Have you ever wondered why some writers get stuck writing $10 articles, while others rise up, charging $250+ per piece?
I’ve been wondering the same thing, until I met Celine…
I first heard about Celine Roque last year, when I saw a Facebook post promoting her webinar about the “Freelancer’s Sales Funnel”—and how this sales funnel can help freelancers earn more and land better paying clients.
I clicked the link to the webinar then I saw the ‘about me’ section of her website… “Now my average rates are at $250 per article” and “Some of my articles were syndicated by the New York Times”
Like any skeptic netizen, I immediately Googled her.
I found her articles in NY Times, alright. Of course I couldn’t verify the pay she’s getting using Google, but seeing her byline convinced me she’s the real deal, not some fancy ‘guru’ teaching how to make money online without first-hand experience.
I’ve known her for about a year and through her help, I managed to increase my rates (5x more) and get more projects with my current clients.
So enough about me,
let’s get to my interview with Celine Roque — Freelance Writer and Mentor.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your beginnings as a freelance writer?
I was already writing offline long before I started any online work. I started when I was a sophomore in college, but I was already a breadwinner back then so I had certain criteria for jobs I took—it had to be flexible and well-paying so I could pay the bills and still go to school.
I decided to focus on writing because it’s the skill I’ve been honing the earliest. I didn’t know where to look for work, so I searched for ‘freelance writing jobs’ and online communities that could guide me.
I found my first gig at Sitepoint forum’s marketplace. Although there were lots of job openings, I only applied to those that interest me—mostly writing and content related stuff. If I remember correctly, my pay rate then was $5-$10 per article. I also did free work in exchange for bylines and testimonials.
According to your website, you only started charging competitive US rates ($100+ per article) in 2006. What influenced you to make this change?
By 2006, I already had a few stable writing jobs paying $8-$20 per article. But aside from increasing my per-article rate, I was getting bylines in popular sites like Freelance Switch and College Startup.
Then it hit me— I’m published in websites read by thousands of people, and they actually read what I write!
But what really set me off this path was my job with Pimp Your Work. To my surprise, that blog was getting 100K+ page views per month—even more than Freelance Switch. I was intimidated.
In my mind, the people I admired (from a distance) suddenly became my peers. They’re reading the same blog I read and on top of that I’m actually a writer for that blog! It was a confidence booster and aha moment combined… I will never write low-paying, junk content again.
On Finding Great Clients and Getting Syndicated
My strategy for writing job applications and pitches is to stand out. I had this notion that the editors— or whoever was assigned to hire writers—were bored of reading writer applications.
So I wrote my pitches like this:
“Hi my name is Celine,
I know you’re tired of reading dozens of applications so I’ll keep this short and get right to the point”
I kept my applications light and candid, I even made jokes. The responses I got from the applications were a mix of relief and surprise. The editor at GigaOm back then replied something along the lines of, “Wow, what a breath of fresh air. I’ve been reading 40 applications…”
Also, I never disclosed my nationality. I was applying for a remote job, so in my mind there’s no difference between me and someone from India or US—we’re all vying for the same job anyway.
You’re the first person I know who recommends cracking jokes in applications or queries. What prompted you to do that?
I checked out the blogs I was applying for and noticed their writing style is light and conversational. I didn’t think they’d appreciate a corporate-y application.
What can other writers do to increase their chances of getting a writing job on a big website?
The only tip that ever mattered to me is: use your common sense. Read the websites you’re targeting. Reverse engineer the website—tone, topics covered, how they connect with the audience, what they publish, who the readers are. It’s very basic, but it will tell you everything you need to know for your pitch.
Do you have any tips for bloggers who want to improve their writing?
Write because you want someone to read it—it doesn’t matter if they’re writers/editors/dead/alive or imaginary.
Show them your work. Ask them to tell you which parts were boring, weird, funny, interesting and thought provoking. Use that information to improve your story. Doing that will level up your skills more than most formal writing courses would.
How long did it take you to go from your first $10 article to seeing your work syndicated in NY Times?
I was writing $10 articles back in 2004-2005, I can’t remember the exact dates. I started writing for GigaOm back in 2008, and that’s where I got my piece syndicated by NY Times. I guess it took about 3+ years.
On Overcoming Limiting Beliefs and Challenges that Cripple Progress
Have you ever failed to get a client? What did you do to keep going when it seemed like nothing was working?
I’ve had my fair share of rejections and failures. My first draft (for an article) is rarely my last draft.
This is what I often tell myself when it seems like nothing is working:
You’re not gonna win them all, you’ll never get the perfect article in one sitting and you’ll never get all the projects you want. And if you don’t get the project today, that’s okay… You’ll get it another time.
What’s important is to look out for the few who will matter, and the few who will appreciate you for the work you do.
What were the challenges you experienced as you were ramping up your career?
I often bite off more than I can chew, that’s one of my biggest challenges up to now. I apply for jobs beyond my skill—and I get a thrill from that—but the second I get the job, I think “these people are gonna know I have no idea what the hell is happening…”
I think it’s good to overreach though, as long as you’re not promising too much. I wouldn’t have gotten to this point if I didn’t challenge myself like this.
How do you encourage other new or shy freelancers to come out of their shell?
Common problems and hesitations I hear are:
“I’m not good enough”
“Maybe you’re getting $50 per article a few years into your career… but I’m not good enough to do that”
I look at those writer’s work, and in most cases, it’s not true. They are good enough, so that’s what I tell them. In many cases, freelancers (maybe because many of us are solitary creatures) just need an external boost, especially if they’re too critical of their work.
On Negotiating and Mentoring Others
What do you tell freelancers afraid to ask for a raise because they’re scared their client might decline or lose their job?
First, I admit I’m also afraid of negotiation. They should also admit it to themselves, it’s normal to feel that way.
Then I encourage them to take small steps to overcome their hesitations. They don’t have to ask for anything big right now—I often tell freelancers they can just ask for a $2 raise. It’s a small amount, but asking for it will help you get used to the process of negotiation.
Once asking for $2 becomes easy, they can work their way up to asking $10, $20 more or just quote their next client a higher rate.
What’s the first thing you do when you want to ask an existing client for more work?
When you’re already working with a client, you have a sense of what they need, what they’re wasting money on, what they’re not spending on, and what their problems are. But your client is probably unaware of those things.
I send them an exploratory email like this:
“Hey, you told me you wanted me to do X (projects the clients wants to do, but may not be effective given their current situation) to boost your audience (client’s goal).
What most people will do in this case is X, Y, Z. You’re doing X and Y but Z (the project/task you’re proposing) is what will make a big difference.
Would you be interested in trying this out? If so, I can send you more information about it”
The usual response is, “Yeah sure, send me more info”—and that’s because I didn’t sell them anything yet. I didn’t mention a price or asked them to give me more work; I waited for them to show interest first.
How do you ask for a raise on the same type of work for an existing client? For instance, you want to increase rates for blogging, say from $50 to $70 per post.
I never mention cost of living or anything related to me—it has nothing to do with the client.
When I ask for a pay increase, I base it on the lessons I’ve learned (courses taken, books read), tangible results I got them (more engagement, more traffic, sales, etc) and the increased value that I deliver since I started working for them.
Do you have any tips for inexperienced or shy negotiators?
Someone emailed me the other day, a potential client was asking her, “What’s your desired payment rate?” Like most people, she didn’t want to appear greedy but she also didn’t want to charge too low.
Next time someone asks a price related question—and you’re not ready to give an answer—you can defer it by saying,
“I understand you want to know how much I charge. I want to give you an accurate number that’s fair to both of us, but I can’t do that without knowing your business and project well.”
They won’t mind if you ask questions. In many cases, they’ll be more confident in you, because you got to know them before rattling off some random number.
Celebrity or writer you want to have coffee with:
(Celine whispers…. Can I not have coffee with these strangers?) First person that comes to mind is Merlin Mann.
Fill in the blanks: I’m a frustrated ______
“I’m a frustrated painter”
Fill in the blanks: ___________ is the best cure for writer’s block
“Writing is the best cure for writer’s block”
You can’t think unless you write. I also experience writer’s block but for me the only way around it is to write.
I go back to the basics, using a pen and paper I’ll make a flow chart based on the information I have. That helps me figure out where I’m going…
Featured Blog Posts Subscribe for Free updates