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Are You Working for Peanuts Instead of the Meal?

Airplane peanuts and sodaI was thinking today about those airline peanuts they hand out when you’re flying in an airplane. The stewardess comes around and offers you the peanuts or other miniature snacks. She also gives you just enough to drink to keep you really thirsty. The peanuts are barely a snack. In fact, you have to work pretty hard for them. First, you have to cram yourself into coach, unless you are lucky enough to fly first class. Frugal me (see Crabby Housewife) has no idea what they serve in first class, because I’ve never been able to bring myself to pay those fares. After sitting next to Mr. I-Want-My-Space-and-Yours-Too for about an hour, the stewardess finally makes it to your row and offers you the peanuts and drink. You have to work pretty hard to get that little package of peanuts open. The foil is slippery, the passenger next to you is taking up most of your space and you’re tired. One of two things will happen. You will get the package open or you will rip it open and half your peanuts will spill out.

Thinking about these peanuts got me to thinking about how we spend our time as freelancers. Are you working too hard for too little? Is your freelance career filled with projects that are airline peanuts?

As a freelance worker, you only have so many hours in the day. How much you make on a project directly determines how much you make each year. I tell students in my classes all the time that you must figure out your livable wage and work for that. While it is okay to take some projects on early in your career that don’t pay a lot to gain the experience, the goal should be to make more per hour as your experience grows.

I’m going to offer two examples of two different writers I know. I’m changing their names to protect their identity and to protect me from their wrath. Let’s call them John and Jane.

Jane is a stay at home mom, who works as a part-time freelance writer. Jane’s husband has a good job and she only needs a little extra to make their lives more comfortable, so she chooses to work about 15 hours a week. She writes articles for an online article mill for about $15 an article. It takes her an hour to write an article, she makes $15 an hour. Her kids are happy, her husband is happy and she is exhausted.

John is also a stay at home parent. He works a few more hours than Jane, because his wife watches the kids while he writes in the evenings. However, for the sake of comparing them equally, let’s say he puts in 15 hours a week instead of 30. John is protective of how he uses those 15 hours. He is very organized. He has a specific day he sends out queries for new assignments/clients. He has a set time to complete projects. He has a set time to study and research. He has a set time to track down any unpaid invoices and get his money. John writes articles that pay no less than .40 a word or he takes on technical writing and other projects that pay at least $50 an hour. He makes $50 an hour, minus about 5 hours for marketing and billing. He spends another three hours on research. Effectively, he gets paid for about 7 of his 15 hours a week.

Jane makes $225/week

John makes $350/week

Who do you think is using their time more productively?

So, my question to you is this… Are you working for peanuts, or are you working for a meal? It’s really your decision.


Lori Soard has worked online designing websites, writing, editing and promoting clients since 1997. Through Promo Warriors, she's consulted with over 100 clients to help them figure out what online presence works best for them. In addition to helping people learn how to start their own businesses, she writes feel-good books about the way love and the world should be.