4 Issues Every Freelance Writer Will Face

What I’m listening to: Trip Switch by Nothing But Thieves

Sometimes you come across something that’s stated simply, and it’s so brilliant that you have to share it. That was the case yesterday when I read this blog post by Jason McDowell.

He said this:

Never let a client treat you like anything but an equal.

Take that to the bank. Right there.

When we’re first starting out, we doubt ourselves. So we tend to cater far too much to client’s whims and directives. But hell, you’ve been at it more than a few years now, right?

But hell, you’ve been at it more than a few years now, right? You’re no longer the wet-behind-the-ears freelance writer we’ve all been at one point. You’re getting better pay, better clients, and hey, you’re not about to have a client dictate anything to you.

Except that’s not true, is it? You’ll accept less than you should because you want the money in front of you rather than the work it will take to get better money. You’ll let a client tell you the price they’re paying. You’ll work with damn near anyone, instincts be damned.

Oh, freelancer. Why do you hurt yourself so?

Jason’s one sentence is golden because it reveals so much about the mentality that gets us stuck in our own traps. I’ve come up with the issues that echo his statement — the issues every freelancer will face now and throughout their freelance writing careers.

The pay issue

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. No client should ever dictate to you what you’ll be paid. You’ll negotiate with clients. That doesn’t mean you’ll stand back and say “Yes, ma’am” when some fool says your skills and time are worth an less than half of what you charge. Remember this: even if you have shaky confidence in your skills (we all do starting out, don’t we?), your time is worth adequate compensation. That means you hold the power over what you’ll be paid. That doesn’t mean you’re going to strong-arm clients into paying what they can’t afford. It does mean you won’t be accepting statements like “We’ll be paying you $XXX.”

And you won’t be applying to any more of those stupid job postings that are way too employer/employee in thinking. You’re going to conduct yourself like a business owner. Business owners don’t troll job boards or hang out on Fiverr.

The respect issue

See, part of the problem is too many freelancers are still thinking in that employer-employee relationship mode. Employers dictate and send out directives to employees, who rush to complete the tasks so they can get their measly 2% raise every year.

But you’re now an employer — your own employer. Got it? So imagine an unknown employer showing up at your business one day (your study, your living room, wherever you’re working from) and telling you How Things Are Going To Go.

Not going to happen, right? Honey, if you’re accepting that kind of dictatorial behavior from your clients, it’s already happening. If you can’t wrap your head around the idea of a client in your living room (I hope you’re wearing a robe), try imagining a stranger coming into your house and rearranging your furniture or throwing out your books or reprogramming your DVR to record just Spanish-speaking soccer games from 2014. You’d put a halt to that, wouldn’t you? Pretend your business is Game of Thrones and that pushy client is selling old Spanish soccer matches.

The business person issue

How many times will we see freelancers patching it together instead of taking a few hours out of their lives to map out some semblance of a plan? Until you pull yourself out of that I'm-just-a-freelancer mentality, you're going to struggle. Click To Tweet Until you realize that you have something you have to protect fiercely — your business — you’re going to continue to devalue yourself. Until you’re ready to protect your business like you would your own child (because it is your child), you will fail to present yourself as a professional, which is essential to being taken seriously. You have to take yourself seriously first, and that means you need to put the time and effort into building a business properly.

The self-respect issue

Truth is, all of the above can be solved when you solve this one issue. If you respect yourself, you’re not going to work hard to please a potential client who starts out by insulting your value. You’re not going to respond to client prospects who think strong-arming, name-calling, or any other form of guilt-inducing threats intended to shame you into lowering your rates. You do not deserve to be treated like anything other than another professional business person. Period.

Look at what you bring to the client-writer relationship. You are providing a service they need. They’re seeking you out just as often as you seeking them out. You’re there to collaborate, not be the hamster on the wheel. Consider yourself a trusted partner to your clients. And to those prospects who refuse to see you as such, consider them gone from their orbit.

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  • Devon Ellington August 24, 2017 at 10:49 am

    so, so, so true! A potential client asked for my range per word (since there was a range of projects, and they can be billed differently). I gave my rate range. He came back with an offer at 1/3 below the bottom of the range, and then said they hand out assignments to the lowest-paid writers first and the higher-paid get any “leftovers” and that they have “fantastic” writers working at that rate.

    Um, no.

    First of all, when I give you my range, don’t come back with such an insulting counter-offer.

    Second, if those writers were “fantastic” they wouldn’t be working for rates that are barely above content mill.

    Third, that’s not what the ad stated.


    • lwidmer August 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Wait. So they funnel work to the people making shit wages because they’re so “fantastic”? Why? Because they don’t cost the company more than pocket change?

      There are SO many ways why this response by them is insulting. Undercutting your rate by a huge amount, justifying a terrible business model, giving those who are more skilled “leftovers” … Christ, why don’t they just come out and say “We don’t really respect writers”?

      Screw them. Man, now is when I wish Kathy Kehrli had her blog running again! She’d make mincemeat of them.

      • Devon Ellington August 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

        I know. I was completely stunned. I shouldn’t be, but I was.

        • lwidmer August 25, 2017 at 10:37 am

          I have no idea how you held off telling them what idiots they are.

        • lwidmer August 25, 2017 at 11:05 am

          Totally get that — it stunned me and I wasn’t the one dealing with it!