Freelancers, Do You Know Your Worth or Pay Bills Instead?


I think you know where I'm going with this.  Do you stick by your skills, knowledge, and ability to go above and beyond, or are you satisfied with receiving crumbs?  We all know that even the perfect skillset is no good without clients but should you shortchange yourself just to satisfy them?  As the competition for jobs is going to intensify in the coming weeks, there's a lot to consider in the current state of freelancing.

My Recent Freelancing Horror

Ted Cruz may not have liked me last week because I had a flashback to my early days of freelancing.  Last month, I applied to be a content writer for a third party through a writing service.  The process was thorough but fairly easy and though I was told I'd be contacted in the next two weeks, it was closer to a month when I heard back.

Long story short (and I'm sure it's a familiar one to veteran freelancers), this client wanted to pay me an already low rate for test articles but that rate would be slashed by nearly half once I was accepted.  Now, this would take place after submitting FOUR test articles and I'd be blessed to write a minimum of 7K words monthly.  Assuming things went well, I'd be making less than $300 a month to start.

Do the Math Before Signing On

While rent in my area starts at around $1200 for a studio, there's something I remember about this type of client.  They're very picky, spend a lot of time on details, and overall a waste of time.  When I worked through oDesk, they were also slow-paying and we all know how that works.

Your bill collectors/landlords don't care about your good intentions, what happened, or anything that doesn't directly benefit them.  So these days, I'd rather cut them off at the early stages rather than haggle over money or other issues that impact performance.  It took dealing with an unreasonable (we did a lot of things he was responsible for on paper) landlord and roommate that had me trapped in this vicious cycle.  It takes a good-paying job (and crazy budgeting) to be set free, which I eventually got before getting sick.

Have a Reasonable Progression Plan

However, you may have a low-paying but reliable client you can count on for paying bills or luxuries.  Then there's the introductory rate business model a lot of new freelancers use to meet new clients or prospects.  While neither of these is a bad thing, two factors are necessary for this to work - 1) Have money in the bank to cover at least three months of expenses, and 2) Establish a deadline for introductory rates, don't make it a permanent thing.

A lot of people complain about how tough it is to be a freelancer these days.  While this is true, it doesn't mean you can't survive.  The difference is how you package yourself and letting prospects know that you mean business from the first contact.  I've had many Skype interviews with small (and some medium-sized) operators and often they have interesting perceptions about what they think freelancers of a certain niche do every day.

If You Believe You're Important, So Will They

Even if you're binge-watching Netflix or Cartoon Network in between jobs, it doesn't mean you can't be firm about rates or what you're willing to deal with while working with a client.  If you feel things are too loose (which can affect your pay), don't hesitate to get it in writing before starting.  It's a good idea to design your own work-for-hire forms when getting started anyway.

In the meantime, you can also look out for these beware (and possibly run) scenarios - 

1. There's a lot of talking in the beginning.  Discussing your qualifications or what they want is one thing but if the conversation gets into a lot of 'what-if' (usually negative) scenarios, then you may want to create a plus/minus inventory list before going further.

2. The rate is unusually low/they want free work.  Unfortunately, these go hand-in-hand.  A good client is often satisfied with a strong portfolio or profile and a brief interview.  A bad client normally wants a lot of time discussing the project (on your time), to pay as little as possible (and this may take longer than originally stated), and you may have to jump through several hoops just to receive decent feedback.  This type of relationship never works, no matter how hard you work.

3.  Nothing is in writing.  While email messages can hold up in some cases, these may not be enough when it comes to overseas clients that are slow-paying or leave you high and dry. Having a paper trail can tell you more about the client and it can protect both in the case of a discrepancy.  If the client refuses to complete any forms presented to them, consider this a major warning sign...and a possible blessing in disguise.