26 September, 2006

That Girl Down The Block Is Cheaper

I have a hard time placing a value on my work. That's the worst part about being a freelancer. I find myself wanting to give away my services as often as I charge for them. Not because I'm so very good-hearted, but because I have a hard time believing that I am worthy of being paid a going rate. Given all the articles out there about "how to ask for a raise" and "making what you're really worth" I suspect I am not alone in this.

After many years I've come to believe that the majority of employers understand this quirk of human nature and eagerly exploit it. Twice I've worked in companies where I started as a temp and continued to earn temp wages while performing management-level duties. It's cheaper for the company who hires you (obviously) and in many cases a temp comes from a different budget than a full-time employee. Part of our current employment culture is to rely heavily on an arsenal of 'temp-to-hire' workers to whom the company is not fully accountable. It's good for American business and shareholders because it decreases costs and increases profit margin. If you're the poor fellow or gal whose been a "temp" for a year and a half, it's less lovely.

This brings me to the latest announcement regarding Michael Rosenblum's VJ Revolution And Dance Party. I think Mr. Rosenblum has some good ideas and sees some possibilities. Yet every time the topic has come up, the pay scale seems to be the hitch. As Terry Heaton comments

His most pressing need now is for an Executive Producer for D.C. ... The pay isn't much, especially for the market sizes where the test is being conducted, but that's seldom the point for a start-up.

I seriously question this rationale. Even the biggest companies realise that they can't bring temps in for the executive level positions. It would seem to me to be more common sense to invest the cash in a seasoned Exec Prod with finely-honed chops, ready to take on the establishment with knowledge gained from within the trenches. I can understand the rationale for paying less than scale for novice product, but the knowledge to be an Executive Producer is not earned without expense and should be compensated.

This is coming to be my main problem with Mr. Rosenblum's Revolution. He talks grandly of his large paydays (and, admittedly, losses) yet he doesn't seem to believe much in trickle-down theory of employment. Yes, we have a video revolution. Will there be large paydays in it for anyone?


At 5:21 PM, September 26, 2006, Blogger Sharon Cobb said...

You are one of the best writers in the blog world, and I am sure outside of it as well.
The piece you just wrote is another shining example of why you should be earning a good wage for what you do. You clearly made your point on why an Executive should be paid a good wage in this case, and probably others.
Unfortunately, people in this business are often exploited because there are so many people who are willing to work for free just to get their foot in the door, while the consumer suffers from not having people with experience.

At 6:43 PM, September 26, 2006, Blogger Amy said...

just today I dealt with this! a friend I've been editing for got published and I had said she didn't have to pay me unless she got published. so she wanted to write me a check and I hated trying to name a price! argh.

At 9:26 PM, September 26, 2006, Blogger Aunt Lydia said...

It's interesting that you should bring this up as I am approaching my first anniversary of being a temp. Yes, the pay is bad, but there is lots of free food, and the hours are flexible. Plus, I would gladly forgo a few dollars to avoid an annual review. I'm not climbing the corporate ladder - in fact, I don't even know where it is. If getting a raise or getting hired as a "real teammate" requires an uncomfortable conversation with a boss figure, then I can go without. I have had enough bad job experiences to know when I'm comfortable and know that I like it that way.

At 7:31 AM, September 27, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Sharon, I've long ago decided that the world is not fair. Example #1: Anna Nicole Smith just had a baby. So I've accepted the fact that it may be a long while before I get paid to do what I love. Until then I may consider the alternative of video journalism.

Seriously, though, if I go back to an outside workplace I'll probably do as Lydia has done--temping on purpose.

Lydia, I'm with you about the upsides of long-term temping. I don't think it's a bad idea in all cases, especially when I think about getting some outside work on the side. I'm in a situation where I don't need the benefits and have matured enough to put true boundaries in an office relationship. But in situations such as my previous one, where the work responsibilities were increasingly large, the corporate involvement was increasingly demanding and the level of work difficulty moved from the realm of assistant to manager I definitely think it's an exploitative mistake to rely on external labour.

There are definitely times when it's a good idea to make the tradeoff in pay for peace of mind. (It's called 'my whole life' right now.) But in situations like Rosenblum's I think it's really taking advantage.

At 12:48 PM, September 27, 2006, Anonymous sbk said...

Kat the problem with giving your work away for less than it's worth is that then people don't value it. They don't think "wow, I just got this great piece for a bargin price!" They think "I just paid X for a piece so it must only be worth X." You just can't give someone a deal--they assume creative work can only be valued by what they paid for it! (People, of course, are stupid.)


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