Why being a nice freelancer doesn’t (always) pay
When I was 17, I landed a writing job at a major metro newspaper. I sat in a dingy, dusty office in the building’s basement, cold calling interviewees for feature stories. I wrote about interiors, camping and fishing, fashion, business and oodles of other topics. It was the perfect foot in the door. The editor liked my work and praised my journalistic instincts.
Then came the kicker.
“Kat, you’re far too nice to be a journalist,” she told me.
As it turned out, I was. After moving on from features and landing the graveyard shift in the newsroom, it wasn’t long before I realised I wasn’t cut out for the hard news world. I cared too much. And I couldn’t help but wince when the editor told me to pray for a double fatality on the roads that night, so we could sell more papers the next day.
On being (too) kind
Since then, I’ve been able to work with integrity. That’s the beauty of being a freelance writer: you can choose your clients and the work you do.
You can also build your business to reflect your personal values. I truly believe in the power of the written word to better the world. And I strive to produce the best copy to help my clients reach their business goals. Whatever the project, I’m positive, proactive and I like to help.
That being said, when I started my business, I learned the hard way that being too caring and too kind can sometimes hurt your business. I was quoting for a job and the client was proposing a figure that was well below my base rate. While it seemed like a fair price for a few hours’ writing, I knew I’d need to factor in revisions and constant communication with the client.
After finding out more about the project, it was clear it would take twice as long as the client had let on. That’s ok, because often clients aren’t sure what they want. It’s our job to take even the briefest brief and set a clear strategy that will help the client reach their communication goals.
However, in this instance it was obvious the client didn’t want to pay a fair rate for quality copy. Despite that, I was desperate for work (starting out as a freelancer can be tough) and I really believed in the service the client was offering.
Reluctantly, I took on the job. I bent over backwards to produce my best work. I made endless revisions and tweaks and let the client deviate from the brief. It’s probably no surprise that four months later, I was still chasing my invoice. An invoice which, when broken down, probably accounted to just $5 an hour, considering how much work I’d put in!
I’ve since learned to treat my business like a business. I’m still friendly and approach every project with positivity and passion. But I also know my worth and value my work.
Now when a project comes along which doesn’t quite sit right, I’m quick to explain why I can’t take it on and suggest a solution that benefits both parties.
Sometimes I lose the project, but I have a business to protect. And I now know that naivety and niceness doesn’t always pay.