Valuing Your Freelance Work

So many of us talk about valuing life, but I don't think that we really do. As a matter of fact, I think that most people, at least in the states, see the life of another person as rather worthless in practice. Sure, when we stop and think about it we would say the opposite, but our actions speak otherwise. 

This post had been on the back burner until I read something by a successful author who was trying the self-publishing route. Said author (who shall remain nameless to protect MY safety) talked about his own venture into self publishing. He gave a long and interesting list of expenses and headaches suffered along the way. Freelancer after freelancer bailed on him at the last minute for flaky reasons. But two stood out.

The first was an artist who was approached to do the cover. While not all of the details were given, concepts were produced, a specific design chosen, revisions were made; but in the end the author felt like it was going to take too long and be too expensive. So the author made his own cover and paid for some touch ups to be done to it. As for the original artist, no money is said to have gone his way.

Our second freelancer, “turned out to be a bargain. I [sic] friend at a publishing company recommended a freelancer who was nine months pregnant. She did not go on vacation and did the job for $20 per hour—about $160 total. Earlier bids for typesetting had been between $1000 and $2000.”

Now, if you're waiting for the part where the author says that he gave her a bonus because he felt both bad about taking advantage of a pregnant woman, and grateful for the services she provided . . . don't hold your breath.

We All Do It

Kind of makes you cringe, doesn't it? But this author is actually a really good guy. He seems to do his best at helping out other authors, in fact the whole point of him sharing his ordeal was to steer others away from the same mistakes. He shares information freely, and in the end only hopes that you'll pick up one of his books. He's an artisan just like you and I, but he's also got bills to pay, a family to take care of, probably even a mortgage or two. If he can get a break, he'll take it even if he does have enough money tucked away on the side to experiment with self-publishing.

This is an unfortunate fact of life, folks. If you don't value your time, no one else will do it for you. In fact, they will knowingly take advantage of you if they think they can get a “bargain.” These same people may very well be members of the artistic community just like you and I. They want their work and time valued and paid for appropriately, but when it comes time to doing the same in kind there's a good chance that it's not going to happen.

I know this sounds a bit pessimistic, but it is Friday, and this is snark. Along with that, this is true in many cases. If you don't stand up for yourself, you will be taken advantage of. I was going to use examples from my own life, from being a freelance graphic designer and doing construction. People that know me are always asking me to bid jobs for them hoping I'll do it on the cheap, and frankly, I usually do. The most recent one I bid in at nearly half the going rate which was still too high for this person. Rather than cutting my price, I wished them luck on getting the job done right.

What You’re Paying For

You see, we have to remember, you're not just paying for the person's time, you are paying for the years and years worth of study and practice that went into them being able to do what they can do. A person might look at a job quote and choke at the price compared to the number of hours spent doing it. Well you're not paying for the hours; you're paying for the experience.

Take a person that knows nothing of the craft and ask them to do the job for you. See how long it takes them and what kind of quality you get out of it. Unfortunately, people don't think in those terms. They think in terms of a Walmart bargain culture where cheap prices come at undervaluing the work used to create said product. They want the best, (or what looks like the best) but they don't want to pay for it.

So as you head out in your freelance ventures, keep that in mind. Do the appropriate market research. Know what price your quality of work is going for, and bid appropriately. Then stick to your guns. It's rather tough to ask for more money after the job is done.

If you really need the money, then you have to do what you have to do. But consider this, in the above typesetting example, if we take the going rate for the job as being $1500, that poor woman would have to do nearly ten jobs before she made what she was worth. On the contrary, had she held out for one person to pay her the appropriate wage, she’d have the same amount of money and would have done one tenth the work.

Please keep this in mind when you become rich and famous and can afford to pay people what they are worth. I know I can’t, that’s why I do everything myself.


Just as a side note, if that driveway looks like a good job to you, please don’t ever touch concrete. EVER. Don’t even look at it. In fact, I’d suggest not walking on it either.




golddust3681 said...

OMG, you sound like spousy! He spent the first 4 years we were together cutting his prices just to get "something" and then they would take forever to pay. He did so many jobs for free to get his "foot in the door" but all it ever did was make people think that he was a free worker. After that struggle, he finally got a stable job and although he hates "working for someone" it really has made things better for us all around.

It's human nature to want to get something for nothing and it's even easier to be that way when you are a corporate entity, it seems. I spent a lot of my life giving and giving and never getting anything in return that it made me bitter and distrusting.

I'm finally back to my ol' self (though some would argue they liked the bitter girl better) and I just try to lead by example. It doesn't always work, of course but I figure if I treat someone fairly they may return the favor.

Excellent post, excellent advice.

but...GAWD that concrete is bad. And sorry to say it looks like a LOT of the subdivisions around here.

David Noceti said...

Yeah, I did the same thing. Deal deal deal, just led to more people who were sketchy. I left design for a while to work construction, made good money but killed myself doing it. After I quit to take care of the little wonder, I got a call from one of the sketchy characters from my design past.

This particular guy was having me make rush business cards so that he could fake personal businesses for folks he was trying to get home loans for. I didn't call him back. The next guy wanted me to send him "files" even though I'd given him everything the first time around. I mentioned a fee and didn't hear back from him. And as I sit here writing, there is a message from a third person who used to work with me. He was the least sketchy of the group, but they were all in real-estate and home-loans and for whatever reason, that industry breeds a lot of corrupt people.

Working construction taught me a lot. One of the things it taught me was that you need to be a hard ass when it comes to business. People don't mess around with contractors. Maybe it's because of the gruff exterior. But they will take advantage of "an artist."

damihjva said...

Great post, David. (The Walmart thing, I ain't even gonna touch.)

Amber J. Gardner said...

That's the weirdest and steepest driveway I've ever seen.

This reminds me of my photography professor who said we newcomers ruin the market by not charging what we're worth and not charging high enough. He told us that we have to charge for the creative effort as well, not just how much it cost to shoot, print, gas for the drive, etc, and that it should be at least 50% (I think, or more?) of what it cost to make the product.

Also, it reminded me of last night. I was at the supermarket and this guy gave me a ticket and that in a few minutes they were going to give away a few vegetable slicer. I decide to go and see, and of course the entire thing was an advertisement. You get the $5 slicer is you stand there for a while and listen to his sales pitch for the bigger, better slicer.

This made me think how you only get something if you give something. We live in a world where money rules everything. No one does anything without expecting something in return. No one successful anyways.

I just wish I knew how much my work is worth and how I can up the value so people will be more willing to pay.

David Noceti said...

Yeah, that's the tricky part, the really tricky part. It's not like a store where there's a price on the product and you either buy it or you don't. Each project is different from the last and it's not like there are any books to help you figure out how to navigate through the maze of pricing. And even stranger still, many books will tell you is that you have to start low and move up. But then again, I just read this quote in Les Edgerton's book from Gloria Steinem, "Writing . . . keeps me from believing everything I read."

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

When I first moved to Alabama and did freelance writing for the newspaper here, I realized that my $50 job had taken me five hours to achieve and wasn't worth the effort, even though I wanted to build my portfolio. Hopefully I remember that as I am about to move to Florida and hope to freelance with the local media there.

My old driveway in Springboro, Ohio looked very similar to that photo. It was so steep that if I didn't hit the gas just write, I'd roll back. Very fun times when we had snow and ice, let me tell you!!

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

Hahaha, I say "write" instead of right. I better not try to find a job as a copy editor, LOL.

David Noceti said...

I'm just trying to figure out how you're supposed to work it so that your front end doesn't crash into the cement before the wheels get to the incline.

And I know just how you feel about writing jobs. I used to freelance for a magazine and between going out to do the interviews, gas, research and writing, I was making about a crap fifty an hour. :) But I guess those are the trials and tribulations that we creative professionals have to go through.

And don't feel bad about the "write" mix up. I did it the other day on a facebook post and a writer friend noted, "Please tell me you didn't just misspell 'right'."

"No, actually I didn't. I spelled it correctly." :)

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