F**k You, Pay Me
At least twice a week, I find myself in this scenario.
Hey, I see that you offer this service for $100, but I need twice as much work completed and my budget is only $50.
It made my blood boil in the beginning. These interactions take place on a website where my pricing, and what that pricing includes, is clearly listed and outlined. Thus, these messages are an outright attempt to undermine my abilities and take advantage of me. The person on the other end is probably the founder of a fresh startup or a website, and they have limited funds, as all businesses do. This is something I sympathize with, as I also run a young company with limited cash flow. But where I don’t sympathize is the desire to haggle pricing with people whose services I can’t afford.
In the freelance marketplace, everyone wants to achieve two things—find the highest quality service available and find it for the lowest price. They have a bottom line to protect, but they also have standards to maintain for their audience. They arrive at my profile for the quality, and I charge a premium price for that quality, as I have the right to do.
Messages like the one above communicate a sense of entitlement. This CEO or content manager deserves the best content, and they should be able to access it, even if they don’t have the money. Their needs, saving money and publishing great posts, rank above my needs, to pay my bills and be respected as a professional writer.
I understand the need to get the best bang for your buck. This is why I script, edit, and record my podcast on my own, and I write, edit, and design all the content featured on this site. I know that I don’t have the budget to purchase these services at the quality I want, so I hunker down and do it all myself. Those are the sacrifices you make when your aspirations are big and your wallet is skinny. You don’t search for the people with the highest quality product and then try to talk them down to your price range.
Freelancing is not an easy way to make a living. This type of business conflict, in which you have to defend your worth, talent, and experience, isn’t the only conflict on your plate. You’re negotiating contracts with people who are willing to pay full price, you’re working on assignments with strict deadlines, and you’re following up on payments for work you’ve already completed. This message is the digital equivalent of a gnat buzzing around in your ear.
I don’t get as upset now; I’m trying to practice more empathy. I’m trying not to take it personally. I highly doubt the sender of said message selected me and thought, “Today, I’m going to enlist his services but pay him less because he’s not worth it.” Their priority is their company, and they’re simply doing their job.
They’re just not doing it well.
I’m a big advocate for fair pay for freelancers, and not just because I am one. I think that everyone who works hard should be paid reasonably for their contributions. And there are plenty of us out there who’ve done work and haven’t been paid well or at all. And those people probably didn’t speak up, allowing the bad client to get away unscathed. That won’t be the case with me.
I think of it this way. I want a new pair of jeans, but I have a writer’s salary. So, the most I can spend is $50. I don’t walk into Prada, pick up a pair of $500 jeans, and then ask the sales associate what they can do for me. I know, before walking in, that $50 probably won’t get me a pair of socks, let alone a full pair of jeans. Instead, I head over to Uniqlo, H&M, or Zara where I know I can get my jeans, and I can probably toss in a belt or a pair of underwear, too.
Essentially, what some of these potential clients are doing is taking their $50 to Prada, even though they know they can’t afford anything on the racks. And they’re expecting Prada to bend to them, which indicates they don’t value Prada’s reputation, storied history, or current value. That’s a terrible way to initiate a business relationship with Prada.
And it’s a terrible way to start a business relationship with me.
I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I’m not expecting to be paid $1,000 to write 250 words. I’m not Hemingway, or Didion, or Smith, or Diaz. But I do expect to be paid market rate, and I think my 15 years in the business, plus the 2,000 projects I’ve completed in the last two years, more than qualify me to demand that. And quite frankly, I don’t want to work with anyone who believes otherwise.
We freelancers have to assert ourselves because people will take advantage. We work without the safety net of a big corporation. We’re vulnerable, and often, people mistake that as naiveté. We must demand respect. If we don’t, there’s no guarantee we’ll receive it.
Does your budget support a shopping spree at Prada or Zara? Make sure you know before you press the send button.