Freelancers need to make a living, too

Guest blogger: Ellen Eldridge

One of the hardest lessons to learn when freelancers start out is how to charge for services. Those coming out of professional careers may have a different perspective, but I’ve seen personally and among my artist friends that asking for money for a job you love to do sometimes feels like panhandling for spare change. And clients will abuse you if you let them.

We writers must have confidence in our abilities and know we are worth our fees. In 2013, after nearly seven years building the magazine I sold in July, Target Audience Magazine, I started building my freelance career managing social media and editing. I had joined Twitter around the time I started my blog, which was fall 2013.

Many of my friends are self-employed, including my husband who works as an independent guitar teacher, so I know the speech: demand respect. I worked for a few years as the lesson coordinator for Ken Stanton Music, where my job involved interviewing and hiring independent contractors to teach music as well as promote the lesson program, plan the recitals and publish the newsletter. Music lessons are often one of the first things families cut back on when budgets get tightened, but I encouraged and insisted that the teachers ensure their students paid for lessons ahead of time. Once you teach a student who hasn’t paid, you have a very tough time of getting money. The same is true for writers and editors.

As a freelancer who mostly helped friends and friends of friends, I never felt like I needed an official contract. A handshake and a smile felt contractual enough. And I sold myself cheap. I pretended to demand respect, but I feared pricing myself out for what I was worth. I’ll still work without a contract, but I won’t work without respect.

The hesitation to draw firm boundaries with clients and insist on workable pay scales often comes from a lack of experience and from self-doubt. I’ve come to a point where I feel more confident than ever in my abilities. I’ve been working as fast and as furiously as I can to learn everything and network with everyone in my industry.

I’ve been fortunate to experience many sides to being a writer and my increasing love of marketing and helping build people up led to where I am now. I am confident and I know that now that I have more opportunity to work and intern with more people and organizations. All I need remember is that I am worthy. I deserve respect. I deserve pay just like anyone else in this world because I have experience and I work hard.

The best advice I can give to other freelance writers, journalists and those who are breaking into content marketing is to find a niche and own it. Take what experience you have and apply your skills to a workable pay scale. Because freelancers don’t qualify for insurance and are taxed at high rates, cover your costs. Some do this with hourly rates and some work out flat fees for services. Demand the respect of a fee for your work that will help you continue building your business. We all have to pay our dues, but when you sell yourself for too little, you end up burning out and resenting your clients.

I read an article published by Flight Media about knowing when to dump your client. “Refuse money?” you may ask, but yes. Some stressors and certain situations will not be worth the heartache. I’ve learned this the hard way. Aretha Franklin sang it the best, but something we freelancers need repeat to ourselves like a mantra is RESPECT. Sock it to me, baby.

Are you a freelance or self-employed professional who has experienced the need to fire or turn away a client or a job? I’d love to know your story in the comments.


Ellen Eldridge is the president of the Kennesaw State University chapter of SPJ (Region 3) and a candidate for SPJ campus representative for 2014-15. A freelance music journalist for Atlanta Music Guide and Performer Magazine, who is also raising two toddlers with her husband of five years. She founded a marketing magazine, Target Audience Magazine, in 2007, and she manages a staff of contributing writers and photographers looking to build their portfolios. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @EllenEldridge27. 

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