I turned down an offer to apply for a 'job' the other day. To be precise, it wasn't a job. or not one in the generally understood meaning of the term. Not even a part time or a temporary job. It was a day's consultancy.
I'm not going to name the originator of this offer, because I know it was made with the best of intentions, and the project in question is very worthwhile, something I'd be happy to support with the kind of things I can give for free; recommendations, some publicity on social media and so on.
But I do want to blog, briefly, about it, because it seems to me that it represents an essential misunderstanding of the way in which most professional writers (and indeed other creatives) are self employed experts in their various fields.
The job called for an application, a CV and the willingness to attend an interview. It was for five hours work, over a single day, for which the remuneration was just under £27.00 an hour. Which doesn't sound too bad when you're talking about a full time job. And I'm pretty sure that the organisers had calculated the fee by doing multiplication from a professional hourly rate.
For the self employed, that isn't how it works.
The problem is that this isn't a job at all. It's a day's consultancy. In most other areas of expertise, requesting a day's consultancy for £130 would elicit hysterical laughter. I don't actually know what the going rate is for a day's business consultancy, for instance, but I suspect £500 is closer to the starting point and that may be a wild underestimate, especially for somebody with 40 years experience in the business.
For writers, however, there is a more reasonable benchmark. I'm going with Live Literature Scotland's benchmark fee, the one they support, which is £175 plus travel and subsistence expenses, for a single session of one and a half hours. I do these sessions from time to time and in practice, they usually stretch to two hours, mostly because nice people want to chat, and you seldom want to run away. Besides that, there's preparation and travel time. It's good - and more cost effective for a bigger organisation - if you can do two sessions in a day. And I think no writer worth his or her salt would quibble with approximately five hours over a single day counting as two sessions. The recommended going rate elsewhere - as recommended by my union, the Society of Authors - is considerably higher than this, but I'm striving to be reasonable here.
A job versus self employment?
A job has certain benefits, not least, a monthly salary, regular as clockwork, sick pay and paid holidays. Often there are other perks. Also, when you are 'at work' you don't have to pay for all the other things that go into running a business, everything from setting up a home office to sorting out your taxes.
For the self employed writer reading this, the single most useful thing to remember is that if you are not in your office, whether it's at home or rented, if you are not writing, you are, in fact, losing money. Nobody else is paying you for that time. You may be struggling to make that money, but you're still working. So any organisation asking you to spend a day away from that desk, making preparations, travelling, delivering the results of your expertise, should be prepared to pay the going rate.
Applying for funding.
We all do some freebies every year, generally for local groups or small charities where nobody is making any money or being paid. I know I do and they are often hugely enjoyable. They're glad to have you, you speak for some forty five minutes, answer questions and chat to people, you get tea and cakes in abundance, you frequently get money to cover fuel and you get to sell books too. Nothing to dislike about that. But the problem lies with groups that are actually applying for funding for professional services, but somehow not understanding that in this situation, the writer or artist is a self employed expert.
So as well as a plea to writers to value themselves, this is a plea to anyone organising a course or event. If you find that you need the services of a 'creative' you must cost it at the going rate. And you don't arrive at that rate by taking the hourly rate for a full time employee and multiplying it. You can't treat your visiting writer as an employee. And you certainly can't (as still so often happens) attempt to insert them into your PAYE system and take tax from them.
The job that inspired this post was, I gather, funded. Which must mean that at some point, there was a funding application. If you are submitting such an application, do check the going rate for a one off visit. You would be very lucky to get any self employed tradesman to come to your house for a call-out fee of less than £50 these days and that's before the cost of the work itself.
We're not asking for the earth. We're not even asking for plumbers' rates of pay. But we do ask you to treat us as self employed professionals. That way, we might start to earn something approaching the basic living wage.
PS - The Budget
If somebody tries to tell you that a fee for the writer is 'not in the budget' remember that this means that there is, in fact, a budget. Just that they haven't included the writer or artist or designer or musician or actor in it. They have assumed that we will work for nothing while everyone else is paid. Don't do it.