Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: Should I Focus on Mid-Level Clients or Gun for High-Paying Ones?

By Nicole Dieker March 3rd, 2015

I’m at a point where clients are starting to reach out to me, but mostly around mid-level paying ones. Should I focus on building my own platform to really establish my expertise, keep adding up mid-paying clients to lay the foundation for getting high-paying ones later, or simply gun straight for high-paying clients through very targeted pitching?

—Leveling Up

Getting to that point where clients start to reach out to you is an important milestone for any freelancer because it means two things: First, your reputation as a talented freelancer is starting to make the rounds; second, there are clients out there who specifically want you for their projects.

So don’t look at it like taking on work with mid-level clients will prevent you from getting jobs with better pay. It doesn’t have to be “either I take this job or I gun for a better gig.” You should take those jobs andstart gunning for those higher-paying gigs simultaneously.

The mid-level paying clients can very lucrative, especially if you’re like me and can write 20 to 30 articles a week, because they often operate in that sweet spot where you can take on consistent projects that have depth but don’t require months of research and revisions. These clients make up the bulk of my income right now, helping me earn close to $1,500 a week—which is enough, in my case, to make a living.

I’m hoping you have enough mid-level clients to help you make a living, too, because right now you’re at a very important stage in your career. With enough patience, you should be able to turn those mid-level jobs into high-paying jobs.

Getting here is fairly intuitive—do good work, do it on time, and begin to establish expertise in a specific industry or topic. But there are still a lot of people out there who can check off all of those boxes. Attracting the highest-paying clients requires something else: personal branding.

Here are some good insights from Freelancers Union:

Take note of [your] key unique qualities, and then bring it deeper and ask, what sets you apart from everyone else in your industry? What skills and vision do you have that others don’t? Try to pick the most important attribute and write it in a sentence.

In the end, whatever that “thing” is, embrace it. That’s the thing that’s going to get you hired.

When freelancers are just starting out, they don’t have much that sets you apart—instead, they take what they can get. Generally, they will write on any topic, with or without a byline, as long as someone offers to pay.

Now that you’ve got clients seeking you out, you’re starting to move out of the “take what you can get” mindset. This doesn’t mean every assignment will be a sexy longform print feature, but it does mean you can start to be more discerning since your value in the freelance market is on the rise.

With all of that in mind, here is my advice: take as many of those mid-level client jobs as you can complete, starting with the projects that are related to the speciality you want to focus on. Then, try to fill that in with any jobs you still need to meet your monthly income goals.

In terms of financial stability, you’re probably at a point where you can think about pitching a few of those high-paying clients. You can also use your mid-level clients to network your way up the ladder. Here’s something I’ve learned from working with all kinds of clients: Most people wish they could pay their writers more, and nearly everyone is happy to hear one of their freelancers got a high-profile gig. Your mid-level clients will even help you get those gigs by connecting you with editors or forwarding any job information that comes their way.

And instead of waiting for clients to reach out to you, if you think they’re satisfied with your work, you should also ask them for targeted referrals. As Copyblogger puts it:

No one’s a bigger or better advocate of your work than a satisfied client. If you’re not asking them to refer you to more people, you’re losing out on some hot leads.

At this stage in my career, I rarely need to pitch or promote myself because my clients do it for me.

Lastly, a note about building up your own platform: I have managed to make it this far without building my own professional website. I have my Contently portfolio, and I’m very active on social media. Editors and clients have no problem contacting me and offering me work.

If you want to build your own platform or create a professional website, it can definitely pay off. It’s probably something I should do myself at some point. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking all you need is a great website to get those high-paying jobs. Your website will draw them in, but your body of work is what will ultimately get you better projects.

What a good platform or website can do is help establish your brand, so make sure your online platform focuses on both your high-quality work and the skills that set you apart from other freelancers. Using your online platform to highlight your unique qualities makes you more attractive to those high-level clients you are planning to pitch—and adds one more persuasive point to the case for why they should hire you versus another freelancer.

Your instincts on what to do to get to the next stage of your career are all on track. If you can balance working for your mid-paying clients, targeting high-paying clients, and building your brand through your website or online platform, you’ll be well prepared to level up. You may even reach the next level faster than you think.

Nicole Dieker is excited to read more questions from freelancers currently working with mid-level clients. Are you at a point where you’re starting to wonder whether you’re earning enough, or whether you should try to squeeze in more work so you can earn more? Maybe you’re wondering how to promote all of your work on social media without coming across as a self-promotional robot. If you’ve got questions like these, please send them to

Image by ESOlex
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