Content mills have portrayed writing as a laughable field requiring few skills, and only the basic ability to complete a sentence. The consequence of these mills is the perpetuation of the idea that writing is not worth paying for, and the false belief that it can be done by anyone who speaks English. If you don't believe me do a quick search on a site like Elance or Craigslist. You will find people offering (and expecting) to pay a measly $10 for a 500 word article, or maybe $100 for a 20,000 word manuscript. Or people who expect a robust, SEO optimized website with 20+ pages of content for the "fair" rate of $300 for the project.
Do the math on this (as all freelance writers have) and you will find that it's less than minimum wage. In fact, in some cases you're talking about making a dollar or two an hour. What's worse is you will find people actually accepting this pittance and performing the work, but then struggling to buy a loaf of bread and then bemoaning their circumstances.
Do you have to work for those rates in order to survive and thrive in a freelance marketplace? Is this the only way to compete? Many newbie (and some established) freelancers come from a place of fear. Fear that nobody will hire them, fear that they can't compete, or fear that their skills aren't good enough. And their answer to this question would likely be, "Well that's what I see out there, so that's what I have to take."
My answer is an emphatic and forceful, "No."
Knowing your worth as a writer means running your operation like the professional business that it is. You are offering a service to a person or company, and that service is often worth substantial money once it is put into place. The return can be enormous. And when you run your writing operation like a business - maintaining top notch customer service, providing error-free copy that meets deadlines, and really partnering with your clients to meet their needs - for you to not insist that those businesses pass a fair share of that ROI onto you is devaluing your profession. And yourself. Because the fact is, good writing makes businesses money. Period.
Knowing your worth as a writer means being firm with your rates and demanding compensation that is fair. It means requiring that potential clients pay you as the professional you are. Will it be harder to find work this way? Yes. But which would you rather be? The content writer working 10 hours a day, churning out lackluster content (because you simply don't have time to make it good), struggling to buy groceries, and building a portfolio of lackluster samples? Or the professional writer spending 4 hours a day with a handful of clients, writing stellar content that pays your bills and brings in hard cash for their business, and building your network and future opportunities in the time you aren't wasting writing for $2/hour?
Always remember that serious clients will recognize the value you provide and will pay you accordingly. You choose what type of writer you want to be. It's all up to you. I choose to be a professional. What's your choice?