When you’re an employer, it’s no easy task to let someone go that hasn’t been pulling his/her weight and measuring up to company performance standards. Have you communicated your concerns with clarity? Are there resources or motivational strategies you may have overlooked? How will assignments be reallocated in the interim so as not to disrupt the workflow?
When you’re a freelancer – and writers are especially prone to this – it’s just as hard to let go of all the dribs-and-drabs publishing markets that are supposed to collectively sustain you until Something Really Big comes along. Yet how many of these low-paying gigs have actually increased your exposure, added to your skill sets, and/or made you feel deeply appreciated? If they’re just taking up space on your calendar and desktop, maybe they need to be shown the door.
Consider the following:
- “Non-performing” markets take up a disproportionate amount of your time and resources and – because you’re not seeing the results you want (i.e., a growing bank account, a bigger global footprint) – can put a negative cast on your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. Content mills are a good example of this. On the surface, $25 for a short article sounds like a pretty easy and consistent income stream. If you can turn out said article in 60 minutes, not have to do any research, and not have your material sent back for rewrites, you’re earning $25 an hour. But what if that project takes you two hours? Four hours? Eight hours? Before you realize it, you’re now making $12.50/$6.25/$3.12 an hour. Those hours add up – and could be better spent on projects that pay more handsomely.
- In focusing on how to correct ongoing problems (i.e., chasing down payments, dealing with difficult clients), there’s no telling how many opportunities are being missed in venues that provide greater promise. As recently as last week, for instance, I had a writer colleague tell me that she’s reluctant to dissolve her relationship with her agent despite the fact the latter hasn’t sold anything for her in almost two years. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” she said, ignoring the reality of her own career being hurt by a non-performer that’s holding her back.
- Whether it’s personally or professionally, you’re also known – and evaluated – by the company you keep. As a leader, you’re judged by how effectively you’re managing your team. As a team member (albeit a subcontracted one), your reputation can be jeopardized if the entity with which you’re associated starts getting bad press. This further extends to the issue of whether you should stay with a sinking company and squeeze out a few more checks until you’re officially let go or jump ship before a replacement opportunity for new income has presented itself. While the saying holds true that it’s easier to get a new job while you still have one, how much of a sinking company’s failure do you want attached to your own name if you wait too long to leave?
This being a new year and a chance for a fresh start, it’s time to have a staff meeting (with yourself!) and take a critical look at what can be jettisoned in order to get you where you want to be.
In my own experience, I look at three key elements in either accepting new projects or culling venues from my existing list of obligations: (1) what does it pay, (2) who will I reach, and (3) how will I feel about doing it. For a project/venue to be viable, it has to satisfy at least two of these three criteria. For example, I’ve been writing lesson plans for free since 2009 for an online resource for video arts educators; I’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future because I’m not only reaching multitudes of teachers and schools across the country but the feedback and effusive appreciation they express makes it all worthwhile. Conversely, I’ve turned down a number of ghostwriting projects which – while they would have yielded a high paycheck – would have involved stressful interactions with demanding/unpleasant/contentious clients and left me little time or energy for the projects that gladden my heart…and bear my own name.
Lastly, it’s important to look at the consequences of off-loading business relationships that don’t seem to be doing as well as you’d like them to. Is there a way to negotiate better terms and conditions? Is it a platform for professional growth if you continue to pay your dues and prove your worth? Are there perks or networking opportunities that might not be found elsewhere? A case in point for the latter is an associate who pens freelance interviews for an arts and entertainment magazine. While he often grouses that the pay is paltry, he’s also compensated with tickets to film screenings, play previews, concerts, gallery openings and the chance to schmooze with celebrities. For the time being, it’s an association that meets the performance definition of Priceless.