How to Piss Off a Freelancer: Unpaid Edition

by Alicia Sparks on January 27, 2014


Happy Monday, sweet peas!

So, I had a completely different post planned for today (which you’ll get next week – sorry, I know you’re heartbroken), but I had such an infuriating experience this weekend that I had to share TODAY.

First, some of you know how I feel about free and low-pay gigs. For those of you who don’t, here’s a little back story:

I started my freelance writing career 10 years ago writing a blog that paid in Google AdSense. Pennies, people. I made pennies. My first non-pennies paycheck was for a poem chosen for publication in a then-budding creative writing magazine. They paid me $3.

(I still have the check. Framed.)

So, I understand that sometimes, you have to crawl before you walk and all that.

Still, after nearly a decade of full-time, professional freelance writing and editing, you’d think my experience (and all the clips to prove it) would be enough.

Well, apparently it wasn’t enough for the man I met last Friday.

I’ve had some time clear up in my schedule, so I thought I’d shop around for some new clients. I found what I thought was a promising job advertisement for a part-time health blogger. Because I’ve written for Psych Central since 2008, I thought I had enough health-related experience to at least apply. So, per the advertiser’s request, I sent a quick introduction letter via email expressing my interest in the position, and I added a few links to some of my better Psych Central articles for good measure, and waited.

Later that night, the advertiser responded with an email requesting a “short 200-word article” so he could see my unedited writing style.

Um, no.

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I explained to him why I was unwilling to provide unpaid writing samples (I’d been burned in the past; the examples I sent are representative of my work; etc.) and instead sent him a shorter, already-published sample from several years ago (my version was the unedited version, to appease him).

What happened next will surprise none of you who’ve been freelance writing and editing for any significant amount of time.

The advertiser responded the next morning telling me that all he requested was a quick “200-word article” that “shouldn’t have taken any more than 15 minutes of [my] time” and that if “[my] time is that valuable, then it’s too valuable to work for [him].”

I wish I could say I replied with a simple, “Yes, my time is too valuable to work with you. Good luck and God speed,” but I didn’t. I felt it my duty to let him know, for all serious freelancers everywhere, that FREELANCE doesn’t mean FREE, no matter the context:

Since we’re handing out advice, if you can’t be any more polite to your potential writers, you’re right: my time is entirely too valuable to work on your project, and now, for more than one reason.

Please know that this is not how business is done with serious professional writers. I’ve been doing this for a decade. I am not a part-time writer getting her feet wet; this is my business. I say this with the most respectful tone possible: if you can convince a professional writer to spend time writing a free sample for you, you’re getting someone who’s a) just starting out and doesn’t know her own worth yet, b) has no confidence in her own existing samples, or c) both.

The quality of work will be hit or miss. That’s just how it goes in this business.

Because I like to see people succeed, I hope it’s a hit.

Maybe I jumped the gun; maybe I gave him just what he needed. Either way, I don’t regret it, and I hope he uses my advice in the future.

P.S. For the record, I don’t judge freelancers who provide free samples, or write for low-paying clients. Again, I understand you have to start somewhere, and where you choose to start is your own business. However, you do not have to put up with a potential client telling YOU how valuable you should consider your time.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn Mattern January 28, 2014 at 7:44 am

You go girl!

It sounds like he needed a wake-up call. Maybe he’ll pay attention. Maybe he won’t. Either way, you handled it in a bluntly yet professionally.

I’ve yet to meet a client who accurately judges what’s involved in a project. If they’ve tried to do it themselves, they usually didn’t do it well — hence why they resorted to looking for a pro. And if they haven’t tried it themselves, they’re entirely clueless. Some, including this guy, seem to think you just sit down and rattle an article off with no brainstorming, researching, outlining, revising, and proofreading required.

The fact that he’s estimating 800 words per hour in the health niche specifically is disturbing. That is not an industry where you want your freelancers half-assing content for any reason, but especially not your own impatience. Clearly he doesn’t value what he’s hoping to publish. His loss, not yours.

Jenn Mattern January 28, 2014 at 7:46 am

Yikes. Speaking of half-assing is, I didn’t re-read my comment before posting. Sorry about the extra “in a” in the first paragraph. Re-worded something and forgot to pull that out.

Alicia Sparks January 28, 2014 at 7:48 am

The fact that he’s estimating 800 words per hour in the health niche specifically is disturbing.

Excellent point! I hadn’t even thought of that part!

Alicia Sparks January 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

LOL! Happens to all of us. I left out a word when creating the first graphic for this post. 🙂 Now *THAT* would’ve made me look super qualified for the job, ha!

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