Billet-doux to Sohrab, Sumati and you

If you are a freelance writer, photographer, editor, cartoonist, designer, translator, juggler....

1. Don't work for free. Ever. Not even the first time.

2. Do not listen to Falana publishers in Delhi, when they tell you that they love your work but they are just not in a position to pay you for the wonderful photographs you took of the Naxalites watching Om Shanti Om in Rajamundry. It is just what they need for their book but would you consider waiving their fee? No, you wouldn't. Can you imagine them saying the same thing to the phone company or the electricity board?

3. When people tell you what fee they will pay you, take a few moments to think, before going into orgasmic agreement. If necessary, tell them you will call them back. Take some time to calculate the most realistic number of hours you will spend on this project and still have a life.

4. Consult other people about the payment practices of your potential client. Is your client prompt about paying? Do they make you fill yards of forms and then lose them?

5. Be relaxed and gracious when negotiating terms and conditions. There are other jobs out there if this client is going to be an ass.

6. As far as possible, get things in writing. Even if it requires a few more emails back and forth in the beginning, it is better to have things spelt out.

7. One way to calculate your fee is this. First calculate the number of projects you can do per month. If, for example, each project takes a week to do ( a week of 8 hour days, not a  week of not eating and not sleeping) then you can only do four projects every month. And if each month you need X amount of money to live on (perhaps without eating truffles or holidays in Bali) now each project needs to pay you at least  (X divided by 4) rupees. Perhaps at first you may not be able to charge this, but this is what you should aspire to having and very soon.

8. If you are doing something for friends or acquaintances, you must still be paid. Charge on a sliding scale if need be. If the local streetchildren's shelter wants you to design their newsletter surely you can give them a discounted rate. But don't give the same rate to Orient Longman. No matter what they say. Even if they say that they say that the publishing house is run by dyslexic orphans from the tsunami.

9. Some clients like to frighten you off by pretending that it is cheap and shameless of you to keep talking about money. While you earnestly ask them of about the last three payments they will want you to a. admire the sunset b. drink some more juice c. talk about Mother Teresa d. meet that other designer who never charged anything. Ignore all these tactics and demand your payment. Your client no matter how he talks, also subsists on the filthy lucre that he doesn't give you any of. And so do you.

10. Remember you are not desperate. There is a market out there for what you do, if you do it well. Believing that what you do is important is strictly your domain. Don't look to clients to prop up your self-esteem. Don't ask them whether they think your work is good.

11. When you go to meet your client for the first time, dress extremely well. To make myself very clear, dress rich. For some reason people like to pay rich freelancers (who look like they don't need money) much better than poor freelancers (who look like they need a good fee.) Don't tell your clients that you need the money for your father who has cancer. They will immediately pay you less and pay you late.

12. Be on good terms with other freelancers in your business. Remember, you are all in it together. Share information about clients' fees, payment practices, idiosyncrasies generously. The only people who benefit if you hide this sort of information are crooked employers who hope to make a killing each time with a newcomer who has not been warned.

13. If payments are delayed beyond standard industry practice (and find out whether standard industry practice is idiotic. They frequently are) then begin copying emails to other people. Mails to accounts can be copied to commissioning editors and senior editors. Mails to the movie director for whom you translated 30 hours of Swahili songs, who has not paid you after 6 months, must be copied to the friendly and slightly malicious reporter. If Save the World India has not paid you after a year, copy all mails to Save the World International.

14. If clients scream and say they will never employ you again, take heart. You don't want to be employed by them again.

15. Ladies, practice makes perfect. Forget what your mother taught you. Once you have had a 65-year-old priest screaming at you in the middle of a seminary that you are a shameless materialist (even though he was the one who spent all the funds alloted to you) and you have walked away with a cheque in your trembling hands and throat hurting from the clear enunciation of 'Give me my money', things always get better.

More tips from MP, the Queen of Freelancers

16. The other thing you need to worry about is, "Would you mind doing this as well?" - repeated x times. Then, when you remember that you've been using your compliant smile a little too often, and do the calculations that the chasing iamb so usefully described, you realise that the "this as wells" have worked out to three times as much time as you originally promised.

17. After that, you learn to insist on contracts. You also remember to check carefully for a clause hiding in there somewhere which says "and any other work that the Director might assign from time to time" and insist, smiling (read fangs showing), that this be removed. You continue displaying those fangs when they apologise and tell you "sorry, that is a standard format we use."

18. You resist attempts (once the org has realised what an astounding range of skills you have) to have them recruit you for a full-time job since paying you a regular salary will get them all those skills, and not just the ones needed for Project X, and work out cheaper for them than employing you project by project.

19. You learn not to be embarrassed about giving your card to other potential employers, never mind that your current employer is standing right there. Why should you? You've never made any bones about being a freelancer or spoken any marriage vows. (This doesn't hold true if there are obvious IPR/info sharing violations at stake, but otherwise it does.)

20. One thing I disagree with — do do work for free now and then, sometimes even for "unworthy" folks. Bread cast upon the waters can be redeemed, I guarantee, at 10 p.m. on a dark night in Rajgiri in rural Bihar when a hotel room (flooded, but safe nevertheless) offers itself without advance reservation and with kind staff making hot phulkas for you after the kitchen has closed.


I know i can, but may i take a printout?

June 7, 2008 at 3:24 PM  

please do. grin

June 16, 2008 at 9:49 PM  

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