Monday, September 15, 2008

Freelance Don'ts: Do You Break the Rules?

As a new freelancer, you'll hear all sorts of advice on things you should never, ever do while you're in business. Much of the time, it's perfectly sound. However, there will be times when following this advice becomes impractical--and you may actually lose business if you do. Here are a few freelancing rules I've broken that have brought me more business.

Don't work for free. I work for "free" every time I write a post on this blog, but I am getting valuable exposure and making connections with colleagues. For me, that's invaluable. I've definitely written for free before, but I've always made sure I've gotten something out of it that I needed. For more info on when to work for free, check out this prior blog post.

Don't do unpaid "training assignments." I did an unpaid training assignment once, years ago, for a client to whom I was referred by a colleague. At the time I didn't know any better, and they became a lucrative regular. Today, I might have turned that project down and missed out on all that income. But I don't advocate doing this for any company unless (a). you don't have much to lose and (b). they are a fairly stable company with a good reputation.

Don't work without an upfront payment. A handful of times I've accepted projects without an up-front deposit of some sort (usually 50%). All of those times, it's been with organizations that work with a lot of writers and have a routine down. I would never do this for startups. I usually have known other writers within the organization who have never had problems with payment. And I've also known it's pretty futile trying to negotiate a deposit, as it's not the usual for the industry they're in (e.g., print).

Don't bend on your business terms. After you do this enough, you get inflexible. I've heard a lot of very experienced writers say they don't compromise on business terms. But I've made some compromises--some I was comfortable with, and some I was a little leery of--and gotten a lot in return. Make sure you know which of your terms are privately negotiable and which you can't live without when you go into negotiation.

What freelance writing rules have you broken?

1 comment:

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Great points, Jennifer! It is very important to be flexible. I feel there are no true 'rules' when it comes to freelancing or writing. We each make it work in our own way and sometimes that means bending, flexing, and making mistakes.

I don't know anyone who because a successful freelance who hasn't done a 'job' for free at some point, particularly early, in their career. Most of us break our teeth on freebie, volunteer, or brownie point work.

Nearly every time I broke into a new niche it came about because someone asked me do so something I normally never did for free. I branched into Resume services after my sister asked me to tweak her resume. I branched into publication design after creating my mother's Wedding Invitations.

All sorts of free work that may start off as just a hobby are stepping stones to work that can earn you real money.

The only rule, I think ALL freelancers and writers should always follow, is: "Value Yourself". This means considering the value of your time and skills. If you can't LOVE a project and gain benefit from it, don't do it. Even if they'll pay you a fortune. If you can gain real passion doing a project under volunteer terms, go for it, because it will reap rewards for you in the future.