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The freelancer’s dilemma

Many months back we posted a ‘true cost of agency workers’ article on the site. About how full-time (general) staff’s salary is actually about half what it really costs a company to employ them.

We still get the occasional response to that post – our posts attract all sorts of oddballs. Which we don’t mind.

If you missed it, we took a vote some weeks’ back and picked one of the oddballest ones. And published it with our comments. After all, the freelance oddball who wrote to us asked us to do this. And anonymity was, accordingly, preserved.

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Rated daily

Now, by popular consent – and never ones to turn down a challenge – our fearless crew here at VnN, re-publish the letter together with our comments. And, to spice things up a little, the comments from our readers, too.

But first, the original letter:

Dear Ed

I’m appalled. I’ve just been for my third ‘interview’ (they’ve really been nothing more than informal chats) with an agency looking to appoint an experienced and successful freelance new biz person. Me!

At least that’s what I thought as we’ve had good chats and we seem to get on well enough. They tell me they have a great product and their fab clients love them muchly. And so they want to grow. They see me as helping them to do that. And I’d like to make it happen.

So far so good.

Now for the not-so-good. They have offered me less than I have asked for as my day-rate. As requested, I gave them a range of £x (the lowest amount) to £y (the top of the range) and they’ve come back with £x minus £z. Which means I don’t even get to £w. If you get my drift?

Unfortunately, I have to admit this grates. But what do I do? If I turn them down, then I’ll end up with zip. If I accept their lower-than-my-stated £x threshold rate, I’ll be continuously hacked-off that they’re getting me on the cheap. So I won’t do a great job and it’ll all, most likely, end in tears.

Agencies are always hacked off when their (new) clients try to screw them down. And that sours the whole relationship before it even starts. What should I do?

Yours confused…

VnN’s response:

We must admit such issues are pretty much commonplace these days. But we’re surprised on a number of counts that you didn’t make a better fist of it. Here’s why:

  1. You sound like a bit of an oddball, frankly.
    Offering anyone a range of rates is bound to end up with the agency choosing the lowest. Put yourself in their place: what would you do if asked to pay for a meal in a restaurant or a cab ride home or a pizza if you were asked to pay anything from £x (being the lowest price) to £y (the highest)? Do we really need to ask..?
  2. Get yourself a lawyer.
    You don’t need some wig-wearing £1000 per hour bigwig. Just a solicitor who’ll draw up a contract for you which you can then give to prospective clients. It’s all so much more professional than answering verbally ‘My day rate is…’. Your contract will specify your terms: hours worked, days per week, day-rate, payment terms, blah. You might even be entitled to some holiday pay. Don’t let them dictate to you. Show them you’re the professional. Take control.
  3. You also sound rather young and naïve.
    You say you’re ‘experienced and successful freelance’ yet you don’t seem to be very savvy when it comes to negotiating. How come you’ve had to have three interviews? Surely someone as experienced as you would have known how to manage this better and create the right impression more quickly?
  4. Lastly, it shouldn’t be down to them telling you they have a great product.
    Every agency thinks it has a great product. And that clients love them and prospects simply haven’t ‘discovered’ them yet. Fools. Surely you must hear this all the time? The onus is on you to tell them whether they have a great product or not, as you see it. After you’ve done the equivalent of ‘due diligence’ on them before meeting them? Your views count. Attitude, pal!
  5. VnN’s recommendation.
    Turn them down. They don’t really want you if all they’re interested in is cost reduction. As with all agencies, at the end of the day freelancers are just so much overhead. Just ask the person who really runs the agency: the FD. Let them carry on looking but keep the door open. It’s thanks but no thanks, from us, I’m afraid.

And remember: you asked.

Now…just in case you, new post readers, think we’re being harsh, see what some of our readers said:

New business director, male, 31, anonymous
You’re a wanker. Obviously. You should never let anyone ask your rates. Simply state what they are upfront. Demonstrate you are the main man / woman in the room by showing how you would act in a client / agency negotiating situation. If they don’t like that, they’re the wrong agency for you. The meek won’t (a) win any new biz and (b) nor will they inherit the earth. Tosser. (PS what is your day rate…?)

Board director, female, 38, anonymous
Any agency that needs to see you three times, whether formally or informally, doesn’t know how to appoint people. Steer well clear of them and be thankful they never took you on during chat number 1: they probably wouldn’t have had any money to pay you and by now you’d probably be in legal dispute with them.

Ex-new business director and current consultant, now based in Australia, John Smith, 63
Jeez, mate. What are you on? Don’t you recognise a bunch of no-goods when you first meet them. You’re gonna tell me next they asked you to do some sort of PowerPoint presentation to them to explain how you’ll go about winning £1m in new biz over the next six months. Struth. But if you did do that, could you send it to me? (VnN has my email, FYI)

Finance director, male, networked agency, 44, anonymous
Any freelancer offering new business consultancy is likely to be at best an under-performing, overpaid, unproductive and now unemployable, ex-full time new business person. An overhead and a fraud, in other words, and agencies should understand this person (you) will not add value to their business. Charlatan.

HR Director, EMEA, female, 56, anonymous
This whole process of having interviews and chats is flawed and should not be handled directly by any agency staff but through the proper channels we professionals offer.

Freelancers: people who don’t have friends. Obviously.


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