Freelance life: Being bottom of the pile

It is nearly six years since I took voluntary redundancy from the council where I had worked for 15 years to become a freelance writer. And I can safely say that I have never regretted that decision. There are so many advantages to being freelance and working at home – with the main one being flexibility to be there for my kids. So I can drop my son off at school and pick him up and I can deal with getting my daughter to panto rehearsals and performances.

But has freelance life turned out as I expected it to?

I guess I didn’t have any real expectations of freelance life. I knew that it would either work or it wouldn’t. But I didn’t know whether I would be working at home on my own forever or whether I would expand and take on employees. But I suppose I envisaged myself with my own clients.

The reality is that most of my clients, and definitely my regular clients, are PR companies. So I am writing for their clients rather than having clients of my own. Sometimes I find myself right at the bottom of the pile – in a position where I am working for the client’s client’s client. That can get a little ridiculous because everyone wants their cut.

My preference is always to work on an hourly rate. I would say that I work fairly quickly and I am always fair about what I charge people. I charge to the nearest 15 minutes, so if I spend 1 hour and 20 minutes on something, I will charge for 1 hour and 15 and if I spend 1 hour and 25 minutes, I will charge for 1 hour and 30.

Generally, if a client goes along with me charging an hourly rate, they will end up paying less than if they ask me to quote for a job in advance. I’ll admit that I’m not great at quoting for a job. A 500 word piece could take me an hour or it could take four hours, likewise a 1200 word piece could take me two hours or it could take eight hours.

A while ago, I was asked to quote for a job. It was one of those client’s client’s client situations. For the sake of argument, I will say I quoted £200 based on the word count and brief I was given. But the client’s client wasn’t happy. That was too high. If they had to pay £200, they wouldn’t make much out of the job.

This is where it can get a bit tricky as a freelancer. Because you just feel like shouting ‘well do it yourself then!’. What is the client’s client’s priority here? They clearly need me to write for them as either they don’t have the capability to do the writing full stop or they don’t have the capacity at that time. You could argue that they shouldn’t make much money out of the work I’m doing, but of course business doesn’t work like that.

So what is their priority? If they hope to get future work from their client, they want to do a good job. So they could pay me what is not an unreasonable amount of money (and not get much for themselves) or they could look around for someone cheaper to do it. The likelihood is that they won’t find anyone to do it much cheaper and if they find anyone who will do it significantly cheaper, they won’t do such a good job, so they risk losing their client.

In this instance, I wasn’t willing to budge very far – and my own client supported me in that. I didn’t want to annoy my client, but I wasn’t so bothered about annoying the client’s client. I’m always on the lookout for work, but I won’t accept peanuts for the work I do. As a freelancer, if I lose out on one client’s client, I’m not too worried.

In the end, the client agreed to let me work on an hourly rate. The final cost of the job was just below £200, which proved both that working on an hourly rate is in the interests of the client and that my original quote was about right.

And in case you’re wondering – I have had another job from the client’s client and I was allowed to work on an hourly rate from the start.

Laptop, Freelancer, Freelancing, Freelance life: the bottom of the pile


Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. I remember you going freelance, was it really that long ago! It really is interesting working from home but it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I think this is mostly because you are free to do all the things with/for the kids but that eats into your working time. Glad you got paid the fee you wanted x

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    • Yes, it really was that long ago! It does sound like a long time now. I know what you mean about working from home. There are so many advantages with the flexibility, but sometimes I find myself questioning whether I need to do something or whether I’m just doing it because I can! Like yesterday when I finished work early to watch my son play football – it’s too easy to make that choice. x

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  2. Gosh I don’t know why but I thought you’d been freelance for a lot longer than that. I totally feel your pain about the payments, it drives me mad how people haggle when I know I’m already giving them a really reasonable price! I’m glad it worked out ok for you in the end.

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    • Thanks very much. You’re the only person who thinks I’ve been freelancing longer – everyone else says ‘Has it really been that long?’! Generally my clients are very good about money, but I do sometimes come across an issue like this. I’m glad I stick to my guns with it. x

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  3. Good for you sticking to your guns. I am fed up of people devaluing writers always asking to pay less and less. I am with you – they can do it themselves. But luckily I am in the position where I can afford to turn work down, others aren’t and that’s why I think they try it on.

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    • Thanks very much. To be fair, it’s not often I get asked to charge less and I can’t really afford to turn it away as I don’t have any other way of paying my salary. But on this occasion I felt that I needed to stick to my guns.
      You may be surprised to discover that the money in freelance writing is generally much lower than in blogging and I do always turn away insulting offers in blogging because that’s a separate thing for me.

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  4. Oh this made me chuckle. probably not your intention, but so very relateable Sarah! Freelance life ‘ey? Who’d do it?

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    • Thanks very much. It wasn’t intended to make anyone laugh, but I can see how it might for someone who has been in a similar situation. I’ve just done another client’s client’s client job, but luckily the price was accepted straightaway!

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