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Just For Today – Writers Worth Week

By Lori Widmer, founder of Writers Worth Week

If I’ve learned one thing about freelancers in my long career, it’s that we get entrenched in our habits rather easily. We don’t chase invoices regularly, we apologize for our rates often, and we don’t really expect much in general. Also, we take jobs that don’t pay a lot and stick with them “for now.” A year later, those jobs have become our mainstay.

The hard part about any bad habit is breaking it. If you’ve ever tried to make – and then keep – New Year’s resolutions, it’s that hard. You have the best intentions, but you lack something in implementation. We all do sometimes.

If I were to tell you how to leave behind that low-paying gig or that client who refuses to pay you more than the pittance you’ve agreed to, would you do it? How about if you tried it just for today? Imagine the change being one you make for just 24 hours. It doesn’t require a ton of commitment to pull off one day of doing things better. So start there.

Just for today:

Say no to an offer that doesn’t fit. Tell the client why, too. That way, clients get an idea of what professional writers will accept and won’t accept.

Aim higher up the food chain. Find a similar, better paying gig to the one you’ve been wishing would pay more. Then craft a query or letter of introduction and ask for the job.

Ask for more. You know your worth (or at least you should know what other professionals would accept). Expect it. If you don’t, no one will offer it to you willingly. Start your negotiating at the high end for a change.

Don’t apologize. Look in a mirror and repeat after me: “I am a professional and my rate is my rate. It will not be dictated by a stranger.” Then go out there and ask for what you’re worth.

Embrace your marketable skills. Your writing is a valuable commodity. Plant that idea in your brain and don’t let it escape. Let the notion to the surface every time you enter into client negotiations.

Say goodbye to that dead-end gig. Free yourself from too much work for too little pay. Allow yourself to realize that the justifications you’ve created for staying there – It’s a check; it’s easy work; I’m not sure there’s anything else out there in this economy; etc. – are empty promises you’re using to stay in what you think is a safe zone.

As we celebrate Writers Worth Week, look at your career and your work habits from a different perspective. Think of the things you’re doing – or allowing – that are getting in the way of your career growth. Then change them. See what one day’s worth of changes can do for your attitude and your confidence. The minute you take charge of your career path, you’ll find the confidence to stretch beyond your current boundaries and create exciting, new opportunities.

What else can you do – just for today – that would help you change your perspective about your own work habits?

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor with over 15 years of  experience in standing up for her business. The founder of Writers Worth Week, now in its fourth year, she helps writers understand their market value and take control of their businesses. Her e-book, The Worthy Writer’s Guide to Building a Better Business, is available on her weblog, Words on the Page.

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • I always tweak a contract I’m given. I make at least one change, usually more. They don’t accept it, I don’t work for them. I’ve done union negotiations, and I’m known as the Demon Contract Bitch from Hell. I live up to it. I’ve yet to meet the job I loved so much I wasn’t willing to walk away from lousy terms.

    I disagree with Lisa about not working with individuals or start-ups. A lot of my most satisfying and some of my best paying work has been with both. But you need a contract, you need a deposit, and make sure you get clips, because even the most ethical and interesting can’t always make a go of it, and you still need the material for your portfolio.
    Devon Ellington recently posted..Monday- May 16- 2011My Profile

    • Love your attitude Devon… what do you change the most often? I’ve been known to do the same thing.

    • Devon, I’m leaning toward your side of it. If you have a strong contract, startups can be lucrative. I’ve worked with plenty of individuals very successfully, as well.

      That said, most of the harrowing situations I’ve encountered have come from startups and a few individuals. If you can nail them down to a strong contract, they’re great. Otherwise, it can unravel quickly. And I suspect this is different given the industry or genre. I don’t think people in the insurance industry – startup or otherwise – would give me the hassles that the financial industry folks have (there’s irony for you!).

  • Re contracts: I have always written my own for smaller clients, based on stuff I’ve found online.

    I have to say that publishers will send you a contract for for-hire work, and they are often draconian. I had a lawyer look over Scholastic’s multi-page pile of legalese, and they were shocked. The reason: Scholastic was trying to shift any blame (and thus liability) for issues with published work onto the writer.

    Sometimes you can make changes to the contract; sometimes you can’t (negotiation occasionally works). If it doesn’t work, you have a choice: do the job or don’t. I’ve always done the job, and the contract has never, in the final analysis, been a problem.

    The most important points, IMO, are the details of the scope of work (how many words? what’s the timeline? how many revisions?). Second most important: how long between invoice and fee.

    Since I’m writing “for hire,” I have no need to own the work or the copyright – and I’m paid a fee, not royalties.

    To be honest, while the contract IS legally binding, it’s rare that your pay would warrant a law suit if it didn’t arrive. The real use of the contract, IMO, is to remind the client of its terms – eg, only TWO revisions, not 18… payment in 30 days, not 90. And so forth.


  • Lisa

    Contracts are key. But if you’re really aiming “up the food chain,” here are a few ideas to consider:

    1. avoid working for individuals and start-ups
    2. never work strictly “on commission” or for revenue share
    3. never start a project without having a full written description of the scope of work
    4. ALWAYS communicate with your clients on a regular basis


    • Lisa, agree except for avoiding working with individuals and startups… have been well paid by both. It’s a case by case basis.

    • Fantastic advice, Lisa! I agree with Anne – some startups have solid business practices, and some individuals pay what you’re worth. But I will say I’ve had my share of headaches with both, too.
      Lori recently posted..Writers Worth Week- Day Two- Create Your Own RealityMy Profile

      • Oh yes, I’ve lost as well as won with start ups and individuals.

  • Nina Lewis

    This is just what I needed to hear!!! Especially aiming higher up the food chain and embracing my marketable skills.

    • Go get ’em, Nina! You’re worth more. Keep that tucked in your brain before, during, and after all negotiations. Settle on your bottom line in your head and don’t allow anyone to push you beneath it!
      Lori recently posted..Writers Worth Week- Day Two- Create Your Own RealityMy Profile

      • Nina Lewis

        Sometimes clients that I know want to pay me less than what I get paid on projects for complete strangers. It’s hard for me to insist on the higher price with acquaintances. When I told one acquaintance what I was paid on a project, he asked if that company was broke now and offered me almost half of what I was paid. Sigh.

        • Learning to say ‘no’ nicely is so important. And a snide comment like that doesn’t deserve being very nice.

  • Nina Lewis

    This is just what I needed to hear!!! Especially aiming higher up the food chain and embrace my marketable skills.

  • I’ve wanted to comment here for a couple of days, and this is the perfect post.

    Anne, you and Lori might not remember me, but I’m the lacking-confidence-newbie about to launch into freelance last fall. God has me on an amazing journey right now, and I just want to say: Thanks.

    Last week at work I talked with a regular customer whose daughter has her own business. They are in desperate need of help, especially with the blog. I gave the lady my name and number. She called me two days later. I talked with her for half an hour, and then said I would calculate exactly what she needed and email her a quote.

    I recommended at least two blog posts a week, but I cringed at the monthly total. I thought, “no way is she going think it’s worth that, or have the money in her budget.” I considered lowering the price. After all, am I really worth it?

    You and my mom encourage me to set the price at my worth, so I gulped, put the price on the email and sent it, not expecting anything. Sure enough, the lady replied, “I know you’re a pro, but that might be a little steep for us. I’ll talk to my daughter about it.”

    I gave her a polite response, ready to move on to my dozen or so other (non paying at this time) projects. I got another email. She said her daughter wanted to call me and give it a try. Wow.

    We talked and before the conversation ended I had the courage to do what you do, Anne. I told her I needed half up front, the other half on completion. She didn’t hesitate.

    I can’t describe what I felt when I checked email last evening and saw the subject line, You’ve Got Money! from PayPal.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I just wanted you both to know we are listening. Thanks for all you do for freelancers!

    God Bless,
    Sarah Elisabeth

    • Fantastic, Sarah! And yes, I remember you. 🙂

      Only one suggestion going forward – make sure you have a contract in place. I had a situation not long ago where the contract saved me. I was hired to do both blog posts and press releases. We negotiated a deal that satisfied their cheap nature and my desire to be paid fairly. I would complete Project A (very small jobs) for $25 (stupid, stupid me). They would pay me $300 for larger, Project B jobs, which were more involved and very different. The company initially agreed to my price – and paid it – for the first few projects. Then out of the blue the note came – “We don’t see the difference between Project A and Project B, so we’re going to pay you $25 we pay for Project A.”

      Hell you are. I waved the contract at them, they paid, and I fired them once the money cleared my account.

      Make sure all agreements are airtight. Otherwise, you get people who decide they’re tired of paying, and you’ll be left without the money that’s owed you.
      Lori recently posted..Writers Worth Week- Day Two- Create Your Own RealityMy Profile

      • Good point about contracts!

        I think I know, but where do you get your contracts from?

        • ah, you need clients to have contracts and that’s marketing.

          • lol, I worded that wrong (not a good thing for a writer, eh?)

            I meant, do you write the contracts yourself, get a lawyer to, or…my mind’s blank, but I know there’s a site writer’s can join that provides contracts.

            • oh, I write my contracts or letters of agreement… search on contracts and I think you’ll find some. When you remember the site come back and share it with us. I’d like to take a look… I like simple agreements.

              • Thanks, very helpful!

                I’ll let you know when I come up with that site, but I believe I can write my own. I know enough legal mumbo jumbo 😉

                • no mumbo jumbo allowed ;)… just clear English – actually I work to keep my letters of agreement simple… I imagine a judge reading it 5 years from now and ask my self if what we intended to do is clear.

  • Thanks for hosting me, Anne! To all writers out there: join in. Tweet this post. Mention Writers Worth Week in your favorite forum. Help another writer make better choices. Do something to improve another writer’s situation, including your own.

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