Do you want to be known as a freelance blogger with integrity?
Are you committed to all that “integrity” implies? It’s not just about never telling a lie, or being straightforward with your clients, or even finishing everything by deadline.
What “Integrity” Really Means
Word-wise, “integrity” comes from the Latin integritatem or integritas, which meant “soundness,” “wholeness,” “completeness,” “purity,” “correctness,” and/or “blamelessness.” So maintaining integrity as a blogger means being thorough in your writing and editing—and that doesn’t just mean “thoroughly” getting rid of typos. The online world is full of blog posts that are perfectly spelled, grammatically flawless—and achingly dull or incomprehensibly confusing.
Integrity of thoroughness—making a post complete and whole—includes:
- Putting in all needed information. Many a how-to post, especially those featuring crafts or recipes, draws complaints of poor results because the writer left out a step he thought went without saying.
- Organizing the text to flow smoothly. This means tying paragraphs together with transitional words and sentences (“however,” “also,” “speaking of”) rather than jumping scattershot from one idea to the next. Smooth flow also means keeping the whole piece in logical order; even if it isn’t chronological or step-by-step, the ideas to be presented will always fall into natural groups.
- Getting rid of technically correct but unnecessary words. This typically includes most adjectives and adverbs; the word “very”; most forms of “be”; and overly generic words that could be interpreted differently by different readers. Any amateur can write “very big” or “ran fast,” but using enormous and sprinted makes for smoother reading plus a clearer mental picture.
Got that? Okay, let’s look at a few situations where integrity does center on honesty.
Being Honest With Your Clients
You probably wouldn’t think of deliberately telling a total untruth to a client. However, few of us are so honest as to be incapable of “bending the truth,” especially when the alternative might cost us opportunity or pride. Are you in the habit of automatically replying “Sure” to the first deadline or price the client proposes, regardless of how convenient you find it? Do you say you “don’t mind” doing a full rewrite for free, while inwardly fuming? In that case, you’re probably getting a poor return on your work investment, hurting your health and productivity with stress, and perhaps overloading your calendar until you have time to do only substandard work.
Let’s get one point clear: No client worth having will be offended at negotiating price or parameters. Negotiation is a universally accepted business skill that every businessperson, including freelance bloggers, needs to use regularly. (A lengthy discussion of negotiation is beyond the scope of this post, but the BAFB archives—and those of my other favorite freelancer’s blog, MakeaLivingWriting.com—are great places to find tips.)
Sometimes, “negotiation” is as simple as saying, “I’m afraid I have three other deadlines this week. Would you be okay with getting that post next Tuesday instead of this Friday?” You’ll be surprised how many clients agree to counter-proposals without argument. They know that the busiest freelancers are often the likeliest to deliver work worth waiting for—and they’ll be a lot more likely to hire you again than if you turn in second-rate work because their first suggested deadline was too much of a rush job.
(Of course, once you do agree to a deadline, integrity demands you meet it—unless you have a much better excuse than “I underestimated the time needed” or “I got distracted reading other blogs.” See the last section of this article.)
If you’re lucky enough to have more prospects than you can handle, you can further “complete” your reputation by knowing other bloggers and supplementing your “Sorry, I’m too busy right now” with “Why don’t you try Janie Fellowfreelancer? Here’s her contact information.” (Let Janie know you’ve referred the prospect, and send them both a friendly “How’d things go?” follow-up note. That ensures you’ll be remembered with good feelings—perhaps six months later when your former prospect has a friend who needs a post just when you need more work.)
A trickier situation arises when you’re approached about a project you find overall bigoted, immoral, or blatantly false. Usually, all you can do is say, “Sorry, I can’t take that on” and leave it at that: a moral lecture rarely accomplishes anything, and your integrity will be a long time recovering if you take the project anyway or otherwise encourage its success at all.
If, on the other hand, a prospect thoughtlessly asks for a guarantee you can’t give (“You’ll get paid after the post gets a minimum number of shares”), for a ludicrously low price ($15 for a 1,000-word post), or for something of questionable legality (an advertisement disguised as an objective article), you can briefly explain why you can’t do that and other reputable bloggers won’t either. If the prospective client is defensive, cut the conversation short and let them learn the hard way. But if they made the request in ignorance, you could be saving them a lot of frustration or even trouble with the law.
(Incidentally, I don’t recommend putting “I don’t work with this or that type of project” on your About Me page; any publisher with “We do not accept fiction” in their official guidelines can tell you how often people ignore such disclaimers. Besides, your “none of this” description may be confused with a vaguely similar type of project you do accept. Focus on the positive.)
Being Honest With Yourself
While we’re talking about ethical values, it’s worth noting that you can’t stick to yours if you aren’t sure what they are—which happens to more people than you might think. At best, they say they believe in honesty, time with family, or standing up for their rights—while making every practical decision as though expediency were the only value they knew.
Usually, these are people with good intentions, but low self-esteem and a terror of uncertainty. As a result, they lie to themselves constantly, and not just about matters of ethics:
- “One little compromise won’t hurt.”
- “I’m sure I have time for this. I just need ten sources to answer my emails within an hour.”
- “If I don’t take this job, nothing else will ever come along.”
- “I have a bad feeling about this offer—but I’m probably just being paranoid.”
Most of these are rooted in One Big Lie: “I’m not really very talented or very smart—I’m worth so little that anyone I meet has the power to ruin my life on a whim—so I’d better do everything I can to please others and protect what little security I have.”
For some reason, that kind of thinking is common among freelance bloggers—perhaps because the same detail orientation that attracts us to writing also leads us to equate imperfection with failure. Regardless, any day is the right day to replace the lies with truthful self-talk:
- “I believe in my values, and nothing is worth compromising them for.”
- “I know from experience what’s a realistic time frame for gathering information, and it’s my responsibility to let my prospect know that.”
- “If I have to turn down this job for good reasons, a better one will come along soon.”
- “Instincts are right more often than not. Better to turn down this job than find out the hard way my ‘bad feeling’ was spot-on.”
If you have real difficulty, a good rule is: don’t talk to yourself with any words you’d be ashamed to say to a friend. Also, remember that accepting yourself as you are doesn’t mean becoming proud and complacent. Keep learning, keep improving, but believe that the best you can do now is good enough for now. “Faking it till you make it” isn’t a breach of integrity; it’s a way to nurture the “better self” you really are deep inside. (If you can’t abide the word “fake,” try “walk tall till you stand tall.”)
How to Be Blameless Without Becoming a Toxic Perfectionist
That leads us back to the detailed definition of “integrity”: thorough, sound, blameless. Especially “blameless.” Contrary to popular opinion, “blameless” and “faultless” are not the same thing. The elements of actual blamelessness have little to do with agonizing over whether “It’s time to raise the shades” sounds better than “It’s time to raise the blinds.”
Blamelessness means planning your projects so you can do your best work.
Do the bulk of your writing when your creative energy is highest. Know the approximate amount of time you need to write a post (adding 10 percent for a learning curve if this is a new client), and reserve that space on your calendar (which will also give you a reference tool to judge if you have room for new jobs). Include time to finish your drafts a few days before actual deadline, which allows for unexpected interruptions and a brief “cooling” period before the final edit.
Blamelessness means keeping yourself in good physical condition, so you’ll be able to do your best work for years to come.
Take frequent breaks (preferably for a quick walk or healthy snack) during your work day. Take at least one full day a week off from work. Get your 7–9 hours of sleep every night, and have more than coffee and doughnuts for breakfast. Take time to eat a real lunch (though not so big as to leave you bloated and drowsy). Practice meditative prayer or whatever near equivalent you prefer. Contrary to many gut reactions, cultivating these habits is not a waste of time; it keeps you sharp so you can get more work done, not to mention saving your useful years from being cut short by burnout or heart failure.
Blamelessness means being open about real roadblocks.
As a Houstonian, I rode out Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 with my freelance-blogging schedule relatively intact; but with a little less luck, I could have lost all computer connections for days—or I could have seen the whole computer washed away toward the nearest bayou. Sometimes, despite your best planning, life knocks you for a major loop and sticking word-for-word to what you promised a client is no longer an option.
In which case: don’t beat yourself up as if it were your fault, and don’t hope the client just forgets all about you. Get in touch with the client at the first opportunity, explain the full details of your situation and when you expect to get back to work, and figure out the best mutually agreeable solution together. Even if they have to transfer the job to another blogger, they won’t blame you for anything—and they’ll respect you for being honest and responsible.
In closing: the “completeness” of integrity does not mean taking complete responsibility for making sure the entire world runs smoothly. It means taking complete responsibility for being someone your clients can rely on—and for believing in yourself.