The blogging world recently caught fire regarding Urban Scientist’s Danielle Lee, who was approached by Biology-Online to write a blog post for them. Danielle inquired if she would be paid for the post and was told there would be no monetary compensation. She declined Biology-Online’s offer to write for them.

That’s when things turned ugly.

One of the editors at Biology-Online, in an email reply, wrote “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

While this is a rather extreme example of a tricky freelance work situation, it does lead into the following commonly encountered freelancer issue:

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1. “You should work for the exposure.”

There are many blogs, publications, organizations and even companies that offer freelance work in exchange for “exposure.” While exposure is a wonderful thing for beginning freelancers and helps them get noticed by potential clients, it is not the ideal situation in terms of making a living. And, as I like to say to say, “You can die of exposure!”

How do you, the freelancer, deal with too many freelance work requests in exchange for exposure instead of money?

When negotiating with potential clients, don’t be shy about approaching the topic of payment at the onset of your conversation. After all, this is business. If the client starts dodging the question of payment, you already have your answer. Alternately, if the client wants you to first generate some sample work before she pays you, that’s a red flag. You shouldn’t need to generate work samples if you already have a portfolio of past work to showcase.

How do you politely refuse work for exposure?

The best method is the direct one: Simply state that you are not interested. Or, if you already work with some non-profit groups, say that your exposure card is full thanks to these organizations. Alternately, you might take the passive-aggressive approach and say that you’re too busy at the moment but will reconsider when you have some free time.

2. “Do you give a discount?”

Freelancers are often asked if they provide a discount for repeat clients. In theory, it sounds reasonable to provide a discount to your best customers- until you consider the fact that, if these customers were your employer, it would be akin to working for your employer for less and less money over time. How do you resolve this issue?

Flat our refuse. Some freelancers flat out refuse to discount their services, stating that it compromises their quality of work because they have to do additional gigs to make up for the lost cash.

Refuse- but offer additional benefits. Other freelancers say no to discounts but offer additional services for the same fee, including social media promotion, an additional project, etc. This is a good alternative to having your overall pay lowered; however, it increases your number of work hours. In effect, you are providing free overtime to your clients.

Concede to a discount with upfront pay and bulk work. Many experienced freelancers agree to discount their services- but for a price. Clients must commit to paying upfront for the work (usually at 100%) and they must make a bulk work order. Because a significant portion of a freelancer’s time is spent finding new clients, having a lower pay yet steady client is a cost-effective alternative to having a higher pay but short-lived client.

3. “Can my son/daughter work with you?”

Inevitably, every freelancer encounters the good intentions of a friend or relative who wants in on the business. Sometimes, this involves a request to throw some work at an offspring. Other times, the friend/relative is the one looking for work.

It’s difficult to say no to these requests because a lot of goodwill is riding on them. Also, some friends and relatives reach out to freelancers because they are one late notice away from having their lights turned off. Thus, it becomes almost inhumane to say no.

So, how do you say no? The best tactic I’ve seen so far is to have a mock assignment ready to go for the aspiring freelancer. This assignment is not a gimme and requires some effort to complete. In many cases, this assignment will teach the aspiring freelancer that freelancing is more than just waking up at noon and working in one’s pajamas.

What if the aspiring freelancer does exceptionally well on his assignment? At that point, you might just be looking at an opportunity to sub-contract your work, allowing you a chance to finally take vacation or off-time without worry. You may even consider this your entry point into starting your own freelance agency.

4. “Can you recommend me?”

As a freelancer, you work with and have access to a lot of different individuals, more so than if you were an employee at a single company. This makes you a valuable commodity to someone who is looking for work. However, recommending your friend/neighbor/relative for a job at a company where you’ve been contracted can get a bit dicey. For starters, how can you truly vouch for this person unless you’ve personally worked with her? Even more problematic, what if you have worked with this person and simply can’t, in good conscience, recommend him for the job?

Be honest with yourself and that person. With a relative or neighbor, simply say that you don’t know this person on a deep enough and professional level; therefore, you’re just not able to highlight her strengths. If at all possible, recommend another reference that he can contact instead.

What if you and this person worked side-by-side on projects and you know her quite well- maybe a little too well? Again, you don’t want to recommend someone that you have deep reservations about. However, instead of bringing up all your negative experiences, politely decline the request on the grounds that you make it a policy to not solicit other individuals to your clients. Again, if you know of anyone who would make a better reference, recommend that person instead.

The Bottom Line

Employees receive memos and SOPs that discuss how specific work situations are to be handled- but the land of freelancing is still a kind of Wild West where anything goes. As a result, freelancers are often unprepared to deal with tricky business situations that test their professionalism. Hopefully, the tips provided above will help guide you as you make your way through the freelancing world.

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Join the Discussion

  • Lori Mauger
    Lori Mauger

    Amen! Words to freelance by.

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