The Wall of Aspirations
Here are the concerns raised by members at
the London Freelance Interactive evening on 13 February
2006, smashed down just as they appear on the sticky
notelets but lumped together in the ways that the discussion
groups set about organising them. It shows you the kind of
concerns that your fellow freelances have, and which you
quite likely share.
In some cases it's been possible to add on a response which might
make the beginnings of a solution. Do email in to firstname.lastname@example.org more concerns, comments, additions, responses or whatever to keep building up this
stimulating resource of things we should be setting
ourselves to do something about.
- Being asked to write on spec. Discussion at
the meeting suggested people were happy to write articles that
they wanted to do anyway, on spec, and then attempt to sell them.
The problem came with publishers telling people what was wanted,
including deadlines, yet refusing to make the commitment of
commissioning the piece with a guaranteed payment. Advice
boiled down to this: write on spec if you're
doing what you want; if the publisher wants to specify what
you do, tell them you only work that way on commission.
- Deadlines coming like Number 30 buses,
either none at all or arriving in threes. Advice:
learn to say "No" if you really have to; try to negotiate
staggered delivery dates; see whether you can pass the work on to
a friend or colleague. The group discussion resolved
spontaneously and unanimously that it did not want any
suggestion that the NUJ should lay on another Time
- Administration. Ick!! Advice:
Think of the administration as the work for which,
effectively, you get paid - the journalism is the fun
- Getting paid on time: companies owing payments
earn interest on our money;
- Chasing very late payments, two to three months overdue,
especially over Christmas;
- How to handle picture editors who
are apologetic but money still hasn't come
- Look at www.londonfreelance.org/interest.html for avice about handling late payments and assitance calculating the interest you can charge.
- Members see also www.londonfreelance.org/collect.html to supply the Freelance Office with all the details needed for them to help you chase a claim.
- John Toner, NUJ
freelance organiser, says that as soon as you're
having problems with people paying up stop working for them
until the money comes through. At least you're not
getting further and further into the morass and, hopefully,
you will be able to turn up work from people who do pay on
- Some banks - including the Royal Bank of Scotland -
offer invoice assignment if you have a business
account. They charge a percentage but take over
responsibility for paying and chasing
- Poor payment of pre-agreed work - overdue invoices, find fees/tip fees.
Difficult to prove it's your idea.
- Negotiating better terms for contracts
ie percentage of licence fee etc - check out the NUJ
training days such as the Pitch & Deal
- How to negotiate a minimum rate
that's NUJ standard without being rejected in favour
of someone who'll do work
- Should guidelines be different for
work that appears on websites? Particularly on a
paid-subscription news site. Surely we're
getting ripped off for a standard per word fee?
- Rates stagnating, year on year, behind
staff rates - how do we organise?
- How to claim what is reasonable/ask for more money without
risking losing work by annoying an editor?
- Tax issues and what you can and
- Finding a good
accountant; finding out about beneficial tax arrangements,
deductions etc Advice:
- ask friends, colleagues, branch meetings.
- The NUJ Training department
does a day on finance and tax, though the NUJ
cannot recommend accountants or offer financial advice.
- Look locally for a small firm, or even an accountant doing
freelance work. Ask what experience they've got
handling self-employed people's accounts, and
- I took someone to
the small claims court, had to throw more money after bad.
It involved 3 hearings and then he vanished. I paid around
£80 and got nothing. Is this money claimable back from
the union? Answer: Not in these circumstances.
Approach the union before going to the small claims court
and it will advise you and offer to provide someone to come
along and help represent you. It is also possible to get
free legal advice from the Union's solicitors -
contact John Toner, NUJ freelance organiser, who can arrange
Terms and conditions
- I've been asked by a client either form a limited company
or to bill through an umbrella company. I'd like to know about
the pros and cons for me, especially considering that over 14
months they only extended my contract by 3 months. Advice:
look at specific advice about this coming soon on www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/advice.html.
Also send them a memorandum setting out all the reasons why
turning you into a company will make extra work and problems
- Guidance on when you are working
as a freelance for a client for a number of days and are
entitled to certain fringe benefits. Advice: the main one,
particularly if they are deducting income tax on PAYE before
paying you, is likely to be holiday pay. Keep asking whether
there are other benefits. Ask if there is a staff NUJ
agreement and if there are any benefits listed in that such
as meal allowances when working late or taxis home (although
you may have to pay tax on the value of these).
- If a piece is commissioned and not yet
published once written, how can payment be chased? I want to
be able to claim it after a reasonable lengthy time and not
wait for publication eg Guardian/Observer. Answer:
Try negotiating a deal that lays down a payment date tied to
delivery, or, second best, a projected publication date.
Just ask them for payment on the grounds that it should have
- I want us to somehow get back to having freelance agreements,
negotiated annually so that our rates creep steadily upwards.
Hopefully the agreement would acknowledge our copyright ownership,
too. Staff are in there often because they have legal rights to
recognition now. Can freelances get there too?
- Amend contracts that are sent to you. You don't have
to accept them just as they stand.
Syndication and agents
- How to make money from
second rights and syndication? Advice: First make sure you
understand what kind of copyright deals you have to do to
allow you to re-exploit material. Next find out what
syndication deals the clients you are already working for
offer. Then look for independent syndication agencies (there
aren't many for words; there are lots of libraries for
pictures). Alternatively, treat everything you have produced
as something you can now speculatively offer elsewhere.
- Getting paid for work used a second time
- finding out it 's been used! Advice: For text, googling a
probably-unique phrase is better than nothing; don't forget news.google.com either.
- Finding a good photographer's agent who won't
rip you off and take ridiculous percentages. Answers:
- Keep talking to other photographers and looking at the
photographer websites and e-networks.
- The managing director of the agency Magnum once told a group of student
photographers that they didn't want to think about an agent as someone
who would find them work, but more as someone who would help
them handle the work they were already getting. The time you
know you need an agent, he said, is when you come home from
a three-day assignment and there are 30 messages on the
voice mail, some of them saying they'll have to put
work elsewhere as they can't seem to contact you.
- Make sure you are a member of ALCS (writers) or DACS
(visual) to receive your share of collective rights such as
Exploitation and aggravation
- People using my photographs
on their website and not wanting to pay - using really
low res images helps keep them from being lifted. Advice: invoice
them! Try invoicing for double what you'd have charged if they'd asked
- When submitting work electronically, and,
perhaps, speculatively, need to avoid work being used
without consultation and ending up in the paper without your
knowing or, since you don't know to invoice, getting
paid. This concern was given a Very Urgent sticker by the
group considering it and the member concerned raised the
matter from the floor during the full discussion. Advice
came in three waves:
- Make sure that you spell out at
the beginning of the electronic file that you are expecting
to be paid if the work is used and that you want to be
notified that it is being used - together with any information
about how you go about invoicing, contact details for
yourself and your bank and so on.
- You can repeat this info at the end, but the important thing
is to make sure that it cannot by missed by putting it at the
- You can submit work as a read-only pdf, so that
they have to come back to you if they want the usable
version: this does mean paying the licence fee for Adobe
Acrobat which makes it feasible.
- And keep trawling news.google.com to see whether you spot anything of yours being used in ways you weren't aware of.
- Being overlooked for decent staff jobs when they come
- How do I respond to a contract
that's disadvantageous - online rights,
intellectual rights, low pay - and negotiate it
better. Advice: it's there, in that word negotiate. Give
yourself some background knowledge and a bit of confidence
by coming on NUJ courses such as Getting Started as a
Freelance, Pitch & Deal with its rôle play, the day-long
Copyright seminar (a bargain at its subsidised price of
£30) and anything else that bumps up the skills you
have to offer - see www.nujtraining.org.uk
- Fearing an idea
you've pitched will be used without commissioning you.
- Pitch in writing/email so there's a
- Keep making it clear that you are submitting a
commercially valuable proposal, the ownership of which you
expect them to respect;
- Try to keep back the details that
make it feasible to actually carry out the project (such as
the name of a prospective interviewee - just give a
- Try to build in blocks that mean they've
got to come back to you to get anywhere with the project.
- BBC photography contracts. Their licence grabbing sucks! Any
- Editors fight shy of stories that critique the media, eg on Copyright.
- An end to the problem of editors messing about, eg saying yes
and then no, promising answers which don't happen
- Code of conduct for editors! Provided that
query letters are always accompanied by SAEs, how can we
encourage editors to reply to our written queries, even if
it's only "no" scribbled on the SAE?
- Educate staffers about freelances.
Freelances don't exist when out of the office. Ways of
- Campaign for freelances. We are good/efficient/save money/don't
dawdle around in the office looking at Valentine's Day
cards that beep.
- How is it possible to make staffers realise I continue to exist
(and may be working for someone else) when I am not working for them? Ie
is there any way to educate staffers about freelance life?
- How do we get editors to take seriously
the idea that they should pay even a small amount (a fiver?
a tenner?) for phone calls to freelancers? It's not so
much the money. It's being taken seriously.
- Lack of war risk insurance for freelances - have to rely on the
Frontières scheme, which has weird exceptions.
- Lack of communication: freelances not knowing what other freelances
doing comparable work are being paid. Advice: Check out the
Rate for the Job on the website, and
add your own contributions.
- Making links with other like-minded
freelancers - particularly in terms of support from
their experience - come to branch meetings, join in/set
up email/phone/personal networks.
- Meeting other freelances socially - start with branch
meetings, seek out the networks already in existence (we
plan that the Freelance and the website will give them
greater prominence) and even go about setting up your own
for like-minded freelances.
- Email network forums etc. More info on what's what. Centralised
client database. Blog: who's good, who's not,
who pays, who doesn't, experience.
- I want the Freelance side of the union to be better organised,
probably via developing freelance networks - volunteer
for some of the positions on the Branch committee or to
carry out union-related work and help to bring this
better organisation into being.
Knowledge and training
- Journalists or clients using
cheap digital cameras to grab a quick snap rather than pay a
photographer to do it with (hopefully) better results
- have a look at the NUJ Photographers - email
- What about an advanced course on
feature writing - the NUJ Feature Writing course says
it has been designed to cope with both beginners and the
- A one-day course in
speaking in public, at trade union meetings and the like.
Advice: the GFTU (General Federation of Trade Unions), of
which the NUJ is a member, organises courses in public
speaking along with many other courses in organising and
other skills valuable to trade union members. The next GFTU
Public Speaking course is set for 8-10 September 2006
in Nottingham. Any member who would like to go on it should
contact the NUJ Training department to make a booking.
- As a new freelance I'd like advice
on how much to put aside for tax. Advice:
- at the meeting the swift answer was that putting aside 25 per
cent of whatever was coming in would see you safe for tax and National Insurance.
- NUJ Training department does have a day course on finance and tax as well as other freelancing
- The London Freelance Branch website will be adding
in more sections of advice on this and other matters raised
at the Interactive meeting.
Info, or a meeting, on picture libraries. What's good?
What's not? Up to date info.
about a course for people who have established themselves as
freelances? What do you do next to become a really great
- Freelance trainer Humphrey Evans, who
teaches on the NUJ's Getting Started as a Freelance
and Pitch & Deal courses has suggested to Linda King at the NUJ
training department (www.nujtraining.org.uk) that he should try setting up just such
a course to be called Develop Your Freelance Capacities.
This is hanging fire, slightly, at the moment because the
training department has been so successful in setting up
professional skills courses and taking on the running of
training in union activities that it's staff are
overstretched and it just doesn't have access to the
rooms it needs for extra courses. Hopefully,
however, it will happen sometime this year.
- Look at how many freelances have to work
across different areas, eg video journalist,
photographers/writers. Multi-skilling and how many people
have to do it.
Rights and meanings
- Creative freedom plus not having your work completely rewritten?
Responses on the night included checking out the provisions
for moral rights in copyright legislation which,
irritatingly, do not apply to newspapers and magazines but
do in plenty of other situations; and hinting to editors
that you have carefully written the piece to avoid legal
problems which might ensue if other phraseology were to be
used. You could ask, too, for emailed proofs suggesting that
it might be helpful for you to have one last check.
- How far with copy and cutting is it
acceptable for an editor/sub-editor to cut/change
one's copy? Or when to take your name off a piece
because it is no longer your work?
- Subeditors re-doing writing, sometimes with too many corrections
which change meanings.
- Dealing with difficult PR people.
- Advice on re-engaging with former employers who don't
call you anymore.
- Is it
ethical to sell a story about your own experience,
particularly when you've used the fact of being a
freelance journalist to get something done? Answers:
- Many journalists are strong on the idea that the journalist
should never be part of the story - anything along the
lines of "I was there. . ." smacks of grandstanding.
- But anthropologists have the concept of participant observation
ndash; things happen and are seen only because the observer
is part of the process. If you get involved in something
where what happens to you would have meaning to the reader
in the same way that it would if you were reporting it as
happening to a third party, then by all means run with it.
- One piece of advice, however, is still don't
start the article with the word "I" - that turns it into
a diary, which is never interesting.
- Keeping local press
information up to date, eg collating deadline dates -
keep an eye on the website which has plans to try to put
together information about press days, lead times and the
like in the way that it has Rate for the Job for fees.
Answer: the Branch is working on this...
- Knowing when and where photo calls are
- click through to the NUJ photographers network from
the www.londonfreelance.org website and see
whether people can help.
- As well as press days, databases of lead
times for features and when features/editorial meetings
happen. For example, which papers do all their travel
feature planning in January for the summer, etc.
- How to go about pitching
ideas to publications without the worry of them either
declining it, or, more likely, not replying and then nicking
the idea! The bastards.
- I need advice on
cracking the freelance market. Could there be a panel
discussion about hot areas, friendly publications, etc.
Answer:Perhaps there could be. Also, check out the Getting
Started as a Freelance and Pitch &: Deal courses run by
the NUJ training department: www.nujtraining.org.uk
- I want more hair. Answer: buy a wig. The Union's charities, the Provident
Fund and the Members in Need Fund (shortly to amalgamate)
may be able to provide financial help where needed. Just
make sure you keep up your NUJ subscriptions so as to be
eligible. (And check out the charity NPF, based in Dorking,
which helps journalists falling on bad times - a
lifetime's membership costs £50 and could be the
most effective £50 you spend.)
- Problem: isolation. Answer: you have made a good start by
coming to a branch meeting.
|Humphrey Evans and Miranda Gavin inspect the Wall of Aspirations