The Freelancer's Ethic

Aug 3, 2010

Are freelancers inherently looking out for Number One? Or are we, as the workforce's sometimes underdog, obligated to extend more than the usual professional solidarity and support? Reading this recent anonymous letter to the New York Times Magazine's resident ethicist, Randy Cohen, had me wondering how most freelancers consider their relationship to other freelancers in their world. A project manager (who also happened to be a freelancer) was interviewing candidates for a client who needed to fill a position, and encountered the following dilemma:

When I asked an impressive candidate her pay rate, she named a figure far below the industry standard. I could have rejected her for this lack of sophistication or exploited her low bid.

So many questions spring to mind! Should the freelancer capitalize on this great bargain, letting the client know how much they were saving while getting high-quality labor? Should he or she whisper to the freelancer that she's selling herself short--not to mention potentially dragging down wages? Here's how the project manager proceeded:

I coached her to a figure nearly twice her bid yet about 30 percent below my client’s budget. I did not inform my client about the discrepancy, and she was hired at the rate I recommended.

The Ethicist gives this freelancer a rare two-thumbs up for ethical uprightness for "matching client and candidate at a fair price." What do you think? What would you have done? If you had to hire a freelancer to get your own project done, would you hire someone who didn't seem to be aware of the going rate? Let's say you met a freelancer at a networking event for people in your field. You find out they charge far less, or far more, than average. What are your top concerns? Being undercut by competition? The other freelancer's chance of getting enough work? Maintaining standard rates in the industry? [Are we there for other freelancers? photo by genvessel, via Flickr]