Dealing With a Setback

For those who might not know, I have a small freelance writing business. For the past three-plus years, I’ve written short articles for a web site related to my industry. It’s been a good gig, and it’s paid for me to go to conventions, not to mention the new roof we put on the house this summer.

However, in early June I got an email from my contact informing me that he had sold the company. I felt a little trepidation, but the new owner contacted me right away, I wrote a few articles for him, got paid right away, and more or less felt like it was working out. So, imagine my surprise when I opened my email yesterday morning and found a message from the new owner, informing me that there are “very good freelance writers willing to work” for 1/3 what he’s paying me, and times being what they are, he has to go with them. He did say that he will assign the more technically complicated topics to me, but clearly the flow of work from this site will slow down to a trickle. I may be able to pick up some work for another site he runs, again at a third of what I was getting paid for the other site.

Now, as you might imagine, I didn’t take this news all that well. I’ve spent the last day cooling off, and I sent a professional reply to him last night, expressing my disappointment but stating that I understand that he must do what he thinks is best for his business. After some reflection, I have a few thoughts about this episode:

  • It’s a free market. I’m competing with other freelancers, and in a price battle, I may well come in second. No one owes me work.
  • That said, expertise, experience and skill should count for something. I write about the industry in which I’ve worked for most of my adult life. I have industry designations that carry some weight. And I think I’ve shown repeatedly that I can explain industry technical topics in clear and understandable language. In my experience, there are people who have a lot of technical knowledge, and there are people who have the ability to write clearly about it, but there are relatively few who have both. That package of abilities is worth something in the marketplace to the right clients. My job is to find clients who need that package and who are prepared to pay accordingly.
  • This is forcing me to finally market myself more widely and look for a diverse client base, which is a good thing. Better to have 10 clients who give you regular work in small doses than two who give you big paychecks. This web site wasn’t making me rich, but it was going a long way toward financing my fiction writing and the costs that entails (again, the conventions; marketing materials I bring to conventions, such as CDs of my podiobooks, business cards, etc.; printing and postage costs when I send out manuscripts; software — you get the picture.) Losing that source of revenue presents a challenge. I don’t want to finance my fiction writing out of the income from my day job, so I have to replace the lost revenue from other sources.

Writing this now, a day after I got the email, I have a little perspective. When I was first trying to move to Syracuse 27 years ago, it took me from May until January to find a job. I was relatively fresh out of college, and the job I eventually got was as a mailroom clerk, but that led to a succession of other jobs in the company that launched my career. I spent 14 years at that company. When I was 37, the company eliminated my job and I spent seven months looking for work, eventually landing one for half the pay at a company outside my industry. Two years later, that company imploded in the wake of the dot-com bust and 9/11 and I was out of work for another seven months. My search took me to my present employer and a job that I love.

The point of this story is that: 1) I still carry scar tissue from those long days of job hunting, and even a minor rejection like the one I got yesterday awakens all those emotions I felt when I was unemployed. 2) I overcame those terrible setbacks (and they were terrible; I don’t wish unemployment on anyone) and came out better for it. If I keep my head on straight, the same will happen this time.

And this time, I’m not taking it personally. It’s business. I’m in business for myself, and I make daily decisions about how to spend my business’s money. That’s all the owner of this web site has done. Good luck to him. Good luck to me.

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2 Responses to Dealing With a Setback

  1. I give you credit for not taking it personally. I almost always take it personally, especially when I’ve been doing a good job. However, if people say they have to stop using my services because of money, that’s kind of a different thing for me. I’m glad you handled it so well.

  2. tdodge says:

    Thanks. I knew replying to him right away would not be a good idea, given how I was feeling at the time, so I waited all day. Who knows? Maybe his business will pick up to the point where he can use me more often someday. Always leave the door open a crack, just in case.

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