03 December 2008

Fees and friends

Two very useful items I'd like to draw attention to.

Firstly, the NUJ has revised its Freelance Fees Guide. This extensive list of typical rates for the job is incredibly handy for working out what to charge clients or what rates to expect from the press. I consult this several times a year when something outside my usual range of services drops into my lap and I need a helping hand to price a job.

Secondly, a very handy post from the Freelance Switch blog, which is always packed with good tips and advice. This post on banishing lonely freelance syndrome will strike a chord with many. Working from home can be really isolating so it's important to use all your options to maintain contact with the outside world. You have to create your own water cooler, basically. I use almost all of the 11 tips and techniques - the cat keeps me company (even if he annoys the hell out of me at times by commandeering my desk as his personal bed), I chat on Twitter, Facebook and forums with colleagues and friends, and I aim to get out of the house at least once a day, either just for a walk in the fresh air and to enjoy a change of scenery or to do something - pop to the butcher for my dinner, meet a colleague or client, or drop in on my neighbour (also self-employed) for coffee.

Most of these tips will also refresh your brain, giving you renewed zip as you plough through the editing of that tedious 600-page tome on insurance risk, or helping generate ideas for features if you write. Both of which will, of course, earn you money and send you back to the NUJ fees guide for the right rate...



ms_well.words said...

Thanks for the link to the Freelance Switch item.

Isolation is definitely an issue for me. I'm spreading my wings into teaching, to get me out of the house and into the real world (with a heavy thud, I might add), but I do also do 90% of the things on the FS list - and have blogged about exactly that just a moment ago! (See http://mswellwords.blogspot.com/2008/12/red-tailed-hawk-and-three-legged-dog.html).

I never did like the cliques among the school-gate mums, but now my son walks himself to school I miss the opportunity to not indulge in idle gossip!

Unknown said...

Just read your post - sounds like a good trip out. I don't have a dog or child so I really do need to make myself go out otherwise I'd turn into a reclusive hermit for days at a time, which is not healthy. Good luck with pursuing the teaching. I'm thinking of taking on bar work a couple of nights a week - not for the cash, as I don't need it (but it would still be nice) but just for the very different change of scene, which I think would be really good for me in so many ways.

ms_well.words said...

Re: bar work
That's a really good idea. There's a new Costa Coffee opening in our high street soon and I did idly wonder whether I should get a Saturday job there, for the same reason as you.

I did a lot of waitressing as a student and really enjoyed it.

My "secret" dream of being a part-time estate agent (to nosey round people's houses!) has been dashed by current credit crunch… but I might get there one day.

The Slow Smoulder said...

RE Freelance isolation -- blogging should be in the list too. ;-)

RE Rates of pay -- do NUJ members successfully negotiate up to the minimum suggested rate? Can they get support from the union? How does the NUJ revise rates -- what do they base the revised rates on: inflation, rates currently being paid, members' cost settings?

Unknown said...

NUJ rates are, of course, only adhered to at publications that recognise the NUJ. Freelances can expect to be paid NUJ minimum there. For non-union publications, it's up to freelances individually to accept lower rates. They may have good reasons for saying yes to less money - because it's a publication they really want to write for as it has a good profile (and thus reflects well on the journalist), because they are trying to break into a new market in terms of subject area and working for less can be a good balance to gaining the necessary experience that then enables you to work for higher rates elsewhere. I personally have written for a publication for more than two years that pays only £150 per thousand words. That's a lot below NUJ minimum but I do it because I enjoy the work, it's a very niche market and writing the features doesn't take a lot of time for me as I know the subject well. If I relied it on for bread-and-butter income, though, I'd be in trouble.

I'm not sure how the NUJ sets rates - I know it does a lot of research into current rates (members are actively encouraged to submit rates paid, just as SfEP members do) and no doubt it takes into account typical staff salaries at types of publications (extrapolating from that what a freelance should expect to earn, bearing in mind we don't cost overhead) plus inflation and a bunch of other economic data.

ms_well.words said...

@ The Slow Smoulder
I think blogging IS in the list (or is that my imagination?)

Re: NUJ rates
The process of setting rates (editorial, as opposed to photography etc) is not dissimilar to the process I've been party to via SfEP.
Yes, the NUJ does collect rates, but doesn't get enough from people like us (i.e. not typically working for news-stand publications). I'm as guilty as everyone else for promising to post up my rates then forgetting.

But did I really see you say "negotiate up to NUJ minimum"? Oh dear - better sign up for an NUJ negotiating fees course!
I'm not saying that freelances often achieve the minimum … But you're never going to get there if you start with that as your "best offer". (No offence meant, SS.)

Unknown said...

Indeed, my starting point is always NUJ minimum and I rarely work for less, except the tiny handful of slots I do for less because they are easy, fun and worthwhile for my profile.

The Slow Smoulder said...


The way I see it, Twitter, etc is not blogging as I know it. I know it is called microblogging but this is different from the more-considered blogs such as Diary of a Wordsmith.


There are some publishing companies (I write as a copy-editor, etc) who offer a rate below the minimum. Then all I can do is negotiate upwards, or try to at least cos it rarely works.

As a freelancer working with a page rate for a time, I said to the desk manager that the work was too stressful exactly because it was on a page rate and suggested that the editors should be paid for the time they spent. The manager actually got permission to pilot this and then compare the costs, but I left the freelance pool as I didn't like working with American style so never found out if they switched to a time-based rate or not.

With someone who IS willing to negotiate, I start above the minimum suggested rate, cos I don't think even those are enough for freelances, cos we have to cope with non-paying time, pensions, overheads, ...

BTW, I heard from someone recently that the NUJ suggested minimum rates are on the way out, and the actual rates by company will be what is carried on. Don't know if you can confirm.

Finally, what about suggested minimum rates being based on cost of living + overheads, which would include training costs, hence higher for more skilled/experienced jobs? What do you think?

Unknown said...

Re blogging v Twitter, I suspect it was left out of the original feature as it’s not an instant answer to isolation. I see blogging as something I largely do after work, at my leisure, when I have time to reflect on my professional milieu. It’s not something that gives me instant contact with others. After posting, there will inevitably be a time lapse before comments appear here from readers, who may not be able to read my blog as soon as it is updated. And it may be a while before I have time to look at the comments and reply to them. I definitely have a sense of community around this blog, but it’s not “on the spot”. Whereas on Twitter, I can chat away whenever I have time and something to say and it’s much more like hanging around an office water cooler.

Re negotiating, I almost never work for publishers who pay below minimum rates. Why? Because invariably the ones that pay least are the ones that cause most grief on the job. The last cheap job I did, I did as I had a free space and I was assured it would be really straightforward. It turned out to be an absolute nightmare, so bad I almost handed it back half-done (which would have been a first) and it drove me to tears. I don’t need that kind of stress and I’m simply not prepared to work for sweat-shop wages.

This is one reason I edit almost exclusively for non-publishers, as I can set my own rates and both I and my clients know I’m worth it.

I don’t know if the NUJ is changing how it promotes rates. I have no local chapel and am not really involved as a result.

A key definition of being a freelance is that you set your own rates. A plumber doesn’t agree to work for an hourly rate set by the owner of a blocked toilet…

The Slow Smoulder said...

Re Blogging: fair do about wanting quick response with Twitter. Maybe I don't feel the need cos I'm writing so many discursive emails and getting responses that way ...

Re Negotiating: there has to be some irony lying between the facts that I have just decided I need more paying clients with the economic downturn and that I have got in touch with an old client that doesn't pay well ...

Ciara said...

I work mostly for newspapers and trade magazines and have never been able to set my own rate. The clients i have all have a set linage rate that is based on the word count, with no room for negotiation. The lowest is 12p a word and the average national paper rate in my experience is about 30p for broadsheets and something like 70p for the likes of the Express. The trade mags are more like 25p a word. For casual reporting shifts I am rarely offered more than £95 before tax.
The NUJ's recommended rates are just not anywhere near achievable for someone like me