Ten tips for freelancers

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At its best, time for a long lunch out! This is L’Express in Montreal

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Some call it — ugh! — the “gig economy” as if we were all hep-cats pounding some drum-set in the basement.

Freelance life, if it’s your sole income, really means self-employment, running a small business. While freelance sounds hip and cool and breezy — being a small business owner sounds, and is, much more serious.

I’ve been full-time freelance since 2006, but have done it for long stretches before that.

Some tips:

 

Choose your clients very carefully

It’s tempting, especially when you’re starting out, to lunge at every opportunity. It’s not a good habit to develop. People can smell desperation and will, sadly, take advantage of it with low rates, slow payment, awful contracts and abusive behavior. Do your due diligence whenever possible so you can avoid these toxic monsters.

 

 

Cultivate a wide, deep network of peers, fellow professionals whose work, work ethic and character you know well.

 

See point one! Without a network, how would you know? With a network, you will be more able to pick and choose which opportunities are best for you and your skills. Once you have a posse, you can safely refer work to them when you’re swamped, and vice versa.

 

 

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Keep at least three months of basic living expenses in the bank or have access to a line of credit.

Very few clients pay quickly. The best will pay 50 percent up front, or one-third, but this varies by industry. Late payments are a huge source of stress.

 

Know your legal rights! Read every contract carefully and amend them whenever possible. In New York State, the law protects freelancers who get stiffed.

 

Some contracts have become virtually unmanageable. Worst case? Walk away.

 

Negotiate. Every time.

 

No one is ever going to just hand you bags ‘o cash. Ask for more money, more time, a larger travel budget, social media boosts, etc.

 

Keep growing and building your skills.

 

Your competitors are!

Attend conferences, take classes and workshops and get some individual coaching. Listen to podcasts and Ted talks and YouTube. Read books. Take a college or university night class. The wider and stronger your skills, the more options you have to earn multiple revenue streams.

Yes, I coach!

 

 

 

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Get out into nature. Slow down. Rest.

Take time off!

 

Without rest, recharge and respite, burnout is inevitable. For all the putative freedom — no commute! work in a T-shirt! — this is often a highly stressful way to earn a living. Some people with “real” jobs, some of whom have paid vacations and paid holidays and paid sick days, get time off.

Freelance? The only people who know when it’s time to take a break is us.

 

Set clear boundaries between work and rest. Keep them!

 

I don’t work nights or weekends. If I do, I take time off in recompense. I keep a fairly standard work schedule, 10:00 a.m. to 5pm. I don’t like early mornings so will only schedule something before 10:00 a.m. if it’s really urgent — like working with someone in Europe (five to six hours ahead of me in New York.)

Get out of your lane!

 

I hate this new admonition — stay in your lane! All it does is ensure we don’t listen to, look at and engage with others who are different from us, in politics, interests and vocation. If all you ever do is talk to other writers or fellow freelancers, you’ll quickly die of boredom! Go to museums and parties and gallery openings and concerts and stuff your kids are into (Fortnite!) to keep your brain open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

 

 

 

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Remember in your heart of hearts that your skills and work bring value

 

Freelancing can be really lonely and really isolating. If you work alone at home for years, and have no kids or pets and your partner or spouse works out of the home, it’s very easy to start to feel feral and ignored. Make an “attaboy” file of every bit of praise and kindness so on days when everything gets rejected you recall why you’re good at this stuff and things will improve.

Here’s a recent interview with an American freelance writer, a woman of color.

C-C-C-C-Confidence!

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That's what I'm talking about!!Image by Rodimuspower via Flickr

Can we get anything done without it?

Yet, and yet and yet, I have entire days I think I just can’t: make that call, send that email, ask that favor, knock on that door or send that resume.

People have told me for decades how confident I appear, and the operative word might be appear, for there are too many days I feel like some medieval warrior girding her loins before even picking up the phone or sending out an email.

As someone with no steady income, salary or pension down the line, I’m in lioness mode: I eat only what I catch and kill. That means having to hustle for clients every day, whether reaching out to former or current ones or finding and cultivating new ones.

Either way, it means a lot of people contact and no guarantee of the outcome.

Which, if I fail, means — I’m broke!

No pressure.

I can blame my reticence on a few things:

— I’ve been canned from a few jobs, which has permanently dented my sense of likability, no matter how businesslike a layoff can be

— I was badly bullied in high school for three years by a small gang of boys

— I spent ages 5 to 30 in Canada, a country that has no tolerance for self-promotion or boasting then moved to the U.S., a place with a population 10 times larger, competing with some mighty sharp elbows. Time to man up!

— I faced a tough crowd in my own family, people who often found much to criticize and little to praise

But without a cheery demeanor and the conviction you have something worthwhile to offer, it’s tough to get out there and ask for what you want, whether a job referral, grant recommendation or help with a new project.

I had recently reached out to two people, one an old friend who didn’t call back for weeks and one a new contact whose initial voicemail sounded fairly frosty. So it was with a heavy heart I called both of them back.

Both were delighted to hear from me. Both had lost my phone number and wanted to hear my ideas.

If I hadn’t had the confidence to reach out again, I would have lost out on some cool opportunities.

Do you ever feel lily-livered?

How do you get past it?

Sharkproofing 101: Seven Lessons For New 'Entrepreneurs'

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Just when you thought it was safe to go into business for yourself....Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking a lot about this “entrepreneurial” thing of late.

One of the enduring challenges, sometimes the primary challenge, of working on your own, is knowing how to discern the predators and make sure you protect yourself from them, or stay out of their way. Whatever their motives, sometimes without motive — you’re just collateral damage — they can inflict serious harm to your income, your confidence, sometimes your reputation.

An an entrepreneur, without an excellent credit score, you’re toast. If people don’t pay you, (on time or ever) and you’re late paying your bills, kiss your excellent credit score goodbye. Bottom of the food chain, baby.

Welcome to planktonworld!

I learned this sad lesson when I was only 19, still in college, and working freelance like a madwoman to make as much money as possible; I lived alone and paid my way through university. One of the magazine publishers — this happens a lot, I would see over the next few years — screwed a bunch of us out of earned income for work used. We had to sign some “we won’t sue” document to collect pennies on our pay.

I ran into this guy at some party a few months later. Silly me! I thought he was…broke! I had pictured him wearing a barrel, begging for apples on the street, living in his car. Hah! Useful and memorable lesson. In the fall of 2008, two magazines in the space of two months tried, again, to screw me out of more money. Thank God for lawyers!

I recently heard — chutzpah! In the heartland! — from another deadbeat publisher who I had to sue to get my money from. Turns out I gave her all rights to my unpublished material in so doing (about four stories) so she made out like…a bandit. Now she asks if I’d like to work with her again.

See: snowball, hell.

Every single person who works for themself, for now or forever, needs to know these.

Sharkproofing 101

1) Join every possible professional group in any way related to your field, specialty, industry: alumni groups, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations. Even if you’re a fresh grad with no connections, make some, today. They have listservs and newsletters and on-line forums and chat rooms where pro’s will dish freely and name names. How else will you know who to avoid?

2) Because knowledge — of the deadbeats and cheaters — is power. For fear of being sued, very few professionals will name names publicly. But, for example, within the American Society of Journalists and Authors (on whose board I sit), we have a Warning List, available only to our members. Several Very Big Magazines are on there so we know not to bother working with them. It costs a fat $200 a year to join ASJA; saving your butt, if you meet our qualifications, is surely worth $16.66 a month. Freelance Success is also a great resource.

3) Know a lawyer who will answer your email and call promptly. Use them whenever necessary.

4) Keep an excellent FICO score and five-figure, low-interest line if credit open and available to you at all times. I am about to ditch Chase — hellooooo? — for their appalling, greedy new habit of charging me $30 every time I access my line of credit. The one they already cut and won’t restore and charge me double-digit interest on — and, wait there’s more! — told I was lucky it was only $30. After $90 in charges in one week, I took this issue to TD Bank where a banker said, “Hm. Sounds like extortion to me.” You have clout, use it.

5) Attend conferences and parties and events, nay, even the opening of an envelope in your industry — or the one you are trying to break into. You need to meet as many people as possible because some of them, yes, are going to be lying cheats — and some are going to be amazing, kind, cool mentors. The latter will help you suss out, or recover from the flesh wounds of, the former.

6) Be a lovely person. I mean it. Kind, funny, generous, helpful. What’s in it for you? Karma, baby. When the next deadbeat bites your ass and that line of credit just got cut and no one is hiring — you’re going to need a friendly voice on the phone or Facebook. I recently got asked for help by someone very new to me. Sigh. I have very little free time and a crummy income. Can I afford it? Can I afford not to? When it’s just you and your Blackberry and your sweatpants and a lot of prayers and talent, you need backup. We all do. If you’re likeable and have freely given it before, and now ask for help, odds are you’ll get some.

7) Create a posse. The minute I heard True/Slant was…mutating….I called three smart, tough, savvy friends, one of whom I’ve never actually met face to face. They have been advising me since. Corporations and non-profits have boards of directors. This is yours. Like all boards, they add a fresh perspective, multiply your brainpower and, occasionally, talk you off the window ledge.

There, now…..Doesn’t a full-time job sound grand?