Research Time IS Work Time

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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.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Winter Work

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Depending where you live, January means winter. In a place with seasons, winter work is often different from summer work.

I live in an area that relies heavily — too heavily, in my opinion — on tourism. January, February, and part of March are the fallow seasons. The snowbirds fled to Florida. The seasonal businesses are closed.

Although this winter hasn’t yet been too bad, weather-wise (it’s been WEIRD weather-wise), there have been winters when the power’s been out quite a bit due to storms, we’ve been snowed in, and it’s been about keeping the fire in the fireplace going and staying warm. Of course, as I write this, several days before it’s scheduled to post, we’re in record high temperatures, the little bit of snow we had is gone, and my yard is Very Confused.

I don’t do well in hot and humid weather, so I love winter — as long as I can stay warm and cozy at home and not have to drive much in bad weather. It’s a great time to buckle down and work on the novels and the plays. It’s a great time to curl up with my books and research the novels and plays in my pipeline. I read contest entries and the books I’m hired to review. If the power is out, I can always take notes or write in longhand by candlelight (and yes, I do).

It’s a time to prep the quarterly postcards, sent to current and potential clients, following up after the holiday greetings. It’s a time to shift the focus to the type of project and client I feel will be the most fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.

It’s a time to clean up old files and set up new files. To decide what kind of skills I want to learn in the new year, where to find the teachers and make the time to fit them in, and how to add them to my information so clients know my skills and range keep expanding.

For print publications, it’s a time to look about eight months ahead to editorial calendars. What do editors want in August, September, October? Time to think about next autumn, polish those pitches, read the editorial calendars, and send them off.

It’s time to assess memberships in professional organizations. I have an assessment formula I use. I measure the financial obligations (dues, dinners, events, materials, conferences, etc.) versus financial gains (new clients, new contacts, new projects, how many books sold after an event, etc.) versus the emotional benefits (did I enjoy myself at events? Did I meet terrific people, even if they didn’t become clients? How often did I have to challenge racist or misogynist remarks?) versus time and energy needed for all of the above.  If it’s expensive and doesn’t result in financial or emotional gain and is full of people making inappropriate remarks about others, I’m outta there. Done. It’s time that could be spent creating rather than having the life sucked out of me. That’s how I decide if I will renew membership. That’s how I decide if I will go to an organization’s open house as they try to expand their membership. Too many organizations around here expect one-way support. 

It’s time to look at the markets I’ve for which I’ve always wanted to write, but thought were out of my league. There are magazines I thoroughly enjoy, and for whom I don’t want to write. I’d rather just enjoy them. There are other magazines where I’ve often thought, “I’d love to write for them.”

Now is the time to sit down and take a hard look at what I do. Do I write what they publish? If it’s out of my wheelhouse, is it a stretch in a direction I want to take? Do I have the skills to do what they need?

If the answer is yes, then I sit down and do it.

It’s time to catch up on trade news in the various industries with which I work (I often get behind during the holidays, I admit it). Are there new start-ups that are interesting? New trends? Is something I’ve been doing and touting for the last few months becoming a “trend” I can use in my pitches? Who has moved where? Who is new to a position? 

Who has achieved something interesting and exciting in a field that interests me? I don’t have to have anything to pitch to them. I can just be happy for them, and send them a congratulatory note or email.

Who is feeling a bit down and could use a bit of encouragement? I know when I’ve gone through rough patches, sometimes an expected email or note has made a huge difference.

It’s time to look behind to see what’s achieved, what had to be let go, and look ahead to plan. Make the roadmap for the coming months. Know you may have to take a few unexpected exits along the way.

Commit to enjoying the process of the work, not just the results.

How does your work life change in winter?