Negotiating responsibilities with a client slash employer
March 2, 2011 8:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I negotiate freelance work responsibilities vs. compensation?

I recently graduated from a BFA program with an emphasis in design. While looking for a job, I stumbled on an ad for an HTML/CSS coding position.

This isn't something my degree focused on, but it's something I've had a personal interest in for years. The position was only a few hours a week, independent contract-type work. The guy who placed the ad is a designer (primarily web) that needed someone to code sites for him to free up his time for other projects. It sounded ideal, we hit it off, and he hired me on retainer for a small weekly fee that I felt fit my experience in web coding.

However, some of the responsibilities given to me have been a little more design than code, and when talking about upcoming projects, the work sounded as though the work would be much more design-focused. While discussing this, I stammered that I didn't feel comfortable doing that kind of work for the rates I was earning and that I had thought my responsibilities were more about web coding.

I don't know how to proceed from here. I know that as a designer I'm worth more than I am as a coder. I don't know if he knows my value as a designer: I have not interviewed with him as a designer and he has not seen my portfolio, and I'm not sure he has even looked at my portfolio website. He has also said a few things that I feel overstep our working relationship as I understand it: when he first hired me, he said something about how he viewed himself as my mentor, and a while later said that he hopes to earn enough to hire me on full-time which is not something that we have talked about and not something that I am interested in.

I guess my question is: How do I have a conversation about this? Should I work up some kind of contract, or simply disengage when the current job is finished?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't sound like a good long-term situation. He wants you to play a role you're not interested in playing. He wants you to work for rates you consider insufficient. "He viewed himself as my mentor," sounds like a lame attempt to spin his inability to pay market rates into something positive.

That said, I don't know quite understand why you care whether the work he's giving you is "design" or "coding." 'What you're worth' is not some magical number floating out there in inter-dimensional space. What you're worth is what someone specific will pay you. You're only worth more as a designer if you can get a job as a designer, making more. The abstract notion that as a designer [you're] worth more than [you are] as a coder" is immaterial unless you have an actual better offer. So look for a better job, and when you find it and get it, take it.
posted by jon1270 at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2011

If you want to do the work he has to offer you for the amount of money he's willing to pay you, then do it, and do the best job you can. If you don't want to do the work, then don't do it. Get out of the way and let someone else have the opportunity.

Like jon1270 says, your time is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. This guy is willing to pay you the amount that you agreed to, so at this point in time, that is exactly the amount that you are worth. If you stick with it and prove that your work has value in the marketplace, then you truly will become "worth more," your employer will recognize that, and your compensation will increase accordingly.
posted by spilon at 9:16 AM on March 2, 2011

I'm not sure what you think the going rates for entry-level coders and designers are, but in my market (Pacific NW), they're not different enough to justify making a stink, especially if the design work represents only a fraction of your duties.

Be grateful to the guy for giving you a start, work hard doing whatever he needs, and focus on learning everything you can.

Once you've demonstrated your value, say after at least six months to a year, sit him down for a friendly professional chat wherein a) you express your sincere gratitude and b) propose a different level of compensation.

The main thrust of that conversation should be your demonstrated value, versatility, and flexibility (backed up with concrete examples, with data about rates for coders vs. designers in your pocket to pull out should he balk at the notion that design is worth more).

That he considers himself your mentor and is thinking about hiring you is not "overstepping your working relationship" -- it's an expression of his goodwill and esteem. I suggest you reframe it as such, and remember that the time to tell him you're not interested in becoming an employee is if and when he makes you an offer.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:53 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tell him flat out that your design rates are higher than your coding rates. Tell him you're happy to keep doing coding work at the rate you've previously given him, and tell him your design rate and offer to work on the new projects at that rate (if you're actually willing to).

And absolutely work up a contract -- have you been working without one this whole time?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2011

Great answers so far, I'll just say that as a differently-skilled person with a variety of strengths that these situations have become a million% less stressful once I simply figured out a rate for "my time." That's it. You are a person with skills and that person, not the skills, has time that is worth something. So, it may be helpful to come up with a simple rate like $X/hr no matter what you're doing. Graphic design? $X/hr. PHP coding? $X/hr. Ruby on Rails programming? $X/hr. Filing papers? $X/hr.
posted by rhizome at 10:24 AM on March 2, 2011

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