Tag Archives: freelancing

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for New Entrepreneurs

Freelance

FreelanceOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I started my new communications consultancy almost a year ago. Since then, I’ve been hard at work delivering a combination of mini-courses, workshops and one-on-one coaching. What’s odd is that although I’ve worked as a freelancer before, I’m learning a whole new set of skills this time around.

This post is aimed particularly at those of you who’ve always dreamed of setting up your own businesses. Here are five things to bear in mind:

a. Negotiate your deliverables in detail. That might sound obvious, because, hey, what are contracts for, right? But I’ve got news for you:  contracts can be super vague. Trust me, in my previous job, I wrote them all the time. And especially if you’re working with a client you know well – deliverables can be vague and fuzzy – because, hey, we’re all friends, right? The only person who benefits from a fuzzy deliverable is the person paying for it. It gives them leeway to claim that whatever they are asking you to do – including work neither of you initially discussed – plausibly falls within the contours of the agreement. So be precise. Super precise. And if they ask you to do something that doesn’t match the original deliverable, ask for more money. Which brings us to money.

b. Always charge more than you think you should. A year or so ago, when I was still in the concept development phase for my new company, I got some great advice from the women in my Ellevate squad: if a client accepts your budget up front, you’ve charged too little. Damned straight. Entire books have been written on how to sort out our collective discomfort with asking for money (The Soul of Money is top of my list… ). But once you work throught all of that, you need to remember that you are running a business and that time is money. So there are two reasons to ask for more than you think you should. First, everything in life is a negotiation. However high you come in, they are likely to come back with a lower offer. Adjust for that in advance. Second, when you’re starting out, much of what you’re offering is new. So if, like me, you’re delivering workshops or mini-courses, you need to factor in not only your delivery time, but your prep time. This doesn’t meant you should never charge less than your day rate, once you’ve determined what that is. It might be a client whose name you’d like to see on your resumé. Or it might piece of work you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to charge less. Or, because you’re new to this  line of work, you might decide that you’d like to demonstrate how much value you add – and get some testimonials under your belt – before raising your rates. Whatever you do, remember that failure to talk openly about pay usually translates into lower rates.

c. Learn to say no. I’ve said this before, but it really does take a while to let it sink in: learn to say no. When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to say yes to everything. But – take my word for it – that can quickly erode any balance you might be hoping to establish in your life. Just as there are good reasons to accept work that doesn’t pay as well as you’d like, there are equally good reasons to turn down work even if you have time. It might not be something you enjoy very much, so the opportunity cost of doing it is higher than for other jobs you might take on. You might not need the money all that much. Or you might foresee that it’s going to be way more work than you bargained for, and will simply amount to a headache. I have taken this approach to editing. Editing is part of my current portfolio.  But because I’ve done so much of it in the past, it’s not as exciting as the other work that I do. So I only take on editing clients who either pay exceptionally well or who represent clients I’d really like to cultivate. (See b)

d. Fake it Til You Make It. When I teach public speaking and my course on life skills for offices, I encourage my students to adopt that adage “Fake it til’ you Make it.” A year or so ago, a friend of mine, who’s also a very seasoned communications consultant, gave me this piece of advice: “Never tell people you ‘could’ do something. Always say that you ‘can.'” And how. Before they hire you, people want to know that you can do something. And chances are, you can, even if you haven’t. So while I never accept work that I don’t think I can deliver to the very highest standard, I have been in the position of saying “Yes I Can.” It’s amazing how empowering those three little words can be. And guess what? Once you’ve done it, you can do it!

e. Learn when to give up. Much like asking for money, it can be very uncomfortable to pester someone to get back to you on work you’ve pitched them. So how often to ping? I used to approach people only three times before giving up. I assumed they just weren’t interested, but were too awkward – or busy – to bother telling me “No.” Then I started asking around. One colleague told me that the magic number is “seven” – assume that your name has simply filtered to the bottom of their inbox and they need a quick reminder. People are busy, after all.  Seven sounded high to me, but I tried it. And in one instance, after five tries, I got a gig. Another colleague told me that his approach is to “pester them until they either give you work or tell you to F#$% off.” Works well for him! The one thing I would say is that if someone has made it clear to you that he or she isn’t interested, leave them alone. If you push too hard, it can actually be off-putting and alienate them permanently.

My best advice is to be patient. You won’t make a lot of money during your first year while you build up your portfolio of offerings and client base. But if you remember that “Every Day is Groundhog Day” and persevere, you may end up really glad you sallied forth.

How about you? What advice would you give your newbie entrepreneur/freelancer self?

Image: Notebook-iPad-Freelance work by jeunghwaryu0 via Pixabay.com

When Freelancing Isn’t Enough

As I believe I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m currently looking for a full-time job.

This is something I’ve been slowly working up to over the past year or so, a decision borne  partly of economic necessity and partly of personal choice.

I’ve worked as a freelancer writer for the past five years. And I have absolutely loved the flexibility it has afforded me vis a vis my family as well as the various projects I’ve pursued during that time (e.g., writing a novel, starting this blog, getting super-involved in the PTA).

At  the end of the day,  however, it is incredibly hard to make a living as a freelancer, especially during a recession.

That was OK, for a while. I didn’t really mind not making a ton of money, because I was investing in growing my platform and most importantly, I was having fun. But now that we are looking to purchase a home (and p.s., London housing prices would appear to be immune to the global economy), it has become clear that if we want to put our family of four into something larger than a bread box, we need to have a serious second income.

But it’s not just about the money. I think that even if I were a gazillionaire, I’d probably be looking for a full-time job right now. For better or for worse, I was born to work. Call it an excess of energy. Call it an identity crisis. Or call it tired of doing pick-up every day after school. Whatever the cause, I’m at a point in my life where I really want to put my heart and soul into something outside of my family – and my own mind – and get paid for it.

I’ve always been a firm believer that – to the extent that one has a choice (which most women don’t) – decisions about work/life balance should come down to your gut. When I moved to London five years ago, what felt right was working part-time and investing a lot of time and energy into the kinds of things – like writing – that I simply didn’t have time for when I produced a daily talk show for public radio with two small kids at home.

But life is pendulum and now it’s swung the other way. My gut is telling me that it’s time to go back into the work force, if not full time, then very close to it. (Wednesday’s post will explain how I came to that conclusion.)

So these days, I’m busy hanging out my shingle wherever and whenever I can. The good news is that I may be one of the few people out there who actually enjoys looking for work. Part of that is my love of change. But I’m also one of those weird people who actually *likes* looking for jobs. I love the way writing a cover letter forces you to think about how your particular background and skill set make you suited to one job or another. Re-imagining yourself in this way also gives you more self-confidence going forward.

So off I go. I’m sure I’ll have loads more to say about this journey as it kicks into high gear. For now, I just try to start every day with a healthy round of that 80’s classic, Nine To Five

 

Image: Dolly Parton, Hollywood Bowl July 23, 2011 by MargaretNapier via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Can I Groom You?: The Importance of Female Friendships in Adulthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.

It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda Rosenfeld focusing on female friendship. At first, this struck me as a rather “girlie” topic for this particular women’s magazine. And then I thought, why not? Rosenfeld is absolutely right that most women spend far more time talking about other women than they do about their boyfriends/husbands/partners.

Then I saw The Duchess, a period drama in which the bond between two women is so strong that it survives one of them becoming the mistress of the other’s husband…even sharing a house!

Finally, I read about this new study out of UCLA arguing that baboons whose mothers have stronger female ties are much more likely to survive into adulthood. Interestingly, it’s not about the number of social ties – but their intensity – that seems to matter for the reproductive success of their offspring.

As someone who’s been likened to a rhesus monkey on more than one occasion, perhaps I was unduly drawn to this particular line of research.

But I also think it’s true. I’m not sure if close female friendships make me (or anyone) a better mother, but I am convinced that they are an essential part of a happy adulthood.

I regularly exchange emails with two friends of mine from Chicago, even though I haven’t seen either of them in three years and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever live in the same place again. But we met when we were all new mothers. And the intensity of that bond has kept us emailing about politics…parenting…literature – you name it – on a regular basis to this very day.

Ditto for my older friends from college and graduate school.

I have one historian friend who felt so close to another colleague that they decided to write a novel together. They each took one of the two main characters and then lobbed the plot back and forth to one another over email like a tennis game. She told me that it was an absolute blast and I’m sure it was also one of the most gratifying things she’s done professionally.

I wish I had better insight into what makes adult female friendships so essential. There’s the obvious bond of motherhood and all the agony and ecstasy that giving birth and raising a kid implies. But I find that these bonds are just as important for my friends who don’t have children.

One clue may come from the baboon study, which says that there’s something about the grooming process between females which lowers the release of hormones that induce stress.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to carry a hairbrush with me to my next ladies night out…

*****

Further to Monday’s post about freelancing during a recession, I came across this humorous and thoughtful blog – pink slip – about the travails of being a freelancer.

Image: Baboon Concentrating by patries71 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Freelancing in a Recession: Can you Slash Your Way Out of It?

I got an email from a friend of a friend the other day asking me for advice about how to jump-start a freelance writing career. She’d written some fiction and gotten an MFA along the way, but was now fund-raising for a non-profit and feeling…well, kinda empty.

“There’s not enough time for me to do what I love,” she complained. “I want to dedicate myself to my writing.” But she wanted to know if it was really feasible…i.e. could one really earn a living as a freelance writer? “I like being able to buy myself a new pair of shoes every once in awhile,” she confessed. “I don’t like to stress about money all the time.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. I wanted to give her my usual spiel about how great it is to freelance:  the flexibility to set your own hours, the freedom to do what you love, the ability to wear your pajamas to work.

But I’d also just finished reading Emily Bazelon’s sobering analysis in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about self-employment in today’s economy. According to Bazelon, while the number of self-employed workers increased by 27 % between 1995 and 2005,  the current recession has hit this segment of the labor market particularly hard. There is both greater supply (due to the rise in the number of unemployed people willing to compete for such jobs) and less demand (at least in freelance-friendly service sector jobs like tutoring and personal fitness). Not such a pretty picture.

Of course, if the jobless rate is, in fact, tapering off, then perhaps things will look rosier in the future for those of us in the freelance world. More likely, however, and even if things do improve, freelancers will have to find new ways of blending different careers in order to make ends meet.

I’ve written before about Marci Alboher’s concept of “slash careers” as a way of enabling people with multiple interests to realize all of their professional dreams at once (see her book One Person, Multiple Careers for the full story). But Alboher has also written about slashing by necessity – how to add in the requisite slashes to make it through lean times. For freelance writers, in particular, she advocates a mixture of writing, teaching, speaking and consulting (which is, by the way, exactly what she’s done with her own career).

I don’t know if this is the way forward. But in a sea of otherwise depressing data, it’s at least something to think about.

*****

In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration, have a look at Cards of Change, a website devoted to the business cards of the unemployed seeking re-employment.

Image: 1930 Unemployment Line aka Bread Line by SIR: Poseyal Knight of the DESPOSYNI’s photostream via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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