Feeling the Freelance Squeeze

We are a nation where a stiff upper lip prevails. Often, rather than voice discontent, we mentally scuff our toes in the sand, hat in hand and look at the floor, mumbling.

We don’t like to complain, even when things become slightly uncomfortable.

Compensation culture is threatening to undermine society and as recession has us down, then up, then down again, many people are frightened of rocking the boat.

This also applies when it comes to business. The cost of living is going up, savings are a thing of the past and the bills come in thick and fast whether you’ve had a good month or not. Freelances all over the country are feeling the squeeze and are often the last in line to command a fair deal.

It’s difficult to increase your prices when everyone else is having the same problem… but low pay and tight deadlines can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Add to that social isolation and you have a ticking time bomb.

freelance time bomb

If you have a good relationship with your client it makes communication so much easier when the uncomfortable side of freelancing rears its ugly head. If you can talk to your client, it’s easier to say so when their demands become too much. Unfortunately many clients don’t understand how editors and proofreaders work, so when they come back after negotiation and say ‘… oh and I want you to fact check and sort out the references to make sure they’re all correct’ they may genuinely not realise that this adds hours and hours onto a project. Checking just one reference for correct title, authors and publication dates can easily add on half an hour, especially if it is a rare or specialist text which has been misquoted. What they don’t realise is that by not paying for your time appropriately it can push your hourly rate down to the minimum wage as quickly as you can say Pubmed.

So, in an ideal world, before you take on a project, make a note of the following, and make sure the client agrees:

  1. Scope of project. What you are expected to do… not just ‘general edit’ or ‘general proofread’ What is expected by one client will be an added extra for another. Make a note of everything your client wants you to do, repeat it to them, and let them know that anything extra will mean a redefinition of fees.
  1. Make sure the client knows what they are asking for. A proofread is different from a proof-edit, is different from an edit, is different from a developmental edit. Clients all have their own terminology, if theirs doesn’t fit in with yours tell them. The only way clients will begin to understand how we work is if you tell them. If a client wants you to tidy up the final proofs of a tome, complete with reformatting and heavy grammar correction, let them know it’s not a proofread but is entering editing territory. Be nice and polite, but let them know… after all if they aren’t trained to edit and proofread they may genuinely not know the difference.
  1. If you are being asked to do more than is usual for a project, make sure to let the client know that you will need more time. Sometimes deadlines are tight, but if they want a job doing well they should understand… or lighten the load.

money jar

Talking money can be difficult, embarrassing and just downright scary. Publishers may be aware of the difficulties and are unable to budge, or they may just fire off requests and forget how long these extras take and how much they eat into your hourly rate. Self-publishers and corporate clients may genuinely not have a clue about the editorial process at all. Effective communication is the only way to make sure that everyone is happy… and that includes having a happy freelance who can afford to pay their bills at the end of the day.

So what happens when you explain everything but the client still won’t budge on price or time? You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I really want or need this job?

If things are tight you may have to accept and put it down to experience and paying that huge utility bill. In this case remember it’s a short term thing and try not to let it get you down… but make a note of the job for future reference.

If things aren’t that tight, consider walking away. Is it really worth the stress?

  • Would this job be good for my portfolio?

If it’s a subject that interests you or for a prestigious client you may consider taking the job, after all if you’ve done it once you can do it again… on your terms.

  • Would this showcase my talents to a new client?

Look at the project as a long-term thing. Once the client sees how fabulous you are they may come back for more work, again on your terms.

  • Would I learn something new?

If you get the chance to use a new skill then it may be worth your while taking the project on… but only if you know you will not be burning the midnight oil trying to figure out a new system.

So, while the recession continues to bite there are a few ways to make work more effective without pushing up your daily rates. By educating clients, and communicating with them, it may be possible to avoid the situation of too much work for too little payment or time, or alternatively you can look at the added value for you and your portfolio.

Perhaps it’s time to stop scuffing our feet in the sand and look our clients right in the eye.

9 Comments on “Feeling the Freelance Squeeze

  1. Always enjoy your blog posts, Sara-Jayne. One objection which springs to mind with the points made in this one, though, is simply, that many (too many) clients only look at the price and settle happily for the freelancer who just says yes (even if it’s not all possible under all the conditions). The counter-objection to my own objection (!) is then that the best way to weaken any body is through in-fighting. So well done to you for your efforts to reason with us!

    • It’s a tough one Helen! Clients need educating to understand the differences between good editing and bad, and how proofreading fits in. If a price seems too good to be true it often is.
      As for in-fighting… luckily editorial professionals are mostly very supportive of each other, but not all editorial “professionals” are part of a professional body. There are too many out there who are very good at selling themselves, but have no professional qualifications.
      I’d always recommend a client to research whichever editor they choose, and make sure they are trained for the job 🙂

      • Absolutely agree. I’m not an editor, but a language trainer and coach and some very unscrupulous agencies are hoovering up the corporate market by undercutting fees. The contracts are signed by a department far away from where the actual work is needed, and any attempts to justify a decent rate are met with “Well, so and so does it for that price.” I try to appeal to the individual trainers not to work for such minimum rates, but it’s hard. Many don’t stay long in the job because it’s so badly paid. Hope you can tell a different story.

      • That’s a very familiar story. Often we get asked, as freelancers, to quote for a job… then get told, that’s too expensive. What many people don’t take into consideration is that freelancers have to cover their own overheads, sick pay, holiday pay etc. A seemingly high hourly rate is effectively cut in half once our expenses are taken into account.
        We have to compete with hobbyists and competitors who will take a low rate in return for a “good enough” job… but I personally will not compromise on quality. It’s a tough world out there and that’s for sure!

  2. You’ve made many superb points with this post — and summarized my “pain points” perfectly. Thank you especially for those four questions you posted at the end. They will help me keep my perspective (and a cooler head!) when clients don’t budge on price or time. Grrrr. 🙂

    • It’s hard…very, very hard. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, but hopefully those times are few and far between!

  3. Pingback: Round-up of the ten most popular SfEP social media posts in March - SfEP blog

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