Freelance Wellness campaign

The joy of the deal

IT IS understood more and more now that one of the crucial dividing lines between being happy bunnies and rabbit pie is how far we feel we have control of our working lives.

In theory, or at least cliché, self-employment/freelancing should be one long tapdance of joy in this regard. Your own boss. No one telling you what to do. Get up when you like, work when you like, tend the roses when you like, smell the coffee when you like, go to bed when you like.

But most of us briskly learn that the romantic vision has a very limited bearing on reality. Although you don't have a boss, you do have a living to earn via pleasing clients who tell you what they want, when they want it, and how much you're going to be paid for the privilege of complying with their instructions. If that's the situation, it can add up to a golden opportunity to work not only 9 to 5 but all the rest of your waking hours too for less than rewarding, uh, rewards.

That is, your work runs your life. You, the human rather than professional you, have lost control. As a long-term freelance I've experienced these feelings many times.

That's the glum stuff, but I'd like to suggest just one way freelances can grasp their own bootstraps and levitate out of this particular mire. In branch meetings and as a trainer on the LFB/NUJ Getting Started As A Freelance course I've often heard colleagues say that one of the things that gets them down, makes them feel trapped, is the feeling that they have to accept the pay rates and conditions that commissioning editors offer them and that if they question anything or do an Oliver Twist and ask for more they will be seen as "rocking the boat" and get no more work.

But what I'm rooting for is the joy of doing business, of making a deal, of talking turkey. Negotiation certainly isn't a regular aspect of the union's current discussion about freelance wellbeing, but it can be truly uplifting because it can produce more money, proper exes, improved copyright terms - and, by altering the balance of power with a client, restore your sense of being in control of your working life.

Get in the swing of it and it moves things along in the most bracing fashion. It's the kasbah. It can work very quickly. Recent real-life examples - "How much are you offering?" "£150." "How about £200?" "OK."

Thinks: blimey, that was too easy, he'd probably have paid more, pitch higher next time. Next time (different client, different job, same freelance): "£1000." "How about £2000?" "£1500?" "Done!"

A 50 per cent increase in 17 seconds. You don't even have to be good. It doesn't always work, but often does. And, for a warm-glow while at least, it feels like you are what you thought you were going to be. Independent. Free-wheelin'. Though probably not Bob Dylan.

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