Tuesday, 23 March 2010

because im worth it (um, sort of)

It's nearly the end of the financial year, and so I've spent the afternoon reading baffling letters from HMRC all of which contradict the previous one. Ah, the joys of being self-employed.
But it made me realise: this blog has dwelt on the emotional ups and downs of working for myself, but the financial ones? Not so much. Yet it's part of any honest reckoning.
First, looking back over my earnings since going freelance, the good news: it's more than I expected. Hurrah! Though admittedly, the bar was set on the pessimistic assumption I'd sink into a pit of unemployabliity.
But secondly, it probably could have been more. Going freelance has exposed my financial Achilles heel: like a lot of women I am rubbish at negotiating my own pay.
Some years ago, I was headhunted by a rival newspaper: I wavered, nearly took the job, and when I decided to stay my husband suggested I negotiate a payrise from my employer as a reward for loyalty.
I'm not really sure what happened inbetween me striding into the managing editor's office with a watertight case for a rise (surprise surprise, asking male colleagues on other papers it turned out I was paid less than all of them) and slinking out emptyhanded. But as my husband groaned halfway through my version of the meeting: "Just tell me you didn't volunteer for a paycut."
Let's just say the rest of my Fleet Street career was not a shining advert for industries where you mostly negotiate your own salary. And I don't think I'm alone. Too often, women don't earn what they could because unlike men they don't ask (the other reason, of course, is that when they ask they don't get: this extract from the book Women Don't Ask is worth a read).
Too often we blithely assume everyone will nobly pay us what we deserve, when actually businesses are wired not to spend money if they don't have to. Too often we're satisfied with approval from our bosses, where men demand cash (this blog from WhereTheBrightWomenAre is brilliant on why women get suckered into doing stuff at work that doesn't count).
Well, self-employment has been painful but liberating.
Now, I have to negotiate fees for every new project, and to be honest: I hate it. Because I've always had a salary rather than a per-hourly rate, I had no idea initially what to charge for my time: I was far too quick to say yes without even asking the fee, or just accept that what people offered was the going rate. At the back of my mind is always a tiny, insistent voice questioning whether I'm worth whatever I'm asking for.
Yet it's been illuminating having to calculate exactly how long it takes me to do any given piece of work, and so how much my time should be worth. It's made the money I earn seem more real: finally there's a direct link between the hours I put in and what I get back, which there wasn't on a salary.
And it has been liberating, on the few occasions I've rejected a job because the fee was too low, to discover that magically the fee then usually rises. Rather cheeringly, it turns out I am (sometimes) worth it. Wish L'Oreal would make an advert about that.


  1. Speaking a male new freelancer (since 1 February), it's not just women who hate negotiating rates and roll over too easily.

  2. i'm still earning less than a certain other newspaper offered me FIVE YEARS ago.... i had a similar experience to you on the negotiating front. depressing.

  3. Most freelancers say they spend between one and two days touting for work (networking etc) for every day's work. So factor those unpaid hours into your calculations. Or, basically, double the figure you first thought of.

  4. I find the thing about freelancing is although you feel you are earning more per piece of work, you are not benefiting from stuff like holiday pay, sick pay etc - and, if you are a working mother, taking time off when your children are sick. So we probably need to be asking more than we do to cover all those eventualities.

  5. It's very tough. I always laboured under the illusion, like you, that merit would simply be rewarded but the business world isn't like school unfortunately. Only those who shout the loudest get the recognition & the extra pay. I learned that the hard way. You have to think of yourself as a product that people want and learn to negotiate. It's not easy, though. Why not think about approaching an online outlet with a (paid) blog idea? That way, you've got regular work, you know what you're doing each month and you can supplement that with other freelance work. It's not easy to get as many outlets have cut their budgets, but it's not impossible and worth a try.

  6. I thoroughly recommend the book you linked to - Why Women Don't Ask. It really rang true for me in its analysis of what makes us so uncomfortable about asking for a raise. It's also eye-opening in the simple maths - calculating what missing out on a small increase every year can mean for lifetime earnings.

  7. Good for you freelancers, all I've "earned" since last July is a tax rebate. Still, my choice and I'm still just about solvent.

    Big thing for me and lots of other women is going to be missing out on a pension, they're always the last thing you think of but need pricing in to any freelance work. I left a really good pension scheme in my last job and I might regret that when I'm 65 or 70. Hopefully not.

  8. the pension point is a really good one - ditto maternity pay, sick pay and all the other stuff you miss out on by not being on staff. i am dragging my heels over setting up a private pension but need to get on with it...

  9. I'm also in an industry where if you don't ask and don't push you don't get - but I hate hate hate that bit, I still hope that I'll get treated right because I'm a nice person (and yet again suspect my pay this year is lower because of that)

    MUST be more forthright about this