On shedding low-paying clients
A couple of my well-meaning journalism peers recently sent me information about some freelance gigs. Because I’ve cultivated a (hopefully good!) reputation as a freelancer, I regularly get approached for freelance opportunities. Which is great, considering I was fighting for them and still am fighting for them now.
Sometimes, they’re really great gigs that pay well, are interesting and would have been out of my reach had I gotten the connection. Other times, they’ll send me gigs that are interesting but don’t pay well or don’t pay in a timely fashion.
In the past, I would’ve gobbled up lower-paying freelance opportunities. As a young writer, I understood—though I didn’t love—that I had to “pay my dues.” While freelancing enabled me to write stories I was passionate about, it was rare to write stories I loved for great pay.
These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my earnings goals and how I’ll get there. I’m not sure if I’ll freelance forever, and I’m not sure if I’ll work a full-time job someday. But I have been thinking about buying a home, getting out of my student loan debt and living more comfortably.
And on the flipside of that, writing a bunch of short stories for low pay makes you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel. When you factor in the time it takes to find, pitch and execute the stories, lower flat-fee stories don’t feel worth the energy. And while cranking out a bunch of content at a higher volume may make you a more efficient creator, I worry that it’ll make your work suffer.
So at this point, I’ve been pulling back on the lower-paying stories that require more effort and concentrating on high-value clients, meaning clients who pay a reasonable per-word, per hour or high flat fee rate. By pulling back, I mean pitching less or turning down projects that aren’t paying enough for estimated work involved.
I know some readers at this point are like, “wait, why are you turning down work?” But hear me out! Aside from wanting to earn what I’m worth and not letting my writing quality suffer, I also want to make sure I don’t burn out. If you’re doing a bunch of low-paying stories and stressing out on how to make ends meet, you’re not going to have a lot of energy to find great untold stories and you might feel like the stories you’re cranking out aren’t that meaningful. As I'm writing this on the eve of Labor Day, a day when we reflect on the impact of the labor movement, I'm thinking about how to best use my resources for putting out my best work and preserving my mental and physical health.
From here on out, I want to write to make a life, not write to make a living.
How do you turn down low-paying clients? Are you still transitioning from low-paying clients to higher paying ones? (If so, no shame! We’ve all have to start somewhere). Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.