Freelance Work

It occurs to me that I haven’t had particularly good luck in the past with securing paid freelance gigs. I’ve only had one real paying freelance job, which was so undercharged it may as well have been pro bono, and I had one potential client gasp in horror at my price and hire me on as part-time office help instead.

Hopefully my upcoming client meeting goes more smoothly…

* * * * *

The year was 1997. At this point, I had taken some introductory VCT classes, had created the initial incarnation of the Northern Aurora Drum & Bugle Corps website, and had no real graphic design experience to speak of. A friend of mine from Michigan was starting a new drum & bugle corps—I forget why he called, specifically, whether it started out as a social call or if he had called specifically to ask me to design a website for his organization. In any case, after a follow-up call, we agreed that I would create a web presence for him on Geocities (free hosting) from the information he provided, for a fee of $50.

Now, I researched that price quite carefully. I knew it would be a small site, with very few graphics, and that the organization was strapped for cash. I took the lowest low-ball estimate I could come up with, and I halved it. I didn’t care, though—I was getting paid to design!

My friend sent me the information on his new corps via U.S. Mail: one trifold brochure. From that trifold brochure, I managed to glean a five-page site and create a logo. The final site is painfully embarrassing to look at now, but I honestly think that it didn’t suck too much for 1997. Outside of the ignorantly resized gifs. (The page also sported a mottled gray background of the type frequently overused in 1997, but that image has since been lost.)

My friend seemed happy with the cheap publicity at first, and promised to send me my fifty bucks.

I waited.

And waited.

Finally, after a few calls and e-mails and WTF, Matt The Bastard (as he had been dubbed by my roommate and myself) informed me that he had purchased web hosting and design services from another company. But he still planned to pay me my $50, not to worry.

The finer points of this new arrangement? I’ll admit, their logo kicked my logo’s ass. Medieval lion beats simple pennant banner, even if the new logo did look like a carbon copy of another corps’ logo. The new site was arranged in frames, which I hadn’t been a big fan of at the time (and still am not), but I acknowledged that it was more attractive than my design.

The information architecture and the verbage were appropriated, shall we say, from my version of the site. And, this is the kicker: he paid these people fifty dollars A MONTH for domain name, design, and hosting. WTF?! They stole my copy, he still hadn’t even paid me $50, and he was paying them out the nose for hosting he could have had for cheap or free?

Looking back on the incident, I can really appreciate his position. But, shit, if he didn’t like my design, he could have said something. I would have adjusted it for him. I would have researched some domain name redirect stuff, too—that did exist eight years ago, I’m pretty sure.

I finally got my fifty bucks… but our friendship was never the same. Never the same.

* * * * *

Next freelance attempt: Winter/Spring 2002. After graduation. God, I needed a job. I’d signed up with Manpower to hook me up with an office gig somewhere, anywhere, but they hadn’t come through yet. I was going through the yellow pages, sending resumes to anywhere in Bowling Green I could potentially see myself working. One such place was a locally-owned portrait studio.

As I recall, I had been hoping for any sort of gainful employment, which the proprietor was willing to provide: ten hours a week at a relatively meek wage. However, she discovered at some point in our interview that I could do multimedia work in addition to the website tweaks she’d been hoping for, and suggested that I could make her a portfolio CD of sorts. She already had a slideshow CD-ROM that she handed out at bridal fairs, but I could make something more functional and fancy and professional.

I was so excited. I was going to score a freelance gig! This was what my degree was for! I did a crapload of research on pricing, then set out to write a proposal. (The document is probably still on my Macintosh HD, if I wanted to go look for it.) I listed all the stuff I planned to do for her, all the features I could add, et cetera, et cetera, and put the price at the very end. I think it was somewhere around $200, and that was yet another low-ball estimate.

I brought the proposal in to the owner, and she read it eagerly, making all the appropriate sorts of non-verbal noises and cues that she was digging the ideas I was throwing out.

Then she got to the price.

I could tell when she got to that line. She kind of stopped breathing for a second.

There was no bickering, no negotiation. She just put it aside and said she’d consider it at a later date—which, of course, I recognized as a polite brush-off. She ended up letting me tweak her website and help her assemble wedding albums at something like $8 an hour for ten or fifteen hours a week.

What I always thought was funny about her reaction was that she charged the second-highest price in town for wedding photography: around four or five grand, as I recall. Something like that. But she couldn’t face paying another professional what they were worth?

As it happened, Manpower got me the position in Lockbox at Sky Bank after another couple of weeks, and I put in short notice at my part-time job. She was completely understanding, knowing that I had to have a “real” job and knowing that she couldn’t afford to pay me what I needed.

So began my career at Sky Bank…

* * * * *

And that’s my history with freelancing. Hopefully tomorrow’s meeting will fare better. I’m pretty optimistic. If he already likes my work—most of it from four years ago—enough to schedule a meeting with me, I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of at least getting some sort of opportunity with him.

I’ll keep you updated.

3 thoughts on Freelance Work

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  1. Oh MAN do I hear you about the “joys” of freelancing. I am also an underemployed designer/web/graphics/photographer person. I try to look at the pathetic and frustrating world of freelancing as a necessary evil to build a proper portfolio to get back into a real job.

    At least thats what I tell myself as I cry myself to sleep every night…
    (just kidding. I am an horrible insomniac. I cry to myself wide awake.)