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In honour of Blog Action Day 2012, Lorrie and I have created a podcast episode on their theme of The Power of We, and how it can help freelance writers. Have a listen and let us know what you think!
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Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode 10 of A Little Bird Told Me – we’ve reached double figures – hurrah!
Philippa: This is the podcast where two freelance writers chart the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and, from there, you can find out all the details about the podcast, including how to subscribe via RSS, with iTunes or with Stitcher Smart Radio. You can also find a link to our Facebook page, where you can like us – and if you do any of those things, subscribe or like us on Facebook, you’ll be the first to know when we’ve got a new episode out, so you won’t miss a thing. I’m Philippa Willitts…
Lorrie: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today, we’re podcasting in support of a really great cause – Blog Action Day. Since 2007, Blog Action Day has been uniting bloggers, vloggers and anyone, really, with an online presence, and encouraging people all over the Internet to blog about one important global topic all on the same day.
Now, this year’s subject is ‘The Power of We’, and although it’s a bit of a cheesy title, it’s a great one because there’s so much to say. Pip and I wanted to get together – which is very apt for the Power of We! – and record a podcast that reflects our thoughts and feelings on the topic.
Philippa: We have talked before about the fact that both of us really benefit from working together on the podcast, and also from the mutual support we give each other on a day-to-day basis, really, whether that’s when we have accountability days with each other, which we mentioned in Episode eight, I think, we also check things out that we’re unsure of, or just offer each other an opportunity to offload!
Lorrie: And my God, don’t we take advantage of it?
Philippa: We certainly do!
Lorrie: Whether it’s email or Twitter, there’s usually a message from Pip somewhere around and I know I return the favour, so it’s all good! But, our podcast, really, is just a collaboration in what can otherwise be quite an isolating job. We tend to think of it as keeping your competitors close but your colleagues even closer, as it were. There are a lot of freelancers and sole traders out there who seem to operate under a big dark cloud of constant suspicion and they’re pretty cagey when it comes to talking to other freelancers. But, while there’s some wisdom in keeping clients and your business techniques under your hat sometimes, it’s really exhausting to have to be on your guard 24/7.
Philippa: It really is. And the fact is, if you are helpful to people, others have a tendency to be helpful to you back.
Lorrie: It’s true. It can be counterintuitive first because someone has to take the first step and be helpful first, and not everyone’s going to reciprocate. But, at the end of the day, as a freelancer or sole trader, you can’t win and do all the work in the world. It’s not possible. I think we’ve gained much more from collaborating than we ever could have from regarding one another with squinty eyes across a room – or across a social media platform, in this case!
Philippa: It’s so true! I quite often get emails from people saying they want to be a freelance writer and asking for advice, and I do try to be as helpful as I can, because I did the same to a few people when I was starting out and they were kind enough to offer me some really useful help and advice, so I feel it’s important to pass that on too.
Lorrie: Yeah, I have a bit of a different experience with that. When I was setting up – I started freelancing when I was at University and it was on a part-time basis – I felt that I couldn’t approach anyone for help because I’d be begging information from people. I realise now, 10 years on, that that’s not the case.
It can be easy to be a bit stand-offish with other freelancers – and wannabe freelancers, in this case – because building up a successful freelance career really can be hard and you get visions of them swooping in, becoming this copywriting wizard that you can never be and stealing all your clients – but, really, it’s a good idea to help one another out. While you do have to be careful, there’s plenty of advice you can share that will help someone else build up their business without having a single detrimental effect on your own.
Philippa: Definitely. And this is just one way in which “the power of we” really does benefit freelancers. A sense of solidarity and mutual help and support empowers individuals to access information and make connections with others. But there are wider benefits from harnessing “the power of we” too, for freelance writers.
Lorrie: Yeah, I mean, if you consider the success of some of the best businesses out there, it’s never really the result of one person working alone – it might be when they’re setting up, but sooner or later, it’s not just one person anymore. I’ve rarely met anyone who has all of the skills necessary to deliver a range of services without any assistance, or advice or input from someone else.
You and I, Pip, for example, have different strengths and skills – we’ve got quite a different skill set even though we’re both copywriters and editors, we sort of lean in different directions. While it’d be easy to become envious of one another if we were that way inclined – I could think, “Oh, well Pip’s got a more innate understanding of social media than I do!” and you could think, “Oh, well Lorrie understands narrative technique better than I do!” But, the fact that we’ve got an open and honest dialogue with one another means that we’ve both actually got twice as much information at our fingertips, which is never a bad thing for business.
Philippa: Exactly! In episode four, I think it was, we talked about whether or not freelancer writers and editors should ever work for free. We both felt really strongly that, except for the odd incidents or doing voluntary work deliberately for a non-profit, writers and editors should always insist on being paid for their work. Because working for free, or for a very low fee, it devalues your skills and abilities, but also devalues the skills of other freelance writers who are trying to make a living.
Lorrie: Yeah, in the weeks that followed that episode, we had so many discussions across social media with other freelancers – not necessarily just writers and editors. There was that cake-baker wasn’t there? Tsk, I say “cake baker” – I’m obviously not an expert! “Confectioner” would be the word – I’m quite ashamed now, as a wordsmith, that I came out with “cake baker”!
Philippa: Well, she does bake cakes! Sometimes it’s just good to say it as it is!
Lorrie: Haha, thank you! You know, everyone I spoke to – both on and offline (as you can well imagine, I took this topic to the end of its possibilities!) – was outraged by the idea that there are people out there who have the cheek to ask writers and editors to work for free. But, this isn’t a rare thing – that was the most shocking thing of all – that it’s a very, very enduring belief that working for free is both necessary and desirable.
Philippa: Yeah, I think if you’re not aware of certain freelancing websites or that kind of culture that’s grown online, then it is really shocking to hear that people are expected to write 1,000 words for $5. Offline companies wouldn’t dream – if they’re not very savvy online – of hiring a writer for that amount of money and, yet, online, it’s become a cultural norm, really.
Lorrie: Definitely – I had a meeting with a new client the other day and I mentioned it to her; she was appalled! She was so, so shocked, and she was actually wanting to pay me for the meeting I was having with her because some people just don’t have that mentality. Unfortunately, though it’s just something that’s come to the fore at the moment.
When it comes to the Power of We, Pip and I really wanted to talk about the fact that there’s strength in numbers: the idea that by sticking together and adhering to a list of standards, freelance writers, editors, what have you – can help to alter the state of the market.
Philippa: Yes, because it can be so difficult when you are on your own, to stand up for your right to be paid a decent wage for the work you do.
Philippa: Yeah, some clients put the pressure on to accept lower fees – I’ve had emails saying, “Well, this person will do it for $5, why won’t you?”, but strength in numbers is a really powerful thing. And without wanting to come across all lefty, it’s also why Unions exist for people with regular jobs! It’s not something unique to freelancers.
Lorrie: Definitely. And I think a lot of clients don’t really understand what goes into the process of, say, translation or copywriting or editing. They see someone doing, as you’ve just said, “the same thing” – which, of course, never really is the same thing (it’s just a hash-job version of what you do) – and they want to know why you can’t price match. It’s a real shame.
Recently, I joined a really good business forum online and, although it’s got some really great information and topics on there, I was so, so disappointed to note that one of the threads recently was someone who was a self-identified copywriter offering articles in return for backlinks
Lorrie: I know! I really wanted to just say to him, please listen to our podcasts!
Philippa: Oh that’s so depressing! Yes, he clearly needs to tune in!
Lorrie: It’s true – it is depressing! And it was clear to me, as a copywriter, from his description of himself that he’s not a professional copywriter – he referred to “doing a bit of content writing in between other projects” and stated that he normally charges between about 0.9 and 1.2p per word.
Philippa: Ugh, alarm bells!
Lorrie: Yeah, and yet, there he was, getting so many positive responses – this was a massive thread. Everyone was like, “Oh, yes, me, me, me – I want free articles!” And if you’re a full-time writer, you can’t compete on those terms and still pay the bills. And as I mentioned in Episode 9, you need to compete on quality instead, otherwise you’re on to a loser.
Philippa: A particularly depressing thing about this is that a lot of people who want some website content or whatever just won’t know the difference between hiring someone who “does a bit of content writing between other projects”…
Philippa:…and hiring someone who really knows what they are doing. This is why they then think start to that writers asking for decent pay are being greedy!
Lorrie: That’s it – and they lose sight of the fact that this is a person who’s trying to pay their bills. All they see is, “Why is that person asking so much money when Person X wants to do it for free.”
Philippa: I should say at this stage that neither Lorrie nor myself charges extortionate fees!
Lorrie: I think people – clients – lose sight of the fact that everyone deserves to be paid for what they’re doing. They’ll see one person saying they can do 50 articles for two dollars, and then you don’t want to do the same thing and they don’t stop and think, “Would I want to do hours and hours of work for about £1.50 an hour?” – no, they wouldn’t – of course not – but they lose sight of that and they just want you to price match.
You just can’t argue with people like that on the face of things. People who hire freelancers for nothing, and there are so many of them out there, or for less than a penny a word will soon find out – well, this is my hope, anyway! This is the plan I’m sticking to! – they’re going to find out that they’re not getting the results they’re after, they’ll have sales letters that don’t work and email campaigns that no one will open. And this is when you step in as someone to whom copywriting isn’t just a time-filler – it’s not something you do “between other projects”, it’s something you’ve trained long and hard to be able to do properly.
Philippa: I think often you can only prove your worth by producing great quality copy. Reassure them you’re worth it, and then prove that you’re worth it!
Lorrie: There’s no nicer feeling, really, than getting a first communication back from a new client when you’ve sent them a piece of work and finding out that they’re really happy with what you’ve produced for them. I had it recently – I wrote some sales copy for a brand new client and got some really positive feedback. And it never gets old, and that’s because I researched my topic and I sat down and spent a concentrated amount of time getting the content just right.
Philippa: It always scares me – opening the first email after I’ve submitted something, especially to someone new but it feels amazing when they open it and they’re really pleased!
Lorrie: Haha, definitely! The fear is always there – and I think it should be, because it drives you to do well.
Philippa: You don’t want to get complacent.
Lorrie: But, as we’ve mentioned previously in a couple of episodes, it can be so hard not to drop your standards and say, “Yeah, alright then, I’ll do you one piece of work for free,” or “OK, then, I’ll do you a special discount.” When, you know, why? That person doesn’t deserve a discount just for giving you business – they’re hiring you, they’re getting something in return! But, as we say, it can be so hard not to do that when you see other people doing it
It’s easy to lose sight of what’s reasonable and what’s not when you’re spending hours every day on these freelancing sites and business forums and you can see people offering what they’re calling ‘the same’ work as you for peanuts. Which brings me on, actually…
Philippa: Haha, that was a beautiful link!
Lorrie: Haha, I know! I was quite pleased with that, actually – it was like, “Ooh, actually, next bullet point!”
Philippa: It was flawless!
Lorrie: Thank you – I genuinely am! But there’s a movement I’m a bit of a fan of, actually – Pip and I discussed it the other day – called, “No Peanuts for Translators”. It’s quite an informal movement – the website’s a bit chaotic – rather than anything big or official, but it’s quite a heartening thing to have found.
Philippa: Yes, I had a look at their site after you told me about it and it’s certainly based on a really great philosophy. For listeners, we will link to the site in the show notes if you want to have a look at it.
Lorrie: Yeah, do go along. It is just for translators, but Philippa and I are working on something for copywriters and editors – and other freelancers, actually – something a little more generalised, and with our own take on things, rather than just a carbon copy. But yes, for translators and interpreters, it’s great.
Really, what we were impressed by was that the mission statement, if you like, empowers translators and interpreters to resist lowering their rates, to communicate their standards to existing clients and to explain to potential new clients – and colleagues (which I’ll come back to) – why they’re not prepared to work for unreasonably low rates. The aim, as outlined in the site’s mission statement, is to create sort of a provider-led market rather than a market in which clients can drive down prices again and again until they’re at a tiny, weeny level.
Philippa: That’s so important. There are problems with a lot of the freelancing websites on the internet for this very reason, but there is one that I write for quite regularly – and I think Lorrie has as well – called Constant Content.
And while it’s not perfect, because you’re doing on-spec work rather than commissioned work, what’s good about Constant Content is that they have a minimum amount that you’re allowed to charge. And it’s quite a low amount, their minimum, but the principle is good – they encourage you to ask a decent amount for your work – and that’s really important, and sadly unusual.
Lorrie: Definitely – I know you’ve just said it’s quite a low rate…
Philippa: I think it’s seven dollars…
Lorrie: Yes, it’s seven dollars an article and, yes, that’s low but, compared to what some people charge for an article, it’s bloody not!
Philippa: Plus, they are perfectly happy for you to charge $100-200, or whatever you deserve. And what’s lovely is that, when you get an email that your article’s been sold, you know you’ve got $100-150 on the way. Which is great!
Lorrie: This is it – they’ve got a list of average prices. I think, for the full rights to one of the longer articles, it’s $120.
Philippa: Yes, and articles do sell at that price – I’ve sold articles at that price.
Lorrie: Ugh, I haven’t yet, but I’m quite new to the website.
Philippa: Yeah, it’s great but it does frustrate me sometimes because you can do quite a lot of work for seemingly no benefit but, once it’s up there, you don’t have to do anything. Someone can buy it and you get a lovely surprise. And what’s good about them having a minimum price is that it protects writers from themselves, really.
Lorrie: Yes – it’s true. The problem in a lot of cases, though, is that it’s not just clients who are driving down prices, as we see from the copywriting example above – and I hate to call him a copywriter because he’s not – is that freelancers are often complicit in bringing down market conditions.
Philippa: I agree, but I think the nature of the market encourages that.
Lorrie: Yeah, unfortunately. But No Peanuts also discourages sourcing work in ‘translation mills’, as I call them, such as ProZ, GoTranslators etc., and for agencies, actually. It’s become quite the thing for anyone and his dog to set up a ‘translation agency’, which a lot of the time, it’s just someone with a front-end website and a database of translators that they’ll regularly try and exploit. And I’m not saying the same thing about all agencies but, for new translators and new graduates, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other and find a reputable agency rather than one that will rip you off.
It’s the same for copywriters, editors and for other freelancers as well, actually, you’ve got sites like freelancer.com and elance.com. Prices are driven down and down, to the point where it’s often impossible to get work that will pay the bills.
Philippa: it’s true.
Lorrie: So yeah, the No Peanuts scheme is a bit chaotic, and it’s lost its way a little bit, I think, but the fact is that there’s strength and identity in numbers than if you’re on your own. Even though the No Peanuts scheme is now just floating in the water, it gives freelance translators and interpreters a more legitimate way of refusing to lower their rates – you can have a badge for your website, you’ve got a mission statement you can adhere to. It just takes the pressure off a little bit; you can refer people to the site and say, “No, I’m sorry, I’m part of the No Peanuts movement and I can’t lower my rates any further than that.”
Philippa: Yeah, because if enough writers and other freelancers refuse to write for pennies, then clients will just have to up their game. What I would love – ideally – is that every writer in the world would stop writing for rubbish pay
Lorrie: Yes please!
Philippa: Yes indeed! People would have no choice but to pay people what they are worth. But even if completely eradicating low pay in that way is an unrealistic dream, then just knowing that there are people who will back you up and will reinforce your worth is important.
Freelancing work is often done alone, by its nature, really, but when we can make connections with others, be it in real life or online, we can strengthen each other’s resolve.
Lorrie: Definitely. I’ve had as much strength from my clients as I have from other freelancers, actually. Having a client sit there in front of you and say, “Do you know what, that’s disgusting – I’m prepared to pay you what you’re asking; I think you deserve to be paid for your work.” can be such a boost. You might not even realise you’re in need of that boost to your self-esteem and confidence but you are, because as we say, freelancing can be really isolating.
I mean, for example – for a couple of days ago, or maybe weeks, now, I was blind copied into an email from a fellow translator recently, and I get the impression that she was basically just using me as a way of whistling in the dark and boosting her own confidence (which is 100% fine with me!).
The email was to a translation agency that had offered her some work that was way, way below her very reasonable minimum rate (that’s how you charge for translation – it’s per source word, so per word in the text you’re going to be translating).
From her email, it was clear that she’d already explained to them on several occasions what her rates were but nonetheless, they were still asking her to drop her rates to 0.2p per word…
Lorrie… for medical note translation! So that’s likely to be hand-written stuff, medical terminology…
Philippa: Very specialised.
Lorrie: Exactly, you don’t just pick that up while you’re sitting in the bath – you have to sit down and have a good read about these sorts of things. So anyway, in her email, she reiterated her minimum rates in the email, she highlighted the fact that she’d asked them previously to stop emailing her and offering her unreasonable rates. She signed it off professionally – she wasn’t rude – but it was 100% clear what her standards were – basically, the agency ‘got told’. I just wish more freelancers, myself included, had the courage to send emails like that rather than just brushing it off!
Lorrie: Yes, it gives you a massive boost to your confidence. As we’ve said before, it’s sometimes really hard to be as assertive with clients as you sometimes have to be, simply because you are your business. You feel like you’re going to be judged or attacked because you’re just one person who’s saying, “No, I think I’m worth more than that.” It’s one of those times when a bit of distance and objectivity really helps – you think of yourself not as Lorrie or Philippa, but as ‘my business’.Philippa: Yes, I mean, harnessing the Power of We does mean we have people we can check things out with. I know that both Lorrie and I have, on more than one occasion, emailed each other and said, “I’ve just got an email from someone who wants me to do x, y or z. Am I being really unreasonable to think that’s not OK?”. And by doing this, we can talk out what is happening, really, and if we come out of the conversation saying yes, they are being unreasonable, it feels much easier to refuse the request because we know it’s not just us!
Philippa: We are going to be talking more, in an upcoming episode, about dealing with isolation as a freelance writer, and sticking up for ourselves in this way is yet another reason why combatting any isolation we may feel is a good idea.
Lorrie: We’ll also be looking at how to be assertive without being unprofessional, and I reckon the topics will be more closely linked than you might think at first!
Philippa: Yeah, yeah. Something I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, just because somebody accepts low pay does not mean they are a bad writer.
Lorrie: No, that’s true.
Philippa: It could be that they live in a country where the cost of living is very low, so they can afford to ask for those fees and don’t suffer as a result. Or it could be that they really need to be charging more but simply don’t know how to break out of the elance / guru.com type trap. Some badly paid writers are great, some are awful – but that can be the case with well-paid ones too! What I want is for all writers to feel empowered to ask for the wages they deserve.
Lorrie: Exactly – and that’s not an unreasonable thing to want, I don’t think. After all, we have a minimum wage when it comes to salaried employment. We’ve all got bills to pay and it’s only fair to earn something that’s at least somewhat in line with living costs where you’re based.
As I mentioned earlier when I was talking about the No Peanuts movement, I think the key thing is for freelancers to harness the Power of We to try and alter the way the market works. And if one person stands there and shouts about the low wages they’re offered a lot of the time, it’s true that they’re likely to be priced out of freelance work. People will at them and think he’s more expensive than Copywriter X, best not go with him. If, however, we take a leaf from No Peanuts’ book and understand that, without the Power of We, we’re all going to end up working for peanuts, I think we’ll be on track for a much fairer deal.
Philippa: Absolutely, absolutely. This is such a big issue in freelancing, and it’s not one that’s going to be solved quickly. But in order to try and solve it, we really do have to join together and support each other – as friends, colleagues, fellow freelancers. Trying to price other people out of the market does no one any favours, including ourselves because we might go, “Wahey, I got the job in the end!” but you’re not even making the minimum wage as a result. And this is why we really wanted to talk about this again, but specifically in the context of Blog Action Day and the Power of We.
Lorrie: Definitely – if you start pricing other people out of the market, as Pip says, you’re pricing yourself out of the market. It’s going to be costing you money to allow clients to lower the market rates – you’re paying for your own demise, really.
Just with a bit of collaboration, just by saying to clients, “I really appreciate you paying me a fair wage” and by saying to other people, “It’s fine for you to ask for money for that.” Or, BCCing someone into an email where you tell a potential client that what they’re offering is unreasonably low and that you’re not interested in working for peanuts. All those things added together can really help to shift the market.
Philippa: Definitely. So, on this Blog Action Day, do visit the link to Blog Action Day, which will be in the show-notes, and have a look at the other blogs and vlogs and podcasts that have been submitted – I think it really has the potential to be a really interesting selection of writing. We’re really glad to have been a part of it, and we’d love you – especially if you just found us through Blog Action Day – to go across to our website (alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com) and keep in touch with us there. You can also find links there to Lorrie’s website and social media feeds, and my websites and social media feeds, so say hello – we’d love to hear from you!
Lorrie: Yeah, absolutely. Do come and say hello and remember, while you’re listening to this podcast, we’re doing what it says on the tin – it’s the Power of We. You’re sitting there, somewhere else in the world…or standing there…or doing goodness knows what, we don’t want to know!
Lorrie: And you’re listening to two other freelancers, and you’re getting ideas and support from other people; that’s why we do this podcast. It’s all about linking up with other people in the network and we’re so grateful to each and every person who has a listen. We’ve had some really good news – we’ve reached number three in the Podomatic careers chart…
Lorrie: Yay! This is episode 10 – we’re really happy to have reached that milestone – and we hope to carry on for as long as you want to listen really. So, as ever, huge thanks for listening! I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…
Philippa:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and we’ll see you next time!