There are three common dilemmas that freelancers face: finding who they should work for, what they should say to those people, and how they should communicate with clients. Earlier this year, during the peak of lockdown, those three questions pushed me to the blink of destroying my triumphant freelance life.
In February, I wrote this pretty controversial piece for The Independent: I use an email tracker to spy on people I work with. This is why. In this piece, I divulged my love and usage of my email tracker. Why do I love it? Well, let’s be frank, being a freelancer can be excruciating at the best of the time, we are constantly relying on other people for work and getting an email confirming the go-ahead for work can feel like a feat.
As I put it in The Independent: “A huge problem with the “new normal” is that many of us are now working from home and having to rely on endless digital communication to get anything done. For me, as a student and journalist, I am tied to my emails for lots of my work (despite my intense loathing for them). The one thing that makes it better? My email tracker. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
But being a young, gullible, sleep-deprived teen, I thought it was salient to create awareness of email trackers to trade for a piece in a big-time publication. All I did was create awareness of how insecure I was.
But nothing could prepare me for what was about to come.
People were angry: ‘what a stupid boy’, 'somebody needs to keep an eye on this Qais, he’s going to be a threat to society in a couple of years,' ‘what an idiot', were just some of the less vitriolic reactions. The worst was when someone told DM saying I was a 'creepy, disturbed child, who should be sent to CAMHs', bearing in mind, it was the peak of lockdown and my mental health was at the lowest point, and that condescending, offensive and alarming comment deeply affected me.
What hurt even more were the fellow journalists bombarded me on Twitter, expressing their disgust. One journalist wrote: “Dear editors, for the sake of journalism, please don’t respond or commission this deluded teen”.
I am Gen-Z, a part of the so-called social media generation. But for the first time in my life, I logged off Twitter.
But after I wrote that piece, I was exceptionally surprised by the response I got from my clients - most, if not all, politely justified themselves for not responding. The common response was: “Qais, please do not take it personally if I have not responded, I would love to work with you more, but I get several hundreds (some times thousands) of emails a day, and I often miss your email, or sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day to respond to you, please accept my apologies”.
I was positively overwhelmed by the response and the apologies got from people is what ultimately mattered in my freelance life - every nasty response I got from my article felt frivolous, futile and fleeting.
But there is one lady, who changed my perception and decision to use email trackers: Rebekah Brooks. In between calling her “Grandma”, telling her how she is “50x more gorgeous than Ross Kemps current wife” and writing to her about Islamophobia, I told her about how many times she read my email. After illuminating to her that she read my email “82 times”, her and her team told me that if I wished to communicate with her and her team I had to stop using email trackers.
I wrongly thought it would be charming telling Rebekah Brooks that I knew how many times she read my emails. I thought using an email tracker would give me some power in the relationship (I did ask her if her “heart was pounding like a beating drum” as I knew how many times she read my emails). But all it did was stop me from working with her company.
I spend a huge amount of hours a week crafting bespoke pitches to The Independent Voices, The i-opinion desk and The Guardian opinion desk, and I consider myself blessed even if I get a generic, quick email saying “No, thank-you”; I would go further to say, I feel like God shines brightly upon me if I get a response that mentions my name, such as “Hi Qais, no thank-you”. Most often, with those prized and ideal clients of mine, I never hear back.
Whist I avidly believe the teams at those publications hate me (because in my defence other publications always respond, perhaps, I blame, as the Telegraph would say, the London Liberal Bias), I can’t help feeling disheartened, discouraged and worthless when I don’t get a response. When I used an email tracker, and I used to see editors from them desks reading my emails and not responding (or worse, not reading my emails), I used to bellow at my laptop, “those metropolitan intellects! Will you just reply!”, now that I don’t use an email tracker, I don’t have the same reaction when an editor doesn’t respond to my pitches.
Over a year ago, I spoke to senior therapist Sally Baker about my usage of email tracker, she believed my usage of the email tracker to be “counterproductive”; I spoke to her about my decision to stop using them; her message remains the same: “Using a tracker is an act of someone who feels doomed to failure, someone who feels unsure and out of their depth.”
She added: “A confident person communicates and lets their message go out unencumbered by doubts. If you’re secure in who you are and what you have to say your message will reach the right people. The people who don’t open or don’t respond - it’s their loss.”
Like all the articles I write, I usually have an imperative message that I would like to illuminate to my readers or a societal story that I would like to divulge to my readers, but not this time; instead, I have a rather frivolous, but simplistic sensical message: Next time you open an email, reply to it - otherwise, your force inconceivably ambitious people to use email trackers.
I feel so much better not using an email tracker - and all I do now is click SEND - and if someone is too incompetent to respond, it’s a reflection on them, not me. As Sally says: "The people who don’t open or don’t respond - it’s their loss.”