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 Turns out I gave her all rights to my unpublished material in so doing (about four stories) so she made out like…a bandit.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.
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?