Let me just preface this post by saying that not getting fair pay for your work sucks. It really does. It’s rotten and unjust to work your backside off for less than minimum wage, which is why many freelancers follow the advice that says, “hold off until you can get a worthy compensation for your time”.
I had nobody to tell me this when I started my first regular freelance gig, at probably less than $10 an hour. The terms were exploitative, but at that point I had been out of the workforce for about a decade, and my confidence was in the pits. I was ready to grasp at just about anything.
So I found myself editing Chinese serial fiction, trying to slap atrocious translations into shape. I wasn’t making much money, but it was my own money… And it made a huge difference to my self-esteem.
Apart from making that little bit of money, two things happened. One, I gained experience. I was no longer a person with nothing on my resume. I could now truthfully say that I had one year of experience as a fiction editor.
Second, I kept getting praised for my work. I got into the editing team’s top tier. I was assigned the responsibility of training newbies and rating translators. I got involved in new and interesting projects. I got a couple of bonuses. My team leader kept telling me that I was a responsible, professional, and capable team member during her monthly calls.
Eighteen months later, I moved on to better-paying opportunities, but I will always be grateful to the first place that took a chance on me and helped me progress from nothing to something – probably the hardest step for every freelancer.
So, for me, working for peanuts eventually paid off. If I kept waiting and waiting for an opportunity that was “worth my time”, I might still have been stuck.
I’ll just give one caveat. If you do start with low-paying work, try not to let it hog all your time. For many months on my first job, I was like a hamster on a wheel, too busy running to look right or left or to notice I’m going nowhere. So do reserve the time to look for better options and polish your skills.