Whether you are an old pro or a fresh-faced college grad, brilliant or just full of bluster, one truism shall define your freelance writing career: you’re a disposable commodity.
This is a painful truth, but if you embrace the concept rather than run from it, you’re a step ahead of the game. Remember that clients and editors have commissioned a story or hired you to write their speech because either no one on staff is available to do it, or because they want someone to do it more cheaply.
Again, very sad.
Sometimes they can’t afford a staff at all, and instead hire dependable freelancers (that would be you) to do their work. Just don’t expect to get invited to the office Christmas party.
Here are some tips for staying sane so the curveballs won’t clobber you:
- Never work without a contract or writer’s agreement. If it is not in writing, the only place something exists is in your imagination.
- Always provide your own contract as a counter to whatever the client wants to provide; in the case of established magazines or publishers, have a lawyer review, but sign the client’s (most times). Anything that doesn’t work for you must be tweaked and negotiated.
- Know your worth. Right now, decide what your hourly rate is: now don’t fall beneath it, unless you are writing that newsletter for the charitable organization down the block. Discounted or even free work is fine, but only when you want to do someone a favor (or they’re bumping into you tomorrow at the family reunion.)
- Be on guard and trust your hunches. If you send a client a billing question on Monday and he doesn’t answer you by Wednesday, don’t assume things will go your way. It’s the reverse, duh.
- Never show your cards. If you are upset that a client is giving you the short shrift, just quit working for them, with a smile. Much better to have them feeling guilty than bad mouthing your trumponian temper tantrum (yes, I made that adjective up!)
- Have several irons in the fire, always. My rule of thumb is about six projects. Trust me, three projects can fold in a day. You need a cushion.
- Take your vacations, even if it is just a day here and there at your local beach. Disconnect for at least eight hours once a week.
Curveballs come out of the blue, like having your $900 monthly income suddenly taken away by a client who says they aren’t commissioning at the moment, or finding out your stable telemarketing job has filed Chapter 11 so you won’t be paid for your final story.
The reason people take full-time jobs is for so-called job “security”; and the reason most people freelance is for “freedom.”
Sometimes, freedom comes with a price. Be prepared for it…and keep smiling.