When I started freelancing 14+ years ago, I said "yes, please!" (think Austin Powers) to any paying work that came my way. I was trying to make money. My financial goal my first year was to make...wait for it...$10,000. I have no idea why I chose that number, other than it was a nice, neat one and seemed realistic for someone launching a freelance business with no connections, no experience, and no clue.
However, having a financial goal (even a small one) made me focused on money and it meant that every assignment I took that first year had to pay something--even if it was just $25 or $35 for a short piece for the local paper. Even the "small stuff" did move me toward making my income goal that first year. and I actually made more than $17,000 my first year of freelancing.
Today I can't say yes to everything, or even most things. And over time, I've developed a four-part test I use when I decide whether to take on work:
1. How much money does it pay? (If you're freelancing to make a living, or at least make some green, this is obvious.)
2. Less obvious--how much time will it take? I've found that the work I've done for national magazines takes far more time (including the pitching and follow-ups) than the work I do for smaller publications. Yes, the big magazines pay more, but I'm always looking at my hourly rate, not just the size of the check. And sometimes the magazines that pay less per word, actually pay more per hour.)
3. What's the PIA factor? My regular readers know that PIA is my shorthand for "Pain In the..." Some clients and editors are just...annoying. I'm thinking of an editor I work with who takes forever to respond to queries, then assigns stuff with ridiculously tight deadlines. I love her, but there's definintely a PIA factor to working with her. And if that PIA factor on a particular project is high, I'm either going to get more money...or I might even walk away.
4. Will this work further my career--and if so, how? So, for example, when I wrote my first book, Ready, Aim, Specialize, I received an advance of $2,500. And I interviewed 56 people for it! Looking at my hourly rate, I made more as a teenaged lifeguard. But I wanted to start writing books, and I had to begin somewhere. So I said yes to the book, added "author" to my CV, and even made royalties from it. My first book led to many others, which made the first deal worth it.
What about you? How do you decide to take on work? Is it just about the money or do you consider other factors as well?