Monday, January 9, 2012

The Price Is Right...Or Is It?

There are signs the U.S. economy is slowly climbing up from the rocky bottom, although its feet are blistered and its legs are weary and there's not much water left in the canteen.

Still, it's progress. Which at least isn't bad news after years of nothing but. Among the hardest hit professionals, as always, have been consultants. And for freelance writers, all the worse. I've yet to see a bailout package for freelancers.

Seeking new clients can be a frustrating endeavor. Many companies can't afford to hire quality consultants as they have in the past, while other companies may be taking advantage of the situation, and negotiating rates that leave a writer with little in the pocketbook and not much self-esteem. Even more disturbing are the content farms that get creative professionals and communications experts, desperate for work, to compete against each other and "apply" for cut-rate jobs. I vowed never to succumb to such jobs, but I can understand why others do. Likewise, on Craigslist's job boards companies of all shapes and sizes, including many PR agencies, are seeking paid (and unpaid) "interns" whose job descriptions sure sound similar to those of what used to be considered marketing or account coordinators or--in some cases even--account executives. It's Kafka-esque.

Finding new business these days seems harder than climbing Everest, but when opportunities arise I think it's important that consultants don't shortchange their value and production. Personally, I've maintained the same hourly rate more or less that I charged many years ago when times were good. There's a lot of trust involved--on both sides--when a company hires a consultant. But when things work out a freelancer will often continue to receive ongoing projects and have a steady client.

Everyone needs an hourly rate to offer, but I generally provide proposals based on a project fee (expected hours included). If a company feels a $1000 fee for a project is justified, then whether one charges $50/hour for 20 hours or $100/hr for 10 hours is irrelevant. But it's much easier for a prospective client to say it shouldn't take 20 hours than it is to quibble with hourly costs. And they might also judge the quality of your work accordingly (worse, you may too.). In any case,  if you're like me, you may spend far more time than the hours for which you're billing. But at least that's on your terms, and if a client throws a last-second job into the mix with a looming deadline you'll get justly compensated  The biggest factor, though, is that when the economy picks up, and opportunities become more plentiful, clients will have become accustomed to paying a certain figure, and it'll be harder to hike your rates.

So don't discount your fees more than necessary. You'll be happy you didn't when the job market steadies itself and goes for that energy bar in its back pocket.


Steve Beck said...

I agree. Feel out the client and maybe start with asking about their budget. Once you have a fish on the hook, it's hard to see them get away.

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