Pay Peanuts, Get A Monkey


Please Sir, can I have some more?

There’s a lot been said over the years about fair dealings and fair prices for freelance work. But rather than getting better it seems to be getting worse. For a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into here, prices offered for a lot of work have not changed in years. In fact, in some areas, prices offered fall way below those of five years ago, despite the rising cost of living.

Over the past few years I’ve occasionally had quotes rejected for being too high, and I’ve rejected work because of budgets being too low. Some work has even morphed once the budget has been realistically set, and I’ve ended up working for less than the minimum wage. I’ve routinely worked weekends to meet a client’s sliding deadline, I’ve even on the odd occasion worked 16 hour days to accommodate the same (believe me, this is NOT a good idea, the optimum daily input is a five-hour day) and I have also worked over the festive season and holidays, to the detriment of family life. Quite frankly the whole thing can be a monster – sometimes I’d be better off working in a supermarket (no, I’m not lying, and that is not to belittle to those who work in supermarkets, they do a very important job, but for low wages).

Freelancers understand the restraints put upon clients in the form of low budget allowances for a project, but somewhere along the line I think some clients may have also forgotten the training and time it takes to do a professional job.

 Graduate Holding Diploma

It has to be understood that you get what you pay for, and clients will not get a full-on all-singing-all- dancing level of work unless they pay for it.

For example…

A low budget (but not too low) may get you a quick edit/proofread; checking for bad grammar, typos, and making sure the text is readable. It will be a quick run through, but it’s better than nothing.

A reasonable budget will get you a better edit; more time can be taken, language, form and clarity can be addressed and ambiguous text can be sorted out.

A great budget will get you great edit. Even more time can be used to sort out the text, working with the author in more detail to address issues.

An excellent budget… well, you get my drift!

This isn’t to say that a low budget won’t get you a professional service, but the client can’t expect a full-on sparkly get-everything-you-want edit if realistically they are only paying for an entry level edit.

It’s very difficult trying to explain to potential clients exactly what their budget will get them when their pockets are empty but they expect the best of the best edits. We do this for the love of the craft and hate to see someone disappointed, but at the end of the day we run a business. That has to be understood, both by ourselves and our clients.

I know this sounds harsh, but as freelancers we have to eat. Our time is valuable. In most cases a lot of training and expertise has led to a freelance career, and this all costs, both in years and in currency. In the traditional workplace many of us were managers and specialists, in the freelance area many of us are seen as little more than office juniors.

That’s not to say that those with a low budget won’t find someone to carry out their work, but there is a saying:

Pay peanuts and you’ll get a monkey.

monkey ********************

This year I have purposely added some time off to my schedule. The festive season began for me on Monday and will flow through until the New Year, which means I will not be blogging for the next couple of weeks. Instead I will probably be drinking G&Ts in front of the telly with my feet up – Bliss.

If you are a freelancer I hope you have a stress-free and work-free holiday. If you are in a traditional work environment, try not to eat too many mince pies at the works party!

See you in 2015.

Merry Christmas

19 Comments on “Pay Peanuts, Get A Monkey

  1. I am glad to see that you have built in some time off. Me too! Unless there is some kind of AMAZING internet emergency of course 🙂 But I no longer work weekends. It’s time that people appreciated that if they want to be considered a professional writer, they need to take the ancillary services that this entails (proofing, printing, PR) in a professional manner too. Have a good one!

    • Last year I meant to take time off, but it didn’t quite work out like that. This year, time off it is. I have a little genealogical research job lined up, but that is waiting until after the Christmas break, even though I know it won’t eat into too much time, I feel it isn’t fair on everyone else.

      I said I wasn’t going to work weekends earlier this year. It didn’t work out like that, deadlines are getting shorter and shorter.

      Have a relaxing break Ali… you deserve it 🙂

  2. Very well said. As a transcriptionist, I’m constantly up against people offering to transcribe an hour’s recording for US$10 or less – that’s about £2.15 per hour of work. I’m trying to get around it by offering a remedial service for the inevitable car-crash result at a reduced rate and hoping that they’ll see sense and book an experienced typist next time.

    • It’s the same for editing and indexing. Outsourcing, for instance to other countries, is difficult to compete with and of course there are the “editors” who are not trained but who advertise their services for £1 a page or less, as well as those on the “race to the bottom” sites, where editors quote against each other. The client isn’t aware that they may get a less than professional service, they just see the cost being less. Then of course there are those clients who realise they’ve made a mistake but have no budget left to rectify the situation.
      Sometimes it feels like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall.

  3. I was having this discussion with my brother, tho’ he’s not an editor but a free-lance music producer/mixer: exact same issues 😦

    • I think it’s happened with most freelancers. It’s shocking when you really think about it. But sometimes you just have to bite your lip and accept low paying commissions in order to pay the bills 😦

  4. After a gruelling working holiday season, during which I had to battle with clients over budgets and expectations, I will lift my G&T to you as soon as I get to finally rest after my last job on Sunday night!

  5. I’m not sure why you were afraid to post this, Sara. It’s straightforward, not harsh at all. Actually, it’s quite gentle. And it’s all very true, and it needs to be discussed.

    • Thanks Arlene 🙂 I think it’s just something that seems to be rarely discussed openly, and I often wonder if speaking my mind comes across as harsh. But then again, I always tend to speak my mind anyway 😉

      • I know how you feel. I’ve been contemplating for some time writing a post called “The elephant in the editorial suite.” It would be about all the horrors and crappy things that happen to us as editors, that few people tend to discuss outside of private groups like the EAE. Like not getting paid, psycho clients, impossible-to-edit writing, etc. But I’m afraid to come across as too negative on the Internet.

      • It’s not just that…one reason I take a deep breath is that I don’t want to come across as too negative around clients, either current or potential (my repeat clients are lovely btw).

        But then again, if these things were talked about openly it may be better for everyone involved. We get to explain our side, and perhaps clients could put across theirs. Mutual understanding is a good thing, but it can be a rocky road getting there!

      • That is exactly the reason I’ve hesitated in writing my post, Sara. I don’t want to come across as too negative to potential clients. I’ll probably never write it.

      • The problem is…if we don’t talk about things they’ll never get fixed. It’s a Catch 22 situation I think.

  6. Hmm….this is very interesting! I’ve been doing a little freelance work. I don’t charge anything because I’m still new and learning. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • No, no, no, no, no!
      If this is freelance work that you are qualified to do, you need to charge. Think of the value you bring to the project, the work you have put in so far in your education and the cost of that training.
      It’s very difficult to start charging if you have been working for free.
      By all means, give the client a discount or charge slightly less (if you absolutely must), but start as you mean to go on. Respect yourself and your fellow freelancers, charge what you are worth 🙂 x

      • LOL, thanks, Ms. Sarah. People get on me about that all the time. I guess I started out free because I wasn’t really confident in my skills. But I see what you’re saying (y)

      • Totally get you! I am the most unconfident person in the world. But you know what? Everyone struggles with confidence. It’s really tough but figure out what your base rate is, then stick to it. Honestly, it’s worth it in the end. Once I found my ‘I won’t work for less than this’ rate, I realised that enything below it just wasn’t worth my time.
        And between you and me, there is still the old saying that ‘you get what you pay for’ … charge your worth and people will respect you for it 🙂

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