Something about the words “freelance writer” and “work from home” almost always elicit a swoon of envy and wonder, when people ask me what I do. I suppose it is an envious place to be, and while I can’t deny the copious levels of joy and satisfaction it has given me, I am just as quick to tell people that while the life is beyond awesome, the work isn’t always smooth sailing. Especially if your personality is anything like mine.
- I’m not a born networker. I can’t seem to make forced connections, name-drop, and shove my business card in people’s faces unless meandering conversation somehow leads me to do it. Everything needs context, and I find it excruciatingly difficult to push my agenda when it is not called for. I know a few people who can, some of my close friends even, and I am always watching with a mix of awe and disgust.
- I have a pretty sound work ethic. Which is to say I am anal about getting utmost clarity before I begin a project, so I can get pretty annoying with the multiple emails and calls clarifying a thousand doubts. Also, I like to understand everything there is to know before I commit, and once I do I drop all else to meet that commitment. Most cases, this has worked for me. Problem is this attitude seems to be fast disappearing in this industry. And leads to a whole lot of disappointment and frustration when you realise nobody really gives a rat’s ass what assignment you put aside to honour a commitment you made to them. They will still leave your emails unanswered, get what they want from you and forget to send you a simple email to say “yes we received your work.”
The husband tells me that I’m too nice for the kind of work I’m trying to do, and that is my biggest hurdle. It’s true to some extent, but mostly he’s just being polite by using those words. What he really means is I don’t have what it takes to be an efficient freelancer. I
can’t don’t network my way through writing gigs, and force my way through layers of hierarchy to reach head-strong editors, or pull the right strings to make the right contacts. It doesn’t come easy, it isn’t second nature to me. And to make things worse, I don’t have a thick enough skin to stomach the levels of unprofessional, bad behaviour that I have encountered over the last year.
I’m the kind of idiot that drops an opportunity to write for a local newspaper because the editors emails to me showed no value or respect for my work. I filter the assignments I choose based on how clear the client is about what he wants, and if I get the slightest hint that I am going to be going around in circles trying to deliver the right writing, while the client figures his message out on the go, I don’t take the project on. I am that idiot who told the features editor of a leading Indian daily newspaper, that she can’t mooch off of me and take my work for free based on the big name she works for.
I sometimes get emails asking me questions ranging from what made me take this decision to how I manage my time at home all day long. Once I was even ask how I manage my income and finances. For a while I’ve been thinking about doing a post on my side of the story. But a recent bad experience with a local newspaper spurred me to act on this list I’ve been silently compiling over a few months, more to remind myself about a few key things when dealing with people who come to me with requests for work.
If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free
I’ve struggled with this one for the longest time. How much is too much? What if I scare them away with my rates? Maybe I should undercharge to begin with? Should I be nice just this once? But I’ve learned the hard way that most people who approach you need you more than you need them. And if they’re half-way smart they will realise and acknowledge it. If they need and value the work you can do for them, they will be willing to pay a reasonable price for it. This is by no means a license to charge anyone the earth, but a fair compensation of your time, effort and skill involved in completing the task is a must. And no, it is not too much to ask for. Just like I told the newspaper lady who presumed I would be okay with her assumption that she had my words and pictures for free just because she was offering me mileage in her esteemed newspaper.
“A quarter of this nation, reads our newspaper. That ought to be enough mileage for you, right?” she asked.
Sometimes the opportunity has more to offer than the pay
This is another tricky one. I’ve stuck by it though, in situations where I was getting to work on a once in a lifetime project, or if it was something I was looking to get a break into. But even that, I have been careful to choose people who value the work we did together, and who respected talent and skill for what it is. Freeloaders don’t deserve niceness. I’ve been wrong in my judgement in some situations, and gotten a raw deal. But with every bad experience, I’ve learned to weigh my choices better.
People who pull rank, need to be reminded that you’re not an employee but a consultant providing a service that HE/SHE needs
I once approached a newspaper with some samples asking if there was a possible fit in the kind of work I could do and what they are looking for. They claimed there was and took me on. One assignment down, lots of back and forth, painful editing and frayed braincells later I realised the brief on the piece wasn’t clear. And I had written something that was totally off the mark from what was expected, because it was wrongly communicated to me. I offered to correct it, once I had understood what needed to be done, but there isn’t always enough time when you’re chasing a print deadline. Bad experience to begin with, was made worse when the Very-Full-Of-It Editor called me testily, taking off on me over a telephone call (our first interaction ever), without giving me space to get a word in edge-wise. I took it for about five minutes, before I interrupted to say my piece and make it abundantly clear that I had adhered to a brief that was given to me. Too bad that his features editor had got the brief wrong. I then not-so-subtly reminded him that he hadn’t employed me, so had no business pulling rank on me. And that if he did, I would just take my writing elsewhere. To an Editor who was willing to speak civilly.
If you know you’re right, don’t hesitate to tell your client so
One of my most loved gigs comes with a client who doesn’t know her elbow from her arse. She fancies herself a mumbo-jumbo editor, and I have to constantly toss between speaking up and telling her what’s right, when she makes asinine edits to my work, and bite the bullet and let smaller things slide, in the name of picking my battles well. But I deal with her because I never have to see her face, and aside from dealing with her painful emails that reveal a ton of insecurity and other issues, the gig is fun.
The last year has been adequately peppered by projects that could have been, assignments that would have been fun, work that could have been mine. The direct consequence of it all is I don’t rake in a ton of money. And what I am quick to tell people envious about my situation is that I can choose to take this gamble because 1) thankfully my life doesn’t run on the money I earn 2) The husband has generously given me the free reign to do what I want, experiment, stay home, bake, write, read — do as I please, while he has solely taken on the burden of ensuring that the house and our lives continue to run smoothly. What I earn serves as a healthy dose of pocket money. So it works for us.
A lot of it may have to do with the fact that our life is quite simple to begin with. It’s comfortable, but not lavish beyond our means. And that is not something we left to chance. It was entirely our doing. When I decided to quit work and we consciously chose a single-income existence we had to pare down the frills and bells, prioritising what we needed, compromising on a few things we love but decided we could do without. Everything that wasn’t essential, had to go. It meant giving up the big, lavish holiday for the year, it meant waiting to buy a Kitchen Aid till the time was right, and it meant taking the train when flying was too expensive. Even then, in the months gone by, I have never felt a dent in my lifestyle, or like I have missed out on something I could have had if I had a little more money.
So is this work from home thing as easy as it seems? Yes. Most of the time it is. Because the joys outnumber the woes. But every now and then I have my patience tested by clients who think they’ve bought me over at Rs. 3 per word. Or that they’re doing me a favour by lending me their big-publication-name. So no, it’s not easy all the way. But who said everything you want, everything that’s fun and everything that’s good for you had to be easy?