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Does Making Good Money Outweigh Quality?


Our company has a pretty set list of the kinds of assignments we absolutely refuse to take. I won’t go into exhaustive detail here; however, for the most part, these are assignments that we feel fall into a morally black area (for example, writing research papers for college students or some of the issues Lorna addressed in her Unethical Employers post). We understand that everybody needs to pay the bills, but producing quality content that makes us proud is a pretty important component of our company’s vision. 

At the same time, not every client and assignment we get is a dream job. Sometimes, we find ourselves writing SEO articles on topics that hold no personal interest for us. I was once asked to write descriptions on what I may safely call the ugliest products I have ever come across. As far as I’m concerned, these kinds of jobs are both fine. They simply address issues of personal taste and preference, which are easily surpassed in pursuit of the almighty dollar. They also still allow us to put forth our best efforts. Even if a 400-word SEO article may not be ground-breaking journalism, I can still present a well-researched, well-written final product. That, in and of itself, is a moment of pride. 

My problem is work that falls into a morally gray area—work that is wedged somewhere between great pay and just plain poor content. Let me give you a little background. The majority of my own work right now is copyediting—which is great, because I’m good at it and I enjoy it. However, my work for one particular client has recently raised some issues. On the one hand, the pay is pretty good, the client and I have a foundation of trust, and the work is steady. On the other hand, no amount of copyediting on my part will make the products good. Yes, I am putting forth my best effort; the content is fantastic as far as grammar, punctuation, syntax, and clarity go. Unfortunately, this fine layer of polish doesn’t do much to change the fact that the writing isn’t done well and the overall content is lacking in value. These are products I would not use myself and would not recommend to family or friends, should any of us find ourselves in need of them. 

So, where should a freelancer draw the line? Is it okay to work on a project that you don’t support 100 percent? Our company is not yet in a place where we can pick and choose our clients at will. At this point, we rely on every bit of income we can get, and the client is always happy with my work. Do any of those factors make a difference in the grand scheme of things?      

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    On December 13th, 2007 at 8:12 pm, Writing the Cyber Highway said:

    In my humble opinion, I believe if you follow your heart/gut instincts and do your best then you can be proud in the end…


    On December 13th, 2007 at 8:41 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    I only take on contracts that I feel good about. If something starts to feel wrong or doesn’t seem right, then it isn’t.

    However. Sometimes there are jobs that are just crap, no matter how you cut it. Some clients think what they’re doing is brilliant; you know it isn’t. Some clients don’t believe quality counts that much or makes a huge difference; you won’t be able to change their mind.

    You can break your back trying to change the client’s opinion, you can ride the wave and collect the money (usually not great pay) or you can decide that you aren’t into this game and stop there.

    Sometimes quality of life and how you feel is more important than trying to convince someone of the quality of doing a good job.

    On December 13th, 2007 at 10:41 pm, Laura said:

    I think James has a really good point. If you don’t feel good about taking the assignment, don’t. Like you point out in your post, some jobs are clearly unethical. These are the ones to definitely avoid at all costs. The others you might have to consider on a case-by-case basis.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 3:51 am, beth said:

    I hear you about not being in a place where you can keep your schedule full with wonderful, ideal assignments.

    I’m a new freelancer, and here is how I answer that question for myself: I ask whether the questionable assignment will help me in my career, or whether my time is better spent trying to pull in the kinds of assignments I want.

    So if a boring or low-paying job will end up making a great clip or resume point, or if the experience will teach me something I want to learn, I’ll go for it. But if the work is so awful I don’t get anything out of it, it’s a waste of my time and skills.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 6:33 am, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    It’s good to note that some jobs go sour after a while, too. You can’t really put your finger on what’s wrong, or maybe it’s just something small, but… and then you start to not enjoy the job. You might even work up to avoiding it or dreading new work from the client. You end up thinking, “I wish I didn’t have this client.”

    Either talk it out with the client or withdraw from the project. Send an email saying, “I really don’t feel good about… and I think you should… as a professional, I feel I should advise you blah blah blah.” Sometimes that turns things around.

    Or quit. “I don’t feel comfortable… the contract has become something I didn’t expect… blah blah.”

    Like Michele said, it’s gut instinct. Listen to it, as a freelancer.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 11:13 am, Deaf Mom said:

    I just started freelancing in May of this year and I’m not at the point where I can pick and choose how the money comes in. But, I won’t take projects that are beyond my comfort point because I just won’t be able to sleep at night.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 12:49 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    Everyone seems to have a pretty similar opinion (basically, don’t sacrifice peace of mind for money) as far as this subject goes.

    In this particular instance, my peace of mind–though troubled–is not keeping me up at night. Like I said, it’s not my dream job; it’s just a final product that lands below my standards.

    I feel like I should stress, though, that money plays a really big role in this subject. I think it’s really easy to stand up and say, “I am a freelance writer of integrity. I would never sacrifice my ideals for pay.” I think it’s really hard to actually put that into practice when you are struggling to make ends meet.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 1:30 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    I believe it’s very important as paid workers to remember who we’re writing for: the client. The readers? Certainly. There’s no question of that. But readers are not the people paying you. If you’re hired to do X for a job, you can offer Y and Z, but your goal is to provide X to the best of your abilities.

    If a painter is hired to paint a house blue when it would really look better in red with beige shutters, it is the painter’s job to suggest that. If the client says, “I’m paying you to paint my house blue and that’s what I want,” you have two choices.

    Neither choice is right or wrong. You can uphold personal standards of integrity and turn the job down, or you can uphold personal standards of integrity and do the job well.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 6:22 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James - I think that’s a REALLY good analogy. I sometimes forget that I am a contracted worker and not an integral part of a company’s decision-making process (too many years working for the wo/man, I imagine). I can have as many opinions as I want, but at the end of the day, it’s my job to deliver what I promised done to the best of my abilities. Period.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 8:48 pm, Rachel said:

    Hmm. While I have to agree with James, to a point, remember that this client thinks he/she is paying you to “make my stuff look good.” Maybe he didn’t phrase it that way, but in my (limited) experience, that’s what people want when they hire a copy editor. If everything you’re doing isn’t resulting in the stuff “looking good” (because the product, writing, etc is shoddy), eventually it’s going to come back to haunt you. You can crow “But I just did what you asked me to do–copy edit” until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t matter.

    To use the house painting analogy, if the homeowner wants a blue brick house, but all he has is a log cabin, it might be kinder to tell him.

    This is all a long-winded way of saying that a gentle suggestion might not be a bad idea. Or, if you have the time to do a full re-write/revision of one section of this person’s work gratis–so he/she can see the improvements that COULD be made–you might end up with a higher-paying editing job on top of your existing copyediting.

    Of course, if the client still can’t see the difference, no amount of negotiation will help you. Leading a horse to water and all that :)

    On December 14th, 2007 at 8:55 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    @ Rachel - that’s what I said. It’s professional to recommend better, but it’s your job to provide what the client wants.

    Remember, too, that much is subjective. What is good to a skilled writer is usually considered overkill by many people who really don’t give a rat’s ass, as long as there are no glaring errors and it’s legible.

    Rachel does bring up a good suggestion though - one article (or section or paragraph - don’t give too much away) done to a T, pro bono. “This is what I could do for you. And these are the benefits for you when you have content like this…” and list them. Tell the client exactly WHY he should have GREAT content and not just… well, content.

    Might work, might not!

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:04 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James and Rachel -

    Good discussion, but it all really comes back to my original point, which is that the company is not putting out a great product. They know it’s not great and that’s okay with them. They don’t want to put more money into it when they know they can make money as it is.

    Hence the moral dilemma.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:06 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    But that’s the whole point - it’s okay with them… so is it okay with you?

    Simple :)

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:33 pm, Rachel said:


    My worry is that it would become not okay with them after a customer complains about the quality of the writing. Usually poor writers assume that bad but grammatically impeccable writing is “good.” When they find out it’s not, the copy editor will be blamed, whether it’s her fault or not.

    But if the company KNOWS they’re putting out crap…Hmm, that’s another story altogether. As long as the information isn’t misleading or harmful, I’d do exactly what you’re doing.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:35 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    Nothing is ever that simple! :)

    You’re forgetting the bottom dollar–literally. The whole point of my post is that many freelancers (especially those just starting out) aren’t in a position to turn clients away if everything isn’t just right.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:39 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    Rachel - It’s not harmful or misleading. And honestly, I might be exaggerating when I say crap (it’s more like expensive fluff).

    At this point, I will probably continue working for them until I can wean myself elsewhere. Let’s hope that’s sooner rather than later!

    On December 14th, 2007 at 9:50 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    @ Tamara - I never forget the bottom dollar. I’m in business, remember?

    However, it’s my experience that many people (especially writers) become offended by those who are in this to earn a living, not change the world for the better.

    Of course, when I can accomplish both, that’s a damned nice feeling.

    On the thought of money, though, I’d much rather be dirt poor and live in a cardboard box - and be happy - rather than have money and be miserable. Why do you think I gave up a huge corporate job to shovel horse shit from stalls and trail guide for five years? Wasn’t for the money, let me tell you!

    On December 14th, 2007 at 10:22 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James -

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condoning money as the end all and be all of everything. I think you and I are both in agreement that there are some types of things it is NOT okay to write, regardless of how much money is dangling in front of you.

    I just feel like you’re idealizing a situation that’s not ideal. Yes, it would be great to only write things that pay well and make a positive impact in people’s lives. However, even if (even if) that were possible, it’s not possible for every single freelance writer to get that same dream package.

    At some point, everyone has to make the decision whether or not to sacrifice a little personal integrity in order to make ends meet (and I’m not talking about affording a second car payment or drinking lattes instead of making drip coffee at home - I’m talking about getting by on a day-to-day basis).

    At some point on the road to success, I believe this type of situation is no longer an issue. However, there are so many struggling freelancers out there right now for whom it is. I want them to know that we all have to make hard choices, no matter how rosy a picture some people paint.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 10:26 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    @ Tamara - I’ve said as much as you did a few times above - that getting by is often more important than personal integrity, that sometimes integrity is more important, that it’s all a personal decision, that there are struggles and that I’ve been there.

    I’m not arguing with you. I’m stating my own views and opinions which (if you’ll read my comments) agree with yours.

    So why do I get the feeling I’m rubbing you the wrong way?

    On December 14th, 2007 at 10:34 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James -

    I have no bad feelings over here at all! Perhaps I’ve been projecting thoughts onto you that you don’t actually have (or perhaps I remember you once saying you enjoy a good debate, and I’m taking you up on that offer). Either way, I mean no disrespect.

    On December 14th, 2007 at 10:40 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Debate’s good. Strange when we’re debating the things we’re agreeing on, but hey.

    So! Back to the point! All writers chime in! Have you ever been in the situation where you wondered which to choose, quality or money? :)

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