Freelancers – value yourselves

Hello, my name is Jane and I’m a Freelance Copywriter (amongst other things); I write and people pay me. I use that money to go to shops and buy things like food and clothes, and sometimes bottles of gin. I also lavish my meagre funds on heating, electricity, water and the endless things school asks me for. I work hard each and every day to put food on the table. I pay my taxes (hello Starbucks, are you listening?) and my National Insurance and because I work for myself and don’t have access to a stationery cupboard, I have to buy my own paper-clips too. In short, my life isn’t given to me for free, nor will Mr Supermarket do me a deal for cash.

In my line of work I frequently get offered “amazing” opportunities to work for free or for buttons (quite literally) to apparently “help raise my profile”. It’s exciting to be asked to write for a magazine and to see your name in print, it’s a great feeling, but do you know what’s a better feeling? Being PAID to write and then seeing your name in print. I understand there is a whole chicken/egg scenario here, but I’ve never written for a publication for free in my life and I often see my name in print. If you don’t value your work, the words you sweat over, the research you have done, then no one else will.

Everyone has to start somewhere you say. I agree. But if you write for free now, you can’t turn round in six months and say “now I’m a proper published writer you have to pay me now”, because they won’t. They’ll just move on and find someone else who will write for free, because we’ve all been new and we’ve all been tempted. Not only are you devaluing yourself and your product, you’re making it harder for other writers (including you) to make a living.

But what if they want to pay you? Fabulous news, but what do they want to pay you? What’s your rate? You have two options, a notional hourly rate (I reckon that’ll take me two hours so if I work for £10 and hour that’s £20*) or a pay-per-word arrangement (for example, 800 words for £15*). I hear of writers (usually ones dabbling on the side of a “proper” job) who agree to ridiculous things, like 2000 words for £15. I saw one today which was 750 words for £8. If you’re working and writing for that amount of money, you’re pretty much giving it away for free. Your hourly rate probably isn’t even half that of the minimum wage.

It’s hard to know what to charge when people ask you to write for them. I’m as guilty as the next person for undervaluing my work, but I will charge the going rate based on my notional hourly rate. The best advice I can give is make friends with other copywriters and bounce ideas off them. If you have a gang of copywriters (I’m going to call a group of copywriters a scribble, a scribble of copywriters) then you’ll soon find they pass work onto each other, have each others back, even blacklist really shoddy clients; but it’s good to have “colleagues” in the same boat as you.

If you’ve got what it takes, you can and will earn a good living from being a Freelance Copywriter, it can be a lot of hard work, but if you devalue yourself, give your hard work away for free, then why would people pay you well, let alone pay you at all? Know your own worth and respect yourself enough to be paid for what you do. That’s what any other profession and professional demands. Don’t devalue your worth.

*Not my rate, please contact me if you wish to hire me and we can discuss pounds, shillings and pence.


7 thoughts on “Freelancers – value yourselves

  1. This is a subject close to my heart, sadly!! It seems that many creative skills are undervalued these days. Writing, composing, designing, illustrating… very often people in these industries are asked to essentially work for free; in return for recognition or sometimes just good will.

    As a designer, for all of my adult life, I’ve lost count of the time ‘friends’ have asked me to design them a logo for ‘mates rates’ or, worse, a couple of drinks!! I’m sure if I was a solicitor — or an accountant — people wouldn’t dream of haggling with my hourly rate.

    These days I refuse point blank. After all, as a freelance art-director who was never out of work, I clearly value myself higher than they do! And rightly so, because if you don’t value your skills — and your time — you can’t expect anyone else to.

    It’s really sad that some creatives let the side down and are happy to work for beans. It certainly makes life more difficult for the rest of us, when we’re expected to do the same.

    1. Brilliant comment, thank you. You’re so right, creative people are often asked to work for free of for a “free” lunch, whilst other professionals don’t do “mates rates”. I think if we all stood our ground and demanded to be paid what we were worth we would all benefit in the long run. Thank you, great comment 🙂

  2. Oh my goodness you are so right! I am a fellow freelance copywriter and I just love those “raise your profile” emails. My profile is suitably raised thank you very much, my wallet would happily be raised by your work if you are a respectable, paying client…

    Also loving the “scribble of copywriters”. Happy New Year by the way and all the best for 2015.x

    1. Thank you for your great comment. I often wonder what they can do to raise my profile, perhaps hire a plane with my name on a banner flown over the UK, that might do the trick. By all means raise my profile, but paying me is the biggest compliment you can give me. Happy New Year to you too 🙂

  3. I actually had a similar post in mind after the whole £8 for 750 words saga. She actually originally offered me just three measly pounds for 500 words and when I refused point blank, she asked me for a sample of work and increased the rate to £7 and the word count to 750 as if I wouldn’t notice.

    I kept emailing back refusing – I think she finally got the message when I said she had to pay me x amount for 500 words plus if she wanted a sample, she’d have to pay for it. 1) she’d worked with me before so why would she need a sample and 2) I’m not giving any content away for free so that they can pass it off as their own?

    So many people don’t know their worth and are too happy to take a small amount just to say they’ve made some money. This in turn is detrimental to everything we are all doing ~ setting realistic rates for work and not accepting stupid piss poor rates for work. She didn’t understand why I would rather hold out for quality higher paid work than take a pay cut of less than half to spin a ton of articles and provide a sample that will probably be stolen.

    Crazy. Hopefully 2015 will be the year people actually know what they are worth and don’t let people walk all over them.

    1. This post was something that had been brewing for a while, I write a fair amount for magazines (small ones mainly) but when I saw your tweets the other day it just reminded me of a million conversations I’d had with people offering me work. I know times are hard, I know things are desperate and I walk in those shoes every day, but I’d sooner not work at all and find work somewhere else, than slog my guts out for very very minimal money. If we all stood together and said no then agencies etc would learn, we are worth more than £8 for 750 words. It’s a scandal!

  4. Thank you for posting this. I have been tempted to go ‘free’lance just to get some clips, but you’re right – where do you stop?

    Do you find most of your work in the UK or do you tap into other markets as well?

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