Each weekday brings a pack of mail from banks offering me and mine low introductory rates that are meant to pull us in so we’ll commit ourselves, right before the rates go up.
Writers face similar ‘bait and switch’ techniques when applying for writing opportunities. Last month, I was contacted by a website owner who was looking for a writer experienced in producing e-zines. I submitted samples, wrote several emails, and had two evenings of instant messaging before she agreed to try me, but with one caveat. She offered me a one-time, low, low introductory rate.
Only the rate wasn’t in my favor.
She asked me to write only four short articles and said that she would start with that low, low rate for me. After I had proven my worth, she would double that rate for the second issues, then bring it up to fair market for the third.
I researched and wrote, answered several emails, and even rewrote some of her own articles. She asked for a list of ideas for the next three issues. I complied with a list of 30 ideas. Her answering email said, “Is this all?”
If any of this sounds familiar, thanks for the sympathy. If it doesn’t, keep reading.
To avoid getting caught up in these unsatisfactory offers, heed the warning signs.
Is your potential client doing the following?
Complains about bad luck with other freelancers.
Does your new client whine about his dissatisfaction with everyone he has hired? Think you’ll be the one he’s been looking for all this time? Don’t bet on it. Despite your stellar charm and flowing prose, he’ll be adding you to his list of exes soon.
Offers to double or triple the initial fee IF your best effort suits him or her. That never happens because that’s part of the con. You can give your best but your client will find so many vague and hard-to-define problems with it that your first assignment will be your last.
States “If I had the time I’d write it myself.”
If samples of her work have your third grader giggling over the spelling and grammatical errors, walk away. This is the person who will be editing your work? No thanks.
Demands 24-hour availability.
Phone calls at 2 a.m., instant messages every 15 minutes, dozens of emails daily. Your client might even ask you to quit a project or job to accommodate her. Mine did after she found out I worked part time. “You work for me now,” she said, as if the $60 a month would buy me a new lifestyle.
Avoids giving direction.
“Give me your best ideas,” your client demands. His response to your proposal? “Hmm, that’s not what I want.” Unless your client is a three-year old or your mother-in-law, you don’t have to take it. Besides, this gives your client the perfect reason not to pay after you’ve done the work. You just never gave him what he had in mind.
Continues to advertise for a writer.
On your trips around the Internet looking for more gigs you keep running into her ad for a writer, posted to many websites. Getting suspicious yet? Or do you tell yourself she just hasn’t had time to remove the ads?
Keeps his number secret but must know your phone number, address, cell number and IM moniker, and the five people you think you’ll meet in heaven. Beware the client who states that he won’t work with squirrelly freelancers who won’t give up the goods in their initial contact. After two weeks, you realize that you still don’t know your client’s last name or how to contact him if the email doesn’t work.
Different stories about the same situation should set off alarms. Either it’s all made up or this client has three or four writers on the line and can’t tell which person knows which tidbit.
On the surface, it seems simple to avoid these bad deals but freelance writers who are starting out, or starting up a full time business, sometimes find a way to ignore warning signs or allow the triumph of hope over experience to guide their decisions. After all, how many times do we find the perfect client? Maybe this guy isn’t as bad as he seems. Right?
The truth is that these cheap clients take advantage of writers and often won’t pay until the writer has battled hard for that small check. Often, they never pay at all. Falling for the low, low introductory rate costs you time, won’t get you a reference, and can damage your self-respect.
In my case, my client’s volley of insults about my work and my lack of professionalism lost much of its sting when she did two things. The first was the email that told me she felt I wasn’t good enough for her, but before she let me go, asked if I write two more articles, for no extra money, so she could have some articles saved for the next issue. Second, her professional business email in which she fired me (for the third time) included the sentences (I’m not kidding) “U R not a writer. You should read your work B4 you sent it.”
Hone your instincts; listen to those alarms going off when you are being courted by that introductory rate of pay. Avoid potential clients who hold out the carrot of future cash if you’ll start working for free or nearly free. It won’t work out.
Pamela White is the publisher of Food Writing and has updated her food writing class (the first online food writing class ever!) to keep up with the new food writers! Class schedules and registration are at her website. She also does tarot readings for writers and others from her alternate ego’s website at http://www.tarotbyana.com.