I just had my first break-up with a client since I began Freelancing last year. It wasn’t acrimonious, and it was my decision, but it was one I made after plenty of hemming and hawing, hand-wringing, and what-ifs. However, after finally taking the leap, it feels precisely like dumping that first High School boyfriend; there’s relief, freedom, calm, and a sense of “omg, FINALLY!” that lets me know I wasn’t wrong.
Here’s the backstory: this was my first real, paying client. I had just jumped out of marketing/offices/silicon valley – the whole rat-race – and hey! I was free! This was also before I joined the NWU, understood contracts, or had any real, watch-your-ass experience writing as a writer; not like a marketer.
There were red flags aplenty, but everything’s always clearer in hindsight, right? Now, before I continue, let me state: the client wasn’t a bad client. They were a BIG client, with a status quo, and my assigned editor is a sweet person whom I still talk with. This isn’t about to spiral into a mud-slinging mess. It’s just chronicling an experience, the good, the bad, and how It’s improved my writing and my negotiating skills!
I started freelancing by using eLance, which has always been a relatively useful tool whenever I’ve needed it. So, I was offered a position as a blogger, doing two posts a day Monday through Friday. They agreed to my pricing and off we went. Soon after, they requested to set our agreement up outside of eLance (red flag) BUT they were prompt in paying me, so I wasn’t worried. It went like so; I did two posts a day in WordPress, and I had an editor, someone who did SEO, and a designer who added images. Then, they asked me to write three posts a day, for the same hourly rate (red flag). This was soon followed by being requested to add the SEO tags (red flag), and finding and adding images (red flag, red flag, red flag). I was also now responsible for adding links back to the website(s) editing my work, and pushing it live (HIROSHIMA!).
The breakup commenced when I received a lengthy email that detailed out all the changes that had been made to the websites, the new rules for SEO, and an insistent demand that I needed to add a minimum of three links per post. Further, that I was in danger of losing my ‘contract’ because I wasn’t doing the SEO correctly. Since we never HAD a formal contract, aside from being hired to write “short, witty posts,” it was an empty threat.
I wasn’t outraged…I was flabbergasted, confused, and slightly entertained. I technically still had an editor, who was responsible for conveying these messages, but she had been hands-off my posts for the past three months (as were the SEO people, designer, and whoever else had been on board in the beginning).
Though it has been a nice pocketful of money every month, this clearly signaled that it was time to move on while we were all on good terms. I was offered more money to stay, but I refused, and here’s why: I’m a writer.
I am not a designer (though it was my career in the past), and I’m not an SEO expert.
I’m a writer, and I was hired to write. The focus had become pure marketing, where writing was secondary to keywords and calls to action. There’s nothing wrong with any of that – but I was hired to write, with the express agreement that royalty free images and keywords were NOT my problem, I just had to write. I was initially denied a raise in my fee when they had first begun to add responsibilities to my checklist. Perhaps I should have bowed out then instead of letting them see how much they could keep adding to my plate.
The takeaway, for me, has been that big companies love freelancers because, for the most part, we’re stoked about getting the bid! We’ll let stuff slide and start to add up, and that will be taken advantage of. I don’t honestly believe it’s done out of malice, but it can be a wake-up call to remember that you write because you love writing. For me, the other stuff was inconsequential. It was easy, but it was a time suck.
Don’t get stuck in a time suck. I was hired by a client to write, and I ended up spending more time on keywords, backlinks, and images than actual wordsmithing. Lesson learned!