Why Freelancers Should Negotiate Deadlines
“Your failure to plan is not my urgency.”
I’m not entirely sure where the saying originated, but I think I first heard this from the Black Freelance Twitter account, which I’ve found to be a useful resource. And when I first heard it, it was quite eye-opening. This month was a reminder of just that. Except this wasn’t my fault—not me the Capricorn and chronic over-planner.
I received an assignment from a previous client, which was great given that I was concerned about earning enough for this fall. Though the assignment was a welcome surprise, the deadline was a rather tight turnaround, further complicating the work I already had lined up.
Generally speaking, news is produced fairly fast anyway, especially if you’re a breaking news reporter. But I’m a magazine journalist who frequently agonizes over writing as-close-to-perfect-as-possible mini features stories that are often no longer 2,500 words. Thankfully, the article in question wasn’t that long and I was able to get most of it finished before my deadline.
But before I accepted the offer, I had to ask if the deadline could be pushed back to allow me enough time to interview the sources for the article. Though I requested a few extra days, the editor gave me one extra day. You’ve got to take your wins, large and small, wherever you can get them. And as it turns out, that extra day was all I needed to get things done. The stars aligned in my favor, and I was able to schedule all the interviews and turn in the drafts on deadline.
I give this example as a reminder that freelancers not only need to negotiate their rates and contracts, but they also need to pushback on unreasonable deadlines. In other industries, it’s not uncommon for independent contractors to impose a rush fee for quick turnaround tasks. It’s not unreasonable for freelancers to impose additional fees to account for a freelancer’s time and energy spent working on projects.
However, the nature of journalism is inherently exploitative. With staff breaking news reporters, it’s standard to craft accurate copy fast. To an extent, I can understand freelance online magazine writers who craft quick opinion pieces. But even in the latter of the two scenarios, the quick turnaround should be factored into the rate. Why this isn’t standard practice in journalism is beyond me.
In the meantime, freelance writers are balancing various tasks across multiple clients. If nothing else, negotiating tight deadlines will relieve the stress of handling unforeseen tasks on a short timeline.
This small but important part of the negotiation process is a reminder for editors that freelancers are not sitting at home watching TV and waiting by our email address for assignments. We are independent contractors who work hard to serve our clients well and whose time is worthy of respect.
Have you asked for a new deadline that was too tight? How did it go? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.