Why All Freelance Writers Need a F--k Off Fund
By Susan Johnston Taylor, freelance writer
Stark and urgent terms
A year or two ago, the internet started buzzing about F--k Off Funds, also called F--k You Funds, and why everyone – especially women – needed them. Without one, the argument followed, you wouldn’t have the money to leave an abusive situation with a bad boss or a significant other.
Frankly, most people know they should have an emergency fund but don’t. Reframing the concept as a F--k Off Fund puts it in more stark and urgent terms.
When I looked for the person who coined this term so I could credit them, I discovered that it’s actually been in use for decades and the origins remain fuzzy. The F--k Off Fund has recently taken a feminist slant in light of the #MeToo movement, but it’s also been used by people who want to accumulate enough wealth to flip the bird to corporate life and stop working when they feel like it.
I think all freelancers should have a F--k Off Fund, not because we want to stop freelancing, but because money in the bank gives us more choices in the projects we accept and how we conduct business.
Here are three ways that F--k Off Funds can help freelancers flourish.
Stand strong in negotiations
A few years ago, I pitched a timely story idea to an editor of a trade magazine. She liked the idea so much, she wanted to publish it in several of her company’s magazines. Sweet! Then she offered a rate that frankly, didn’t reflect the mileage she’d get out of my piece running in several publications. So I countered. I didn’t demand a multiplier, but I felt it was reasonable to command a higher rate for placements in multiple magazines. (If you’re unsure about rates for freelance writers, check out an online database like Who Pays Writers? or the Freelancer Rates Database.)
The editor balked. I had enough money in my bank account and enough other work on my plate that I politely declined the rate she offered. A few days later, she emailed me again agreeing to the higher rate, so I wrote the story and it appeared in several of their publications. That’s the power of a F--k Off Fund: Being willing to walk away from a low-paying project because you’re not down to your last dollar. If I needed the money, I wouldn’t have declined so easily and I probably would have accepted the lower rate, leaving money on the table.
Deal with late payments
It’s an unfortunate reality of freelancing that invoices sometimes get lost and clients drag their feet on payment. Data published earlier this year by invoicing platform Bonsai found that of the more than 100,000 freelancers analyzed, just under a third – 29 percent – of invoices were paid late and that female freelancers were slightly more likely than male freelancers to get paid late. Not surprisingly, larger invoices were also more likely to get paid late.
When clients run into arrears, it can be tempting to accept low-paying work out of a desperate need to make your rent or mortgage payment. But if you have extra cash in the bank, you can hold out for assignments that reflect your value and avoid panicking over late checks. I recently had an editor go MIA when I emailed about an overdue invoice, so I contacted accounts payable and they claimed the check was in the mail. It wasn’t, and it took several more weeks of persistent follow-up for them to investigate and a few more weeks before their bank would release my check, which they had held for some unspecified reason.
I’m fortunate that it was resolved within 90 days, since I know other freelancers who’ve waited years or dragged their clients to small claims court before getting paid. Unless those freelancers had a F--k Off Fund, I’m guessing they did some less-than-ideal work to stay solvent.
Walk away from bad clients
Having a F--k Off Fund means we don’t have to accept work from jerks or low-paying clients. However, sometimes an editor or client’s true colors don’t emerge until later, as happened to independent writer Deborah Copaken. Copaken endured inappropriate comments from an editor for months because she needed to support herself and her family (like many others, I’m guessing) and the company had no process for freelancers to file complaints with HR.
When you reach a point where it’s just untenable to continue – whether because of inappropriate behavior, a project scope that keeps growing, or ethical concerns – a F--k Off Fund gives you the confidence to say sayonara to that project – or at least set better boundaries with the client.
It’s hard for anyone, especially women who are socialized to be “nice,” to walk away from a freelance project, but freelancers do have a few advantages over full-time employees. We’re used to hustling for work, and we typically have multiple clients at a time, so walking away from one project doesn’t mean losing all our income. Still, having a F--k Off Fund should give freelancers confidence as they deal with low-ball clients, late payments, or bad apples.