Friday, December 28, 2007

The Value of You

In random writing groups around the world, the same problem appears for writers of non-fiction, copywriting or business writing.

The writer posts that they are stuck in a bad situation because Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong. Sometimes it's a client that's not paying, sometimes there are problems with the acceptance of the work, sometimes a client is just a jerk.

But the common cause of these issues is a failure of clear communication.

We are writers, we are supposed to be good at clear communication. But for many, especially new writers, there's a sense that you have to pay your dues and scrape around at the bottom of the barrel for a little while before you earn your way into being a Real Writer.

This is not true. Here is my guide for writers new and old:

1) Get it in writing. Clearly. "OK, thank you for this acceptance! Just to clarify, I'm going to write a 1500 word article on TOPIC, this word count will include one side bar with facts about THIS. The deadline is THIS DAY and I will not be responsible for sourcing photographs, but I will provide contact information for your photographer. The fee we have agreed upon is $$$ upon acceptance of the article."

2) Have a minimum hourly rate. I suggest starting out at $25 an hour, and even that is low. This of it this way: Minimum Wage + Overhead costs (rent, equipment, insurance) + your taxes + the convenience of hiring a freelancer = your hourly rate. If someone suggests that they can have the work done cheaper, invite them to do so. You must have been under the false impression that they wanted the BEST person for the job. Oops, I guess they wanted the CHEAPEST.

3) Work Efficiently. You may not always negotiate based on your minimum hourly rate for things like article... but take it into consideration when you are accepting article work. Is this article worth your time?

4) There is only one type of compensation: money. There are other benefits you can receive: exposure, ad space, Seeing Your Name In Print... but there is only one type of compensation. If someone wants to give you "ad space" (a popular one for start ups) then you are (of course) free to accept if you have something to advertise. But you STILL invoice for the amount and you request an invoice for the ad space.

This is an important papertrail to a) prove that you did the work and b) prove to the government that you did the work and that the advertisement is a business expense. You can't prove that your advertising is a business expense unless you have an invoice for it.

5) Thank people for their referrals - it is ok to send a card or a little Starbucks gift card. But you do not owe them money for referrals. Make it clear with your NEW client that this is a deal between the two of you by establishing a contract right away. It can get complicated if the new person is expecting to invoice someone else and then has to invoice you, or thinks that you are negotiating on behalf of your previous contact. Or that you are somehow in business with that previous contact. Be clear about your independence.

6) Do not place yourself in an inferior position. Don't wait to invoice because someone is busy/sick. Did Visa wait to send you a bill when you were sick last month? Behave professionally. This does not mean you can't have a good, personal relationship with your contacts. Be yourself, but run your business. Conversely, do not use the busy/sick excuse to let any of YOUR committments go unmet. The editors that bought my first book don't even know I have children. And they certainly don't know that I was pregnant when I sold them the book nor that I was in labour the day that we accepted their offer.

7) Writing for Free is SOMETIMES OK. Bet ya didn't see that one coming. But here are my personal guidelines. If a publisher/editor accepts advertising - you should get paid. Full stop. I do not buy into any discussion about "start ups". What kind of start up forgets to take a huge expense like WRITERS when doing up their financial plan? They went to the bank to ask someone for money to invest... If they "forgot" to ask for money to pay people then that is their problem.

If you are a volunteer for a worthy organization (a non profit) and you consider writing your volunteer work, that's ok. But be careful that you are not being taken advantage of because you are the only writer. Don't write the association president's speech... edit it for him. Don't write all the web copy, delegate it and edit. If it gets too much, consider writing up a proposal for contract services. Show them how much they are getting for free and tell them that it is too much. Show how much you are willing to do but show them what the rest will cost them.

1 comment:

Kai said...

Great advice Heather!
I'm going to post the link to the post from my blog, cause its just SO important.