Four Reasons to Work for Less (podcast)

Four Reasons to Work for Less (podcast)

Why you might be okay with working for peanuts — the conditions are explained in this episode, an adaptation of Adrienne’s post on the Right Angels and Polo Bears blog.

[sociallocker id=”6583″] Press play below or subscribe to have this sent automatically to your podcatcher/ iTunes, or right-click to download the file. 7:48 min

When Adrienne first wrote up this response to a colleague’s question, the post was shared widely and some very considerate conversations were started. A lot of people seemed very glad to be told that it’s sometimes okay to do what makes them happy.

When might you consider working for less? What are your make-or-break conditions?


This is the Right Angels and Polo Bears podcast, where we talk about editing words in all sorts of contexts. I am Adrienne Montgomerie, scieditor.

In this episode —brace yourself — today I’m going to take an opposite stance on working for peanuts. Opposite to what you’re used to hearing, that is. I’ve written many times about why editors should be paid good wages in line with their training and expertise. I’ve said explicitly that I won’t work for peanuts, and I’ve posted an instant estimator on my website so that people won’t asking me to work for half my rate. (There are more positive spins on this, but this was definitely on my mind when I coded that widget.)

But, TODAY, I’m going to tell you four criteria — 4 conditions that must be met to make it okay to work for less. Here they come:

  1. When you can afford the lost income.
  2. When you can afford the time.
  3. When you need the fun and expanded horizons.
  4. When you can consider it a marketing or PD expense.

Number 2 “afford the time” means the project must not make you push aside higher paying projects to do it. Depending on the project, the discount client 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. Working for less than your optimal fee. Once my portfolio is fattened, I expect to move up the pay ladder quickly — reaching something equal to my general editing experience. Or maybe that should be equal to peers in that new market.

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 takes an investment of some kind. Maybe you can consider the lost pay part of a marketing expense. The prestige of the project or client has to warrant it, though. I never work for royalties. That’s volunteering.

Then there’s the PD angle. Professional development. Take this 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. It’s an irony I can barely stand. The most formal information I’ve ever found was a book on elearning. A print book. I just could not bear buying it.

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. That venture has paid off well as marketing and as PD. Plus, we had a lot of fun.

This podcast is also part of my marketing expenses. So is the Right Angels and Polo Bears blog. But I suggest not pitching your project to me as a marketing benefit. Don’t tell me “it will be good exposure.” Because I have a long list of such projects on the waiting list, and they’re VERY high in the other three criteria. Or was that six? 

I have said yes to working for less for each of those reasons. Usually several criteria applied. But the absolute no-two-ways-about-it requirement? The client must be appreciative, organized, and fun to work with. Is that three requirements? Well, clients like that DO exist; and I’m thrilled to work for them.

Whatever approach you take, you can spare yourself some heartbreak — you can spare potential clients heartbreak too — by setting ballpark fee expectations up front.

After a few long discussions in which I got really excited about a project only to find that my quote was double their budget — once it was 10 x their budget! — I made sure to be able to put a ballpark figure on the table as early as possible in the discussions. My website has an instant estimator for just this reason. Clients can enter a word count into the widget and get an instant —and I do mean instant, the estimates change as you enter the numbers — they get an instant estimate of the cost and time needed for various stages of editing.

If this estimator scares off clients, it’s not the kind of clients I’m looking for. The site does give suggestions for reducing editing costs, and says that there’s an editor for every job. It just may not be me.

Some people I’ve shown this estimator to exclaimed “Well I COULD have afforded you!”

Anyway, wasn’t I talking about working for less? Right.

So. Remember these reasons. You can work for less than your fee if you can afford the time and the money, if the project will be rewarding in fun or by expanding your horizons, and if you can count it toward some marketing or new skills.

Of course, you can work for whatever price you want. But I urge you to go read Rich Adin’s long explanation of why $10/hr is not enough. You’ll find it on the American Editor blog; there’s a link in the show notes. Because you’ve got real expenses, and I don’t want to see anyone suffer because they don’t understand their own bottom line.

When I first wrote up this response to a colleague’s question, the post went ape-shit popular. A lot of people seemed very glad to be told that it’s sometimes okay to do what makes you happy.

When do you consider working for less? What are your make-or-break conditions? I hope you will leave your comments on the site, or Tweet me at SciEditor, that’s S_C_I as in science, editor.

To find links to the sources I mention in this podcast, check the show notes at: dameditors SciEditor [dot] ca. That is S_C_I_E_D_I_T_O_R. In the next episode I will give you some scientifically-backed suggestions for stating your rate with confidence. It’s a fun one; do tune in.

Thanks for listening.

Mentioned in this episode

Rich Adin has shared his own thoughts on the subject, reminding us that we still have to eat (and pay other bills).

The image for this episode is by David Blackwell used under CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

2 thoughts on “Four Reasons to Work for Less (podcast)

Comments are closed.