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A funny (or sad?) story about a lost freelance assignment

Today I’d like to share a story about an assignment I did not land.

The story can be interpreted as funny . . . or sad . . . or as not at all important.

In understanding this story, it is important to recognize that I didn’t care all that much about getting the assignment. It was more of a diversion from writing than a true writing assignment. It would have exposed me to another side of the asset management industry, which is an industry in which I have worked in the past. It would have given me a break from sitting at my desk.

So whether or not I got the assignment was not a matter of life and death. Still, the income could have easily been about $1,000 a month, assuming perhaps four days of work per month.

Here’s the story

The assignment was posted to the job board of a freelance writers’ organization centered in Chicago—I’m a member. An asset management publication was looking for someone to attend Chicago board meetings of pension plans and write reports for publication or simply collect documents for the editors’ use.

I phoned them to discuss the assignment. Very nice people.

They wanted to know what I would charge per assignment. I asked for their budget. They had no idea, they said.

I thought about it and had no idea either. The assignments may require seven hours door to door because getting around Chicagoland is no small challenge, especially in the winter. Do I multiply an hourly rate by seven (or so) or do I calculate differently? The number of assignments / days would vary but could be about four per month.

In addition, the assignment itself was sort of hazy. I could simply pick up documents and relay them to the client or I could write articles, many of them about requests for proposals.

To maximize my value, I proposed writing full articles, including all follow-up required to meet editorial expectations and standards. I could not know how much work some of these articles would require though some, obviously, would turn out to be easy breezy.

I had no idea what to charge. However, I figured that in a negotiation, he who speaks first loses. That must be their reasoning too for giving me no idea what they were willing to pay. Anyway, they posted the work on an American, professional website, not one of the international freelance job sites famous for underpaying.

At first I considered $250 per date, including mileage and parking. Then, having no idea what it should pay, I slept on it. The more I slept, the higher the rate rose, in part because I wasn’t so sure I wanted the assignment.

Also because I had been reading lots of coaching emails about the perils of undervaluing yourself and underpricing your work. Why shouldn’t I charge as much as everyone else on the internet who recognizes their value and is getting rich, rich, rich?

So I suggested $1,000 per day.

Turns out that was way too high.

They sent me an email rejecting me because they were thinking of paying $200 per assignment. Note that they did not clarify if that was simply to attend meetings and forward documentation or to write the full article.

Huh?? They told me they had no idea what they would pay.

If they had said $200, I would have countered with $200 plus mileage, tolls and parking.

In many cases that would be over the $250 I was originally considering.

To me, this is a story about greed (mine) running up against their desire to see just how low they could get away with paying. I mean, sheesh, just how much under $200 were they expecting?


Originally posted 5-20-15

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