News Online, Health Today, and Moms Today, to name a few. She is also the founder of the Freelance Writers’ Guide of the Philippines, an organization that she set up with the goal of protecting the rights of Filipino freelance writers.

If you’re considering giving freelance writing a try, the tips that Ime shared, plus my inputs, might be of use to you.

How much do you cost?

 
Ime started the talk with the topic of costs, or to be more specific, costs that we are to incur if we take on a freelance writing job, as well as costs the clients need to pay for if they want output that is guaranteed to be of exceptional quality.

A. Direct costs

Direct costs, Ime said, can be paid. Actually, they MUST be paid. In accepting a freelance writing gig, one must take these things into consideration when it comes to the compensation:

Transportation
Will your gig require you to commute or drive to certain places? Whenever I have travel costs related to the job, I always make sure that I am reimbursed for it.

Electricity
If you think the only power you’re consuming when you’re working is the power of your brain cells, think again. There’s your computer, the internet modem, the lights, the fan or the A/C… unless, of course, you’re working in Starbucks, sapping their wi-fi, and using their power outlet.

Internet and Communication
You do need internet, obviously. And you will need to send text messages and make calls, especially if you need to coordinate with certain people such as interviewees, operators of establishments you are featuring, etc.

Equipment
Is it essential for you to use tools and gadgets to carry out your work? For one of my projects, my photographer partner needed to lug all her equipment around and thus had to take a cab from one place to another, so we had to figure that in our quotation.

Time
How much time are you actually going to expend in doing the project, including everything from the conceptualization, brainstorming, research, field work (if any), and the actual writing? Indeed, time is money. Make sure the time you spend on a project is worth the amount you will be paid for.

B. Indirect Costs

Indirect costs are priceless. These are costs you look at to determine whether the job is actually worth doing or not.

Education
I think an impressive educational background does help a little in securing freelance writing gigs, but I guess it depends on the project and the client. Some don’t really put too much emphasis on this and look at the writer’s writing style instead.

Experience
No brainer here. If you have 5 years’ worth of experience in writing IT-related topics, you have a good chance of scoring a technical writing job. At the same time, some clients are willing to pay extra if you assure them that your experience and skills are worth their buck.

Skills
Whether it’s interviewing skills, writing skills, editing skills or what not, these skills up your value and clients look for someone with a certain skill set for certain types of writing jobs.

Risks
Does your writing gig involve you being thrown into a remote island where you have to seek refuge in a tiny hut and observe the lifestyle of the local tribe? (Sounds fun!) Decide first if you are willing to defy death and danger before taking on a titanic task.

Stress
Consider the amount of stress you will experience in doing a certain writing job – both physical and emotional. Ensure that the amount of effort you put into it will be worth it.

Time away from your loved ones
Some projects may take time to finish. Some are easier, but it requires travel.

Lessons In Freelance Writing

Ime listed all the things one must remember if he/she is to take freelance writing seriously. Some of these, you and I may know already, but they are also good reminders that freelance writing, just like any other occupation, requires hard work, discipline, ethics, and passion.

1.       Be your own (strict) boss

Because you don’t have an authoritative figure to report to all the time, you have to be your own disciplinarian. You are responsible for ensuring that you are always doing something profitable and productive.

2.       Specialize

Decide on what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to do press releases? Do you want to write about health-related topics? Do you want to write for TV or online media? Ime says that specialization is mainly for recall purposes. When a client wants to hire a writer for a specific job, say, writing copy for a product advertisement, then he will look for someone whose specialty is writing copy for product advertisement. Personally, though, I feel that it is also okay to be a “jack of all trades” when it comes to writing. I have written material that are so unrelated with one another. One day, I’d write an article about well-dressed men and the power of a good suit, and the next, I’d write about eczema. And it’s fine. As long as you are interested in the topic and the work, you will find a way to produce good output.

3.       Have a quota

Compute your expenses in a month. Use that as a basis for how much work you need to do to cover for your expenses plus savings. While freelance writing can be unstable at times, to some degree, you can also dictate how much income you can earn, depending on the number of projects you seek and take on.

4.       Always underpromise

Ime says, “If the deadline is on Monday, submit it on a Sunday.” Surprise your client and they will remember you for that.

5.       Figure out how to eliminate writer’s block

I don’t know if there really is such a thing as writer’s block, or if this is just some fancy psychological term for a momentary loss of inspiration to write (though I read somewhere that F. Scott Fitzgerald suffered from it). Whether it is true or not, we can always find ways to best it. What I do sometimes is to just talk (or rather, write) off the top of my head. I jot down everything and absolutely anything that pops in my head, even nonsensical keywords and senseless phrases, and trust that something brilliant is going to hatch out of these random ramblings.

6.       Work with dignity

Do your job and do your job well. This is how your client will remember you, and this could be the key to getting more writing jobs.

7.       Never forget your personal dreams

It should not always be about work, work, work. Remember that you are working hard for something – whether it’s to earn for a dream vacation, to send your kids to school, or to save for a wedding. Always think of the reason for why you are doing what you are doing.

8.       Learn to invest your money

There are so many channels where you can put your hard-earned money. There’s the time deposit, mutual funds, and many others. It helps to talk to a financial advisor who know just how to make your money grow.

9.       Don’t burn bridges

See #6. And keep in mind that the world is small.

10.   Treat your client as an equal

Know what your writing is worth. If you believe that you are capable of providing good work, don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. Talk to your client as a business partner, not as a boss. Sure, you need him and you need a job, but he needs you too! He needs someone who will give him superior written material, and that’s you. Well… as long as you’re absolutely sure that that IS you, that is. Don’t just keep nodding your head like a puppet. Set some rules and know that you can negotiate.

11.   Quality above everything else

Quality work is an after-effect of a sound mind and body. Thus, Ime recommends a personal self-improvement program for freelance writers. In short, exercise! Have adequate sleep, eat the right food, and stretch those muscles when they’re tired.

12.   Work only for the kind of money that could push you out of bed in the morning

Perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world is having to drag yourself to do something totally unpalatable to you. That’s quite common in the 9-to-5 world where people are stuck behind their desks, doing something when they would rather be doing something else, because they don’t have any other choice. For freelancers, this should be the least of their worries. With their time and freedom, they can practically choose anything they want to work on. So choose work that excites or interests you.

13.   Get a regular gig

Due to the inconstancy of freelancing, you never know when the next project will come. Thus, it’s safe to have a fallback. The best fallback would be a regular gig, such as writing a monthly newsletter or doing consultancy work for a client thrice a week. Even if the pay is not that great, at least it’s steady, and it can help pay for your expenses.

14.   Buy health insurance

As a freelancer, you won’t have benefits that one normally enjoys when working full-time for a company, so you need to take care of this yourself.

15.   Help other writers

What goes around comes around. If you’re generous with other writers with your ideas and suggestions, someday, when you are the one in need, these may be the same people who will pay back your kindness.

16.   Promote yourself

It’s all about marketing, really. Let other people know about your services. Utilize social media. Join events and workshops that will help you connect with potential clients or other writers.

17.   Build a good portfolio

Some clients have a very short attention span, so you have to grab their attention with a portfolio that will knock their socks off. It is what they will judge you with in terms of your writing skills.

18.   Find ways to make work more enjoyable

Work is work, but work can also be fun if you truly like what you are doing, and if you know how to spice it up. Take short breaks. Listen to music as you write. Dance in between paragraphs, if you want to. Just have fun.

19.   Be on time. If you can’t, be honest.

As much as we really, really want to make the deadline, sometimes, things happen and we just don’t. If missing deadlines is really inevitable, at least have the courtesy to inform your client in advance.

20.   Treasure your health

Even if you’re not a freelancer, you should be doing this anyway.

21.   Choose your clients and always know that you can walk away.

“They don’t choose you,” Ime says. “You choose them. You set your own terms.” This is not to say that everything should work around your advantage, but if the job being offered to you is not worth your time or not aligned with your values, you can always say “pass!”

22.   Charge extra for revisions

You should charge extra if the client asks for more than one or two revisions. In the contract, you should have a clause such as this: “The project should be finished by (date). An additional (amount should apply

If it goes beyond the said date.” Or “An additional (amount) should apply for more than two revisions.”

23.   Have a contract and a downpayment.

DO NOT work without a contract. This is to avoid any confusion and abuse. As much as possible, ask for a downpayment. This is usually applicable for projects that generate bigger incomes. Ime suggested this scheme:

1st draft – 25 %
2nd draft – 25%
Final draft – 50%

24.   Request for the payment to be deposited directly to your account.

Ime once actually rejected a writing job because she had to pick up her check in some faraway town. I myself still have a check waiting to be claimed as of this writing, and I couldn’t attend to it because it’s far from my place and I have a day job during weekdays, which are the only days I could claim the check. If you’re going to earn a few bucks only for a writing job only to spend half of it on cab fare, forget it. Having the payment deposited to your account will save you transportation and time.

Photo Credit: http://performancing.com/
Photo Credit: http://performancing.com/

Which type of client pays more?

Here’s a table showing the minimum and maximum rates clients normally pay for a particular kind of writing job. Take note, though, that these figures are obtained from a survey done way back in 2011, so these are not exactly updated.
TYPE OF JOB
MINIMUM
MAXIMUM
Documentation work (transcribed notes only)
Php 3,500 daily rate
Php 5,000 for maximum of 6 hours
Documentation work with report
Php 20,000
Book project (anthology)
Php 25,000
Php 50,000
Blog entry
Php .10 per word
Php 10.50 per word
Website copy
Php 300 per page
Php 5,250 per page
eBook writing
Php 2.10 per word
Php 8.40 per word
Feature writing
Php 1 per word
Php 10.50 per word
Basic editing
Php 25 per page
Php 1,500 per page
Proofreading
Php 30 per page
Php 1,500 per page
Press release
Php 2.20 per word
Php 7 per word
Academic ghost writing
Php .28 per word
Php .80 per word
Online research
Php 7.60 per minute
Php 17.20 per minute
Technical writing
Php 2.10 per word
Php 3.50 per word
Translation
Php 4.20 per word
Php 12.60 per word
Ghostwriting / co-writing / re-writing
Php 2.10 per word
Php 3.36 per word
Heavy editing
Php 100 per page
Php 3,000 per page
Speech writing
Php 2.50 per word
AVP script 1 to 10 minutes (simple)
Php 5,000
Php 12,000
AVP script 1 to 10 minutes (with concept)
Php 7,000
Php 20,000
Interview with transcription (20 minutes)
Php 3,000
Interview only
Php 1,500 per page
Print ad
Php 10,000
Php 30,000
TVC script with concept
Php 30,000
TVC script 1 to 2 minutes (writing only)
Php 5,000
Php 15,000

*Figures taken from a survey conducted in 2011**One page = 250 words

For those who have never tried their hand at freelancing, it’s easy for them to be attracted by the nonconformist nature of the trade. After all, as a freelance writer, you own your time, you don’t have to suck up to a boss, and you get to write about things you actually like or have some knowledge of. But freelancing is not always plain sailing. In fact, because your income actually depends on how hard you work and how diligent you are in looking for work, you have to work TWICE as hard, unlike the regular employee who still gets his salary despite slacking off on the job. And the unsteadiness of it can leave you feeling depressed and disheartened when you don’t know how, when, or IF you can pay your bills. Freelancing is not for the faint-hearted. But the triumphs after overcoming the struggles can be tremendously fulfilling.
You may contact Ime should you have any questions or requirements for writers at: morales.ime@gmail.com
(How’s that for following Tip #15: “Help other writers”?)
 
You may also join the Freelancing Guild of the Philippines on Facebook and learn more about being a freelance writer, as well as score some freelance writing gigs.

Visit Freelancer.ph to find freelance work , join freelance contests, and hire freelancers.
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