An email discussion with freelances today about stagnant rates prompted me to dig out an article I wrote more than a decade ago on how to get a rate rise – based on the musical Oliver. It appeared in The Journalist in December 1999. I have reproduced it below.
I was on the way to speak at the London Freelance Branch when I learned that Humphrey Evans was speaking on the same subject. I knew Humphrey would say the same as me, so I needed to say it differently A call to my musical-mad friend resulted in this presentation hastily written on the train.
Remember the musical Oliver! It starts with: “Please Sir, can I have some more?”
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. For more than two years I was a features editor and commissioned perhaps 40 freelancers. In that time only two ever asked for more and both got it. Don’t accept the rate on offer. Decide your own minimum rate and then always push for more.
The next thing to remember is: “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two”. Use every trick in the book to get what you want. Outsmart the commissioning editor. I had a customer I had been unable to bump up to £200 per £1,000, so I offered to provide a table with the article as extra, bringing up the rate. From then on I billed them for the same amount, table or not.
Once you’ve got your ill-gotten games, be like Fagin again and never let anyone take them away. If someone asks you to do a cheaper job, point out that the only way you could do that would be to do a worse job, talk to fewer sources and write it quickly. Nobody I’ve ever spoken to has wanted rubbish and all have agreed to pay more for quality.
Don’t reduce your price, even if selling a piece for a second or third time. A local government organisation asked to reproduce an article of mine – from the Guardian – in its newsletter and said it only paid £150 a thousand as it was a not for profit organisation. I said I would be a not-for-profit organisation too had I accepted. I got £200.
Be like Bill Sykes, the bully. Sue them if they transgress. I sued the Guardian over non-payment of an invoice and am suing databases over copyright. Use the late payment legislation if companies are late. The NUJ will help.
But cultivate good relations too. Be like Nancy when she sang “I’ll do anything for you, dear”. Help out where you can. Swap favours with your commissioning editors and try to solve problems, not present them.
You also have to be like the flower girl who sang “who will buy?”. Always be on the lookout for new customers and new outlets for your work.
Do all this and you’ll be the Artful Dodger, which is a better comparison than the may think. Network, keep contacts, learn from others and share your experiences.
You are part of the NUJ, so use it. “Consider yourself part of the family.”
I will add this to my How To section, I think.