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Posts Tagged ‘independent contractor’

How Many Irons Do You Keep In The Fire?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, women, work on April 24, 2011 at 11:00 am
The various incarnations of Steel.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s one of my favorite expressions — having multiple irons in the fire. I’m not an ironworker or blacksmith, but a freelance writer and author. If I don’t have multiple income streams (21st century jargon for the same idea), I’m toast.

Now that one-third of us work permalance or as independent contractors or whatever you want to call people who leap from lily-pad to lily-pad to keep their bills paid, making small bets across a variety of disciplines, projects, clients and borders is now business-as-usual.

Even if taking risks makes us feel a little queasy emotionally (What if I fail?), we know it’s also necessary. By definition, not every project, no matter how well-planned or funded or filled with enthusiasm will succeed. Some will sag like an old balloon or blow up with  bang in our surprised faces.

But taking mini-risks remains essential to creative growth. So, every day, like so many others now do, I call and email people across the country, and across oceans, looking for ways to boost my income, add to my network of smart, hardworking, ethical people and see what shows up next.

A new book, “Little Bets”, by Peter Sims, addresses the reality every creative self-employed person must face: you’ve got to keep a pile of irons in the fire at all times. Some will be red-hot, others stone-cold. But as long as you have a dozen or so, (call it Plans A-L), you’ll be fine.

Some of these low-level risks, the little bets, won’t turn into anything. But, with luck, persistence, re-tooling, timing…a few will.

In my decades as a writer, several of them self-employed, I’ve seen this firsthand. I rarely panic about where the money will come from to pay my bills — and my monthly nut is four figures — because I am always exploring new avenues, making new connections and sealing a deal or two.

I’m not wealthy. It would be nice to worry much less and much less often, about money. But I have to be honest enough to admit — I enjoy taking (small, measured) risks.

It’s ironic as hell to me that, by taking a low-wage, low-status job working as a retail sales associate in a suburban mall, a desperation move to shore up my income, I may have opened more and better and much more lucrative doors than anything I’ve ever done in my life. By taking the risk of losing my clutch on middle-class life, wearing a plastic badge and folding T-shirts, I began to see many things more clearly, and wrote a book about what I saw.

Here’s The Wall Street Journal review of Sims’ book.

Tell me about the mini-risks you’re taking, your own little bets…

Freelancers Now Free To Go Broke — Late Payers Worse Than Ever

In business, Media on April 28, 2010 at 8:03 am

The freelance life — no cubicle, no boss, no schedule — can look so alluring. It increasingly means no income, reports The Wall Street Journal:

About 40% of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released in mid-April by the New York-based Freelancers Union, a 135,000-member organization for independent contractors across the country in fields such as media, technology, and advertising. It was the first year the group asked the question on its member survey. And more than three out of four freelancers said they’ve had trouble getting paid over the course of their careers, according to organization.

The problem could become more acute as independent contractors emerge as a more central piece of the work force. The financial crisis and the resulting high unemployment thrust many professionals into the ranks of freelance workers, which may continue to grow despite signs of an economic recovery.

Littler Mendelson, a San Francisco-based employment law firm with 49 offices nationwide, predicts that in 2010 half of previously eliminated positions filled will be filled by contingent workers—such as independent contractors, freelancers, and temp workers—accounting for as much as 25% of the work force nationwide— based on client interviews and a survey conducted by a staffing analysis firm.

Since independent contractors aren’t covered by most federal employment laws, they don’t enjoy the same legal protections on wages as permanent employees, says a spokesman for the Department of Labor. If a permanent employee doesn’t get paid, federal or state labor departments can fine companies and even prosecute company executives. But independent contractors often have to turn to the court system, in most cases small claims, if they go unpaid.

I wrote about this trend for The New York Times last year — after two publications did their level best to screw me out of almost $7,000 I’d earned. One owed me $5,600 and sent me emails telling me of their financial troubles. Like I care. If I can run my business efficiently, so can you. I found a contingency lawyer, sued and won half (the lawyer, sad to say, took a third of that.) I hired another lawyer — a softball buddy who helped out for two bottles of Stoli — whose letter to the other deadbeat produced payment within two days of his letter, after months of nyah-nyahing and stonewalling.

These losers always manage to pay for everything else — their office space, heat, light and gas for their vehicles.

Freelancers? Feh, they can wait.

No we can’t — not with credit lines restricted and credit card APRs now shooting through the roof. My bank is charging me $10 every time I use my overdraft protection (line of credit) — this in addition to the usurious interest rate they charge on the balance and cutting my line of credit from $20,000 to $15,000 — because…they can.

If someone isn’t paying you, sue their ass. Don’t “be nice.” You don’t want to burn every  bridge, but some look much better in flames. If a client is screwing you and smiling, why would you want them anyway?

Wary Workers Now Prefer Self-Employment, Stats Say

In business, work on April 21, 2010 at 7:07 pm
Interior of an Office

Image by Galt Museum & Archives on The Commons via Flickr

Interesting story in The New York Times about people who have been so burned by the recession, the vicious not-so-merry-go-round of hiring and firing they prefer not to have a full-time job:

What is known as “contingent work,” or “flexible” and “alternative” staffing arrangements, has proliferated, although exact figures are hard to come by because of difficulties in tracking such workers. Many people are apparently looking at multiple temporary jobs as the equivalent of a diversified investment portfolio.

The notion that the nature of work is changing — becoming more temporary and project-based, with workers increasingly functioning as free agents and no longer being governed by traditional long-term employer-employee relationships — first gained momentum in the 1990s. But it has acquired new currency in this recession, especially among white-collar job seekers, as they cast about for work of any kind and companies remain cautious about permanent hiring.

In just one snapshot of what is going on, the number of people who describe themselves as self-employed but working less than 35 hours a week because they cannot find full-time work has more than doubled since the recession began, reaching 1.2 million in December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists who study flexible work arrangements believe that the increase has been driven in large part by independent contractors like Mr. Sinclair and other contingent workers, struggling to cobble together whatever work they can find.

As the economy continues its halting recovery and employers’ confidence remains shaky, economists believe that it is likely that the ranks of these kinds of workers will continue to grow.

I recently spoke to a class of journalism students at Emerson College in Boston. The night’s final question, technically off the topic of my visit (ethics) was striking: “Aren’t you freaked out by not having a job? Being freelance all the time?”

No.

Like these people in the Times piece, I’ve been laid off from a few jobs, instantly and, a few times without clear warning, severed from well-paid work I enjoyed in my field. For me to sign up again, willingly and with a real sense of excitement, I’m not sure which employer would be The One. Loyalty doesn’t matter. Seniority, nope. Multiple graduate degrees? Not those either. The only protection against being canned, and falling deep into poverty, is saving the biggest amount of cash you possibly can and keeping your overhead as low as you and your loved ones can tolerate.

I was lucky in growing up in a household where no one ever had a “real” job — i.e. a steady, solid paycheck, a pension, paid sick days or vacation. Everyone worked as a creative freelancer: film, journalism, television. You live check to check. You get to know a really good accountant and try very hard not to get behind on your tax payments since it’s pay as you go. We drove (good) used cars, bought art and cashmere and plane tickets overseas in better years and enjoyed them in lean ones.

I learned young that even the best ideas you try to sell freelance can be ignored or stolen or shot down by people collecting paychecks because…they feel like it. They owed us no allegiance and we all knew the deal. It’s a painful and expensive lesson to learn instead mid-life and mid-career, as millions now have in the recession. Like a wave of bitter divorce(e)s, some of us aren’t eager to trot back up to the altar of full-time work. It’s too dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket.

Are you still in a full-time job? How secure — if at all — do you feel?

If you work for yourself, how’s that going? Do you feel more secure knowing it’s all up to you?

I Need To Get Paid. Now. This is Funny, Because….?

In business on August 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm
Money

Image by jenn_jenn via Flickr

I wrote a piece about this, as yet unpublished (and therefore, itself, as yet unpaid) for The New York Times, about how sloooooooowly so many freelancers/vendors are getting paid in this crummy economy. Forget 30 days past invoice. People told me about 45, 60, 90, even 120 days.

Last week I had dinner with a friend, a fellow NYC freelancer, who’s been waiting — wait for it — a year+ for payment by one of the country’s Big Name Consumer Magazines. I gave her the name of my friend the attorney, whose letter to a local deadbeat publisher last year got me a check within days, after four months of “nyah-nyah-you-can’t-make-me-pay-you” emails. Last fall I sued, and won 50 cents on the dollar after six months, an out of state deadbeat publisher who left many freelancers nationwide empty-handed. I know that many others preferred to wait and hope.

Today was the latest mano a mano with a moron in accounts payable at yet another Big Organization who laughed in my face when I asked where my check was. She had no record of the invoice, this 30 days after submitting it. She found it risible, my impertinent assertion that, I having behaved in a professional and competent fashion promptly meeting her organization’s needs, would expect the same in return. Does collecting a paycheck really still seem like some Kryptonite defense you won’t soon be making the same damn call to someone equally rude, dismissive and unprofessional?

So here’s the current small business/self-employed/freelancer menu. You demand as much payment as possible upfront, (which many refuse), or use Paypal or a credit card to collect your dough. Or you get to be the jerk calling people to find out if they’ve paid you for the product or service you have already provided them, (and risk burning valuable bridges) or the broke jerk who’s paying high APRs to their credit cards to keep paying all those nastily insistent monthly bills that keep showing up anyway; Amex just cut me off my decades-long 9.9% fixed rate and threw me into the 15%+ variable APR sharkpond. Or we’re using our lines of credit, the ones we’re seeing cut or cut off entirely. It’s called cashflow; when it becomes a trickle because your buyers are clinging to their cash, your creditors could not care less.

I’ve earned plenty this summer. But no one’s paid me. How about you?

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