Women Freelancers – Stop Apologising For Earning a Living

sign saying sorry, apologetic freelancer

 

If you look at this blog written by my lovely colleague John Espirian, you’ll see the PCN (ProCopywriters Network ) survey from this year shows that women copywriters earn, on average, a staggering 29% less than their male counterparts.

This isn’t a number picked out of thin air, it’s from a survey of real, live copywriters.

There are other freelance earning surveys out there, for example on copyhackers.com but there aren’t that many that look at gender bias.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper

Let’s get one thing straight. No matter what your gender, freelancing isn’t easy. Look at those surveys and you’ll find that many, many freelancers are not being paid sums equal to their in-house colleagues. Hell, I’ve even had ‘the talk’ to a few vastly underpaying companies that wanted to hire my services, and it fell on deaf ears. It’s very easy for a company to ignore their savings on National Insurance, holiday and sick pay, in-house overheads and the like and just see the hourly figure. If they think the going rate they are asked for is ‘too high’, or if they try to set an abysmal per-project fee, the poor (with the emphasis on poor) freelancer has to think long and hard about either sticking to their rates or accepting insulting remuneration just to put food on the table.

But why do women seem to be more susceptible to being tied into low rates?

It seems to be something programmed into us.

robot-148989_1280

Unless you are a business owner who sells ‘things’ there seems to be a trend that women have a tendency to undercharge. Now it’s not all women, but I know a fair few who struggle with this. Me included.

Women generally have to be more flexible, which is why I suspect there seems to be more female freelancers. If you bring up a family, you have to work around them unless you are lucky enough to have round the clock childcare and an equal-rights partner. Freelancing can be great for the flexibility it brings, but the lack of stability and the constant grappling for a fair wage can be exhausting.

It’s almost as though many of us are either grateful that anyone would hire us, or are apologetic for having to actually work for a living. Being in a service industry, with no physical item at the end of the production process, we feel we have to justify our existence in the workplace.

gender pay equality, scales of judgement

An article in Forbes claimed, in April, that in a few freelance areas women are out-earning men. But this information came from a start-up Lystable, which was touted as a workflow management platform aimed at businesses needing to manage banks of freelancers. They very soon after rebranded and became Kalo. Putting my cynical hat on, this may have been an attempt to get more coverage for the business. The one thing I will always remember from statistics classes at Uni is that if you’re a good statistician you can make the statistics say exactly what you want them to. Or they may be right – who knows.

Actually who does know?

Look around the internet and you’ll find tons of articles ranging from women earning a whopping 55% less than men to ones where women are outperforming men in the pay department.

question mark

Search for ‘gender bias in freelance earnings’ and a whole heap of articles will appear. Search for ‘freelance earnings 2017’ and you’ll get not only surveys but articles telling you how to earn more this year.

Who do you believe and does it matter?

Let’s make this clear – the internet is a great place for information, but many, if not most, people have an agenda. Yes, even me. What’s my agenda? It’s to let people know I exist … I live in a beautifully remote place, and if I didn’t have a web presence very few people would know that I’m an editor and writer for hire.

When you see sensational articles online, take a good close look at who is writing and for what audience. And to what purpose. Freelancer sites try to lure freelancers to their business (perhaps with the lure of better pay), writers for hire may just write what their client wants them to write, and big businesses have their business in mind. Everyone has their own truth.

questions, choices

Here’s the situation: we ALL have bills to pay and we ALL have to eat.

When it all boils down to it, it seems that women are still dealing with the Victorian attitude that the man is the bread-earner and the woman keeps house. Or I should say the middle-class Victorian attitude? For many Victorians, if the women didn’t work the family would end up in the poorhouse. The Great War may have taken women out of the home and into professions more traditionally male, but it didn’t change attitudes much.

Time is money for the freelancer and that includes women. We don’t work for the good of our health, we work to pay the bills, put food on the table and if we are very lucky take a holiday each year. I say very lucky, if you are a freelancer you have to schedule your work with military precision to take a holiday, and this year I won’t be able to take one due to work and other life commitments clashing.

we all have bills to pay

 

So how, as women, do we stop apologising for trying to earn a living?

You can go and work ‘for the man’ and do the 9–5, or you can make yourself a few promises.

Repeat after me:

I WILL remember that my time is as valuable as anyone else’s.

I WILL NOT apologise when I give people my rates.

I WILL NOT give service discounts because I feel I have to.

I WILL timetable time off, for myself and my family.

I WILL keep in touch with my industry standard rates and apply them.

I WILL NOT give in to low-paying work unless I really, really have to or unless there is another form of payback (e.g. a new specialism or some on-the-job training).

I WILL include professional development in my work timetable.

I WILL NOT allow myself to think that I am any less valuable or professional than my male colleagues.

I WILL forgive myself if I fail, but I won’t dwell on it and will start over again tomorrow.

I WILL, I WILL, I WILL try my very best to earn the type of living I know I deserve.

Men sure as hell don’t have it easy, but when was the last time you saw a man apologise for earning a living?

Conference Capers

Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference pack

Last week I came out of hiding and headed down to Edinburgh for the SfEP Scottish Regional Mini-conference organised by the Edinburgh, Glasgow and North/East Scotland groups of the SfEP.

Meetings like this are few and far between so for me it’s imperative that the whole thing is an enjoyable experience; there’s nothing worse than a few days away knowing you’ve left a pile of work behind (or worse still, taken it with you). So I cleared my work schedule and enjoyed the six-hour drive to Stirling, where I was staying for a few days, as my daughter and I sang along to our favourite tunes.

On the morning of the conference I gathered together my directions and notebooks, and headed for the train at stupid o’clock (the train was at 8 a.m. … I usually drag myself out of bed at that time). For once I was full of confidence as I know the area and didn’t have to navigate the car around unknown motorway exits while trying to remember directions. I love taking the train – I get to do some people watching and catch up on reading instead of spending my time swearing at road signs.

Outside the venue, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh

Isn’t it pretty? This was the view from the venue – look, blue skies!

I was actually in plenty of time for the arrival coffee and networking (I usually manage to get to places with little time to spare if I’m being completely honest) and was pleased to see some familiar faces. I love meeting new people, but there’s nothing like catching sight of a friend to put you at ease. I talked complete and utter rubbish to a few people, then it was time to sit down and start the conference.

After our Chair, Sabine Citron, welcomed us all we started the day with a wonderful talk from Prof. Geoff Pullum. As Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoff certainly knows his way around words (and apparently a Hammond organ – eat your heart of Prof. Brian Cox!) and this was the presentation I’d been most looking forward to. He didn’t disappoint. I think I’m a fairly rogue editor (and writer) as I prefer to use language as it has developed, rather than stick solidly to old-fashioned usage (unless, of course, the client wants to stick by the ‘rules’), and this talk was wonderful and full of energy. We were told that authorities do not suffice when it comes to grammar usage, and that most ‘rules’ were made up (yes, made up) in the C19th or earlier. As long as the writing makes sense, go ahead and split your infinitives, use the singular ‘they’ and be as passive as you like. And you can start a sentence with and, but and however. The overall theme from this humorous and refreshing talk was that unless you want to sound pompous, go ahead and be less formal – as an editor, over-correcting your author does no one any favours.

Next up was Jane Moody, Professional Development Director, talking about professional development and upgrading your SfEP membership. For me, moving to be a Professional Member was an obvious step, and not at all difficult, however Jane showed that for me to move to Advanced Professional membership will be equally as pain free. I’ll be looking at the upgrade procedure sooner rather than later now. Stephen Cashmore, Training Director, was due to talk about training, but unfortunately the internet crapped out, so we headed for an early coffee break instead.

Ashley Craig, from the North/East Scotland group, gave us a demonstration of commercial super-macros for editing, which was fascinating. I don’t use many macros, although I probably should, and her talk on Editorium and Wordsnsync EditTools was informative and very interesting. The user interfaces looked pretty good (I do like a nice check box) and I might be tempted to give them a trial (although finding the time to play with them might be difficult).

Lunchtime was another chance to catch up, and as we sat outside in the sunshine it made me realise just how much I miss editorial human interaction. Although I do have a tendency to talk complete and utter crap when faced with a bit of ‘networking’. Lunch with friends is a much better way of looking at it.

City of Edinburgh Methodist Church Garden

We sat in the garden at lunchtime, selfies were taken, I looked like a potato with blue hair, so here’s the lovely garden view instead.

Which moves me onto Laura Poole’s talk on authentic networking.  She had us all think about elevator speeches and why we network (it leads to conversations, which lead to relationships, which lead to opportunities). I did chuckle when she told us to ditch the words ‘only’ and ‘just’. They rank highly among ‘Oh, it was nothing’ in my professional phrasebook of ‘things to say when talking about what you do’. After our final coffee break, she gave the final presentation on taking charge of your freelance life. She spoke about dealing with the ‘feast or famine’ aspect of freelancing (how to break the cycle and how to say ‘no’ with conviction), and went into business practices such as client communication, paying attention, raising your rates and task management. Laura’s enthusiasm and drive were really infectious, and I really don’t know how she does it. I’m glad I finally got to meet her at last, as I missed her at the conference last September, but she now has one of my shiny new business cards (sorry, Laura) so she won’t forget the daft blue-haired editor she spoke with on her first trip to Scotland.

When the conference was over, after our Vice-Chair, Lucy Metzger, closed up shop, I dashed off with a friend to Waverley station to bag a seat on the last train before rush-hour madness descended. Sorry to all those I never managed to talk to, I’ll get you in September. There’s nothing quite like a bit of a get-together with friends (otherwise known as professional networking with editorial colleagues) to put a spring in your step. I felt thoroughly energised.

So, what did I take away from the conference?

  • Correct grammar isn’t necessarily something rigid that has been concocted 200 years ago, but is fluid and changing.
  • Professional development is easier than you think.
  • Super-macros are something that can help a professional to tackle their job more effectively.
  • Authentic networking means being yourself, and knowing yourself and your self-worth.
  • Taking charge of your professional life means saying no, as well as yes.
  • Editorial get-togethers are fantastic.

SfEP conference pack and editor's notebook

I’m now looking forward to September and the annual SfEP conference. Until then I have work to do and calendar spaces to fill, so if you know of someone who needs editorial help, contact me and we can have a chat.

Stop The Race To The Bottom, Value Your Writing Services

Business people Running Towards Finish Line --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I need an editor … you’ll be rewarded

I need an editor … you’ll get great exposure

I need an editor … fast

I need an editor … I don’t mind paying

I need an editor … willing to pay

I need an editor … for free

 

If you need an editor … I’ll do it cheap

If you need an editor … I need the money

If you need an editor … I need a job

If you need an editor … I need the experience

If you need an editor … I’m not a great fit but …

 

All of these comments were taken from Twitter within the last six months. And they all appeared more than once, by different people, at different times and from different countries.

The potential ‘clients’ actually needed video editors, developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, copywriters and writing coaches. But hey, an editor is an editor on social media.

writing and editorial professsional despairing

Social media is great, don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it does seem to facilitate a race to the bottom. Everywhere you turn there are ‘experts’ who will tell you what you want to hear, potential clients who are in desperate need of help and professionals who are trying to keep their businesses afloat.

It may be controversial (or perhaps it isn’t) but sometimes, as professionals, we don’t really help ourselves. You can see it clearly from the comments above. Creative shaming is something I wrote about last year, but there has to come a time when creative professionals decide what is important in their working lives and start to help themselves.

 

Stop the race to the bottom, value your services.

To stop this awful race to the bottom, and to make it less acceptable to pay creatives a pittance (or even nothing, because, hell, exposure is great), we all need to value our services.

Writing and editing are valuable skills:

If everyone could do it there would be no typos, bad grammar or just plain awful prose in the world.

If our skills weren’t valuable there would be no need for editorial professionals or professional writers.

writing services

 

Writing and editing – the hidden talent.

Businesses rely on conveying a message, and that message should be concise, clear and articulate. The creatives behind business communication are often well hidden, but professional writers, editors and proofreaders can make the business more attractive to clients. And that skill has value.

Authors rely on crafting a great story, and that story should be a pleasure to read. The creatives that help behind the scenes are often well hidden, but editorial professionals can make a good story into a great story. And that skill has value.

 

Embrace your skills.

We must get out of the mindset that ours skills are of little value, and embrace our knowledge for what it is – hard graft that comes through years of experience and training. We may enjoy what we do, but our skills have value to others.

Creatives help to make the world a brighter place, and help businesses grow and flourish, so they should be treated as professionals and paid well for their expertise. And that needs to start with the creative professionals themselves. We need to value our skills and help others to value them too.

I’m lucky, I have great clients who value my services. But that may be because I know my value, understand the value of great training and help potential clients to understand what they really need. I refuse to do something just because a client thinks they need it: if they don’t need a service I won’t do it. I also refuse to join in a race to the bottom, even if it means missing out on work.

 

Learn to say no.

If you are a professional creative you are skilful, confident and competent. You are also engaged in an activity as a paid occupation. It is your job.

It can be really difficult to say no when someone needs help, but you have to take on work that pays you enough to settle your bills and buy the odd bottle of Prosecco. If your business has you taking on low-paid work (and let’s admit it, we have all done it), you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you can’t pay your bills it isn’t. If you’re taking on low-paid work because you need a filler you are going to kick yourself when you have to say no to a decent commission, because your time is being monopolised by the job that has you working for below minimum wage.

Freelancer learning to say no

 

Fight back.

So, it’s time to fight back. Just because you can help doesn’t mean you have to help.

Your professional expertise has cost you:

              Time – you didn’t become a competent professional creative overnight.

              and

              Money  – for training and equipment.

 

Even if you are starting out, you have the skills and training. If this is your job, it is your livelihood.

 

Have the answers ready.

It can be daunting to take that leap and decide that from now on you will only work for a decent wage. It’s scary – you may never work again, you have bills to pay, you need to eat. Yes, but it’s a vicious cycle; once you start accepting low-paid work, or you work for ‘exposure’, your mindset follows and you start to believe that you are only worth that minimum wage or that you need the ‘exposure’.

So take a stand. Know your worth. Here are the answers:

 

I need an editor … you’ll be rewarded  (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … you’ll get great exposure (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … fast   (Great, thanks, my rush rates are …)

I need an editor … I don’t mind paying  (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … willing to pay (Great, thanks, my rates are …)

I need an editor … for free  (Great, thanks, but I don’t work for free. My rates are …)

 

And here is what you should say:

If you need an editor … I’ll do it cheap    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need the money    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need a job     I have some flexibility in my schedule, my rates are …

If you need an editor … I need the experience    my rates are …

If you need an editor … I’m not a great fit but    I would love to expand into this area, my rates are …