Bitchlings, today we’re bringing you a variation on a question we get a lot: How do you fairly price your own work? This question is especially important to artists and freelancers. And as you know, we’re passionateaboutpeoplegettingcompensatedfairlyfortheir labor.
While our personal freelancing days are behind us, we still carry the scars of thousands of hours of freelance work, earning our monthly student loan payments and rent money. Let these battle-hardened former freelancers pass along the wisdom of our fight. Learn from our mistakes and avoid the wounds we earned in this good fight!
In these trying times, it’s good to know we can still come together to celebrate what’s most important in life: raising chickens and naming them after TV characters.
With record numbers of layoffs and unemployment rising like a helium-filled dumpster, a lot of us have turned to what we call survival entrepreneurism. That includes full-time self-employment, freelancing, and stringing gigs together like so many Hobby Lobby clearance rack seed beads. Not only is this #entrepreneurlife a way to make ends meet when absolutely no one is hiring, but it’s a method of advancing one’s career as a millennial entrepreneur. Starting your own business right now is the lemonade many have made out of the nasty-ass lemons 2020 has given us.
I myself transitioned to full-time self-employment when I lost my job just as the coronavirus hit the fan. Yet while this makes me a card-carrying millennial entrepreneur, it’s not something I’ve written (or thought) much about!
To be honest, starting my freelance business and then making it my full-time job was, in the words of our Lord and Savior Bob Ross, “a happy accident.”
As usual… when it comes to being a millennial entrepreneur, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Meet Katelyn Magnuson, millennial entrepreneur and “Freelance CFO”
Every so often when I’m researching money topics, I sigh dramatically and collapse onto my fainting couch, limp wrist held to my clammy forehead in the very picture of Victorian femininity. “Oh woe!” cry I, “This money shit is so confusing and complicated! If only some genuine professional would do the research for me and just let me copy their homework!”
Which is usually when I decide to interview an expert instead of doing the work myself.
Enter Katelyn Magnuson, the self-styled Freelance CFO and Mother of Chickens (long may She reign). Katelyn’s whole thing is working with small business owners and freelancers to take the practical steps necessary to bring their passion to life. Her courses, Facebook group, and free resources are not just full of platitudes and cheerleading… she actually has made her own business out of setting up the businesses of others.
So when Bitch Nation clamored for information on becoming “solopreneurs” (Katelyn’s word, but I’m stealing it), I knew she was the hero we needed and deserved; a millennial entrepreneur to cut through the bullshit and give us some step-by-step guidance.
On its face, it’s a pretty straightforward question about working sans contract. But beneath bubble some pretty volcanic emotions about job security, class, and anxiety. Let’s get into it!
Our reader asks…
I was hired to write blog posts for a digital platform. I was offered $15 an hour and 20-30 hours per week, paid out once a month as a direct deposit. That was a year and a half ago.
Since then, my responsibilities have changed tremendously. Instead of writing a few blog posts per week, I also work on site maintenance and other freelancers’ blog posts. I feel like I’m more involved with the administrative side of the blog than some of the other freelance writers I’ve seen, but I can’t confirm this, as I have no regular correspondence with any of my peers.
I was told I was being hired as a freelance writer, and that there would be a contract to be signed. That contract still hasn’t come. I asked about it when I was first hired and the CEO said he’d get around to it and never did. I was getting paid, so I didn’t care enough to push the issue and eventually forgot. But now I feel less like a freelance content creator and more like a full-time member of the creative staff. I asked the CEO a month or two ago about the contract again, and he dodged me. Again.
The rational side of me knows that I’m well within my rights to renegotiate where I stand with this company. I want to stand up for myself. But every time I fire up the email draft, I get so physically ill I have to walk away. Just writing this makes me want to puke.
I feel like I’m biting the hand that feeds me by saying it’s not enough. I feel like if I ask and get an outright refusal, I’ll either be forced to stay and feel undervalued or leave and go back to Minimum Wage Hell. Worrying about it is taking a toll on my health. I feel like a mess and a fool and a bastard and a failure all wrapped up in one big blanket of anxiety and ennui.
According to The Creative Group’s 2016 salary guide, bloggers should be making $45k a year but that just seems insane to me. That’s not the kind of money people like me make. We make minimum wage where I come from and we like it. $15 an hour is unthinkable enough, but a salaried position? Benefits? That’s not stuff I or anyone in my family has ever had to deal with going back generations. I don’t know how to not be in poverty. No one ever told me that was an option.
I feel kind of ashamed seeing it all in writing, if I’m honest. I feel weak, like I should be able to figure this out on my own. But I’m so grateful that I don’t have to. I can’t tell you what it means to have someone in my financial corner. I’ve never had that. I wish I’d found you guys years ago.
I can’t even believe I need to say this, but… you deserve to be paid.
You deserve to be paid in a timely fashion, without a fight, and without jumping through flaming hoops over shark-infested waters. And you definitely deserve to be paid what you’re worth for every billable minute. Neither you nor the people paying you should devalue your work or your worth in any way.
Ah, the side hustle. More commonly known as the “second job,” side hustles are a badass, creative, independent—yet completely romanticized—way to increase your income. They’ve become a symbol of entrepreneurial go-gettership, a way to show the world that your ideas and goals are far too important to contain in a single 9-5. Side hustlers are super humans with the energy and vision to Get Shit Done.
Or at least, that’s the rhetoric we all perpetuate by romanticizing the side hustle.
Let’s call a spade a spade. A side hustle is a goddamn second job, and if you have one it means either a) your first job is failing to pay the bills, or b) you’re willing to trade all of your free time in order to retire early because your job sucks and doesn’t pay enough to achieve this goal. Neither scenario is particularly inspiring or empowering.
I’m not saying we should all revolt against the concept of side hustles and give up our efforts to make extra money. You can pry my side hustle from my cold, dead hands, as a matter of fact. But I think a dose of realism is in order lest we get carried away romanticizing the side hustle.
Like many Millennials, I’ve got multiple income streams, including freelance work. At my day job, I work for a salary that I negotiate upwards every so often. But as a side-hustlin’ freelance editor, I set my own rates and negotiate directly with individual clients for each new job.
This means I’m in a position of awesome power with every freelance customer. Like Ursula the Sea Witch, I can name whatever price I like. And if the client wants both legs and a hunky prince, they’re going to have to give up their beautiful singing voice or THE DEAL’S OFF.
But what if the client can’t afford my price? What if they find my freelance rates completely unreasonable and expensive compared with industry standards? Or what if they’re bargain hunting and willing to work with someone less qualified for a steeply discounted rate? What if they’re really nice and I feel uncharacteristically sorry for them?
What if instead of their beautiful singing voice, they’re only willing to part with the sound of their burps? Or the noise they make right before yakking up last night’s vodka tonic? Their impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather? What then?
When you set the price for your own work, there are innumerable reasons you might be tempted to lower it. This is a way of undervaluing your own work, and trust me my beauties, it is not worth it.
I’m an artist. I am well paid to do my job. And I am way, way rarer than I should be.
There are a lot of historical, economic, technological, and cultural factors that keep the perceived value of art lower than that of professions that require comparable education and practice. Unfortunately, there ain’t shit you can do about historical, economic, technological, and cultural factors. But you can refuse to contribute, on an individual level, to the devaluation of your chosen industry.
The easiest way to do that is to refuse to work for free. Here’s why.