Negotiating Contracts as a Freelancer

By Edwin Tran

To many, freelancing is a dream with so many perks and benefits that it is unfathomable to think anything negative about it. Being a freelance writer means setting your own schedules, your own hours, your own pace, and a thousand other things that you specifically control. However, that also means it is only up to you to decide the more fundamental and basic things. Only you can decide how many contracts you take, which means only you can decide how much money you make, which means only you are responsible for whether or not you will be able to eat at the end of the week. The most crucial aspect in order to survive, whether doing freelance writing for side money or as a career, is to negotiate your contracts carefully.

The first question is where one might find some of these contracts. The age of the internet has led to an unprecedented rise in easy-to-access work. Many websites act as marketplaces for writers and employers. Some of these include Upwork, Toptal, Elance, and Freelancer.com. With this vast network of markets, it seems that there should be plenty of work around. However, obtaining work is much more difficult than it appears. Writing has simultaneously become one of the hardest and easiest areas to break into because of the high volume of writers and writing jobs. In other words, freelance writing has become an incredibly competitive battlefield.

Before moving forward, let us examine the average monetary rate of a freelance writer and what one should expect when negotiating contracts. Consider this list of freelance rates provided by the Editorial Freelancers Association (source: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php):

These rates are also consistent with those provided by WritersMarket, who identify seemingly exorbitant charges of $80/hour for certain types of copywriting and $70/hour for certain types of ghostwriting. Keep in mind that these are average rates, and it must be noted that the influx of online markets has created an entirely different situation for those just starting out. Many new writers are often abused for free work or are paid marginally. It is important to realize that while they may not be able to secure jobs with the rates presented above, freelancers should not have to deal with sub-par pay.

The question that emerges is how. The first step towards finding adequate work is to search through various websites (such as those mentioned above) to find jobs that seem engaging and appropriate for one’s skill level. In this early stage, it is important to build up a portfolio of projects and, for certain sites, to establish a high rating as a freelancer. As a result, finding the perfect job to highlight strengths is key. Once you have found a job that you believe to be perfect for your skills, the true negotiation begins. Many jobs will require a cover letter explaining why you are interested in this specific job and, more importantly, what skills and unique assets you would bring if accepted. Even if a cover letter is not required as per the directions of the job offer, you should attach one anyway. Your cover letter should be both professional and specific to the individual job. Many employers go through dozens of offers a day and finding a cover letter that specifically addresses some aspect of the job will go miles beyond cover letters that appear generic. Let us look at an example:

An appropriate and effective cover letter will take you a long way. It identifies that you have read the job description thoroughly and are actually interested in the work at hand. It might take a few applications, but it will eventually culminate in an offer letter.

Here is where contract negotiations begin. Sometimes, employers will provide a budget or an estimated amount of money an individual wishes to use, which writers will base negotiations off of. On some platforms, mainly Upwork, there may also be a bidding process, where freelancers will offer their own rate and the employer decides among those who applied for the job based off these rates. It is almost certain that new freelancers will be facing rather sparse payouts. Again, you want to focus on creating a solid portfolio and a high rating. During negotiations, aim for higher than minimum wage, but a lack of experience will be a major factor against getting higher payouts. Always negotiate these contracts with courtesy and be sure to work within the budgetary confinements of a potential employer. Be clear in highlighting your skills and experience in writing in order to establish a sense of legitimacy that can come into play when trying to aim for a slightly higher payout.

Ultimately, freelancing requires individuals to identify what they feel is appropriate compensation for their work. This is typically divided into hours, and it is important to ask oneself if the pay he or she receives is adequate for the work done in an hour. While the early period may be a difficult time and might have rather minimal payments, it is an important part in establishing oneself as a skilled writer. As more jobs come under your belt and your ratings go up, the higher the potential for bigger cuts. The same negotiation skills apply from job to job, the only difference is the baggage you come with. Each amount of experience adds an amount to your worth—always be sure to keep this in mind when freelancing. You are worth more than slave labor!

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