Fee negotiations can be particularly tricky as there’s no formal fee structure to provide guidance – employers typically want to pay as little as possible while you want to get paid as much as possible (or at least what you think you’re worth). You’ll also find that you may be expected to offer reduced rates for travel days and days off, try to strike a balance that works for you while being aware that as long as you’re away from home and thus unable to take on any other work then you need to be compensated for your time, even if you’re doing nothing but sitting in a hotel room.
Often I’ve found myself in the situation where I’m doing exactly the same job for two different bands while getting radically different rates of pay due to the way the fees were negotiated; such imbalances are inevitable so it’s best not to dwell on them. Fee negotiation really is a minefield and there’s no easy answer; each situation is unique so the only tip I can offer is to figure out the absolute minimum daily rate you can afford to work for and never accept work that pays less.
A quick note on professionalism: while this is more an attitude than a skill, it’s certainly something that can help all freelancers. One maxim I’ve maintained is that I always work to the height of my abilities regardless of the rate of pay I’m on – it doesn’t matter what my day rate is, I still do the same high standard work every single day. This is a point of personal pride that helps you divorce the work from the pay while consistently showing employers your dedication and commitment to the task at hand, which in turn should hopefully ensure plenty of repeat bookings.
The Money Part
Now that you’ve got plenty of work going, the next skill to address is organizing your own accounts. This is quite straightforward to do; the key is to get a system in place to record all the work you do (including your rate of pay) and then making sure to issue and chase invoices accordingly – I use a calendar and a spreadsheet to do this.
Whenever I’ve booked a project it goes in the calendar, once I’ve negotiated the fee that information is added, once the work is complete I issue an invoice and record it in a spreadsheet – which I then monitor on a regular basis to follow up on payment where necessary. Any work-related expenses are tracked on a separate sheet of the spreadsheet so that when it comes time to do taxes I have all the required information in one handy place.
Chasing up invoices can become an onerous task in its own right; some people pay promptly, some have to wait until they’re paid in order to pay you, and others seem to be in no rush. Late payments can, of course, be incredibly frustrating as well as making life difficult so I always make sure to include the accepted terms and timescale of payment on the invoice as well as a note explaining that interest and compensation may be sought in the event of late payment.
There are various alternatives to running your accounts. You could hire an accountant, but unless you’re earning large sums this might not be a very cost-effective solution.
Another alternative that’s becoming increasingly popular is cloud accounting – sign up with an online service that offers a place to securely log in and enter the details of the work you’ve done, enabling the automatic generation of invoices on your behalf as well as periodic reminders (should payment not be immediately forthcoming). Some of the cloud accounting providers offer a free service for people who are starting out (or those with a low number of annual ledger entries – typically less than 1,000), which can be good way to find out if it’s the right fit.
These are the core non-sound skills you’ll need to acquire in order to operate as a freelancer in the production industry. They may not come naturally to everyone, and it can be difficult to keep on top of it all, but once you master the basics you’ll find you’re better able to enjoy the freedom and satisfaction that comes from being a freelancer.