A friend and former colleague reached out on Facebook in frustration recently. She’s a great journalist; a fantastic talent. The kind of storyteller who digs into dark corners and goes the extra mile to ensure voices not often heard get their moment in the spotlight.
She’s a freelancer. She does real, proper, important journalism. And she was sick of working for free.
This is a common story. People are always asking writers to work for free. In my friend’s case, she comes across a lot of bleeding heart stories — she works a lot with charities and not-for-profits. Understandably, these are the sorts of organisations that are happy to lean on someone’s good nature to save a few dollars.
But those of us who write for a living are just as often abused by businesses, agencies and media organisations. Over six years as a freelance journalist, I had to learn to toughen up and say no.
Here is the advice I gave my friend — and these are, generally, good tips for writers struggling to get paid.
You’re not a charity, they are
These organisations pay their plumber, they can pay you. Any business (even a not-for-profit enterprise) has bills. Do not be shamed or embarrassed or coerced into being the bill they don’t have to pay.
Agree terms up-front
Before you work with any organisation, make sure they know your fee and will pay your fee. (Of all the tips for writers here, this is probably the most important one.)
Don’t. Back. Down.
It’s so easy to say “don’t worry about it” because you have a good heart. You have to harden up. We all have mouths to feed (even if it’s just our own). Every dollar you don’t bring home is a dollar that can’t be used to feed, clothe or educate your kids.
Experience costs money
If they want someone qualified and experienced, they have to pay. If they don’t want to pay, recommend some bright young thing straight out of Uni who’ll happily do it for the byline and the thrill. If you’re not desperate for the experience, don’t work for free.
Be tough with yourself, too
Learn to be a hard-arse business person. Never leave yourself “in the red” on a job unless there’s a very good long-term business goal behind it and, strategically, it makes sense.
Investing in yourself is the most important investment you’ll ever make.
— Warren Buffett.
Lush Digital Media is always on the look out for excellent storytellers. Feel free to get in touch.