There’s great advice for freelancers in lots of places. Here are a few of the favourite posts I’ve found in my reading this week.
One of the things I’ve not been very good at in the year since I started this blog has been linking to all of the great advice I’ve picked up through reading from a wide variety of experts. So, every week or so, I’ll be posting links to some the articles I’ve found most valuable.
Freelancers need to plan for disasters. Guest writer Mark Juddery explains why from his own, very personal experience.
One thing that freelance writers discover early in their career is that there is no sick leave or holiday pay in this job. In most cases, this doesn’t bother us, or we’d go back to working nine-to-five in an office. You start to miss all these things more, however, when an accident leaves you out of action.
This happened to me just over a year ago, when my car was demolished by a drunk driver at 120 kph. I have no memory of this, but I awoke later in pain, to see the fire department slicing through the roof of my car. I was carried out in a stretcher and spent a night in hospital. Between the pain and the painkillers, I wasn’t at full capacity for the next couple of months. As I was not responsible for the accident, medical expenses were paid by the NRMA (the only choice in the ACT, but fortunately they were fine – provided I didn’t charge them for natural remedies).
While medical expenses were fairly straightforward, another issue was not so simple: loss of income. As I’ve kept in generally good health during my decade as a freelancer, and have previously had the good fortune to avoid any major injuries, the problem was new to me. I have no regular income, save a lowly-paid weekly Fairfax newspaper column, but usually have enough work to keep me busy, sheltered and fed. Happily, apart from my column, I had no deadlines over the next two weeks.
So how could we calculate “loss of income”? If I were a salaried employee, this would have been simple. I previously had loss-of-income insurance with one of my credit cards, but when I discovered that it didn’t encompass the more variable income of a freelancer, I cancelled the insurance.
The accident happened in November, which was bad timing. As a lifestyle and travel writer, the end-of-year “silly season” is a prime time for assignments. Most years, I get plenty of newspaper assignments around that time of year – often the result of several hours’ pitching. Naturally, this income was all speculation. Instead, we had to rely on my relatively modest earnings of the previous quarter, when I had spent more of my professional hours on book promotion. Dividing my quarterly earnings by 13 was an imperfect method of working out my fortnightly income, but it was the best one available to me.
Another problem was with my income protection insurance. I didn’t have any. I had looked this up in the past, but the policies I had investigated were rather expensive. A colleague once had a policy with FAI/Tower (as part of a package), but she cancelled her income insurance after it was costing her some $700 a month. As most freelancers earn less than staff journalists of similar experience and calibre (who, of course, should have no reason to pay income protection insurance), this caused a considerable dent in her earnings.
Had I known, I could have arranged a policy through Media Super, which is far more reasonable than through an insurance company. Media Super’s income protection cover is generally based on 75% of your income. (If your monthly income is $1,000, the maximum cover available to you is $750 per month.) Of course, working out your income is another matter, and you might need to speak to the good folk at Media Super about that.
I had no knowledge of Media Super’s insurance rates, but as it was a motor accident, I relied on the NRMA to provide me with insurance cover. (Happily, I was not responsible for the accident, or I would have shouldered some of the costs.) This meant that I would eventually receive a payout, including pain, suffering… and loss of income. However, as they planned to pay in one large lump-sum payment, I would need to wait until I had mostly recovered. This, I was soberly informed, could take up to three years.
Happily, I was prepared for this. While it might occasionally seem easier said than done, a freelancer should always ensure that they have money stashed away for just such an occasion. Though I am told that I should expect my payout soon (far less than three years from the event), it has taken over a year and counting.
Fortunately, though not fully healed, I was able to work full-time at my desk (and even travel for work) within a couple of months. Had this not been the case, I might have had slightly more trouble paying for food and rent.
That’s one of the less glamorous parts of freelancing. Unless you have a lot of money saved up, you should work out some form of loss-of-income insurance. You never know when you will need it.
Guest blogger Mark Juddery is a writer, author, screenwriter and journalist. He’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Australian Journalists Association) and the Australian Society of Travel Writers. In addition, he’s also the author of OverRated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History. Check out his blog at Mark Juddery.com
What do I do? It’s a question I’m often asked and had a chance to recently answer
Most business advice guides suggest that you need an “elevator pitch”. This is a short statement that descsribes your job, your business or whatever you are known for in just a couple of minutes. In the online world, this can be the sort of brief description that appears on an “About Me” page or widget but it’s named for the sort of description you can deliver to somene during an elevator ride. It’s short and direct.
Last night I had the privelege of talking about my work as a freelance journalist to students from my daughter’s school as part of their annual career’s fair. I thought I’d share my notes with you so you can get an idea of how I describe my work. It’s a bit longer than an elevator pitch but I was asked to address some specific questions.
What your job involves, what a typical day might be like
A typical work day starts at about 9.00 AM. I work from home and have a dedicated home office with all the stuff I need. It’s not part of the house so I can separate work from home (important if you’re self-employed)
I have a workflow system so I can track work that I have coming up so that I can prioritise what’s coming up. At any one time I may have up to 20 tasks in the queue.
Depending on the day I might spend the day writing, interviewing people either on phone or in person or putting some time into boring stuff like office admin (accounts, etc)
I usually finish working between 5 and 6 but take time out to pick up kids from school or meet with friends to break things up
Your journey into your career (some take interesting and unusual paths)
I got my job sort of by accident – it was never planned
A friend was freelancing for APC and was too busy to hit a deadline so I subbed in (I’d been doing some work for free on a couple of websites to build a reputation)
Then I started to pitch my own work
Made contact with other freelancers and expanded my network
Some of my friends in the business came to the job through traditional university/cadetship paths. That works well and equips you with the skills you need. I had to learn on the job.
For the first few years I had a full-time job and freelanced on the side
What you like about your job, what attracted you to into the area
I meet interesting people
I write about stuff I’m interested in
Because I write about technology I get lots of cool toys to play with
I have a lot of freedom
I get to travel
What the challenges are
Cash-flow: you don’t always know where your next job is coming from
Prioritizing and time management: when you’re on your own schedule you need a lot of self discipline (and that takes time and practice)
Loneliness; although that might depend on your personality type
In some niches, pay rates are falling (the global economy is a huge factor)
The types of skills/personal attributes you think are important for you to be effective in your role
You have to like writing. There’s no point doing a job where you’re not going to enjoy the main activity
Motivation and self-confidence: if you can’t sell yourself you’ll starve
Organization so that you don’t miss tasks or deadline
As a freelancer, if you can’t solve your editor’s problem then you’re not doing your job
Any advice you would give to someone considering this career
It’s not for everyone.
It can take a while to establish your reputation
Listen to all that stuff your english teacher tells you about grammar, construction, spelling and language
Development of time management skills is a key to freelance success.
I’ve been freelancing full-time for almost a year. Prior to that, I was working in an office job and fitting freelancing in around that work. By necessity, my time was tightly managed. However, when I went 100% freelance, my diary was far more flexible. That meant I had to develop a new level of discipline with time management.
Here are the five things I do to manage my time.
1. Workflow management
I’ve been using a self-developed workflow system using a program called Bento on my Mac. The neat thing is the system can be synchronized to my iPad and iPhone easily so I can record ideas, pitches, commissioned work, work in progress and submitted work.
Without this system, I’d lose track of my work as in a typical week I’d have several deadlines on the go at any one time.
2. My whiteboard
I have a small whiteboard (900 x 450mm) on my wall that lists the week’s deadlines, to do items (such as bills and invoices) and other stuff I need to keep track of. It’s a low-tech solution but it works to keep my focussed each day.
3. Set daily goals
Each work day I set targets. The nature of the targets varies depending on where I am in my work cycle. Sometimes it’s to conduct a certain number of interviews or write a number of words or submit a number of stories.
Daily goals are important. By setting small, achievable targets that are linked to deadlines and budgets it makes the somewhat daunting tasks of hitting monthly or annual earning goals mo achievable.
4. Mix it up
I know my personality pretty well and know that I need to vary my work otherwise I lose focus. So, I try not to fill consecutive days with the same work. If I have a full day of writing, I make sure my next day involves something different.
If it’s not practical because of pending deadlines then I try to introduce some diversity by planning work for different clients. If I have a day of writing about consumer tech, I make the next day about enterprise or management. That gets my brain working in different ways.
5. Schedule some fun
In order to get the most out of my work time I always slow for some social time during the work day. If I was in a 9 to 5 office I’d occasionally grab a coffee with a friend or chat in the lunch room. There’s no reason that has to stop just because I’m self-employed.
Each week, I plan to catch up with a couple of friends on the phone and go out for lunch with my wife. While those activities can cut into work time, they actually help me be more productive by keeping my brain fresh.
So, what do you do to get the most from your time?
Sometimes clients ask for things that we know are wrong or not suitable. Or they can’t see the bigger picture and miss the potential benefit of something. And one of the best sources of wisdom about delivering what your customers wants is the great Herny Ford. Here are five Henry Ford quotes and what freelancers can learn from them.
1. If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
This one is often used as justification for NOT listening to clients and deciding what’s best for them without consultation. This wasn’t really what Ford meant.
Henry Ford keenly understood his customers. He may not have run focus groups and engaged market research consultants but he paid attention to them.
Freelancers need to do the same.Look at the market, listen to all your clients and help guide them to what they need – particularly when what they need isn’t what they want.
2. Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.
Never show up for a meeting or make a client call without being ready. Enough said.
3. Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs.
The other day guest poster David Hague argued that cost containment is crucial for freelancers. Freelancers of all persuasions are under increasing competition. So, as the number of freelancers increases, the pool of potential work has to be spread wider. So, one way to ensure that we don’t run out of money when times are tight is to not overspend when times are good.
4. If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.
When your client is frustrated with you (and it will happen one day) a good thing to do is listen to yourself. And then imagine what it would be like to be your own client.
Are you speaking clearly? Are you using technical jargon when it’s not needed? Do you sound grumpy or short?
5. You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.
Steve Jobs once said that “real artists ship”. In other words, your reputation will be built on results, not plans. Deliver what your clients want on time EVERY time. If you’re not sure how long a job will take, allow extra time.
Always under-promise and over-deliver – but keep it reasonable.
Who are your business role models? What are your favourite business quotes?