Do clients somehow, consciously or not, view male and female freelancers differently?
Does that affect who gets hired?
Does that affect who gets paid what?
I’m beginning to think it does. At least around the edges.
The other question is, even if your gender does matter, what can you do about it anyway?
Is it even worth fussing over?
George Eliot, George Sand
Consider the story of a small creative group in Canada called Men With Pens. It’s run by James Chartrand, who started as a freelance copywriter.
Except James Chartrand isn’t a guy at all. He’s a she, who goes by the name James Chartrand because she couldn’t make decent money as a female copywriter.
As she tells it, she had been hustling and scratching around under her own name, but could barely make a living. She couldn’t seem to land the larger clients or the more lucrative jobs. Even jobs she knew she could handle brilliantly.
Then, she happened to pitch one attractive assignment as ‘James Chartrand.’ It wasn’t some grand sociological experiment. She just needed to keep her real name out of that particular situation.
(I’m assuming this was all done via email. How can you be “James” on the phone?)
As James Chartrand, she instantly noticed a change in dynamics. She landed the assignment quickly. At the right price. The client didn’t question and nitpick. Didn’t ask for endless revisions. Treated James well. Followed James’s recommendations.
So she continued to pursue projects as James Chartrand.
“I landed clients and got work under both names. But it was much easier to do when I used my pen name . . . It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service. No hassles. Higher acceptance.”
Is this just a one-off story? Or is there something going on here?
Perhaps it’s the pseudonym. Maybe it is easier to be bold and confident as an imaginary persona. You get to cash the checks, but your hapless stand-in takes any rejection. Which is why a designer friend much prefers to send proposals under his studio name rather than his own.
Maybe. But I think the real reason is this: a perception that’s hard-wired into many clients’ brains:
‘He’ is doing this for a living.
‘She’ does this as a sideline.
Not one client in a hundred, male or female, would admit to thinking this way, of course. But I’m convinced it’s there nevertheless. (As many have reminded me, the same nonsense affects hiring and salary decisions all the time. This is nothing new.)
How much is this a factor? I have no data. I only know that a lot of freelancers sense this. They feel it. I’m sure it varies wildly with the business you’re in.
So what should you do?
One option: flip them all the finger. People who think that way, forget them and move on. There are plenty of clients out there.
That’s why we’re freelance, after all. We get to decide (mostly) who we work with, who we don’t. In your staff job, you were stuck working with whatever jerk or moron or clueless dope you were assigned to. But out here, you get to choose.
They have misperceptions, pre-conceived notions, or dumb reflexes? Not your problem. Who has time to change the world? Move on to someone who gets it.
The other option (almost as much fun):
Beat the dopes at their own game.
So shoot me, but from what I see around here, females tend to underprice more than guys do.
Don’t do that.
Try raising your fees for the next month. Thirty days, as an experiment. On all new work, ratchet up your ‘normal’ fee by 20%. Just like that. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s easy for me to sit here and type this. Yes, you may lose a job or two. Yes, I know it’s impractical and your market won’t stand for it.
But do it anyway.
This will do two things for you.
First, new clients will tend to think you’re better at what you do. All else being equal, clients will use price to judge quality and competence, especially when they have nothing else to go by. “If it costs more, it must be better.” True, they may not hire you, they may not have the budget. But they’re less likely to think you’re just ‘dabbling.’ They are easy to manipulate that way.
Second, cranking up your rates will do wonders for your head. Even if you don’t get the job. You’ll see that there are people who can’t afford you. You’ll have more respect for yourself. “Hey, I’m a 1500-a-day shooter.”
And you know, clients sense that. (They may bitch. But they won’t think you a dilettante.)
Sad to say, but you need to be 22% more pro than the guy next to you.
So do it.
Illustration credit: Oliviu Stolen, the nounproject.com