Saying “No” to a Freelance Job

The value of "no" from

If you are a freelancer–writer, designer, event manager–you have had to say “no” to a client. It’s hard, particularly if you like the client, need the work, or find the work interesting. If you feel yourself overworked, exhausted, or frustrated, here are some times you have to say “no.”

1. There isn’t enough money for you to make a profit. Your time is worth money. In America, time is money. If you take a job that doesn’t pay you what you are worth, you will have trouble making the mortgage on time and paying the bills. “Some money is better than no money,” is an excuse I hear all the time. It may not be. If you are working on a job that underpays, you are missing the chance to bid on the jobs that pay well. Jobs that underpay keep you working longer hours every day. Cure: don’t lower your prices to get the job. Under-bid and the amount you quote is how your client sees you. You will be stuck at that price point.

Time moves at different speeds for client and freelancer. Image: Trade King,

2. There isn’t enough time to do the job well. Freelancers are often called in when the company with the job didn’t plan well, or has run out of time. Beware the time-crunch job. Many companies believe that freelancers work only at night and on weekends. They become offended when you don’t want to work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on their job. In 25 years of writing for other people I have learned one truth over and over: You hand in that rush job on time, squeaking under the deadline. You are a hero, you think. You nailed the deadline. Wrong. Once the deadline has been met, the priority immediately shifts to quality. And if you don’t have it, you won’t get paid.  Cure: Quality is your first responsibility. If you can’t deliver quality within the deadline, turn down the job.

3. You are asked to take less pay this time, and the company will “make it up” on the next job. Just say no. This has never happened in the history of the universe. Why would a company that knows you will work for $X an hour one time, pay you $2X the next time?  You will hear the same story the next time, and the time after. The person who says it may mean it, but they aren’t the decision makers. And in the end, they will leave, and not be around when the next job is discussed. Cure: If you have done a project for less money before, remind the client that this is the time you need more money. If this is the first time they ask, tell them as much as you would like to take less money, you simply can’t. Don’t explain or talk about your finances. You deserve good money for hard work.


4. The job suffers from “scope creep” in a strict budget. You are asked to quote the job. You hand in a proposal. The budget it set. Two weeks into the project, the project grows a new arm and leg, and you are asked to cover those, too. Without extra pay. Cure: Cover yourself quickly by discussing how you will handle scope creep in the original proposal. Present a list of tasks you will do and a second list of those not included. Add a paragraph that says if the project expands, you will stop work and submit a new budget for approval. Then stick to it. Nothing frees up money than stopping the work. If you don’t manage scope creep early, you will never make a profit as a freelancer.

5. The client doesn’t return emails or phone calls in the proposal stage. The time a client will treat you best is when they want you to work for them. If they don’t return your calls or emails, it’s a sign of the lack of communication you will experience for the entire job. When the job is then late, it will be your fault. The cure: set deadlines for replying to emails or phone calls. “Please let me know by Friday if  X is what you are looking for,” is one way to help your client set priorities that match yours.

Quinn McDonald is a freelance writer who has made all the above mistakes more than once. She’s like to help other freelancers avoid them.

Office Politics

Some of us are good at office politics, some not. When I was a careerist, I often said that I refused to play that game, that office politics were not for me. In truth, if there are more than two people in an office, there will be office politics, and you’d better figure out how to play.

Office politics characters courtesy

In the best of circumstances, office politics is a specialized form of communication, something you can get good at. It is a way of communicating fairly about projects, giving (rather than withholding) information, building consensus to get work done rather than backbiting, and playing nicely  with others (often called working in teams).

In real life, we aren’t always loving, generous, and open-minded. We want to have our way, we want to take the credit, we want to win and get the raise.

In the worst of circumstances, office politics is forgetting ethical restraints, putting our wants ahead of our needs, and the needs of others. In the worst of office politics we forget one of the basic rules of office behavior–we can hate someone, we can wish them ill, as long as we keep all those thoughts to ourselves. Out loud, in the office and out, we have to treat everyone with respect. Treating people we don’t like with respect is actually a brilliant move. You never know whose team you will wind up on, or who will become your boss. Treating people with respect gives you a bigger field of colleagues who will recommend you for a better job when you need it.

Not everyone is cut out for corporate life. Entrepreneurs, visionaries, and highly creative people can often do better on their own, may prefer to carry all the responsibility and get all the glory. There’s no shame in owning your own business and doing well. You’ll still need communication skills, but that comes with every career.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach and trainer who teaches people communication skills.

Don’t Write for Free: Your Talent Deserves Pay

More and more often, I’m seeing writing jobs that pay so little it would take three assignments and two months to buy a pack of gum.

Part of the reason that those ads work is that there are desperate people who want to be writers. They buy into the idea that not getting paid is an “industry standard for beginners,” and give up their work for nothing.

I’ve never met a plumber, grocery store or car lot that does that. If I asked for a car for free to “prove their worth” they’d laugh at me. They can go bankrupt in different, more inventive ways.

Yet writers agree to write for free for experience and exposure every day. Stop doing this. The more writers offer to write for next to nothing, the harder it makes it for the rest of us. Many people don’t know good writing from bad, so it comes down to a matter of money. Anyone who can click a keyboard and is willing to get paid per view is offered a job. I know about supply and demand, but I also know that the internet is still largely words, and if you want to stand out, you have to know how to write well.

The same companies that tell advertisers that they get millions of views and that the Internet was the next big market for their products, calmly turned around and tell writers that there isn’t any proof that writing works, and the person to take the hit for doubt had to be writers.

I’ve answered several internet ads for writers, but have yet to find one that pays decently, let alone well. One wanted me to produce a series of restaurant reviews, 8 per week (who eats out that much?) and write a 200-word review, with picture. The pay? I get to be published. I can publish myself and not pay myself, neatly cutting out the middleman.

Now my articles are getting picked up all the time, to fill the blogs of other writers, who are desperate to meet their goals. One such place offered to pay $0.12 per day, but they own the copyright. That was based on click-throughs per article, so I’d have to write a huge amount to make minimum wage.

As a writer, who has made a living from writing for most of my adult life, I’d like to pass on encouragement and a warning. Get paid for your work. Do not work for free. When you give it away, no one will respect you in the morning.

And the warning: Writing well is hard. You have to know grammar. You have to be able to think analytically. You have to be able to reason logically. Just because you can keyboard your thoughts doesn’t make you a good writer. Get paid what you are worth. Walk away from scams, underpayment and empty promises. You’ll respect yourself in the morning.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved.

Welcoming Fear and Uncertainty

When you own your business, you have freedom to set your schedule and choose your clients. You also have freedom from a regular paycheck, reduced healthcare costs, and shoving the blame for bad decisions somewhere else. Not all freedoms are equal.

Where are my tools?

Where are my tools?

In a down-turning economy, you would think that many companies would offer training to help their reduced workforce do the work of more people. You would think, but that is not happening. So this morning, I decided to have a meeting with my fear and uncertainty.

Looking at my schedule, I see it’s not as full as last month’s. I immediately feel fear, financial stress, and worry. That’s how I face most problems. Trouble is, those emotions doesn’t solve problems. So I sit down to a meeting with my fear and stress. This is actually a great form of meditation. Instead of pushing all thoughts out of my head, as many ways of meditation instruct, I invite fear, uncertainty, and stress in. I sit with them, and ask them what they have to contribute.

“If you don’t get work soon, you will lose the house,” Fear said, getting right to the bottom line.

“But you only know training and writing and journaling, and that isn’t being used in this economy,” said Uncertainty, “and you don’t know anything about wielding a shovel for all those shovel-ready projects,” Uncertainty added.

“You are too old to get back to school, and that would take too long to retrain you, so you better stop eating or driving, because you are in bad trouble,” Stress said.

“Thanks for letting me know, ” I said, “but once we’ve established all that, what comes next? You’ve told me what isn’t working, but what can I do that will work?”

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. Fear spoke up first. “Well, if you don’t do something, you will be in big trouble.”

“OK,” I said, “But that’s the same thing you already said. I want to hear something I can do, undertake, think about.” Again, Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. They had not been quiet for a long time. Every time I sat down to meditate, they would clamor so loudly that I could not meditate. I spent all my time chasing them out of my head.

By inviting them in, listening to them, and asking for specifics, they had exhausted their efforts in the shortest of time. So we sat there, in silence, until I said, “Well, I teach several courses on journaling. I could write a workbook on one of them, and that would reach a bigger audience. And my friend Helen has some really good ideas, maybe we could put a class together that neither one of us could teach separately.

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress immediately began to talk over each other, bringing up reasons why neither of those ideas would work. And I argued with them, facing each objection, thinking it through, and answering it.

At the end of the hour of meditation, I had a plan. I would spend a portion of the next month writing the workbook, another part looking for training clients, and another part working with Helen to see if we could develop an interesting, fun class.

I felt happy and hopeful. Because I sat down with Fear, Uncertainty, and Stress and listened to them, I saw that they didn’t really have good ideas. They were disruptive and bothersome, but the more I chased them out of my meditation space, the more time and effort they used. Inviting them in and facing them reduced their importance and gave me enough space to come up with ideas that might work. Arguing with them allowed me to overcome objections and refine the plan, to put a time limit on my efforts, and to create time to do it.

Meditation is not sitting in perfect inspiration. It’s work, and it doesn’t always demand an empty mind. Just a clear one.

Quinn McDonald owns QuinnCreative, a business that offers training in communications, including writing, public speaking, and turning horrible PowerPoint presentations into interesting, informative communication tools. She is writing a book on One-Sentence Journaling.  (c) All rights reserved. 2009.

Seven Tips for Freelancers: Looking for Work Online

My colleague Cynthia Haggard is a medical writer who is brilliant at demystifying science for general readership (and other writers.) Before you categorize her as purely left-brain, you should know she also writes historical novels. I love this balance and I think the historical research informs her scientific mind and abilities. Cynthia let me reprint this piece on improving your chances of finding work online.

Here is her article for freelancers:
You are new to freelance writing and you don’t have much money to spend. You’ve heard the Internet is brimful of interesting jobs, so you start surfing. You find an overwhelming number of sites targeted at freelancers who are looking for work.

Typically, the sites offer several levels of services.  For a minimal cost, they allow you to look through jobs that are more than two weeks old.  For significantly more money, they offer a “professional” level, where you get to see new jobs as they come in.  Then there are the “business” or “business deluxe” levels that claim to provide extra services for a fee. You are overwhelmed with information.  Where should you put your money?  Which sites can you trust? Here are seven tips that might help.
Try to get as much stuff as you can for free. Some sites will let you download e-books, tip sheets or job reports for free for a trial period.  Pay attention to how long that trial period is and time it so that you can do some serious downloading. It sounds obvious, but don’t end up paying for more than you need to. Company A cost $29.95 per month, which was discounted to $2.95 for the first trial week.  The site offered an e-book, a list of freelance web-sites, and free job reports.  When I tried to sign up for the free job reports, I was never able to get this service. I was forced to go to the web site and wade through all the jobs they had listed. Very time consuming and frustrating.

By this time, my one-week trial period had expired and I was paying $29.95/month for Company A’s services. This seemed a lot for a little, so I cancelled.

Do the math. Always convert the rate they give you, so you can see how much you are being paid by the word or by the hour for easy comparison. Company B allowed me to post my profile and résumé online and provided me with organizational tools for managing projects.  I signed on at the basic membership level for free, but the basic membership was so restrictive it was useless.  So I upgraded my membership to the Professional level at the cost of $74.95 per quarter. After I upgraded, the jobs started to flow in.

The problem?  I was swamped.  As I scrolled through, I noticed one job that wanted you to do 40 reports for $10 per report. It didn’t sound too bad; I would be making $400. However, when I did the math – 250 words per page at a penny a word for 4 pages equals $10 – that job translated into less than a penny a word. How many reports do you know that are four pages long? They’re usually much more. Facing a daily deluge of useless jobs, I discontinued my subscription after six weeks.
Join e-lists to meet people and get jobs. Many professional organizations have electronic discussion lists of like-minded people looking for jobs that are free.  Rather than paying expensive fees, join one of these lists, lurk for a couple of weeks to check it out, and then make a decision about staying or quitting.

Remember, the point of these lists is to get you in touch with good jobs.  If you’re being subjected to lots of gossip that fills up your email inbox and your time without generating paying projects, then you should quit.  Never fall for requests for extra money. Keep records of how much you spent and how long the subscription lasts and put it in an easy-to-use format, such as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a table in Word that you can keep in a handy place like your desktop or your Documents folder.

Company C cost $25 per quarter.  The site worked by soliciting bids on projects from its freelance members. You had to be able to estimate how much time it was going to take you to do the project.  (This is difficult to do if you are starting out and learning your market.)  About a month after I’d joined, I was in the middle of bidding on a job when I received a request to bill my credit card for $75 to “automatically continue my service”.  I checked my records and confirmed that I was up-to-date with my dues.  So I stopped the bid cold and wrote an email to Company C asking them about this.  I got no response.  But at least I had not spent any extra money.  Needless to say, I stopped my subscription.

Always check out the website before you put money down. Check the name of the website on Google.  Has it been endorsed by the Wall Street Journal? Or Fortune magazine?  Who is the founder? Has this person worked for a well-known organization in your field?  How long has it been around?  What is its mission?
Stop surfing; start networking to get well-paying jobs.

Meeting people can be the most valuable thing you can do. Go to networking events held by your professional associations.  I found my first client by networking at a local American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) event.  I found my second client when a medical writing colleague gave me a job she did not want.  By going to the annual AMWA conference and talking to people on the exhibition floor, I learned there was a great need for medical writers who prepare documents for the FDA.  Further investigation revealed that it paid well, so I decided to make that my niche.
Make it your business to find out what the going rate is. Many professional organizations provide salary surveys.  Before you join, ask if the organization provides this service to its members.  Knowing the rate for your kind of work is invaluable in deciding whether you want to take on a job.

Remember that spending time doing badly paid work costs you, not only in the actual time you spent doing the work, but because you were prevented from seeking out a better-paid opportunity.  Knowing the rate will give you the confidence to ask for decent pay.

Remember also that under-charging hurts everyone. Your expertise and time should be valued and paid for accordingly.  Giving time and expertise to clients effectively takes food off the table for other hard-working professionals.  Making a living doing freelance writing is hard enough as it is; so don’t make it more difficult! Never work under your rate.

(c) Cynthia Haggard, 2008. All rights reserved.

–Quinn McDonald, who hosted this article but did not write it, is a life coach who helps people through change and transitions. Visit her website, QuinnCreative.