Freelancing is (more than) a full-time job—between invoicing, hustling for new gigs, and doing the actual work, sometimes it’s hard to see the warning signs that may lead to things like burnout and not getting paid fairly for your work. But great news! A little bit of knowledge goes a long way, so read on below to get to know some terms that should find their way into your freelancing vocabulary—and contracts.
Exposure: Working for ‘exposure bucks’ will never pay the bills—and sets a bad precedent for other freelancers in your industry. Of course, if you’re just starting out, and trying to build your portfolio, exposure might help get eyeballs on your work, but just make sure you’re really being promoted in a way that can be measurable, and not just some random Instagram comment where your name is buried in emojis.
Scope Creep: You score a gig. You sign a contract. Everything’s great! But then, after a few rounds of revisions, it turns out there’s more work to do…and more deliverables to, well deliver—but for the same rate! To avoid scope creep, make sure that your clients are clear about what the scope of the project is from the get-go—and any contingencies that may come up during the process. Define expectations and bring up issues as they happen in your work.
Whatever your freelancing profession of choice, build in time for the ‘hidden costs’ of your labor—be it fact-checking if you’re a writer, maintenance and updates if you’re a website developer, or making “a few little tweaks” on an illustration if you’re a graphic designer.
Kill Fee: You work hard on a project. But then for whatever reason, the client decides that the project won’t run. To make sure you get paid (at least in part—kill fees are usually only 25-50% of the original payment) for the work you did, ask for a kill fee.
A kill fee can usually be covered in the “cancellation” clause of a contract. If you’re sending out your own contract to sign, make sure to include a stipulation for a “kill fee” in case the work doesn’t run. If the client is sending you a contract to sign, be sure to look for a kill fee and if there isn’t one, suggest they add one while negotiating the contract.
Burnout: Burnout happens in a ton of different kinds of jobs and it is definitely a big part of any creative industry. Just remember that you’re only at your best to create when you can take care of yourself. Drink water! Get sleep! It will make you work smarter and save time (and sanity) in the long run.
Work for hire: Be careful with this one! “Work for hire” in a contract usually means that you are giving the client full copyright privileges to what you’re creating— including future rights to make your story, for example, into a film or novel.
The concept of work-for-hire is complicated, so read contracts carefully. Freelancers can protect themselves by being independent contractors and having contracts explicitly state they can retain copyright rights in any works they create. If you’re okay with a client owning full rights to your work, just make sure you get compensated well!