Is it ever okay to work for less than your normal rate? Absolutely; within reason. You still need to pay the bills. Certain criteria must be met. Here’s what I tell myself (and any colleague who asks):
When to accept a lower fee
- When you can afford the lost income.
- When you can afford the time.
- When you need the fun and expanded horizons.
- When you can consider it a marketing or PD expense.
Number 2 means the project must not make you push aside higher paying projects to do it. Depending on the project, they may have to accept that better-paying deadlines will bump theirs down my to do list.
Number 3 acknowledges that you deserve to have fun, and it’s nice to have paid fun sometimes — even minimal pay. It also acknowledges that when you want to break into a new market, you’ll likely have to start somewhere further down the seniority line than you are used to. Once I’ve got some relevant work in my portfolio, I expect to quickly move up the pay ladder to somewhere equal to my general editing experience.
Charity work and other volunteering is included in this point. I donate my expertise to community groups that I want to support. I also give time (and services) to my professional organizations. I enjoy it, it helps me build connections and community, and it also meets criteria 1, 2, and 4. And volunteering doesn’t pay a red cent!
Number 4 takes a sideways look at the proposal. Marketing costs either in dollars or time. Building contacts and portfolio in this market requires an investment of some kind. Maybe you can consider the lost pay part of a marketing expense. The project and/or client’s prestige has to warrant it, though. I never work for royalties.
Professional development is another reason to work for less. For example, I am interested in mobile learning, but there are no formal training courses to help me learn about making apps and education sites for mobile devices. The technology is just too new. So, when I got the opportunity to develop a literacy app for toddlers with my Dameditors team, I considered the shortfall as part of my professional development costs for the year.
This blog is also part of my marketing expenses. But I suggest not pitching your project to me under this criterion because I have a long list of such projects on the waiting list, and they’re VERY high in the other three (six?) criteria.
I have said yes for each of the reasons above; usually only when several of them apply. But the absolute no-two-ways-about-it requirement is that the client must be appreciative, organized, and fun to work with. Is that three things? Well, I’ve found those clients exist; and I’m thrilled to work for their lower rate.
Don’t those people in the photo look fun!! Who wouldn’t want to be on that team? There’s a roller coaster!
For success, outline the ballpark early
My website has an instant estimator to save us from a long discussion before concluding that a project doesn’t meet those four requirements. With the vaguest notion of their project, a client can enter a word count and get an idea if it’s even worth picking up the phone.
Some people I’ve shown this estimator to exclaimed “Well I COULD have afforded you!” Check it out.
Other ways to help when you have to say no
I’m always available for consultation as well. I’m reminded of the Vinyl Cafe story where the family decides that the one renovation thing they can really afford is to have the drawing of the plans mounted over the fireplace. Call me and I’ll give you an estimate to develop a plan you can implement with your team.
Have you decided?
So, what about it, punk. Does your low-budget project meet those four (seven?) requirements?
There’s always a way
A note of encouragement: there is a project for every editor and an editor for every project. Don’t lose hope. If I can’t help you right now, I might later, or another editor will.
Jessica Hirsh has created a great flow-chart of considerations to help you decide when to work for free.