Friday, December 16, 2005

A Lesson From the Cleaning Lady

In these past seven years of full-time freelancing, I’ve learned a lot about going rates, contract negotiation and balancing out what I need to be making.
I recently entered into a contract with a company that turned out to be terrible. The company pays by only what they print, not what they assign and the rate of pay isn’t that good anyway. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my second assignment that I realized my mistake. To make it worse, it wasn’t something I enjoyed writing.
I procrastinated until I came down to the day before my drop deadline. I couldn’t get my fingers to writing and every time I sat down at the computer, the blank screen only grew whiter and my headache grew bigger.
I posted my quandary on a professional writing board and got some great advice including a reminder (just in case I was thinking of bailing on the editor) that I had to complete the assignment.
I sat down and the massive assignment was done within 24 hours. The pay wasn’t great and I probably won’t take more assignments from this company unless we can negotiate a better deal.
A week later, out of frustration for lack of time to clean my house, I interviewed a cleaning lady to start coming to our home once a month. She looked the house ove and set up an appointment for 1 p.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving. At the time she told me she was baffled over losing her Friday afternoon job, but was glad I would take the opening at least one week a month.
When 12:30 on that Friday rolled around, I stopped working and I got my husband up and out of the house early. I have never had my house cleaned and didn’t know what to expect. What I didn’t expect was her not showing at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. or anytime thereafter. I tried calling to no avail. I still didn’t hear from her over the weekend and by Monday I was just curious that something might have happened to her. I called her first thing. “Well, first of all I didn’t know what I was thinking scheduling you around the holiday, I was really too busy and then I forgot my cell phone.”
That was it, no “I’m sorry I screwed up your day, let me make it up to you,” or anything. I sat there in stunned silence and finally said, “Well, we would really have appreciated a call since we worked our schedule around your appointment with us.” She didn’t answer, so I added, “Thanks anyway,” and she hung up. She’s only been an independent contractor for six months, but I bet I now know why she had that opening on Friday afternoons.
We have a small home. I’m sure my house could fit twice into some of the others she cleans, but she still agreed to the work and the price we negotiated. If she didn’t want to do it, or couldn’t, she should have told me prior to the appointment.
I’m glad I finished that assignment for that editor, at least I know the experience with the cleaning lady wasn’t karmic payback, but it was a lesson worth remembering.
Out of concern for my own professional reputation I will never not finish an assignment I agree to if it is humanly possible to get it done and more importantly, I will always do it if only out of common courtesy.
The cleaning lady reminded me just how important that is.


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