Freelancing involves a good deal of trust from both the client and the contractor. The client trusts that the freelancer has the necessary competence to complete the assigned task to his expectations and deliver it on time. The freelancer trusts that the client won't make unreasonable demands, have unreasonable expectations, and will remit payment promptly and in full for the work performed.
Looking at buyer requests and project RFPs, it's pretty obvious that there's little trust on the client side of things. I frequently see project descriptions that:
Now I'll address these issues separately:
Plagiarism. It's an ugly word for an insidious type of theft. Basically, copying a string of words and claiming them as one's own is theft. The irony here is that many such clients will have a published copy of someone's work and ask the writer to rewrite the content "in original language" so the client can claim ownership. To me, this smacks of hypocrisy.
Low compensation. I regularly come across RFPs that state maximum compensation rates of $1 per 100 words or $10 per 1,000 words. If a master craftsman like Stephen King only produces an average of 2,000 words in a day's effort, that translates into a dismal and completely unreasonable hourly wage. Would you work for $20 per day? I won't.
No portfolio allowance. This is typically specified by paranoid buyers who are afraid a writer will claim ownership of ghostwritten work. This is also the type of buyer who demands to see examples of other work performed by the contractor for other clients. Again, this smacks of hypocrisy. A buyer has no right to demand what he will not also allow.
Expedited delivery. Demands for rush delivery mean that the contractor has to shove other clients aside to focus on delivering a specific project. When it comes to shipping or pretty much any other service, demands for expedited delivery generally come with rush charges. Expecting a freelancer to ignore other projects in the hopper to complete yours without paying extra for it is simply unreasonable. This also signifies ignorance as to the production process. Writing takes time. If research is require, that takes time, too. I don't know anyone who can produce a full-length, ready-for-publication novel in a week--or even two weeks. Let the freelancer gauge his own workload and productivity; he'll know how much time a project should take.
Non-disclosure form. I understand that many companies handle sensitive material and have no wish to have their clientele or industry innovations stolen. Discretion is a professional attribute. Such companies generally have their own in-house writers; they don't hire freelancers for such work. However, if the client is worried that the hired freelancer will steal his story premise, then he's worried about the wrong thing. Writers, especially fiction writers, suffer no shortage of ideas. There's seldom enough time or opportunity to develop the ideas they do have. They have no need to steal story concepts from their clients.
In vetting RFPs, it becomes a gamble to respond to prospective clients who expect world-class skill and service and put little value and many restrictions on it. Occasionally, I attempt to educate the buyer in my proposal. It seldom results in a gig; however, I take small comfort in knowing that I've presented myself honestly and haven't misled the buyer by pandering to ignorance or unreasonable expectations.
I put in a 12-hour working day yesterday after a jam-packed week last week. The feast-or-famine cycle of freelancing brought home the perceptions people have about what I do. Yes, I'm going to whine.
When the younger son comes home and I'm sitting at my computer, he wants attention beyond, "Hi, Bubba. How was your day?" That bid attention often takes the form of pestering me. When my husband comes home, he, too, wants attention, usually engaging in conversation. But my workday hasn't yet finished. I start before 8:30 a.m. (oftentimes before 8:00 a.m.) and feel obligated to put in a solid day's work, at least eight or nine hours. Then, if I'm not working late on a project, the evening shift kicks in with the familiar question of "What's for dinner?" and complaints that "I don't have any clean pants." I'm at home all day, so obviously I must have plenty of time for housework and cooking, right?
Just because my son's school day or my husband's work day has ended doesn't mean that my work for the day is finished, too. I'm not entirely sure they view what I do as actual work with actual professional commitments and obligations.
Freelancers do work hard. Flexible hours doesn't mean that we have no schedule; it means that we try to stick to a regular schedule and will work as long as necessary to finish the project. It means that cash flow comes in fits and spurts because freelancers don't get a regular weekly or biweekly salary. Payment usually comes in a deposit at the beginning of a project and then upon delivery of the project. Or sometimes only upon delivery. Therefore, much of our daily, unpaid work entails hunting for gigs to keep the projects coming.
Don't get me wrong. I love freelancing. I loathe the thought of returning to a regular 8:00 - 5:00 office job. It's great when I'm busy and nerve-wracking when I'm not.
Maybe I should promote myself as a consultant instead of a freelancer.
Lately, I've been lucky to have a good amount of paid work to keep me busy. I really appreciate my clients' confidence in my abilities. My cup runneth over.
As any freelancer knows, current work doesn't mean the freelancer can just sit back and work on paid projects. He or she must still fit in time and effort to hunt down the next gig.
Gig hunting takes hours each day. It's basically a game of averages, rather like direct mail advertising. If I apply for 100 gigs each week, I hope to get a 2% or 3% positive response rate. Of course, referrals are the best way to acquire work; however, most of projects are "one-off" types of projects and the clients don't necessarily come back. It's every freelancer's goal to build a stable of regular clients. Repeat clients are a treasure and, like good farriers, should be fed lemonade and cookies to keep them happy.
Of course, the type of gig matters, too. Two projects a week at $5 or $25 dollars per gig won't go far. That's when I'm especially grateful for my regular part-time job. The bigger projects usually get paid via 50% deposit to begin and 50% upon delivery. That means other projects need to come in between start and delivery to keep cash flow as steady as possible.
One of the things I've learned in this first year as a full-time freelancer is estimating how long a project will really take. If, say, a project will take me 40 hours to complete, then it won't be completed in a week. This ain't a regular job. I'll put in a few hours each day on that project and then move on to another project and then move on to the ongoing task of gig-hunting. Spreading the work like that may mean a greater delay between start and delivery payments, but it also prevents me from burning out on any one project. I can remain engaged and enthusiastic, which counts for a lot in this business.
That's one of the reasons why I won't bid on RFPs that specify delivery of a 30,000-word or longer manuscript in less than 30 days. Stephen King--yes, that Stephen King--is reputed to have a daily production average of 2,000 words. I can do that, too. Two thousand words a day (excluding weekends and holidays). If I find myself locked into writing more than that on any one project at any one stretch, you can bet I'll quickly get bored and lose my enthusiasm in the project, even if it's my own book.
I don't want my work to become onerous or a chore that must be endured. After all these years, I'm finally happy in my employment--even if it doesn't have regular hours, regular pay, or benefits--and I'll do my very best to keep it interesting and varied so I can remain engaged in what I do.
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