I am desperately in need of some scripts. In November last year, my aunt launched an online women’s magazine. My aunt is a very rich lady, she doesn’t have a job, so she decided to focus on this project. It was a cool idea, based in some feminist principles, so when she asked me if I could translate the articles from our native language to English I was happy to accept the job.
The thing is, I considered it just that- a job. I’m a college senior, I have about a million things to do on any given day, and translating is time-consuming. She doesn’t really see it that way though- she thinks of it more as a “family favor”, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that I have other things to do and gives me ridiculous deadlines. Like, sending me an article at midnight and expecting it to be done the next morning. Or figuring I’d finish a 10 page text in two days or so. We’re close, she knows I have issues with asserting myself (I have BPD and boundaries are a real problem for me), and i have tried mentioning that I can’t really work like that, that she needs to organize things better so I have more time, etc. And she always agrees but then keeps doing it!! It has gotten so bad that I almost feel like she’s pushing my limits, or doing it on purpose because it’s easier for her to impose a ridiculous deadline on me than the people she has writing the articles (herself included).
To top it all of, she doesn’t really pay me… she paid me twice since November. And quite a small amount of money too (I had gotten 300 dollars total for eight months of work now, and what would, by word count, be charged at least ten times as much on a minimal rate). She also likes to try and pin other work on me- illustrations (because she thinks I’m creative!), photos, article writing…I’ve reluctantly done some of it, for no extra money.
She has this plan for me to translate A BOOK during the summer (she already decided that I’ll need about two weeks for that. Two weeks! For a book!) and I feel like I have to say something before I’m expected to slave over that instead of relaxing a bit after graduation. Though I would probably agree to it if I knew I’d get paid a fair amount and have a more realistic time-frame. She’s my aunt, and I don’t want to insult her or seem unappreciative, but I’m getting a bit desperate and I really need to sort this out somehow. Do you have some advice for me?
You don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU think that YOU’RE the unreasonable or unappreciative one?
My sweet summer child, no.
It’s time for a meeting with your Auntie where you do the following things:
- Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project.
- Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.
IF you want to keep working with her on future projects, you 100% need to create a written agreement that includes, at minimum:
- A defined scope of work and rates. Translation costs $x, photography & graphic design costs $Y, generating original content costs $z.
- A budget of hours/week that you will spend on the project.
- A defined invoicing and payment schedule
- Guidelines about your working hours, frequency of communications, and turnaround times for work (with a HEFTY rush fee for rushed turnarounds). Set business hours, like, 10 am – 6pm, and after 6pm any emails or requests will be answered tomorrow. Her expectations about turnaround times are completely ridiculous.
- A contract start date and end date, say, per project or for a period of 1 year. There is always the option to extend or contract for additional work, but by ending the first contract at one year it gives you a chance to renegotiate – raise your rates, re-budget your time.
- Good starting resources: The Freelancers Union, The Freelancer’s Bible
Here’s a script for starting that conversation:
“Auntie, I love working on your projects, but now that we’ve been at this a while, we need to more clearly define the project and my position here.”
If she balks at putting stuff in writing, “Auntie, putting things in writing protects everyone. That way the expectations are clear. I really can’t keep working without a contract.”
If she suggests that you are ungrateful or suggest AT ALL that your rates are too high or that your totally 100% reasonable requests are in any way unreasonable, BAIL FOREVER. Literally, “Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).
Other scripts, for the day-to-day times when she agrees to something and then tries to bulldoze you:
“Sorry, that won’t work for me. I can have it for you by ____.” Then stick to that deadline. If she’s unhappy, she can hire someone else.
If that feels mean or like you’re the one introducing conflict to the situation, try to think of it as educating her. In my experience as a freelancer, a lot* of (rich) people like to start businesses without really knowing what is entailed. They want the title of “Editor in Chief” or CEO without spending the money to pay professionals or do the work to set up professional practices, and they are used to getting their way. It can create a toxic environment very quickly if it’s not checked. If she’s not purposely taking advantage of you (doubtful, but let’s do a thought experiment), she needs to know the actual costs of translation, graphic design, and editorial services so that she can make good decisions and keep her business viable. Your labor is valuable and essential to what she’s doing, so, she needs to pay you for that. Her money isn’t a gift or a treat or a generous indulgence she’s bestowing on you, it’s payment for your work.
She might try dangling the idea of money or a promotion to a full-time job down the road to get out of paying now. If she sees this as a joint project that you are creating together that she wants you to take over in the future, then, cool, she should treat (& pay) you like a creative partner. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for the work you’re already doing. Your labor is a routine business cost. She better pay you, and if she won’t, find another job that will pay you, and let her figure her own shit out on the free market.
*#notall, of course, but one way to determine the difference is “Can I have an honest conversation about pay, hours, and other business matters with this person?”