Writer Wednesday: The Great Compromise

What’s on the iPod: Revelation Blues by The Tallest Man on Earth

If you want to get anything done, just put a vacation on your radar. So far this week I’ve written two articles and I’m talking with two client prospects on various project possibilities. And I’m probably going to be revising content on the first article (client may have some specifics to add), all before Friday.

Good thing — I want to go fishing.

I was reading a truly awful blog recently where one post contradicted another post’s advice. It drives me nuts to see bloggers, especially writers, playing both sides. It’s phony, and it’s not helpful to anyone but the person who’s trying on ideas to see which one is popular. You know a webinar is coming. False prophets are so damaging to our profession.

Some of the advice I saw included accepting/rejecting/accepting content mill work (in that order and over a year or so). I’m not exactly sure why anyone would be so down on content mills only to turn around and suggest them as quick work and then say “No, don’t.” It’s a compromising of standards — both the readers’ and the blogger’s — to talk out both sides of the face. Whatever the reason for the about-face, it brings up a good point of discussion.

When do you relax your standards, and at what point do you stop?

Suppose you’re facing a client who’s looking to hire you for a lot of projects. You state your rate – let’s say it’s $125 an hour. The client balks; he pulls in just $130 an hour himself. Clearly, you two aren’t on the same page. What do you do? That depends on the vibe you’re getting from the client, the amount of work to be done, and the chances you see for a long-term relationship. In that case, suggesting a lower rate in exchange for ongoing work could be a great fit for you both.

Similarly, there are areas in your career and your business where you can allow for some compromise. While it’s fantastic to say “I won’t work for less than $1 a word” if something came along that paid 75 cents a word and was easy, why not?

Just don’t give it away or lower your standards to the point where clients won’t see your value. That’s just stupid. And good luck recovering from it if you do go down that path.

Here are a few areas where you can negotiate:

Price. I’ve done it — I’ve lowered my price in order to secure ongoing work. In one case, I was making $70 an hour for a top-shelf company. However, the workload was steady, and it netted me an extra $2,500 a month. If the total monthly amount you’ll earn is an amount you can live with, and the work isn’t so taxing that it’s all you do, go for it.

Filler work. We’ve all had those times when regular client work dries up, new clients aren’t coming in, and editors aren’t buying our ideas. It’s okay to find some lower-paying stuff — especially if you’re the sole breadwinner — in order to get by. One of my favorite fillers is resume work for resume companies. They find the projects for you and you get paid quickly. Just make sure they pay enough (resume writing isn’t as easy as you’d think). Other possibilities include reputable blogging networks that pay decent money (none of this $20 a post crap or expectations that you’ll babysit that blog post for 24-48 hours).

Project length. Not all compromise has to come from your side, right? So for the client whose budget is about $500 or so less than your rate, why not suggest a smaller slice of the project? Maybe instead of writing it yourself you’ll edit their writing? Or perhaps they’ll agree to a website rewrite where you take on two pages per month? Find ways to break things into bite-sized chunks so clients are able to afford you. The minute you make it affordable, you add instant value to what you do.

Some standards. This is a tough one. There are some personal standards you’ll flat-out refuse to budge on (nor should you), while there are other standards where you’re leaning one direction and not all-in committed. For example, you loathe writing anything religious. No budging there. But that Republican politician and you (you Green Party voter, you) have hit it off personally, so you’re less inclined to turn down his autobiography ghostwriting project. Or the other way around. Only you know which standards you’re wedded to and which ones you’re not. For example, I did write for the Republican because yes, she and I hit it off.

Work hours. I’m a strict 8-to-5 worker because that’s when I have a quiet house and a brain that’s awake. Weekends are mine with a capital MINE. However, there is the occasional client project that comes in Thursday or Friday night — you know the ones — and they desperately need it by Monday before noon. Unless it’s a case of them placing an arbitrary deadline on it or a case where they’ve dragged their feet to the point where their backs are against a wall of their own making, I’ll budge. I’ve handled last-minute articles for clients who just got the okay for a publication, but it has to be there Monday morning. I’ve handled assignments badly bungled by the last freelancer the client hired. There are times when weekends and hours don’t matter.

Writers, where do you see room for compromise in your career or your business?

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  • KeriLynn Engel July 30, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Great points for discussion, Lori, and unfortunately something you don't see very often on many popular writing blogs. Freelancers who've been successful for many years and always have prospects coming to them can afford to be much more uncompromising than writers who are just starting out.

    One of my compromises is: I do editing work for Scripted (a content mill) sometimes. They send out emails if they have a ton of articles to be edited, and once I'm familiar with the guidelines, I can make $100/hour editing for them. It's nice extra income when I have nothing else on my plate.

  • Lori Widmer July 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    KeriLynn, that sounds like a decent pay rate. I wouldn't scoff at that, either.

    Don't let the successful freelancers fool you — even they have troubles finding work at times. It happens to the best of us.

  • Paula July 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I have three or for filler clients. The work is all easy. They editors are peaches. They all pay fast, but less than I normally accept.

    I'll squeeze their projects in if I have time or when I have a big expense looming. But I also make it clear to those clients that if another project comes in with the same deadline, the lower paying project gets the back burner. I've never not been able to finish one of their jobs, but the clients know their deadline might have to be pushed back.

    They can accept those terms, pay more, or find another writer.

  • Eileen July 30, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I've accepted less pay when things are slow, but even on those occasions my hourly rate was still quite good. If the client/prospect asking for a lower rate does not treat me with respect, though, it's a deal breaker. And when I do accept less pay, I let them know it's less than my normal rate and give them a reason why I'm willing to do it — because they're a long term client whose relationship I value, because I have a gap in my schedule, etc.

  • Lori Widmer July 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Good plan, Paula. I like it. 🙂 They can't say they weren't told, right?

    Good to give a reason, Eileen. I usually say something like "I can give a one-time price break." It sends the message that hey, don't get used to it!

  • Ashley July 30, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    I have an editor that I've been writing for since I first started freelancing. The pay is really not good at all, but he makes it so easy to work with him, and because each job is quick/easy for me to do, I end up making a decent hourly rate. It's still less than I would normally accept, and I don't accept any new clients at that rate. I just tell him that I can do it IF I have time in my schedule. He'll usually find something for me to write that works with my schedule (which is pretty inconsistent these days). So it works out for both of us.

  • Lori Widmer July 31, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I have a few of those too, Ashley. The work is easy, the clients are a delight, and it's money in my pocket. Why not?

    So the theme seems to be we tell clients that higher paying work takes priority. Has anyone seen that lead to an increase in what the lower paying clients pay?

  • Jennifer Mattern August 4, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I shared an example of me compromising on price on my blog a while back. Basically, most clients were paying around $150-200 per blog post at the time (short ones). But I had one paying barely over $70. I remember someone having the gall to tell me I was working for peanuts by keeping that gig (I knew the client couldn't afford to pay more than that, so it was a take or leave it thing). In fact it was one of my highest earning gigs. The posts literally took 20-30 minutes from start to finish. They were beginner-level pieces on a topic I knew very well, and I was hired to write mostly from experience (no interviews or detailed research needed). I could practically write them in my sleep. And I brought in nearly $200 per billable hour on those posts, more than my $150 per hour target. Those were some pretty tasty peanuts. 😉

    I have another client I occasionally "break the rules" for. We've worked together for 8 years now. I don't compromise much on price anymore (though I used to). And because he can't afford my normal rates most of the time, we don't work together as regularly — more on larger projects when they come up. But if he needs something with a pretty quick turnaround, I'll usually find a way to squeeze him in. And I'll respond to him on "off" days once in a while simply because the time zone differences can make it tough for us to interact in real time.

    I'd make fee exceptions if I really wanted to work for a client — such as if I cared about the exposure more than the pay. But I also wouldn't let those kinds of projects come out of my billable hours. I'd schedule them in as marketing time so I don't sacrifice other, and better, gigs.

  • Lori Widmer August 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I remember you mentioning that client, Jenn. I'd have made the same concession. Sometimes the work is easy, the client is great, and you enjoy the project. Why not take a little less with those parameters?

    Same here — if I wanted to work with the client, I'd negotiate the fee. I think you recall the client prospect who recently resorted to saying nasty things instead of coming back with a simple "Your price is above our budget." He was nice enough on the phone that I might have negotiated. He did me a favor, though. His attitude came out without my having to waste any energy on him.