I recently moved into a new apartment and was working on my electronic equipment budget when it struck me that my freelance work had appreciated in value in the past 12 months. After drawing up a list of items I need to buy, I worked on finding the money required. A profile sold to Bona magazine would pay for the new video machine, while a career article sold to Cosmopolitan would pay for the microwave oven. A personal essay on single parenting would replace my old washing machine. The realization that each piece I write could potentially buy me a brand new piece of furniture was exhilarating.
In the 10 years since I launched my writing career, I’ve made many mistakes, most of them related to the value I placed on my masterpieces. I’ve given it away, charged miniscule fees and given discounts I couldn’t afford. Those I charged didn’t always pay me on time, and some didn’t pay me at all.
So why did all this happen? Because I let it! I was as guilty as the people who used my work and didn’t pay me or paid me a tenth of its value. I didn’t value my talent, so why should they?
I didn’t wake up some morning with the realization that I was abusing my talent. My income stayed small while my living expenses increased. My daughter grew and needed new clothes. My computer crashed and I couldn’t afford to fix it immediately. I learnt the hard way that unless I treated my writing as a business and charged a reasonable fee, I couldn’t afford to be a writer at all.
So I decided to start afresh. I researched the market value of my services, and then looked for writing positions that paid accordingly. In my job search, I interviewed with a national TV station that offered me 30% less than I was worth. I was desperate for work, and theirs was the only offer on the table, but I said ‘no.’ At that moment, I didn’t feel empowered, just scared.
Twelve interviews later, I found a writing job that exceeded my expectations. I now publish publicity and educational materials for two non-profit organisations. The pay is good and I can operate from home or the office, whichever suits me best. My contract also allows me to continue writing about subjects unrelated to the organisations.
Interesting enough, my work has improved since I increased the fees. In the past, I sometimes had to let an article go before I was 100% happy with it. Now I’m able to spend more time on the writing process.
I’ve also found that many clients are willing to pay me what I ask for. In fact, the more I appear to respect and value what I do, the more others do the same.
Damaria Senne is a writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Published credits include four books, numerous articles and essays on legislation affecting non-profits, philanthropy, parenting, career development and women’s issues. Her current projects include a non-fiction book on writing for non-profits and novel titled You Can Grieve On Monday. View some of her work at http://www.cafsouthernafrica.org