Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Brooooce - and rates for the job

It's great to be sitting here listening to the mint-new release of The Boss, Live at Hammersmith from '75. I wasn't there...I make no claims to be - I was only 11 at the time. It was another decade before I caught Le Springsteen live. This Hammersmith CD is superb - sooo much good stuff on it. These days he's no longer young and hungry - but still great live.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be writing a client magazine for a law firm at the moment - but am being easily distracted. Though my briefing has been good, there's so much new terminology to learn. And with legal bods checking every phrase I turn, every word seems loaded with greater significance.

Part of my recent distraction has been responding on CiB's freelance forum (details here) to an interim contract posting.

The posting ran........ am looking for a decent freelance internal comms manager to take on a two to three month assignment in central London asap, ideally from early March.The role is most likely full time, though we may consider four days a week.The target day rate is around £200 and a limited company set up would bepreferable. My client is a 'big 4' professional services firm and the role is to support a newly-formed internal support function of around 550 people. It will involve developing and deploying a number of new channels (e-newsletter, webcast, etc), creating content for the first round of quarterly team meetings,advising internal clients on day-to-day comms, seeking input from a networkof Communication Champions, liaising with the leadership team, etc. There isa full time coordinator/administrator in place and a senior manager due tojoin towards the end of April.

I will be providing limited senior-levelsupport during this time. Professional services experience would be great, though we're happy to consider someone with broader corporate experience (exposure to support services would be a distinct advantage). We basically need someone who inspires confidence, requires minimal hand holding, can quickly get to gripswith a complex organisation and can deliver quality content for a diverse audience!

No as far as I'm concerned, that's an interesting opportunity for an experienced interim - and one I'd expect to be paying £400-£500 a day.

So I took a pop at the guy who posted the job, basically saying he was taking the piss and devaluing the service we offer.

He took umbrage in a slightly patronising way saying: Thanks for circulating such useful feedback Mark - and delighted to see you detected the irony in my note. The good news is we've had a flurry of CVs from some very strong manager-level candidates in the £250-350 ballpark (though little interestfrom this forum, which is clearly in a different league..) I realise this role is a big 'ask' for the rate, but there are lots of people out there who see beyond the pound signs and are willing to consider opportunities for the experience it gives them, the access to a new client/sector and the mediumterm certainty it provides. It might not be up your street, but not everyone is offering strategic counsel and not everyone can command £1000+ per day. Like accountants and lawyers, we operate on a scale of fees to reflect differences in experience,seniority, knowledge, etc. Most clients I deal with understand this and,when a partner-level candidate is required, are willing to pay the premium. Before slamming someone for offering upwards of £1000 a week for five days guaranteed work for three months (is that really such a bad proposition?)it's worth stopping to think about those people who are just starting out asfreelancers/interims, who have less 'strategic' experience than you and who are, after all, the future of our humble profession. If we can manage not to turn them off they might actually see the day where we achieve fees on par with the established professions...

Now I reckon, this chap has just priced himself too cheaply with the client in the first place, which has left him with too little wiggle room when pricing the more junior role in the business relationship. But I didn't say that, instead, I responded saying: Perhaps it was the way you pitched the job. Other than the rate advertised, it didn't seem like one for a beginner. Irony? Well, passed me by that one, but then I'm just a thick strategist! Funny though that £200 has already crept up to £350.

£12k may sound great - but the demands of such an interim position generally mean that all other work is put on hold - as is the opportunity to pick up new work. That's fine if one can move immediately from project to project - unfortunately they rarely line up on that wonderful linear path like shiny red buses.

I've mixed project freelancing with interim contracts for six years now, and invariably still find working life is full of peaks and troughs - and £200 a day when you have to cover, pension, insurances, travel, accountants etc. doesn't leave a lot for the downtime that could well occur after such a contract.

Change the title that comes from the level of skill and experience many on this forum offer from communicator to management consultant (and that goes for virtually all of us, whether we call ourselves business writers, strategists or flippin' verbal contortionists) and clients would happily be prepared to part with double the daily rate that we average.

But somehow communicator is still seen as a task to be done once the decisions have been made. As such, it's transactional and low value. If that's the role you're selling into your clients, then, yes, I think you're doing a dis-service to both communicators and the client.

What you asked for in your original post felt much more as if it had a start point of £400-£500 a day - especially as it was central London and for a prestigious client (based on the kind of roles VMA have been pitching through the CiB website). Pitching it at £200 a day just made them sound a bit tight.

We will only raise the perceived value of organisational communication by demonstrating our professionalism - and one small aspect of that is knocking back peanut pay.

As for my strategic counsel, clients are getting it for a good deal less than £1,000 a day.
I don't decry the role being offered here - but match the spec to the salary. What was offered originally here was a beginner's salary for a role demanding experience - I've read the ad again and you definitely weren't looking for a newbie. I'll be very glad if the actual daily rate creeps up to match the real demands of the job.

There were postings for and against what I had to say this morning - but you need to be a CiB freelancer/small business to read them. However, the fundamental aspect for me is that too often we sell our expertise too cheaply.

The hourly rate offered for this job is a third of what plumbers charge around here.

No doubt the debate will continue.

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