Does looking for freelance work online make you feel a little (or a lot) undervalued? Do you get the feeling that some people just don’t understand the value of good writing, good art or good web design? If so, join the ranks of the rest of the freelance population that may feel a bit of amusement and a bit of annoyance over the low pay being offered on sites like Craiglist.
Online Content: A Double-Edge Sword
The growth of online content has not only created many more opportunities for freelancers, but it has also helped to create an environment that often undervalues the work of talented creative individuals. Rates in the offline world have mostly remained steady for freelancers, but there’s an online trend that’s been escalating for years that shows a fair portion of those in need of freelancers not understanding the true value of the work they’re demanding.
Rates can drop as low as pennies per hour, and there have been numerous examples of new web producers with big hopes who think they can lure in highly talented individuals with the promise of a few bucks (maybe) and empty promises for several hours’ (or more) worth of work. These job postings often vanish as quickly as they appear, so linking to examples is pointless, but take a look at one of the writing, artist or web design job boards on Craiglist for plenty of examples (often followed by complaints from professionals about how insulting low rates are).
Related: Content Farms: The Wrong Way to Build Your Writing Portfolio
It’s not uncommon to see, for instance, an offer of $5 to $15 for heavily-researched articles of 1,500 words or more. That’s not even clost to minimum wage, but apparently such a content publisher either is completely unfamiliar with standard writing rates, the time it takes to research and write an article, or is hoping to catch the attention of the inexperienced or desperate. Unfortunately, this devaluing of work has created an impression that the typical rates writers and designers work for are far lower than reality.
For professionals, searching the Web for good opportunities is challenging, and that’s in part due to the number of amateurs or semi-professionals who are willing to work for peanuts (assuming no tree nut allergies) or simple recognition and a byline.
With the acquisition of Huffington Post by AOL, there is some question about how aggregate sites like Huffington are devaluing writers and journalism. Many of the writers that contribute to the empire that Arianna Huffington built do so for free, and while the site’s founder is acquiring a great new title within AOL and enough cash to fill a swimming pool, the writers who do most of the work are still writing for nothing. Some have decided to speak out. Of course, there’s the argument that if they hadn’t contributed to Huffington for nothing in the first place, they’d have nothing to complain about, so the fault lies on both sides of the fence.
Don’t Undervalue Yourself
The easiest way to avoid having your work undervalued is to put appropriate value on it and stick to your principles, but it’s not so easy to do when the mortgage payment is looming and the only food in the fridge is Coors Light and ketchup.
To paraphrase a long-time, successful freelancer who gave me advice when I first did a stint as a full-time freelancer several years ago: The printers don’t work for free. The web hosting isn’t provided for free. Why should you work for free?
There are many reasons beyond money to take on specific types of work, including marketing or the belief that it will lead to additional (well-paying) work, and each decision to accept work has to be considered carefully.
Another freelance writer recently told me that although it always feels strange turning down work, you have to set your own value (a topic for another article) and not compromise your principles or do yourself a disservice by taking on work that doesn’t mesh with your rates. Rates and value aren’t always the same thing, though, and there may be value (marketing, breaking into a new market, additional new business) in occasionally taking on work that doesn’t pay what you’d like.
For the most part, though, do yourself a favour and don’t let yourself be undervalued.