As a freelancer, you have a lot of opportunities for a lot of fun, exciting work – that you get paid for. Likely, if you’re a freelancer or you’re thinking of becoming one, it’s something that you’re interested in or really enjoy; that tends to be why people turn to freelancing to begin with, aside from the freedom of not working in an office setting or having to answer to The Man. One of the problems with this, however, tends to be clients or potential clients that try to bank on the fact that you’re doing what you do because you love it. And, because you love it, that means you’ll do the work for whatever minuscule amount of pay they want to give you.
It’s not about the money, it’s about enjoying your work.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line in job postings since I became a freelancer. Clients asking for large amounts of work or in-depth jobs for pennies on the dollar, claiming they want to work with freelancers who, quote “aren’t in it for the money, they just want to do this work because they like it.”
Basically, they want your creativity, your time, your talents, but they aren’t willing to pay the money that comes with creativity, time, and talent, so they try to play up the old platitudes of if you like it, you’ll do it regardless, or you don’t actually like your craft.
This tends to be what’s told to people in artistic professions – artists, writers, musicians. I personally am a ghost writer and editor. Most people looking for editors don’t use this line, but a lot of people looking for writers, plot creators, or content creators do. Because, of course, if you’re writing you don’t want to be able to pay your bills – you’re just writing because you love it. Cut the water off, you don’t care.
Suffering is art. Obviously.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t do your work because you love it. I love writing; I’ve been doing so since middle school and making up stories since before computers were portable and I could save them all in one place. That being said, I also like food, shelter, basic amenities. I can’t do that being paid with “the joy of something I love.” You can have both.
As a new freelancer, or someone who is thinking about becoming a freelancer, I think it’s important to understand that you deserve to be compensated for your efforts – fairly compensated. Whether you write, or you create art or music, your talents are not there for other people to take advantage of. At the end of the day, if you’re wanting to make this a career or even if you’re doing it as a part time gig or an occasional bid for extra cash, your work is a part of your livelihood. It’s very tempting when you start out to buy into these sorts of jobs. You want the experience, you want to be able to get your foot in the door – but there are better ways than selling your work for nothing. Ultimately, you want to find jobs where the client respects what you do enough to pay you what you’re worth.
One of the ways to avoid this trap, is to totally avoid applying to jobs like this to begin with. Obvious, I know, but it’s the easiest snag to tackle. They’re usually pretty transparent, and what you want to look for is:
- Job postings with very low budgets for high-budget jobs. If a person is only willing to pay five dollars for a fifty-thousand-word piece, for example, don’t bother. They might not tell you that you should be doing your work because you like it and not for the money, but the implication is there in the fact they don’t feel like paying anywhere close to industry standard for the kind of work they’re asking for.
- If a job posting contains phrases like “work for experience,” “creative minds in it for the love of the craft,” “money is not a motivator,” or has similar wording basically saying you don’t care how little you’re paid for your job, don’t bother.
- Jobs that offer under the industry standard – steeply under the industry standard. It’s very easy to look up the professional going rates for editing and ghost writing, for example, and I tend to compare those industry standards to what clients offer in relation to (1) how much experience and education I have in comparison to those working professionally in my industry and (2) how much time and how many resources it takes to complete this job. While I generally work below the industry standard of pay for ghost writers and editors, I factor in my experience level and education, and it tends to even out with the clients I choose to work for. If a client is offering the equivalent of less than minimum wage in your industry, you probably don’t want to bother with them.
- Other job postings or listings by that same client, and feedback from other freelancers regarding that client, if available. It’ll give you a good idea on how that client operates, how much they’re willing to spend, and how they treat freelancers that they’ve hired in the past. Upwork, where I get my freelance contracts, for example, gives you client ratings as well as the feedback that other freelancers have given that same client, the amount of money that client has spent in total on paying their freelancers, as well as other open jobs posted by that client. It’s a lot of useful information, and if the site or agency that you’re contracting your work from provides that information openly, use it.
Sometimes, however, potential clients aren’t quite so transparent, and you realize after you’ve applied and been accepted that your client was, for lack of a better term, bullshitting you. A job might seem like it takes into consideration your experience, the time it takes to complete the work, as well as the difficulty of the work, but a client will try to weasel out of paying you properly, usually with post-hire catches or stipulations that weren’t lined out in the original job posting.
I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but it’s unfortunately something that does happen to freelancers. A lot of times, freelancers will accept this, because work is work. However, you’re putting your time, talent, and resources into a job. When you’re not properly compensated, all that does is waste those sources, and at the end of the day, you’re the one that has to shoulder that, especially when you could have been using that time to do something that actually gets you paid decently.
Usually, you’re able to dispute this. Sites and agencies often have protections in place for their freelancers so that they can’t be cheated out of their work or be hit with unexpected stipulations of a contract. In some cases, you’re not. If you’re able to resolve the issue with the original contract terms, then you should – it’s work, after all, and sometimes we have to play ball even when we don’t want to. However, if your client continues to try impose sudden stipulations that are unfair and change the agreed rate of your pay, it’s generally better to terminate the contract and cut your losses – you’re always able to give feedback for potential future freelancers looking into the same client.
Knowing all of this, what to look for before you apply to a job or how to handle the situation post-hiring, can save a lot of the undue scraping together pennies while doing your freelancing work, and feeling like that’s how it has to be simply because you’re a freelancer doing the kind of work that you enjoy and want to do.
No, it’s not always about the money – but it is nice to be able to do what you love while also supporting yourself in something better than a gutter.