Technical Writer Rates

Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m still learning about the project “get”. Marketing is my most worrisome process due to some personality flaws, but, in these trying economic times, I’ve had to completely rethink contract rate negotiation.

Freelancing negotiation is fairly simple. Rate is always in the initial conversation and average rates have typically been researched by the company before contact. As long as both of you are in tune with the market, discussion can quickly focus on the project and how you fit.

When a contract agency calls, it can feel a little more like applying for a job. I’ve learned, though, that it’s best to throw out everything I’ve been taught about not discussing salary during a “real job” interview and talk rates right after both of us agree that I’m qualified, interested and available for the project. Details about the project and what I can bring to the table should come after the rate is negotiated. It’s been a fairly fast process, because rates have been competitive, limiting negotiation to just a few dollars.

But, throw in a recession and all bets are off. Contract jobs are less plentiful. As any business, contract companies depend on profit margins that, in turn, depend on volume. Less volume means more profit needs to come from fewer contractors.

Result: Contractor rates dive.

I didn’t think this through during a recent negotiation. I’m in the market for a new project, and I know opportunities aren’t coming my way as fast as they have in the past. So, I “interviewed” for something I was qualified for and would have enjoyed. A lot. And I never talked money.

When I was selected (yay!), I was told that their maximum 1099 hourly rate was $20 less than my minimum. They, of course, can depend on other, more unemployed, younger candidates, who will or can work for less. But what could I do?

How can we mid-career folks, who have responsibilities, who have worked every day for more than twenty years, who have struggled to make the middle-class money we make today, compete? The first answer that comes to mind is experience, of course. But, in contracting anyway, experience has little to no value in a recession. It’s a numbers game based on somebody else’s profit.

Lesson learned: More freelancing. More marketing. Less fear. Less whining.

Right. I’ll update this in July from the soup line all because of my ghastly fear of rejection.