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Freelance writers have a lot of opportunity to write online, but in some cases the rates are less than the same writing project might command offline. Assuming that there are enough advantages in taking online writing gigs to offset the disadvantage of a lower rate, should a freelance writer attempt to keep their online writing business separate from their offline writing business?

How far should something like this be taken? Multiple business names? Pseudonyms?

Or, is it unnecessary, and a professional writer can just move back and forth between two worlds without much difficulty?

Update: In response to some of the answers, I am attempting to make what I am getting at more clear, which unfortunately, makes the question much longer.

Generally speaking, freelance writing relationships with local businesses involve a certain amount of overhead that does not exist in a similar online relationship. For example, most of my local clients call on the phone, some require occasional meetings, and a handful require some work to be done on-site. All of these things increase the time to accomplish writing the actual words. Whereas, many online clients communicate via email, assignments can be found/claimed without meetings, and I never have to work on-site.

As such, for my business at least, it would not be worthwhile to take on writing a 500 word press release for a local client who wants to meet before the project and after to review it without charging perhaps double what I would charge to write a 500 word press release for an online client who just posts a job on a freelance writing website.

If, the local client were to discover that that discrepancy, would they want the lower rate in the future, or worse, be upset at what they were charged in the past? I know that it should not matter and that clients should understand. What I wanted to know is do they understand.

The catalyst for asking this question was that I realized that on some online venues there is a way to look at the history in such a way that someone could notice that ArcticLlama Freelance Writing had written a technical white paper for a certain amount (actually for a certain range). If that someone was a new local client doing research before contacting me, would that amount color their perception of what I would/should charge them.

For existing clients with whom I have a relationship, this is a non-issue because they would talk with me about it and I could explain. For prospective clients, they might make some assumptions and decide not to work with me without ever saying what the issue was.

I left the question more open than that because I had never thought of this before, and I was wondering if other freelancers had come across other factors that I hadn't considered that might arise in this situation.

The point of the question is asking if other freelance writers in similar situations had dealt with this issue and, if so, how they had made it work out, or if I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

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What's the difference between freelance writers and other writers? Is it a synonym for "professional writer"? –  John Smithers Jan 8 '11 at 21:55
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@John - Perhaps he means freelance as opposed to staff writers? –  Neil Fein Jan 8 '11 at 23:20
    
A freelance writer finds clients on their own and the sets rates and terms with those clients. Like any small business owner, word of mouth, networking, and branding are the main ways to get new business. The thought I have is that if a local PR firm were to find a writer's work online and discover that it is cheaper and/or less quality (likely because it is cheaper) would that be to the writer's detriment, or are the majority of clients clever enough to understand the differences? -- A salaried writer's company handles rates and the company's reputation. –  ArcticLlama Jan 9 '11 at 20:20
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3 Answers

This question appears to have an implied assumption that there are two types of freelance writing:

  • Print: High profile literary work that's difficult to get (aka “real writing”)
    Example: writing for the New Yorker

  • Online: low paying and low respect, but work that's easy to do/get
    Example: blogging for other people for pennies/post

If those were the only two options, then yes, it might make sense to keep the two separate—you wouldn't want the low-paying gigs to damage your reputation and keep you from getting the "real writing."

Of course, that's a false dichotomy, which makes the question as-is somewhat meaningless.

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There is no need to generalize either on or offline writing as better or worse. However, consider that finding an offline client, meeting with them in person, working on-site and so on, makes what one charges for that type of writing assignment higher than what one would charge a similar client who is online and requires none of the above. Moreover, offline clients don't readily disclose what they pay whereas there may be a record of such things online depending on the gig (i.e. history at Guru, etc.) –  ArcticLlama Jan 9 '11 at 20:27
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This is only a problem if you advertise rates, such as $160 per 1000 words for print work but $120 for online work, so that the two sets of rates stand out and demand awkward justification.

I recommend instead linking to some society's fee advice page and saying that your rates are in keeping with their recommendations. This has some advantages: there is a lot of looseness in such pages; the rates tend to be slightly highball, making them a good starting point for negotiation; and they have collective credibility.

The risk is that price uncertainty will deter clients who you would be happy to have. I use the offer of free editing samples with quotes, which involves some wasted work, but allows me to talk to potential clients about what I offer before they feel they have to make a commitment. I'm not sure how this would work for freelance writing; I think that portfolios are an awkward place to hand a fee structure from, and rub against any assurance of confidentiality you might wish to portray.

In general, the whole question of how to communicate your fee structure is hard, and it is worth joining an appropriate professional organisation —be it only a mailing list— and participate in discussions. I think the problems of a freelancer with multiple marketing disorder are worse than these, though.

Example fee advice pages:

  1. Editorial Freelancers Association
  2. British National Union of Journalists
  3. Verband der Freien Lektor(inn)en - (German, my reference fee structure for editing work)
  4. Freelanceswitch survey
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I don't see why a freelance writer would need an online/offline business. A person can easily work for physical print magazines and website publication without any problems. And in today's market, it's extremely hard to work as a freelance writer without an online presence unless you live in a big city - Seattle, New York, Chicago, etc. - where there are a lot of publications based. Most magazines and the like want all online submissions, they're easier for them to go through and to work with writers. Email is a lot easier than trying to do business through snail mail or over the phone.

Edit Your best bet is to either not put your prices on your webpage or to only give a general amount. If you're going to be doing more work, then you deserve to be paid more. Clients generally understand that. A 500 word opinion or basic research piece is going to cost a lot less than a 500 word research intensive piece. Plus, what you charge is between you and your client. No one else, including other clients or future clients, needs to know what you charged them. There are quite a few reasons you'd charge two different prices - perhaps you know the one client personally and gave him a deal, perhaps you do a lot of work for him so you cut him a deal.

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I understood the qn's online/offline dichotomy to be about where the writing appears, not about how the freelancer makes themself visible. –  Charles Stewart Jan 9 '11 at 19:21
    
I don't have my rates on my website, but existing clients know what I charge them and certain online venues show enough information to make an educated guess or to know what a project's price was within a relatively small range. –  ArcticLlama Feb 6 '11 at 4:35
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