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 research?
Them: We don’t pay for research.
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 research?
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 rates.
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 walls.
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 billable hours.
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 compensation.
Value your time. Charge appropriately.