Setting a pay-rate

I know a lot of journalists who work very hard but don’t seem to reap the financial rewards for their effort. The write thousands of words per week but barely manage a subsistence salary, struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. My observation from discussions with journalists is that there are a number of contributing factors to this.

Many writers are under the mistaken apprehension that their work is not of a high enough value to charge a higher rate. As a consequence, they take whatever work comes their way at whatever rate the client deems to pay. The problem is that clients always want to pay the minimum possible.

Contributing to this, many writers don’t really understand how to calculate the pay rate they need in order to get by. Here’s one way to calculate that.

In Australia, the average annual, pre-tax salary is around $60,000 per year. That equates to about $1154 per week, Just to make the maths easier I’ll round that up to $1200 per week, assuming you work for all 52 weeks of the year. However, I suspect that you’d like a few days off. Under Australian law, employees are entitled to four weeks of annual leave. Oh, and there’s the 10 days of public holidays and weekends. If you take all of that and calculate it into a pay rate per day you end up with just 221 working days in the year. Realistically, you’ll lose about 20% of those days on administration (doing taxes, travelling, pitching stories and so forth). That leaves you with about 177 days to make your $60,000.

Once you break that down, you get to an hourly rate of about $42.

The question is – how many words can you write in an hour? You need to know this because editors and publishers work to a totally different set of rules. For the print media, editors and publishers know exactly what it costs to produce a page. Their’s is an old business so there are accurate models that cover the cost of paper, ink, layout, distribution and all the other things that are needed to get a magazine onto the shelves.

That means that when choosing the work you’re going to take on – for freelancers like me this is one of the great attractions of the job – you need to be able to work out whether a job is worth taking or whether you’re better off putting the time into pitching a different story to an editor or increasing the size of your business in some other way.

There’s a long running debate as to what word-rates journalists should be paid. I take jobs that pay anywhere from $0.20 to $0.80 per word. If a 1000 word story paying $0.20 per word job is going to take an hour as it’s on a subject I know well or I get to re-use research from a previous story, then I’ll take it. The effective payrate for me is actually $200/hour. That means I can afford to have a slower day. If the same 1000 words was going to take two days I’d probably pass on the job unless it was going to satisfy a couple of other criteria.

The Optional Criteria

  1. This cheap job was going to give me a chance to fund some research that I could re-use for future stories.
  2. This job was an entry into a new client that could become lucrative in future

This is a topic that I suspect will continue to grow as I think more about it. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know.

Evernote – a must for mobile journalists

Evernote is one of the most used apps on my iPad and Macs. Used on any one device it’s a great piece of software but its cloud backend, allowing notes to be synced between devices with no effort, makes it a great way to work in both the office and when on the road. Here are three reasons why, if you’re not already using Evernote, you should be.

1. It’s an invaluable research tool

Whether you’re in the local library, working online or just putting together ideas, Evernote is incredibly useful. Start by creating a Notebook for the project you’re working on. If you’re surfing the web and find something, you can use a browser extension to either send a link or the complete contents of a web page into an Evernote note.

Of course, there’s the obvious application of being able to quickly type notes as you’re doing your research.

2. Evernote is multi-platform

The reality is that we don’t always carry our laptop or iPad with us everywhere. It’s more likely that when a spontaneous idea or unexpected piece of information comes your way that it’s your smartphone that will be on hand.

The mobile version of Evernote can run on iOS devices, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm and Android devices. Simply run Evernote and make your note or record some audio. Then you can sync back to the cloud and access the information from any other device you’ve installed Evernote to.

3. Templates

Although one of the great things about Evernote is that it can capture unstructured data easily, templates can be a great way to keep things organized.

On the Mac desktop version of Evernote, create a note that has the headings and structure you want to re-use and go the File menu. Choose Export and save the File as an Evernote XML. When you want to use it, simply import the template and you’re ready to go.

Saasu – cloud-based accounting

A few years ago, when I first started freelancing, I needed to get some basic accounting software so that could raise invoices and track payments. My needs were modest as freelancing was a sideline to a fulltime job. But when I decided to become 100% self employed earlier this year, it was time to look at a more comprehensive solution. That’s why I went to Saasu.

Saasu is a cloud-based accounting solution that works on any platform including the iPad. Although I’m predominantly a Mac user, I need to be able access my accounts from several systems. Traditional, locally installed accounting systems rely on me having the computer with my accounts with me all the time. This just isn’t practical for me. Although I typically carry a laptop, I don’t like the idea of having my accounts on a computer than can be stolen, lost or damaged. I could keep the software on a computer in the office and remote into it but that’s a pain. While remote access software is pretty good these days it’s still not perfect.

Also, when I travel for just a couple days I travel with just my iPad. I needed a solution that was multiplatform. That meant a cloud-based solution was likely to be the best way to meet my requirements.

My shopping list of functions is fairly basic but I think typical of small businesses or sole traders.

  • creating and sending invoices
  • entering expenses
  • creating my Business Activity Statement for the tax department
  • running payroll
  • bank reconciliation
  • basic reporting

What I’ve found over the last few months is that Saasu can do all of this.

The first step in using Saasu is to go to the home page and create a user account. That gives you access to a test account so you can try things out as well as the opportunity to create your own business entity.

Once the account is set up, you are confronted with Saasu’s Dashboard. This is a snapshot of your cashflow, profit and loss, outstanding invoices and upcoming payments. You can see each of the main elements of the screen by clicking on each of the images in the gallery below.

Entering invoices and expenses is very straightforward. All of the onscreen forms are nicely laid out. When entering data, fields are automatically populated where it makes sense. For example. when entering a sale, if you need to enter the payment at the same time, simply clicking in the payment date field will result in the date being instantly populated from the invoice date. Similarly, the payment amount is automatically filled in with the invoice amount.

If you need to run payroll, Saasu is already set up with Australian tax tables. Once an employee is set up in the system, all you need to do is enter the salary amount and all the tax, superannuation, Medicare levies, Fee-Help and other deductions are automatically calculated.

Reporting is well executed. For those who need to complete a Business Activity Statement for the tax department, Saasu generates the worksheet with just a couple of clicks, making it easy to complete the monthly or quarterly statement.

Now, I’m aware that many people are skeptical of cloud services. There are concerns around security and backup. Saasu provides information on how they backup data and how you can do your own backups. Saasu has 7 backup processes across 4 locations and it’s possible, using the Saasu API to have your own bespoke solution developed.

Saasu certainly isn’t the only cloud-based accounting solution. Xero is another, popular option. However, over the last six months I’ve come to rely on Saasu as an integral part of my business.

Blogging on the iPad

Many journalists are also bloggers, either running their own corner of cyberspace or blogging for some publication. Most blogs use some sort of Content Management System, or CMS, for getting content live on the web. It turns out that the iPad is a pretty good tool for doing this although you’ll need to invest a few dollars to make it work.

iOS Tips for Capturing Images

The iPad makes it easy to capture images from the web.

To grab an image from a website, just tap-hold on the image. A context menu will appear that allows you to save the image. That will put the image file in the iPad’s Photo app.

If you need a screen capture, which might be the only way to get an image if you need something that the usual image saving process can’t do then simple hold down the iPad’s front button and press the power button. If the sound is on, you’ll hear a shutter sound as the screen flashes. The screen capture will be saved automatically into your Photos.

Image Editing on the iPad

There are literally hundreds of image editing and manipulation apps for the iPad. We’re going to suggest just two.

The first is actually an iPhone app but that’s not a big deal. Crop Suey makes it easy to crop and rotate images – perfect if you need to clean up a screen grab or some other image.

Crop Suey costs $1.99 from the App Store.

The second app is one for when you want to make things look a little special. Color Splash (free from the App Store) lets you apply some special affects to images. It takes an image, converts it to black and white and lets you selectively recolor specific parts of the image. If you need to highlight something in an image, just recolor that specific part.

Blogging Software for posting and editing on the iPad

Of course, the iPad’s version of Safari is big enough to run the WordPress admin tools from then browser. But what if you’re not online?

WordPress for iOS is a good place to start. It lets you create posts and save them locally. You can add images but it doesn’t let you set the alignment easily. Also, if you want to create a link you have to manually create the link – that means you need some basic HTML skills.

The reality is that WordPress for iOS is OK but very basic. In our experience, it also not very stable. We found that it would frequently crash after saving.

Another option is BlogPress. It’s a more polished app that can be used to create content for a whole bunch of different blogging systems including Blogger, Drupal and Joomla among others.

We like that is offers some basic HTML formatting and seems far more stable than WordPress’s app. One thing we did notice with the HTML formatting was that it uses the older B and I tabs for bold and italics respectively whereas “strong” and “em” are more commonly used these days.

We also like that BlogPress will automatically send an update to Twitter and Facebook when we post without the need to load a plug-in to WordPress.

BlogPress costs $2.99 from the App Store. In our view, the cost is worth it for the advantages it boasts over WordPress’ free app.

Keyboard Case – make your iPad a notebook

Typing on the iPad’s soft keyboard isn’t too bad but sometimes it’s nice to use something with actual buttons. We reviewed the PADACS Rubata Keyboard Case a few weeks ago at ITWire.

We’ve been using this case for awhile now and it’s getting used a lot. It does add some bulk to the unit, making the iPad the same size as a netbook. However, being able to pull the iPad out and use it as a regular tablet gives it an edge over many netbooks.

The PADACS Rubata Keyboard Case can be purchased from the PADACS online store for $110AU

A journalist’s toolkit

One topic of conversation that keeps coming up, over and over, between journalists is “what equipment do you use?”. Now remember, I mainly work as a technology writer so my kit is heavily titled in that direction.

Here’s my list.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch: This machine is over a year old now but I recently swapped the original hard drive out for an OWC solid state disk. This has given it a huge speed boost. I use the MacBook Pro when I’m travelling for more than two or three days.

iPad: I bought the iPad before its local release as I was able to sell a bunch of stories about it to publishers before all the other local writers had theirs. I wasn’t expecting it become a regular part of my kit but for business trips where I’m away for only a day or two it’s far lighter than the MacBook Pro and just as capable for writing a story, blogging, keeping up with email and the like. If I’m on a plane, I use to to watch movies and TV shows and read books using both iBooks and Kindle. I’ve also accessorised with the Rubata Keyboard Case from PADACS and Apple’s Camera Connection Kit.

iPhone: In case you’d missed it – I’m an Apple user. The iPhone is my phone, mobile diary and email system and entertainment system. When I’m in the car, it’s my GPS as I’ve stopped using my old TomTom unit as it was just another gadget. And the sound recorder, camera and video camera are great for when you need to capture a moment and don;t have the entire kit on hand.

Zoom H2: Zoom’s audio recorders are simply brilliant. It’s able to record to an SD card, making it a snap to import content into iTunes. The H2 can record using two separate microphones in either mono or stereo.

VoIP: As my office is separate to the rest of the house, getting a second phone line connected with Telstra was simply too hard and was going to cost too much. I was fortunate enough to win a VoIP package from MyNetFone and am very happy (easy to say when it’s free but the service really is very good). I’ve got a Cisco IP phone and pay as I go. I rarely spend more than $10 per month for all my calls.

Canon MP640 printer: When I last needed a printer my requirements were simple. I needed a multifunction that could print to CDs and DVDs, duplex, had two paper feeds and WiFi. The MP640 ticked all those boxes. It hasn’t missed a beat in over a year.

iMac 27-inch and Magic Trackpad: When I’m in my office, I like to have a big screen so that I can have my current work and a web browser open side by side. The iMac is perfect for this. I used to use a mouse but find the Magic Trackpad far more comfortable. It also uses less space on the desk and makes it easier to drag the mouse from one end of the large display to the other.

My office network: As my house and office are separate buildings, I had to set my network up woth two routers. One’s an older Linksys WRT310N and the other is a Netgear N600 that I modded with DD-WRT. I’ll post the full story of the LAN set up shortly but if you plan to move files between machones on your LAN you need to make sure you get a router thay supports 802.11n for wireless and Gigabit ethernet for cabled connections.

Storage: With the increasing storage capability of computers and the vast quantities of data it’s simply too risky to not have a properly considered storage and backup strategy. In lieu of that, I’ve cobbled together something that works for me. I have a Thecus N5200 NAS (network accessible storage) that can hold 4TB of data. That’s the main data repository. I also have a second NAS, a smaller DLink DNS-323. I have a scheduled task on my Thecus NAS that copies my iTunes library to the DNS-323 so that if one NAS dies i don;t lose my iTunes library as that represents a significant investment.

The iMac and MacBook Pro each have an external drive connected to them for Time Machine backups.

I also keep my current working files synced to Dropbox and iDisk. Yes – I’m paranoid about data loss.

Cameras:  I have three cameras I use regularly. For “serious” photography I have a Nikon D80 with 18-55 and 70-300 lenses and a SB-600 flash. Most of the time I use a Panasonic TZ10 as it can shoot great photos, has a manual mode and can capture excellent HD video. Camera number three is the iPhone.

Hardware I’ve stopped using: As a tech journalist, I often buy gear that I’ve reviewed that i think would fit my working life. Occasionally I buy something that I use for a while but falls out of use. One is my netbook. The iPad has replaced it.

The other is my video camera. It’s a great unit that shoots great video to tape but it’s not HD. I could replace it but the iPhone and TZ10 fill its purpose for me. If I was shooting professional video I might change my mind but that’s not something I currently do.

Software: Software is a very personal thing. What one person loves, another can loathe. But these are the apps I use just about every day.

Bean is a word processor for the Mac. Its free and gets rid of all the clutter that larger, commercial products include. As I file stories as plain text I like that it provides me with a word count and basic find/replace and spell check.

Saasu is a cloud-based accounts system. I use it for all my expensing, account managements, tax statements and invoicing.

Microsoft Office – I don’t use it often but as I often receive files in the Office formats I have to have it. Also, I sometimes do corporate work and I have to work with other Office users. I know Apple has iWork but I really can’t be bothered with the iWork to Office export process.

Parallels and VMware – From time to time I have to run Windows apps on my Macs. These programs let me run Windows within a virtual machine so I can run Windows on my Mac easily.

For FTP I have Filezilla on my MacBook Pro and Cyberduck on the iMac. I could use the same program on both but I like to share the love!

Evernote is the bomb for note taking and sharing. I can take notes on my iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad or iPhone and have them magically sync between devices over the cloud. It’s a must have application.