The price is the price, and other principles for freelance work

Photo: Max Pixel

I never compromise on price.

Among editors or writers for hire, I am among the most costly. The number of leads I receive is low. The number who go forward with me is even lower. Still, I am busy doing work I love, and I get paid well for it.

Much more important to me than that is this: Everyone I do work for is happy with the work, and nearly all of them would like to hire me again. When I compete with other contractors on anything but price, I always win.

This is not an accident. It is part of a commitment to some specific principles:

  • I only do jobs I’m ideal for. I edit only thought leadership books, articles, and Web copy. I only ghostwrite the same. My expertise is in marketing, technology, and consumer research; those are the areas that I work in. This vastly cuts down the number of possible jobs, but means that the people who hire me are getting someone who knows exactly what they need, and how to deliver it.
  • I quote by the job, and the price is the price. If you hire me to edit a book, or any other job, you know what it is going to cost. I never waver on the estimate; you can put it in the budget. If it turns out to be more work than I thought, that’s my problem, not yours. Unless you go way, way outside the scope we agreed on, I’ll keep going until it’s done.
  • I am hard on prose, not on people. People who get high rates of compensation can get a little haughty. I left that behind when I quit being an analyst. I work for you, so I’m going to treat you with respect. As for what you wrote, it’s just words. I’ll keep wailing on it until it becomes great.
  • I am faster than you. I like to turn things around quickly. In fact, I’m usually waiting on you, rather than the other way around — and if you work quickly, I’ll give you a rush discount. If I took more work, it would stack up, and you’d have to wait. That would make us both unhappy.
  • I don’t delegate the grunt work. It’s in the job. I deal with footnotes. I make indexes. I will correct passive voice even if it’s in every other sentence. I will correct your spelling and punctuation and sometimes, catch your factual errors. I’ll resolve disputes about words among members of your team. None of these engage my intellect like high-level editing (except the indexing, but that’s a joy very few understand). But I don’t delegate, because these less glamorous parts of the job are essential to getting it done right.
  • My virtual team does what I don’t do. I know agents, traditional publishers, hybrid publishers, page production people, cover designers, graphic artists, copy editors, Web developers, and publicists. They’re all people I trust who do great work. I know you need help with things outside my areas of expertise. Rather than do them poorly, I connect you with people who take as much pride in what they do as I do.

I am out of the price range for some people. When potential clients tell me that, here’s what I do: I pass them to a friend of mine who is a great editor and works at a lower rate. This makes them happy and him, too. They’ll come back to me when they can afford me . . . or send their friends my way. I want you to succeed, even if it’s not with me.

Can you freelance like this?

If you freelance, these principles might sound nice. But it’s hard to start with these. It’s a lot easier to take whatever work comes your way.

Even so, you can still focus on work you do well; work by the job, not by the hour; treat clients well; work fast; do the annoying stuff well; and happily refer people who you can’t help.

If you do, people will like working with you. Over time, you’ll get better, you’ll get a reputation, and your rates will increase.

There are other ways to get business, like spamming people on LinkedIn and taking all the work you can get no matter what it is.

But with my way, you get to keep your self-respect.

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One Comment

  1. I’m glad you enjoy indexing. Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut would agree this task should be handed over: “Never index your own book.” (from Cat’s Cradle) Also therein: “When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”