What do you use for creative fuel? Do you use elements similar to your work, or do you need something completely different from it to stimulate it?
So often, there’s a delineation made between freelance work for others and creative work one does with fiction or music or painting or whatever. In reality, these are all aspects of our career. We shouldn’t feel forced to monetize everything we do – hobbies are meant to give pleasure. But working in more than one sphere shouldn’t make us feel divided. The elements should feed each other.
When I feel depleted, I need to look at the why:
–Am I working too many hours without a break?
–Do I need to eat or drink something?
–Am I doing work that I dislike?
–Are these tasks/assignments pulling me away from my overall vision, or a path toward them?
Sometimes, we’re just tired. Sometimes, we just feel down about life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes, it’s our subconscious and/or our bodies telling us we’re on the wrong track.
Refilling the creative well with fuel will help us figure out the root cause of the depletion so that we can deal with it, instead of making a temporary fix to get us through the day or the pay period.
Eating foods that energize you in healthy ways, staying hydrated, and taking breaks help keep the day on a more even keel. If it turns out the root cause of your dis-ease is that you are taking on work you don’t like, or you feel that the work you are doing pulls you away from your vision and/or your core integrity, you can sit down and figure out how to make changes. It might be a series of small shifts that add up; it might be a break from what’s holding you back and a completely new direction. But refilling the creative well will help you make those choices from a stronger, more grounded place.
If you’re working too many hours without a break, schedule your breaks like appointments, so that you will actually do them, rather than skipping them. After lunch, I take 30-60 minutes to sit in my reading corner and read something that I’m not being paid to read. Often, it’s re-reading other writers or artists talking about their work: Twyla Tharp, Hilma Wolitzer, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Truitt, Elizabeth Berg, etc. I find it refreshing, and it reminds me to take joy in the work.
I’m attempting to add in a mid-afternoon break, of about 20 minutes, to lie on my acupressure mat, after doing a few backbends or similar stretches to counteract the time spent hunched over a computer.
When the weather gets nice again (today it doesn’t feel like that will EVER happen, but it will), I hope, at least a few times a week, to take a late morning/early afternoon break either out at The Spruces Community Park or up at Windsor Lake. I might bring a book or a notebook and write there. Or I might just sit and BE.
Walks don’t do it for me. Every time someone swears whatever ails me will be fixed by “taking a walk” I want so scream. Walking stresses me out (unless I’m walking a labyrinth). Going into nature and being still there works better for me.
Again, when the weather gets better and I can actually go out and about, I’m going to re-instate the weekly Artist Date. This is a technique Julia Cameron first talked about in THE ARTIST’S WAY. Once a week, you go and do something just for you. My “artist dates” tend to be going to look at art, going to listen to music, or visiting a bookstore or library. Cameron encourages one to do it alone, but as someone who spends so much time alone, I sometimes prefer to do it with someone. And sometimes an artist date will mean attending a meetup or an event by a small local business.
If I’m feeling stuck on a project, often the best way for me to shake the words loose is to go and look at paintings or sculpture.
The irony of refilling the creative well is that, for it to work for me, it can’t feel like it’s related to the work when I go and do it. However, as a writer, EVERYTHING relates to the work, somehow. Every experience is material. That’s why nothing we do or feel, as artists, is ever wasted. It’s part of the whole of our lives and makes our practices more holistic.
I’ve talked, over multiple platforms, about how different freelance/writing factions are often dismissive and condescending toward each other.
Business writers treat fiction writers like it’s a cute lil hobby. Many businesspeople who never write a word swear they’d write a book “if they had time.” Nope. They wouldn’t. They’re not willing to do the work. They’d talk the book to someone they hope not to pay and claim they’d split the non-existent profits, but it’s not happening any time soon.
Fiction writers treat business writers as sellouts, because writers should “write for the love of it.” These are usually fiction writers who aren’t getting paid for their work. Those who are getting paid understand the business as well as the passion.
Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it.
Before you got “not all” on me, yeah, I know. I know plenty of writers who do both types of writing, or who do one and don’t try to demean the other. But too many believe what they do is “real” and anything else isn’t.
“Making a living writing” means you get paid for your words and keep a roof over your head, no matter what box those words fall into. And, for freelancers, that often means more than one box.
In my post a few weeks ago, I talked about the need to expand your definition of “freelance” since it goes far beyond doing content or tech work for a typical corporation. Artists and entertainers are freelancers. Basically, anyone who works in an at-will state is a freelancer, although you might have a W-2 now and some temporary benefits.
That’s the reality of the modern work.
We were also told, for years, to compartmentalize our work from our lives. “Close the door when you finish for the day.” Great. Boundaries are a necessity. Sometimes we need boundaries to protect us from ourselves.
But we’re also doing a disservice with “work-life balance” and compartmentalization. Work and life are both portions of life.
Work is PART of life. It’s often a big part, because it gives us the money to live the other parts. But it is a part of life, not separate from it. Because so many people hate their jobs, because hating one’s job is considered normal, we’re trained to separate work from life. It can be a protection mechanism. It can also be weaponized against us.
The pandemic taught us many things, things traditional working environments want us to forget. One is that they don’t give a damn about their workers, as long as they profit. Another is that many jobs don’t need to be done within the corporate space, but they insist on it to have more control, and to give cover to bad managers who should have been fired eons ago. Keeping one’s staff controlled, overworked, underpaid, scrambling to survive, and tying health care to the job, are all ways to keep employees under control.
They are ways to prevent employees from living an holistic life.
Imagine if we all loved our jobs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, since people are vastly different, with vastly different interests.
Imagine that, even if we didn’t “love” the job, we enjoyed the time spent at work. We found the work challenging in positive way; spent creative time with respectful colleagues who didn’t “yes” us or sabotage us, but worked with us; were surprised when the workday was over because the time flew, and we have the satisfaction of a job well done.
If we do work we love, we are better at it, happier in working with our colleagues, and happier in our lives at home.
Rather than subjugating employees, it would behoove corporations to enhance the lives of their employees, because then the employees would bring more creativity, energy, and talent back to work with them. Plenty of companies talk the talk. Few actually do it.
So we’re on our own to create a healthy work life for ourselves, which then creates a healthier overall life for us, our families, our friends, and, yes, our colleagues at work.
Where does your work fit into your life? How can you make it more holistic? How can your job positively feed the rest of your life in ways beyond money?
Is it about different tasks? Different colleagues? A more flexible schedule? Being able to decorate and personalize your space to make it a joyful and comfortable place to work? Genuine conversations with colleagues? The chance to learn new skills? More support during difficult stretches in your life? Stronger boundaries? (More money is a given).
If there isn’t a way to do that, how can you carve out the time and energy to find something that will?
The paths to this are different for each of us. There are times we have to make tradeoffs for the long and short term. But if we remember that work is part of life and not separate from it, we have a better shot at not only a balanced life, but an integrated, healthier one.
Have you ever noticed that if you stand up for yourself in a business situation, the person you confront accuses you of not being a “team player”?
How often, in job listings, is the phrase “must be a team player” used? Which is basically a red flag for “shut up, keep your head down, and don’t make waves, even if it’s a hostile or unethical situation.”
When someone in the business world says that to me, I have to laugh in their face. Because I know the subtext is to allow mistreatment or look the other way from unethical behavior.
I KNOW what being a genuine team player is, and it’s not just going along to get along.
How do I know this? Because I spent decades playing on the ultimate teams.
Not hockey. Although I learned a lot about what makes for solid teamwork when I spent eight months embedded with a minor league hockey team quite a few years ago.
Before Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway and regional theatre and community theatre and university theatre.
Film production (although there’s far more hierarchy in film production).
A Broadway show can take close to 100 people to keep it running on any given day. A film production uses far more. While there may be ego flares, unless one is actually willing to work as a team for the production to happen, it won’t.
That’s why the creative unions connected to theatre and film production are vital. Because corporate factions always try to use passion and love for the work as a way to demean, demoralize, underpay, and overwork everyone involved.
But in order for either a theatre or a film production to happen through to completion, there has to be genuine teamwork. Each individual on the production needs to be good at their tasks. They have to know when to tamp down personal ego in order to benefit the entire production, and to do it in a way that isn’t demeaning to themselves or anyone else. It’s not about self-sacrifice. It’s about keeping an eye on the goal – a completed production – and treating everyone else on the team with respect. It’s about knowing when to put aside personal dislikes to achieve something beyond what the individuals could achieve alone.
Genuine leaders (be they supervisors, managers, executives) know how to bring out the best in each individual, matching the right individual to the right task, and a way that makes them all shine.
One of my more toxic bosses once said to me, “Your job is to make me look good.”
To which I replied, “No. My job is to make the company look good, and when I do that, it reflects well on you.”
Strong, skilled leaders don’t need to give lectures about being a “team player” because they’ve put together teams that integrate well, support each other, and make each other better than they could be on their own. The leaders know when to step in to guide, nudge in a different direction, and, most important of all, they know when to step back and get out of the way.
Weak leaders, who are leaders in name only, have to talk about “team players” because they are unable to inspire, lead, guide, and lead by example. Their own insecurities, their knowledge that they don’t have enough skill, and their own egos get in the way.
Real teams don’t have to talk about how well they flow together, because they are busy DOING it.
I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.
There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”
There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.
There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.
But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.
As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.
Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.
Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end. And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.
There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.
Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.
Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.
We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.
But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.
If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.
But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.
This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.
At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.
We often talk about the value of our work (as we should), and not to undervalue it. We should be paid fairly and appropriately for our work. We should be able to earn a living at it, and turn down work that doesn’t pay fairly for skills. But we also need to consider the values around our work, and those with whom we work.
There’s a lot of noise about politics invading business (when, in reality, it’s the other way around).
It’s always been important (even when not always possible) to understand where your values lie and what lines you will and won’t cross, in the name of “doing your job” or “keeping your job.” Many of us have had to take work, for a period of time, at companies whose values run counter to ours. With any luck (and a lot of work outside of work), it gives us temporary financial stability to find work better suited to us on all levels.
Freelancers have more choice. When we pitch to companies, it behooves us to research them in depth. That goes beyond reading over the website and the employee reviews on various sites (although it includes all of that). It means doing research on the leaders in the company, and seeing where the company places money in the name of “philanthropy.” If a company funds an ideal that causes harm to the environment, to people I care about, or to me, then it’s not a company with which I should work. Even when they pay well.
When I was starting out in the work world, I was told that “professionals” don’t care about the ideology of the company for whom they work. That it doesn’t matter. That, as a “professional” I should rise about ethics concerns and perform the work, or I wasn’t professional.
That, of course, is the crock of (deleted) fed to us to keep us docile, and allowing unethical organizations to profit from our skills. Too often, we have aided companies who actively work against our best interests.
We did what we thought was right at the time. Now that we know better, we can DO better.
Years ago, I was approached by a Major Company to help create a “lifestyle campaign” for their product. A product proven to cause harm. But I was supposed to create a campaign for it, encouraging people to do something that was likely to kill them. I was offered $250,000 for a six-month contract.
It was tempting. But I could not agree to it, because I knew I could not live with myself if I created something successful, that, ultimately, convinced people to make harmful choices.
Believe me, over the years, there were times when I was struggling when I wondered if I should have just sucked it up and signed on. But I’m glad I didn’t.
There’s lots of noise about “cancel culture.” I grew up taught about “conscientious consumerism.” If and when I learn that a company has practices or donates money counter to my values, I stop doing business with them, whenever possible. There are certain businesses into which I don’t set foot, because I already know how despicable their values are, in comparison to mine. I have the right not to do business with them. I have the right to place my money elsewhere, with companies whose vision, missions, and values align better with mine.
As a freelancer, the companies with whom I choose to partner also need to meet those values.
Some of my colleagues shrug and say they look at it as a way of sticking it to these companies, that they are getting money away from the companies, when the companies would be horrified by what these individuals believe. On one level, I understand that. But my disagreement comes in that these colleagues are also making it possible, through their skills, for these companies to cause increased harm.
Have you ever been in a position where you had to accept work from someone actively doing harm? How did you reconcile with that? Have you ever turned down work because of a company’s values?
Every few weeks, there’s a flare-up about how getting paid for one’s work in the arts is “selling out” and that “real” artists in whatever the discipline should “do it for love, not money.”
Love doesn’t pay the rent or keep food on the table.
Then there are those who “invite” artists to participate in their project, for “exposure.”
As a good friend of mine once said, “People die of exposure. Give me the cash.”
This type of “artists don’t deserve to be paid” or “get a real job” or “art should be free and accessible to everyone, so artists shouldn’t want payment” bullies tend to fall into two camps. One camp is made up of the faction who has no problem profiting off art, but doesn’t want to pay the artist. The other camp is those who “would” make art “if they had time” or “if there was any money in it” or if they weren’t “such a perfectionist” or don’t have the courage to face the necessary rejection involved in being a working artist and therefore don’t believe anyone else should get paid for it.
Art should be accessible to everyone. Our souls require it. But that doesn’t mean artists should starve while corporations profit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to get paid. Money and art are not mutually exclusive.
The fact that I consider it my profession doesn’t lessen my commitment. If anything, it strengthens it.
Creativity is a thriving business. Yes. A business. People make money at it. Broadway’s profit in the 2021 season was $845, 414, 945. Broadway is still recovering from Covid. Revenue in the 2018-19 season hit the record $1.829 BILLION. (Figures from thewrap.com, who get it from the Broadway League). According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film industry pulled in $21.3 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to statista.com, the global art market transactions added up to $65.1 BILLION dollars in 2021. The traditional publishing industry, according to AAP StatShot/pubishingperspectives.com, made $1.1 BILLION. The museum industry, which offers programs and artists across disciplines, made $15.4 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to the BBC, the music industry took in $25.9 BILLION dollars. According to the Arts Action Fund, here in my home state of Massachusetts, the arts and cultural sector portion of the state’s overall economy in 2019, pre-pandemic, was $25.5 BILLION dollars. That’s how much the arts brought in, as far as revenue, to the state.
Most of these figures are lower than pre-pandemic. There are also regional theatres, who are at various tiers, and have to re-think sustainable business practices as they re-open post-pandemic, small and independent publishers, the dance industry, and all the other art forms not listed.
SOMEONE is making money. And too many make money off the myth that in order to be an artist, the creator must starve. That is a myth sustained to exploit creators.
It SHOULD be the creators who profit, and, in disciplines that need tech and editors and other support people, everyone involved should be paid a living wage.
The attitude that artists sell out when they are paid for their work while those who underpay and overwork artists make sums of money that could solve world poverty is destructive.
Creativity IS a business.
Artists should not starve, do not deserve to starve, deserve to be paid a living wage for their work, and royalties/residuals on work that continues to bring in revenue, and should not have to work jobs outside of their profession to survive. The same way the plumber, the doctor, the lawyer does not have to work in jobs outside of their profession to survive.
Artists also need to stop allowing non-artists to condescend and patronize that they are “flakey artists” and don’t have the capacity for business. Artists are capable of creating, solving problems, fixing things, stretching budgets, and repurposing the most mundane objects to transform them into creations of beauty. Artists are able to stimulate, provoke, engage, enchant, and connect on an intimate level, challenging their audiences to a greater understanding of humanity and complexity.
Which is why artists are a threat to small-minded, authoritarian-leaning, exploitative control freaks.
The first step artists need to take is to believe in their own value. Each artist’s voice is unique in the world, and each voice has something of use and purpose.
Once artists know their own value, then they can learn how to position it in the marketplace.
Another thing artists need to do is to set the boundary, and dig into the fact that “No” is a complete sentence.
Every potential project needs to fit criteria unique to each artist:
–Does it encourage growth in the artist?
–Does it encourage engagement with its audience?
–How does it fit into the overall body of the artist’s work?
–What bridge does this build, in terms of new audiences and opportunities?
–What sacrifice does it require on behalf of the artist’s investment of time, creativity, relationships? In other words, will the project be worth it? While not everything can be calculated in financial terms, those need to be part of the equation. Should an artist choose to do something without financial compensation, there must be other compensations beyond “exposure” and “you should be grateful I’m asking you to work for free.” There’s no rule about never working for free, unless an individual chooses to live by that rule. But make sure that working without financial compensation has benefits beyond being told it should make you feel good.
–What support systems does this project require? How will they be put in place? How much of the emotional labor is the artist’s, and where are there systems, organizations, and other personnel who can help?
–What other opportunities must be missed in order to accept this one?
Individuals will have different lists of needs, but creating that list for oneself, and then making sure that a new project/opportunity weighs in more positively than negatively against the individual list will allow better working situations, more creativity, and stronger building blocks.
There are times relationships will be lost. Jealousy, envy, pettiness, sabotage, disrespect, and rejection are all part of an artist’s life. How the individual chooses to handle each instance have a lot of to do with how an artist builds a career.
As far as business-related skills, arts advocacy organizations are likely to offer workshops on the business skills needed to support one’s life in the arts. Assets for Artists, in the area where I now live, offers free professional development workshops for artists covering business and finance. Creative Capital offers workshops for managing the business side of one’s career. Spend some time researching, and find out what’s available in your area.
Break that mythological barrier that artists “can’t” understand business because they’re too flighty, and that those skilled in business lack creativity. I’m grateful for the art of the accountant – those accountants have a passion for what they do, so I don’t have to. I can learn the basics of keeping my financials in good shape, and then turn it over to a professional who loves their job (AND IS PAID FOR IT, and no one ever questions that an accountant should be paid). I know when to bring in someone with more skills than mine, and that’s part of the business of art, too. Bring in the right people to do the work.
People are human. They make mistakes. Hopefully they learn, and they try to do better going forward, and demonstrate that effort through positive action and words. The arts teach us about facets of human experience we might not have, and might not yet understand. That is part of makes it both wonderful and dangerous.
Remember: individuals within corporate entities that have clout in the industry are making huge sums of money. Many of those individuals make huge sums of money while trying to pay the creators and craftspeople less for each project, while they continue to make higher profits.
The Trickle-Down Economy has always been a myth to keep people overworked and underpaid, in order to keep them under control, desperate, and helpless. Art is a way to navigate through and learn how to create a better world through beauty, empathy, understanding, bearing witness to injustice, and daring to dream a better world. It makes sense that those making the most money want to sell the anti-artist myths as broadly as possible, to keep control.
Don’t let them.
The first step to creating that better world is knowing your own value in it, and not letting anyone undervalue you, on emotional or financial levels.
With all the chest-beating and wailing hiring managers and recruiters are doing about this so-called “labor shortage” too many of them are still stubborn about not talking money early in the process.
Salary/fee/hourly should be in the job posting and/or description.
A range is better than nothing, but specifics are better.
As a job hunter, if you see a posting without any mention of money, it’s a good indication that they will try to lowball you in the hiring process. If it’s marked “DOE” (which means “depending on experience), that’s also a sign they hope to lowball candidates, since they will move the “experience” goalpost to give themselves the best break.
Instead of complaining about such listings, skip them. Don’t even bother to apply. The job will not pay anywhere close to what it should for the required skills. If it did, the company would be happy to list the payment.
If there’s a way so to do, let the listing site know that you’re skipping a listing because payment is not defined.
Something else all of us should do, whether we are happily ensconced in salaried jobs, entrepreneurial freelancers, or anywhere in between, is to write letters to both our state’s labor secretary and the US Secretary of Labor (currently Marty Walsh, for whom I have a high regard). Request that it become a requirement of any job posting to list salary/fee/payment. Follow up every few months. When you have meet-and-greet sessions with your elected officials, bring it up.
Beyond needing the monetary compensation listed in the job description, it should be one of the first things discussed, either in the interview scheduling or in the FIRST interview.
Far too often, a recruiter has wanted to schedule a meeting, and, when I’ve asked what the compensation for the position is, I’m told, “I don’t know.”
Why don’t you know? Why doesn’t the company TRUST you with that information? You can’t get the best candidates for the position without talking money.
To which I reply, “Please find out and get back to me and then we can talk about moving forward.”
Far too often, money is ignored not just in first interviews, but over a series of interviews. Too often, the interviewer becomes defensive when money is brought up. “If you really were interested in the job, you wouldn’t want to talk money yet.”
Um, sweetheart, one of the reasons I’m interested or not interested in the job is the money. This is how I make my living. I don’t worry about compensation for volunteer work. But when it is my profession, the money matters. As I’ve said when I’m told I should be “grateful” to work without compensation, “I chooose my volunteer work. You are not on that list.”
If you get a response trying to guilt you for wanting to find out if they’re willing to pay for your skills, the best thing to do is to end the interview immediately, citing that this is obviously not a good fit. The subtext is, of course, “and you can’t afford me.”
“Oh, we never talk money until we make an offer.”
This is a reminder that the offer is the START of the financial negotiations. The offer is made, and the candidate weighs if that makes sense in terms of all the different factors different people have to consider when accepting any job: money, skills, time, work environment, how it affects other portions of life, etc. If the offer is acceptable and the benefits package (where appropriate) work, by all means, get it all in writing and accept. Otherwise, counteroffer.
Again, a company that is insulted by a counteroffer is a big red flag.
Professionals understand that both sides want certain things, and both sides need to be willing to compromise on certain things.
The earlier in the process money is discussed, the smoother the entire interview process will flow. If you know the money doesn’t meet your needs, and it’s unlikely the rest of the elements of the job will make up for it, you can bow out gracefully early, and save everyone time and frustration. If the salary range is acceptable and the interview process goes well, there’s room to discuss where in the range works for both parties.
Recruiters need to be honest with both candidates and clients. I’ve sat in far too many interviews, where, through the conversation, the client and I discovered that the recruiter had told each of us what they thought we wanted to hear instead of telling me the truth about the job parameters and the client the truth about the kind of position for which I was looking. Too often, I’ve been thrown at clients, going on the job description detailed by the recruiter, only to find it was vastly different from what the person interviewing me needed – and was something in which I had no interest.
In freelance/consulting situations, money should come up early, and usually does. Whether it’s part of the initial conversation of “how can I help you in your business needs?” that leads to “this is my project rate” or a breakdown of what different portions of the projects will cost, or the hourly rate, talking money early decides whether or not you can work together. If the client is unsure, you can say, “What is your projected budget for this project?” and then, if it’s too low for your rates, suggest ways to tighten the scope of the project so that it works for both of you. And then write up a detailed contract, to prevent scope creep. Or part ways, perhaps making a referral (unless their budget is so small, none of your contacts can take it on, either).
Companies should be delighted to talk money early. Everyone’s time and energy are then better served, and the interview process is more about finding the right candidate instead of the cheapest labor.
I’ve talked about this
before, and it needs to be said again: If a company expects unpaid work as part
of the interview process, they do not have a positive work culture, no matter
how much they’ve paid for whatever award they claim.
This includes assessments,
tests, and project-specific samples.
An ethical company will
pay you for your time and skills.
You fill out an
application and send it through Indeed and they immediately send you a series
In my cover letter, I
clearly state that I do not do unpaid tests or project-specific samples, and I
will provide my rates upon request. I also have a contract specifically to such
tests and samples, which requires that they are scheduled in advance, and half of
the fee paid up front.
Or the test doesn’t
If the company sends me a form
rejection because I did not take their unpaid assessments, it merely affirms
they were not the right fit in the first place.
If a recruiter or HR
person tries to convince me to create unpaid work samples because, “everyone who
works here has to do that. I had to do that” they get a copy of the contract
and the terms to schedule the tests and samples. There are also instances where
I have said to the HR person, “I’m sorry you have such low self-esteem you felt
you had to work for free.”
That shuts them up.
Or, if the response is, “but
you have decades of experience, it will only take you a few minutes to do the test”
my response is, “Yes, I have decades of experience. I have no need to take the
I repeat: ethical
companies will pay you for your time.
Early, early on in my freelance career, there was a company that asked potential freelancers for unpaid samples, which they assigned. I declined, but I heard from several other freelancers who did it, against all our better judgements. Turned out, the company assigned pieces of a big project as the different “samples” and thereby go the entire project done for free. They told all the potential freelancers that they were hiring other people, then changed the name of the company and used the work on their website, without paying anyone. How do I know this? Several of us who pitched to the company had crossed paths on computer bulletin boards (yes, that long ago) and found out we’d pitched. Those who created free samples shared their experience, and one particularly industrious freelancer found out what the company did after telling those writers who did free samples that they were not hired. The writers whose work was used wanted to sue, but had no grounds, because there had never been any contract or agreement not to use said samples without payment.
A company who says they
need to see if I can “write in their voice”? Honey, I was in theatre for
decades. I can mimic any voice any time anywhere. Read my portfolio. A lack of
reading comprehension on your part is not a lack of skill on my part.
Pay for assessments. Pay
for tests and samples. The most talented, skilled prospects have enough
self-respect not to fall for this crap.
I was irritated beyond
belief when, this week, a high-profile company approached me about applying for
an open position. They sent a short job description and several pages about why
they were such a great place in which to work. Then, the kicker: along with my
application I was to send a “sample email” telling a potential customer about
why their product was so great and why that customer should buy it.
Um, that would be unpaid
labor as part of an interview process, and negates all the positive work culture
details the company sent.
Even more irritating, LinkedIn
sent me an email this week, telling me I should take their special assessments
(unpaid, of course) and “earn” skill badges that will attract recruiters. The
subject line of that email was “Your skills are in demand.”
Hell, yeah, and that’s why
I’m paid for them.
You know where LinkedIn
can shove those badges.
Have I ever done unpaid
tests or samples? Yes. There was only one instance in which I did not
completely regret it. And in that case, I had a slightly different agreement in
place, stating they could not use that sample unless they paid me for it,
whether or not I was hired for anything else.
I’ve started keeping a
list of companies who expect unpaid labor before they even schedule an
interview, or as part of an interview process. Referring to that list when
something hits my inbox is saving me a lot of frustration and time.
The request/demand for unpaid labor as part of an interview process, or as a condition of interview, denotes an unethical company. Don’t fall for it.
A potential client discovered me via LinkedIn, and contacted me about a project. They wanted me to write a white paper-ish document. I use “ish” because it didn’t truly fit the definition of white paper, but was similar. It was in a field out of my usual wheelhouse, but a topic in which I was interested and could get up to speed quickly.
They had no interest in a
per-project rate for this; they wanted to pay per word.
I rarely do a per-word rate
anymore; per project makes much more sense for both the customer and for me.
When they quoted me the per word rate, it was considerably lower than what I use.
I told them that the per-word
rate was below my usual rate.
Them: It’s non-negotiable.
I already figured out I
wasn’t going to do this gig, but I wanted to get more information, just to
either prove or disprove my growing suspicions.
I asked them how much of the research they would provide, how much I would provide, and what sources or references they would point me toward. Some of the information/sites I knew were behind pay walls. What was the budget for that? From the creative brief, it would take somewhere between 12-20 hours of research, along with interviews and fact-checking, to complete the project, if I had to start from scratch.
The answer: None. I was
expected to handle all the research.
I then explained that it
made more sense to use a project rate quote than a per word quote.
The response: “We don’t pay
for research time. We only pay by the word.”
Me: I’m not paid for
Them: We don’t pay for
Me: Are you willing to provide the research?
Them: No. You’re
responsible for the research and fact-checking.
Me: But you don’t pay for
Them: That’s correct. We
only pay for the words written.
Me: I’m not the right fit
for the project.
Them: We don’t negotiate
Me: I understand. And I am
not the right fit for this project. Thank you for thinking of me. Goodbye.
Had I accepted this
project, I would have worked for less than half of my per-word rate AND put in
12-20 hours of unpaid research. AND paid for anything that was behind pay
In other words, it would
cost me money to work for them.
Research time is work
time. Finding trustworthy sources, hunting through archives, taking notes, making
sure one has the references correct, fact-checking. All of that takes time, and
that time is worth money.
Even if a client provides
research, one still has to read it and, in some cases, fact-check.
That takes time.
That time consists of
Project quotes make more
sense for a piece such as this. You can look at the creative brief, figure out
how long any research/reading/fact-checking is likely to take, figure in a
decent rate for writing the article, and come up with something that works for
both of you.
If the potential client’s
budget can’t encompass your project quote, you can negotiate scaling down the
scope to fit into the budget, or you can refuse the project.
“We don’t pay for research
time” is a huge red flag. It means the potential client expects free labor as
part of the contract, and is a good indication of future scope creep without
I’m regularly removing
myself from email lists, especially those that claim to be dedicated to causes,
because they spend words and our time bullying and shaming instead of inspiring.
“We’ve Been Emailing
This landed in my in-box a
few days ago. Yes, you have. I’m on your email list. Every time you send out a
blast, I’m on the list. Or, I should say, I WAS on the list. The headline of
this email alone was enough to make me unsubscribe.
If I haven’t done what you
want in response to your email, that is MY CHOICE. Especially if it’s sent from
a no-reply address.
An email is an enticement.
When it bullies, you’re doing it wrong.
Shaming me for not
donating to your cause every single day or every time you send me an email
guarantees that I will remove myself from your list and not EVER donate to your
cause, even if I believe in it.
I will find an
organization doing similar work that doesn’t fundraise through bullying or
Also, when every email,
every petition, every contact asks me to donate – even if it’s a small amount –
I’m outta there.
When I have the money to
spare, I donate it to causes in which I believe.
IF and WHEN I am in a position to make a regular pledge, I do so.
It’s not just nonprofits that do this. Several years ago, I received an email from a start-up business in an industry in which I spend time and money. The start=up asked if I wanted to receive emails about their new products. I said yes, put me on the list.
I received emails about the products — a little vague, but they were starting up. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed at the time, but I figured, as they came up with new products, there would be something, and I’d buy it when I saw it.
Instead, I got nasty emails, berating me for not buying their product, after asking to be on their email list.
Say what? Being on the email list means I learn about their products, with an eye to buying something that I want. Not buying something because it exists.
I unsubscribed and let them know why, using direct quotes from the nasty email. I got a response saying, “That’s not what we meant.” To which I responded, “But that is what you said. If you’re sending out words that don’t communicate what you mean, hire better writers.”
If every interaction is only an hysterical demand for cash, with a veiled threat underneath that I am a bad person or not committed to the cause if I don’t give all my money to whatever cause that is – that is a perversion of “call to action.” It’s bullying, plain and simple.
Since I do not cave in to
bullies who approach me in real life, why would I do so from a bullying email?
This is NOT a “Call to
A genuine “Call to Action”
sets out the case in positive terms – the goal, the steps planned to reach the
goal, what is needed for those steps, and how the recipient can participate in
It is done in a way that provides information, inspiration, and excitement in the reader. It makes the reader want to be part of whatever it is. Want to be part of the success. Because it incites a response that is excited and joyful, not a sense of shame. Or a response of, “X should not be happening. This organization is working to fix a bad situation, and I want to be part of the solution.”
Most importantly, it
entices and engages.
It gets the audience
excited about the goal, the purpose, the values, and the process of achieving
them. It inspires with “look what we can do when we work together toward this
goal. It’s amazing!”
It doesn’t use the “I’m so disappointed in you” or “you don’t really have a commitment to this cause, or you would do as I say.”
You cannot be an organization genuinely working for equity and justice (which means working on anti-bullying) if you use the tactics you supposedly fight against in order to raise money.
Bullying and shaming
tactics might gain a few conversions here and there, but sustained support
comes from engagement and making your funders feel like they are doing
something worthwhile because it makes a positive difference, not because you
are shaming them into it.
I’ve left several
nonprofits because, in our meetings, when I bring up unethical approaches or
accepting money from unethical sources, I’m told that it “doesn’t matter” how
they get the money or from whom.
I disagree. It matters. How
an organization fundraises and from whom they accept money tells the world a
great deal about the integrity and values held by that organization.
Especially after the last
six years, it matters.
If you want long-term
support, build positive partnerships. Invite, entice, engage. Include these
partners in the steps to reach the goal.
If you are constantly
falling short in your goals, it’s time to re-think your strategic plan.