the month in review

April – negotiating rates during a pandemic

By May 6, 2020 7 Comments

I started April with nothing.

I had no work lined up.

Just the sound of silence from my editors and clients.

Since the middle of last year, I’ve had a recurring gig with a corporate client, which brings in around $2000 a month.

But in March, this client let me know that due to budget cuts they would be dropping my regular gig.

I asked if they might have other work for me, but they said they were working out their approach and couldn’t commit to anything.

At the end of March, I had made a plan, but to be absolutely honest, half way through the month (or even before), I ran out of puff.

IN TERMS OF FEATURE ARTICLES FOR MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS, THIS MONTH I:

Pitched: 8 (this includes re-pitching ideas that have been rejected)

Commissions from pitches or query letters: 2

Rejections: 1

Offers: 1 (where an editor approached me with a commission – either editorial or sponsored content)

IN TERMS OF FEATURE ARTICLES FOR CORPORATE AND B2B CLIENTS: (I DON’T USUALLY PITCH THESE BUT THIS MONTH I DID)

Offers: 6

Filed: 10

Round up of April

Based on my plan that I made in late March, I did the following things:

  • I reconnected with previous clients and editors (happily, a couple commissioned me)
  • I also connected with potential clients on LinkedIn, but perhaps not surprisingly given the current climate, I didn’t receive any interest from new leads
  • I opened up my coaching again and coached seven freelance writers
  • I worked on three new resources for freelance writers

Lowlights of April

Strangely enough, I didn’t really have many lowlights in April.

I think, if there was a lowlight it was that there are so many amazing opportunities on offer, such as webinars or free courses or resources.

Why is that a lowlight?

Well, it’s because I haven’t been able to take advantage of all the cool stuff because I’m helping my kids with remote learning three days a week and trying to earn some money on the other two days.

I feel quite determined that I don’t want to have to register for any of the government’s support payments (because goodness knows there are people who need it more than me), but that has meant that I’ve put a bit of pressure on myself to keep earning.

Highlights of April

A tiny travel win

It’s a strange time to have travel pieces published, but I was really happy to see my name attached to this TINY excerpt in AFAR, especially because I was writing about one of the best places I stayed last year – Mt Mulligan Lodge.

I love AFAR and was thrilled to break in (in a small way) to this prestigious magazine.

Negotiating on rates

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to negotiating on rates.

So when I reached out to a previous client and asked if they had any work and they said yes, I assumed it would be at my old rate.

Wrong.

For this client, my word rate (even though I charge by article rather than by word or by hour) is nearly $1/word.

But they came back to me and said that their budget had shrunk and asked if I could produce 5 articles at a much reduced rate.

It was nearly $1000 less than usual.

My lovely readers, I know you won’t judge me when I tell you the number of conflicting thoughts and questions that ran through my head:

  • You want me to write 5 quality articles (with interviews) and file within a week, yet you expect me to drop my rate?
  • Are you willing to negotiate on the word count, the interviews or the time frame for submission?
  • I should just take this because it’s around $2000 worth of work
  • Other writers have lost all their work and I’m quibbling over money
  • If I ask for more, I’ll look insensitive and greedy
  • If I don’t stand my ground, I’m doing a disservice to all the writers who come after me

So, what did I do?

I wrote this:

Hi [content manager],

Thanks for the offer – I totally appreciate how tight things must be.

Without extending the deadlines or reducing the word counts, I’m wondering if it’s at all possible to meet in the middle – say $2.7k excl. GST?

Thanks,

Lindy

Their reply?

Good morning Lindy,

Thanks for your understanding, I don’t enjoy having to ask you to reduce your rate.

Yes, let’s meet in the middle with the same words count and deadlines as per the brief.

So I didn’t get my usual rate, but for the cost of one quick email back to them, I earned an extra $500 from what they originally proposed.

I dislike these kinds of conversations (and I know I’m not alone), but I wanted to share this because if you’re polite and respectful (and valued), content managers and editors will usually try and make their budget stretch.

A resource I’d recommend

For a few months there I had stopped listening to writing and business podcasts.

I needed a mental break and consuming those kinds of media felt exhausting for my tired brain.

But recently I started listening again to Rebecca Weber’s excellent podcast and I adored this episode where you get to hear Rebecca coaching two freelance writers.

The way Rebecca questions and listens is masterful and I got so much out of hearing the way she prompted these writers to really interrogate their ideas.

I also really enjoyed this webinar from TravMedia where editors from top tier publications (and PRs) shared their experiences of how COVID-19 has impacted their business.

They also talked about their views about what the future of travel is going to look like post-coronavirus.

My income for April

Even though I now only have two days a week to write (and I know that you know that by write I mean pitch, connect, reach out, invoice, follow up and write) I still put my income target at $5000 for April.

Because why not, right?

My income for April was $6819 ($800 of this was from the Copyright Agency – a very pleasant surprise! If you’re not a member, make sure you join up – it’s free. Also remember that just over $1000 of that was from coaching).

I invoiced for $6323

I don’t know about you (and I may well regret saying this), but as we round into May, it feels like things are slowly starting to open up.

Editors are getting back to work, responding to pitches and corporate clients have steadied their ship.

I’m thinking lots about the kind of travel and writing I want to do, and how I can continue to help freelance writers earn a great living in this new world (ugh, sorry for the cliche).

How was your April? Were there any surprises for you this month?

7 Comments

  • Rachel Smith says:

    Love your monthly round-ups, Lindy. I can relate to so much of what you’re going through.

    I’ve also had to have those awkward conversations as long-standing clients have asked me to drop my rates. I like your script. I have used something similar with one client who agreed to meet me halfway on the piece that required interviews, but couldn’t on the other research-based pieces she was offering. It was a tough call but I’m so grateful for any work right now I did take them on, losing around $700 on what I’d normally be paid. It stings doesn’t it.

    On the flip side I was invited to quote for a new real estate client who sought me out on LinkedIn and remain hopeful that might turn into a retainer. Fingers crossed. Good luck for May, I too remain hopeful some clients are starting to make a plan and will be back commissioning again soon.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks so much Rach. I always feel brave and bolshy in my mind, but when it comes to writing my reply to clients asking me to drop my rates, I tend to go the gently-gently approach! It’s such a (dare I say it?) unprecedented time that I think lots of our regular ‘rules’ around rates are off. As long as you’re okay with dropping your rate (for now), that’s all that matters. Sounds very hopeful about the real estate client. Keep us posted!

    • Emma Lovell says:

      So good to hear from you and never easy to talk about. But having both of you share your experiences definitely gives others the confidence to have those discussions.

  • Emma Lovell says:

    So glad you wrote this one Lindy!

    Looks like a great month and ever the freelancer in being resourceful and using the many strings of your bow. I know the coaching clients would have been so grateful to have that support. It seems a time when people are wanting to better themselves, work on their skills and prepare for re-launch in a way.

    Definitely going to look at the podcast

    My April was crazy with two former clients needing lots of work. A quick little “hi, i’m here, I’m thinking of you” email really helped me to pick up some work. And as you said, I’m now thinking it’s a good idea to reach out to some of the former editors I’ve worked with and say hello too.

    Great article!

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks Emma 🙂 Yes, I think even though money-wise freelancers may be a little leaner, I’ve found lots of people who want to be on the front foot when things start to open up again. Let me know if you do reach out to former editors and how that goes. Sounds like you’re keeping your head well above water, which is great.

  • Ruth says:

    Argh, yes, it’s hard. I’m negotiating a project fee at the moment, and it seems to be coming down to a significant difference in our estimates of how long particular elements are going to take. The organisation has recently lost a staff member, and they seem to think I can do parts of that job at the same pace that someone could in-house, without taking into account the research work I’ll have to do to get up to speed with their work. I’ve offered a significant reduction on my usual rates and I’m waiting to hear back – but I’ve already decided that if they can’t meet me here I’m going to let the project go. It’s hard when there has been so little work for the last two months – but even acknowledging those circumstances you still have to know your value.

    (I will say I agree with you, it feels to me like things are starting to open back up again – I think people are moving our of survival mode. They’ve made all the necessary adjustments to home working within their own organisations and now they’re starting to do a bit of forward planning again. Let’s hope so!)

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks for your comment Ruth. Ah, that’s a real challenge you’re facing, but it sounds like you’ve identified the issue and spoken to your client about it. Those assumptions (on their behalf) can be really problematic. And again, it goes back to the idea of expecting freelancers to exchange their time for money (e.g. an hourly rate) rather than looking at the value of you completing the project for them and accepting your rate accordingly. I hope they meet you at the rate you want, but I think it’s the right decision to walk away if they can’t. Good luck – it’s not easy.

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