If you’ve worked as a freelance blogger for any length of time, then chances are good you’ve experienced the following scenario:
Client meets blogger.
Client falls in absolutely, positively, head-over-heels in love with blogger, and sends tons of work their way.
Client decides blogger is so awesome that they want them for other, “related” tasks. You know, a little social media management here, some slight image sourcing there, and – oh, heck, why not? – a few Facebook ads for that upcoming book launch.
Soon enough, blogger finds themselves losing autonomy, performing non-blogging tasks they don’t enjoy and getting paid way less for mere crumbs where before they had the whole pie. Even worse, blogger does this at the expense of getting new, better work. Goodness gracious, what happened?
The short answer: fear. Especially when new to the biz, freelance bloggers often suffer from the concern that they will never be able to find enough work. Like a vulture wheeling overhead, this anxiety seems ever-present, threatening serenity and nudging us toward poor choices. But consistent work isn’t the biggest problem we face as bloggers: It’s maintaining our autonomy and resisting the urge to compromise our standards out of fear.
So what can you do about it? Here are a few steps (and one non-step) to take if you want to avoid falling into this trap and helm your own ship for life.
1. How to Lose Your Autonomy in 10 Days (Hint: Don’t Do It!)
When your client falls for you, it’s a good feeling. Being praised for you humor, your I-can’t-believe-you’re-so-perfect-for-me voice and your general awesomeness is very nice, as is the attendant flood of projects from your stoked client. Quite often, the result is a warm and cozy, almost friend-like relationship, with chats every week and frequent love fests all around.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t last. I don’t say that to be a Negative Nancy, but because it’s true. Clients have projects, not endless money pits to spend on your fab writing, and any job only goes so far. In almost all cases, even if you maintain a years-long relationship (which I have with several clients), the work will not be steady.
When that happens, we freelance bloggers tend to go into scramble mode. The client was so great, and we’re so afraid of the feast or famine cycle, that we end up taking anything else the client will throw at us. We figure this will keep the love alive, and within a few weeks, we’ll be back to that golden time of Limitless and Glorious Work + Compliments. But that’s usually not how it works, and even if the work does come back, you shouldn’t be doing odd jobs in between. You’ve got better things to do (i.e. blogging).
2. Recognize the Problem
Part of the issue is that this trend can be very insidious, starting as an extra tweet or two to “round off” a post, and culminating in your standing in your living room snapping photos of your kids enjoying your client’s product (Whaaa? No, I’ve never). You have to be good at seeing what’s happening before you’re all the way in, and check yourself/your client.
Now, I know. This is hard. To see why, let’s run with the social example for a minute. Let’s say you’ve been in the biz for a while, you manage your own accounts and you use social platforms to generate your own work. It’s not really an imposition to toss off more of the same on your client’s behalf, right? You’re getting paid, they’re happy, etc. Eventually, though, problems crop up.
For one thing, social media is a tough calling. People train for years in the techniques required to master it, and clients expect results. They’re probably not going to be too stoked with the slow and steady growth you and I accept on our own accounts, and when your add-on posts don’t go viral, they’ll start to think less of you. The true bummer is that it will reflect not only on those add-ons, but on your blogging skills as a whole. Fair? No. True? Yes. Trust me; I’ve been there more times than I care to admit.
For another, social media does not translate well to a per-word model, because it’s harder to craft good posts with hashtags and shoutouts to other accounts than it is to write content. So you either get underpaid, or have to quote per-project prices that aren’t in line with your rates, which pisses clients off.
Plus, and this is the real point, it’s not what you love. You’re here for the writing, friend, so let the fear go and stay true to yourself.
3. Be Very, Very Clear About the Services You Offer AND THE ONES YOU DON’T
In today’s internet-saturated world, many of us online entrepreneurs offer multiple services. In order to be successful as a freelance blogger, you don’t have to restrict your services to blogging, after all. I, for instance, write emails and web copy as well as blog posts. Occasionally, I’ll help a client with an ebook or work with them to outline their brand strategy before we launch a blog. If you look at my services page, these are the exact offerings you’ll see. Nowhere does it say “and I might help with a few other things, depending on your needs and whims, O Vaunted Blogging Client.”
Yet this is how many people treat their subcontractors. And hey, your client can’t be blamed for loving you and thinking you’re tops, nor are they crazy for assuming you probably offer related services. However, they can be blamed for disrespecting you if you’ve already told them you don’t provide a service, so tell them exactly what you offer upfront and save them the grief. Most of my clients, at one point or another, will ask about social media, and I have a stock answer: NOPE. (But, nicely.)
So decide what you offer, make sure your website reflects it and stick to your guns.
4. Explain the Problem Before Things Get Out of Hand
Some clients will understand if you tell them very clearly, carefully and respectfully that you just don’t offer these services, and if they want to keep you on staff for blogging they’ll need to give up on the idea. You may need to re-explain what you do offer or pander to their feelings a bit: “I’m sorry I can’t help with social media posts, and I know a lot of writers do that as an add-on service so it’s annoying that I don’t. But … I don’t.” *winning but sympathetic smile or possibly emoji*
Others won’t understand at all, will raise the rates they’re willing to pay and will even beg to make you an employee. But the old adage is true: Money can’t buy happiness. Like, for real. Even if your client has more dollah bills than the Joker stacks up in the sewers of Gotham City, it’s worth nada if you’re divorced from your calling. The clients who try to convince you otherwise have got to go. Soooo…
5. Let Go of Fear and Tell Them to Bugger Off
Okay, probably don’t say it like that – after all, the whole goal when breaking up with clients is not to burn your bridges. However, if a client consistently requests that you do “extra” work for them and claims they “don’t want to hire someone else when you do such a good job” and tries to convince you it will all be worth it, nuh-uh. Avoid the urge to cave out of fear, and tell them they’re not for you.
Lowering your standards dilutes your happiness and subtracts from the time you spend improving your craft. Plus, this allows the competition – who are busy focusing on blogging – to pull ahead, which means you’ll make less money in the end. Sound good? I thought not.
So stand strong. Maintain that autonomy with civility and pride, and trust that your inner voice knows what’s best for you. You chose blogging, and throughout your career, you must continue to choose it. Don’t fear that choice. Embrace it, because it’s who you are.
What about you? Have you ever experienced the pressure to perform odd jobs and extras for clients when you didn’t want to? What happened? Feel free to share horror stories and/or sage advice in the comments below.