KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, December 07, 2007

Turning Down Low-Paying Work

Whenever freelancers get together, they often talk about whether they should accept low-paying projects.

Some of us with many years of experience advise not accepting such projects, even if you don't have a project at the moment, unless the financial wolf is at your door or it's for a cause you support. The main reasons behind this advice are (1) that the time you spend doing this work is time you could be spending searching for better-paying work and (2) accepting low pay can get you pigeonholed as someone who'll always accept low pay.

Here's a real-life example: My husband, Ed, has just started his own cabinetmaking company; he's a subcontractor. A former fellow subcontractor who is now a contractor and is a friend of Ed's called today with an offer of work. One of the subcontractors this man is working with needs an additional cabinetmaker for an installation in a home. It would be a day's work, and the subcontractor told Ed's friend that he'd pay $X for the day.

Ed, who has learned that he doesn't think fast on his feet in situations like that, thanked his friend and said he'd call him right back about the offer. Ed did the math and realized that the offered pay is quite a bit lower than what he needs to earn per hour to make a profit. We discussed the situation. He does have some project bids out right now, and he's very likely to be awarded at least a couple of the projects. But at this very moment, he doesn't have work. The wolf is not now at our door, so he doesn't have to take the gig. He would like to work with this contractor, though, so we discussed what amount of money he'd be willing to take for the day. He lowered it just a bit from what he wants to earn. He called the contractor back and said he'd be happy to do the work, but at a higher amount than the subcontractor had offered; he didn't say what his hourly rate is because that's proprietary information and because he always adds in a fudge factor to cover project glitches.

The contractor said that he was sorry, but the original amount was all that the subcontractor was willing to pay. Then he added that he was happy to know what rates Ed was willing to work for and that he'll keep Ed in mind for other projects. He didn't reject the idea of working with Ed just because Ed wants decent pay. Ed's okay with earning a little less from that contractor than from others because the contractor is much closer to home than most of his clients are, and he knows that most of that contractor's clients are middle-class home owners who won't pay for the high-end work that he does for the rest of his clients. Gigs from that contractor will be good fill-ins between projects from larger and better-paying contractors.

I'm proud of him for (1) taking the time to think the situation through rather than panicking and grabbing at whatever he could get and (2) sticking to what he thinks his skills are worth. Here's to all freelancers who do the same!

Updated at 5:10 p.m.: It's come to my attention that some freelancers don't understand how anyone can negotiate with a potential client without revealing their hourly rate. It's simple: You don't have to charge an hourly rate. You can charge a project fee or a per-page fee that works out to be what you want to earn per hour. Lots of freelancers operate this way; most cabinetmakers do too.



Imperatrix said...

Yes, and then there's the time you do take low-paying work, which is when another better-paying project comes along, which you can't take because your time is booked up with the cheapo project!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Yes! I learned that the hard way, many years back. Fear is not a good companion for the freelancer; it'll steer you wrong every time.

Template created by Makeworthy Media