Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Renewed Awareness ...

I take a lot for granted.

I'm listening to Seth Godin's podcast, Akimbo, this morning, as I sip my coffee and listen to the birds, which I can hear well because my windows are open, and he just uttered a sentence I've heard him say many times: "You'll pay a lot but you'll get more than you paid for." He's speaking about what freelancers charge. Or what we should charge. Beware billing yourself as the fastest and the cheapest, he says. In a race to the bottom, you just might win. Or worse, you'll come in second.

I don't call myself a freelancer anymore because too many take "freelancer" to mean "temporary." Years ago, a friend of the family asked if I was still freelancing. When I said yes, she said, "Well, I guess that's OK until you get a real job."

"Real jobs," she seems to be saying, are things like teaching and working in an office or being a nurse or any role in which you get up and leave the house and go to a place and collect a paycheck every two weeks.

There are a lot of people who don't have "real jobs." I have friends who make very comfortable livings as writers. All those books in bookstores? They're not written in cubicles in office buildings. All those movies in the multiplexes? Ditto. Dalton Trumbo used to write in his bathtub, drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes.

I tell folks that I work for myself. Because I do. But the longer I'm at this "freelance" game, the more I realize that I don't charge enough for the work I do. I'm getting better about that. There was a lot going on these past months so as December transitioned to January, I never did contact my clients to let them know that I was upping my rates. To date, my increases have been infrequent and small, an extra $5 a hour after some years.

But the freelancer ethos Seth sums up in one sentence – "You'll pay a lot but you'll get more than you paid for" – reminded me of my early days working for a new client onsite years ago. Most folks zipped out of the office right at 5 p.m. But I had the schedule of work for the day and as the day drew to a close, I hadn't seen everything that was on the list. But nor was I sure if I should see everything that was on the list. So, I popped into the doorway of the creative director's office – my desk was right outside – to ask him to take a look at the schedule and let me know if I should expect to see any of the remaining projects.

"I wouldn't want to leave if someone needs me to look at something," I said.

"Of course you wouldn't," he said. He didn't mean that matter-of-factly. His tone suggested that others might just leave because it was time to leave. But I was conscientious enough to make sure everything had been seen or to stick around if there was still work for the day.

Apparently, not everyone does that.

Which kind of blows my mind.

Of course, I was just there for the day. Maybe staffers thought differently because they were going to be at their desks again the next day and so anything that didn't get done that day could get done in the morning. But I was new. I had no sense of whether projects could push to the next day, of whether deadlines were hard or soft.

I come from a newspaper world. Daily. Now. There are some projects that take a while but for the most part, everything happens every day. The presses are going to roll. There best be plates on them.

It's not lost on people that I respond to emails almost immediately. That's a vestige of my newspaper life.

When I transitioned to a corporate gig, I marveled at how long projects would be delayed. Timelines were guidelines. We almost never adhered to them. It was disconcerting, like learning to move in slow motion instead of running sprints.

I'm also really good at spotting errors and inconsistencies. My first task at one of those corporate jobs was to proofread a report. The senior editor handed the printout to me and said something like, "It's ready to go out the door but as long as you're here, a second set of eyes never hurts."

I found 100 mistakes. Some were really minor, like extra spaces, but errors have a cumulative effect. One extra space in a lengthy report may go unnoticed by the client but 100 instances of incorrect?

She was mortified. And to her credit, she owned up to what I found and was glad that she had me look at it.

Clients have told me that I'm one of the best editors they've ever worked with, which is nice because they come from worlds in which they've worked with a lot of editors.

I just don't think of my work that way. My work is my work. It's what I do. Of course I do it well. I used to presume that everyone else did, too.

A lot of people do. But, I've come to realize, there's a segment out there that skates. There are people who take the reigns of a team and there are others who are happy to draft on their effort. (I haven't used "draft" in that context in ages. My NASCAR background – yes, I have one – is showing.)

Though, I'm just realizing, the same was true in school. Team efforts were never balanced or equal. Someone always took the lead.

Now that the Dad chapter has ended, I'm surveying what's next for my work life. I may get a "real job" again. I may also increase my rates before 2019.

Clients, though, know this: You'll pay a lot but you'll get more than you paid for.

Thanks, Seth.


Blogger Seth Godin said...

Thanks Beth. Glad it's resonating!

3:52 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Wow, Seth left a comment!

Just wanted to comment to say, "I hear you." This post is great, Beth.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yep, Seth did. Or Seth's people did. Or someone who created an account with Seth's name did. But he seems like the kind of guy who would take the time to leave comments now and then.

And thank you, friend. We can both use swigs of this kind of medicine. We do good work. We do really good work. There's a market for it. It may be small-ish. It make take some time to find those in the market. But the fulfillment will be worth the effort.

1:01 PM  

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