Saturday, February 7, 2009

Where Do You Draw the Line?

We all know it: the job market sucks right now. It doesn't matter if you're a freelancer like me, or if you're looking for full-time work.

Yet, in this bad job market, where do you draw the line? A few days ago, I responded to a craigslist ad from a woman looking for someone to redesign her [business] website. I responded, she responded back because she liked the samples I showed her, I sent her a quote, and she said it was more than she could afford. My quote was $800. She said she could only spend $300. I offered to cut my fee by 50% (!!), because it was a pretty straightforward job, and I could do it within 1-2 days. She never responded.

This has spawned a couple conversations with friends. Even at offering to do the job for $400, I was undervaluing my services and the skills needed to do this. However, part of me is still thinking "well, now I haven't earned anything, and I could have had that easy gig."

In general, it's a very bad practice to perform services for rates below what the average market rate. I know from talking to another of my website clients, and a professional web designer would've charged probably $2-3k. My skills aren't quite as developed as that, and like I told the woman: I don't design bells and whistles sites, and I don't charge those prices. Given what the job entailed, I feel my quote was fair. Also, I was prepared to negotiate a bit, just because that's how these things sometimes go.

Yet I can't stop thinking that she probably found someone to do the job for $300. Granted, that means she's getting a $300 website, and it's likely to severely reflect that.

Or is this just a sign of how competitive the market is for jobs, that people are willing to take pauper wages for highly skilled jobs?

Next week, I'm scheduled to meet with a potential client, who seems to have already hired me in his mind. We haven't discussed money yet, but now I'm wondering just how much I am willing to be flexible on my rate, given the competition that's out there. The job is not for writing, which means my hourly rate would be lower than what I normally bill. In addition, the client runs a pretty small operation, so I'm not sure what his budget allows for an editor/webmaster. Is it fair to myself to take a job at a sub-par rate, just as a placeholder until a better-paying client comes along? Part of me says no, and that doing this could lead to burned bridges. Part of me says yes, and believes that in this economy and job market, you do what you have to do, period.

I should remind you, that as a freelancer, I'm not eligible for unemployment benefits. I'm living off my emergency fund, and the fund is not everlasting.

This whole question applies to everyone looking for a job right now. Employers know they are in control and they have tons of qualified applicants. (Someone told me today about a story of a woman applying for a job as a receptionist, only to find out 1,000 people applied for the same job. Scary.) Because of all this, employers can offer lower wages and get away with it, because hey, if it's not enough for you, it's enough for someone else. The woman took down her website ad within a day, so presumably she did find someone willing to do it for $300.

I also wonder what I will do if I can't find (enough) freelance work in the next month or two. If I can't find writing or editing clients, what's left? I really don't want to end up doing adminstrative work through an agency, but if it really comes to that, then it comes to that.

So, where do you draw the line? Is there an hourly wage/salary you won't work for? Or are you starting to feel like me, in that any income is better than no income?


Fabulously Broke said...

I think your price of $800 was reasonable.

She just wanted a deal, that's all.

Besides, I am the same way (as a freelancer). I won't take projects under $100 now because I know the market is still good for my skills.

So I'd rather sit and wait for something good to come along rather than undercut myself and lock myself in to a long project at low rates.

Although, I should mention I can only work on ONE project, not many like you.

Kate@ThePaycheckChronicles said...

This is such a tough subject, especially if you really enjoy your job. It can be hard to demand that people pay what your skills are worth. Good for you that you were able to stick up for yourself.

SimplyForties said...

If you are offering a reasonable price for your services, you should stand firm. What if you had taken that job at $300 and that woman recommended you to her associates who also wanted to hire you for $300? Pretty soon you are working a lot for very little money. Granted, a little money is better than no money, but I would tread carefully. Instead of thinking you were being helpful when you offered to cut your rate in half, this woman probably thought it proved that you were way overpriced to begin with. Asking for what we're worth is the hardest part of being a freelancer. Good luck with your new client.