Run, don’t walk!

Literally every time I log into Facebook, I’m presented with someone else’s career dilemma and a long thread of well-meaning advice from people wanting to help solve that dilemma. It’s one of the side effects of being in a zillion professional networking groups. It’s also a side effect of having a career in a competitive industry – people are always worried that someone’s undercutting or lowballing or otherwise taking advantage.

Inevitably, somewhere in the thread when a person asks their peers, “Help! What do I do? A competing vendor complained about me and I got yelled at about it.” Or, “My client asked me to start logging my billable hours in increments — how to respond?” Someone will answer,  “Run, don’t walk, away from this situation!”

The only place this alarmist cliché is appropriate is if someone screams, “A swarm of angry bees is coming straight at me. What do I do?” Yet, people trot it out all the time as career advice.

I understand that “Run, don’t walk!” Is a figure of speech, and no one’s advocating actually running from the office. Even so, it advises mindless flight and burned bridges. And burning a bridge isn’t something you want to do unless all other options have been exhausted.

In fact, a lot of the most common platitudes offered in response to workplace problems are probably not the best solution. While peers and friends can be great about bringing encouragement or solidarity, that’s oftentimes all they’re offering.

When you’re dealing with a glaring red flag, a disappointing offer, offensive language or other career hurdles, consider the stakes. When you hear the following advice, bask in the encouragement from people who are 100% in your corner. And then, figure out a real strategy, perhaps incorporating some tips we’ve pulled from career experts around the web.

Seriously, if you care about helping your freelancing peers, please stop using these cloying clichés…

Better career advice for freelancers, instead of "Run, don't walk, away!"

1. Run, don’t walk!

If you run from clients at the first sign of friction or miscommunication, you’ll never learn negotiation, compromise or how to manage personalities. Some personality types have less patience for this than others, and that’s why they go into agency or freelance life. But with that territory comes a lot of competition, psychological warfare and uncertainty.

Better advice:

  1. Take a step back.
  2. Present your issues and a suggested solution.
  3. Educate your client or supervisor.


Better career advice for freelancers, instead of "Know your worth."

2. Know your worth

I see this almost daily on blogger and social media influencer groups. No one ever addresses the issue that a talent’s “worth” in monetary terms is based on a multitude of factors including education/expertise, prior performance, supply vs. demand, seniority and budget considerations. The social media planning tool Later sent me a “foolproof rate calculator for influencers” that also did not take any of these things into consideration.

Far from foolproof, it practically encourages influencers to make fools of themselves at the proposal phase. Here’s an excerpt from its “estimating your content creation fees” guide: “When building an estimate based on your hours, include the cost of negotiating with a brand and the cost of researching the brand.”

Okay, influencers. Ask literally any business development person about pitching costs. Whether the industry is advertising, entertainment or real estate, the only time you get to bill the client for doing your homework is if…  You already have the client. You don’t bill the client for the time it took you to win their business. You certainly don’t put it into your initial estimate.

Better advice:

  1. Know the market.
  2. Try to figure out the potential client’s budget for freelance work and external vendors in marketing and creative.
  3. Become familiar with HR  professionals’ approach and techniques for determining pay ranges, so that you can structure your offer as a reasonable alternative to using in-house resources or existing vendors.


Better career advice for freelancers, instead of "Follow your passion."

3. Follow your passion

Interchangeable with “Do what you love and the money will follow” (this ranks on every list of worst career advice people have ever received). The unfortunate fact is that most of us are passionate about things that will never turn into a career. This could be playing a sport, practicing a fine art, collecting comic books.

Also, as this oft-covered Stanford research paper discusses, “follow your passion” assumes that people’s passions are fixed, and that discovering them is key to tapping into an endless wellspring of energy and resourcefulness. In reality, passions are more fluid, and can diminish or disappear once realities and difficulties present. This is why sports, music and other passions often provide a lot more richness in one’s life when left as hobbies or side hustles.

Better advice:

  1. Try to identify an area of interest and a career that incorporates it.
  2. Develop that interest through study, practice and expertise.
  3. If it doesn’t spark passion, identify another area of interest and explore, practice and allow interest to develop.



Better career advice for freelancers, instead of "They don't deserve you!"

4. They don’t deserve you

This is something you say to a friend going through a personal breakup. In a business split, both sides have their own version of the story, and the business might have well-founded reasons for deciding it wasn’t working out. Maybe certain business goals weren’t being met. Maybe there was a personality conflict. Maybe the departing talent’s output didn’t justify their rate.

One of the most egregious examples of this I’ve ever seen was a recent Ivy League grad who had been hired as a nanny, and after a month on the job — and two late arrivals to the workplace — was talked by well-meaning friends into asking for more money. Her rationale was that she’d been helping the children with their homework, which she saw as more of a tutoring role than childcare. But really, she wanted to be paid for days she would not be working, because the family would be traveling or taking family holidays. The client didn’t agree, and she was fired.

“She didn’t deserve you! You deserve better!” clamored the friends

The crux of the situation was that she wanted something. She didn’t deserve it. The prevailing business practice in this country is that unless you have a permanent salaried job with benefits, you don’t get paid for days you don’t work.

Better advice:

  1. Know the services you want to offer and those you don’t.
  2. Set your expectations with the client before beginning work.
  3. If you sense your work has changed, or expectations have shifted after taking an assignment, have an open and honest discussion with your client before asking for more compensation.


Better career advice for freelancers, instead of "You're too smart (or good) for this!"

5. You’re too smart [or good] for this

According to this Quora post by a head of HR at a tech company, one of the most off-putting things a person can do in an interview is refer to themselves as “intelligent.”  It is, according to the poster, shorthand for “I don’t have to try.”

Maybe when people tell a colleague that they’re “too smart” for a professional scenario, they’re not suggesting they stop trying, but instead that the person can do better than their current situation. Still, it’s a risky line of thought because it also promotes entitlement and bridge-burning tactics.

Today I saw a thread on a social media manager group begun by someone who lost a client to a larger firm.

“I really tried,” she said, “but numbers don’t lie, and I couldn’t deliver on what I said I could.”

It takes true professionalism and humility to admit this in a public forum. Although there were many responses on the lines of “Don’t second-guess yourself,” she obviously wasn’t looking for empty encouragement like “You’re too good for this gig.” Instead, she got helpful and thoughtful advice.

Better Advice:

  1. “I have been in this situation, and it is painful. Like any cruel break, you have to move on.”
  2. “If the new agency can truly deliver much better outcomes, at least you will have a front-row seat. Learn from it and replicate with your future clients.”
  3. “The ultimate arbiter will be the analytics six months to a year from now.”


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