Saturday, January 15, 2011

Freelancer Bill of Rights? No, thanks.

My friend Katharine O'Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit posted an item about the Freelancers Union Freelancer Bill of Rights over at the EFA Yahoo Groups board, and I couldn't help but toss in my two cents. (Update: As Katharine notes in the comments, she is not affiliated with the Freelancers Union and was only providing information for freelancers to check out. My apologies for not making that clear!)

I confess I don't particularly groove on the language from their intro page: Freelancers have the right "to empower themselves to demand fair treatment from clients."

Really? *Demand*? I'd argue that fair treatment is earned, not guaranteed.

The list itself? Meh. Nothing you haven't heard before. Frankly, you can already do all of the items they outline if you'd like — but I come down in the camp of the commenter who said: "If every time I hired a plumber, electrician, or snow plow guy he came back with a 'Plumber/Electrician/Plow Guy Bill of Rights' I wouldn't do business with him." Bingo. My primary issues are these:
  • A document such as the Freelancer Bill of Rights positions clients as adversaries rather than business partners. 
  • Do you really want to come across as defensive and difficult to work with? Chill, breeze.
  • As Lori Widmer riffed in "The Freelance Nevers" and "Writerly Misconceptions" this week, there are no absolutes.
Call me cynical (trust me, you won't be the first), but I believe this type of initiative actually holds freelancers back: Thinking that there's some sort of magic pill that'll make all the bad clients go away. Thinking a big brother like a union will enforce The Rules to protect you. Thinking that setting a minimum price will protect you from lowball clients.

As we discussed on Halloween, it all comes down to watching your own tail. You choose, every day, what you want to do, who you want to do it with, and how you want to do it. No like? Don't do.


  1. On the one hand, I do like the idea of making freelancers feel more empowered so they don't feel that they have to work for pennies or put up with clients who treat them like %#@+. However, I agree that calling this document a "Freelancer Bill of Rights" does create an adversarial relationship.

  2. @Susan, I'm 100% with you on the idea of not working for pennies or being mistreated -- I'm just skeptical that a dictate from on high accomplishes that. I suppose it's tolerable as a list for freelancers to remind themselves, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me," but I'd shudder to think someone would bring this up with a client. At that point, I'd suspect you've already lost.

  3. I want to note here that I am not affiliated with the Freelancers Union and was only providing information for freelancers to check out. I wouldn't wave anything like the Freelancer Bill of Rights in a client's face. Instead, I negotiate a contract that's fair to me and to the client...or I say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

  4. I am way late in commenting on this, but here goes: one of the main reasons I enjoy freelancing is that I get to choose with whom I work. No mean-spirited co-workers for me! And, in a way, I do consider my clients as co-workers because we are working toward the same goal. If I do my job well, they sell more, get more views, collect more fans or whatever, so while we aren't co-workers in the traditional sense, we are at least teammates or partners. Maybe I'm already "empowered," or maybe I seek out clients from whom I don't have to "demand" respect.

  5. @Katharine, note that I've amended the post -- never intended to imply your endorsement!

    @Dava, oh, it's never too late, and I'm glad you commented. Your final sentence is exactly where I'm coming from.

    Interestingly enough, in the aftermath there were quite a few people at the Editorial Freelancers Association Yahoo Group who vehemently disagreed with my stance on this. It's always curious to me when people read the same document and come out at loggerheads.

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