Holding the Line on Rates

May 29, 2008

There are always predatory potential “employers” out there. As freelance writers during a recession, it’s imperative for us not to panic and to hold the line on our rates. There have always been disrespectful employers on the job boards and bidding sites who don’t believe writers are worth more than a few pennies here and there; now, when people are panicked about filling the gas tank and buying food, they’re taking advantage of it to cut rates even lower.

Don’t work for those rates. Do a few more hours of research and find clients who will pay you what you’re worth.

Rates are a sticky wicket anyway, as far as what to charge and how much hardball to play. The only person who can set the rate is you – you know what makes you feel as though you’re being paid a fair fee for your work. Or, if you don’t, well, obviously you need to gain more self-confidence in your abilities, or maybe someone else is supporting you and you’re only writing on the side.

Which is fine, but you’re hurting yourself and everyone else.

You need to respect your work, first and foremost. Not everyone can write, although many employers would say, “Well, I could do it myself if I only had time.” They might think that, but it’s rarely true. They might be able to put words on paper; few of them can create viable written materials that show their business in the best light possible.

That’s why they need to hire you.

That’s why you need to charge a fair fee for your time and skills. Because effective copywriting is a skill. It’s craft melded with art and imagination.

And it’s worth the money.

Every time you accept one of those jobs that pays $1/article for multiple articles a week, or some insulting crap like that, you don’t only hurt yourself; you slap every skilled working writer in the face, because you’re setting a standard that we’re not worth a living wage.

Not only are we worth it, many of us earn it.

And, actually, the professionals among us have learned to stay away from the crap jobs, leaving them for you. On one forum, a few months ago, a would-be freelancer who used some silly bidding site said, “But I can make $100 a week!” She was writing something like ten or fifteen articles PER DAY, five or six days a week.

Where in this country can you live, much less support a family, on $100 a week?

Sweetie, I can make that in an hour for a legit corporate client.

Also, once you dig yourself into the crap payment basement, the higher paying clients rarely hire you. You’ve branded yourself as cheap labor, and high-end clients will figure if you’re being paid that little, you’re not worth much, and certainly not the class of writer who can create material for them.

There’s nothing wrong with having different rates for different clients or jobs. You have to be flexible. You have to figure out if a lower pay rate for ONE particular assignment pays off down the line – and not just because the client promises a steady stream of crap-paying work in the coming months.

There’s also nothing wrong with taking on pro bono clients. What’s the difference between a pro bono client and a client who pays you $1 for an article?

A pro bono client still has a contract with you, so both sides know what’s expected. A pro bono client is usually from a non-profit organization that handles a cause in which the writer truly believes in, such as the American Cancer Society or a local animal shelter. A pro bono client respects and admires your work and has the type of visibility and respect that makes your work useful for legitimate clips as you seek out higher-paying jobs.

If you’re churning out 20 articles a week of regurgitated content for George’s multiple websites that come and go every few months and change topics, those are not legitimate clips. They will not get you work anywhere except maybe when Al starts up multiple web sites of regurgitated content. But if you write newsletters and press releases for your local animal shelter, you can use those samples in your portfolio for any other newsletter or press release job. And, chances are some of your potential employers have read and been moved by your work because they receive the newsletter or read the press release in the paper.

If you want to get a good idea of reasonable rates and setting up a sane freelance system, start with Peter Bowerman’s book, The Well-Fed Writer. Visit his website and hang out on his blog. You’ll encounter people who respect their own work and accept no less than respect – and fair payment – from clients.

In these times of recession and down-sizing, our skills are more necessary than ever. Businesses don’t have enough people to handle their writing needs. They have to hire us to take care of them. And we should be paid fairly for it – after all, they’re not paying our benefits, insurance, social security, or taxes. We are. They’re saving a huge amount of money by hiring us in the first place, even at a fair price. Don’t settle for less.

Devon Ellington


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