The Business of Freelancing

The business of freelancing is hard work. I recently presented on this topic to my peers.

This afternoon, I gave a presentation titled “Taking Care of Business – Tools and Tech for Running your Freelance Business” at the annual 2012 Freelance Conference. The crowd was great and asked some incisive questions. Freelancing is a tough gig and I’d never have made a success of it without taking what others shared with me. this was a chance for me to give something to my freelancing comrades.

Once of the challenges of such a talk – I only had 45 minutes including question time – is to cover such a broad topic and do each part justice. I’m hoping to organise a longer version – perhaps a half or full day seminar on the business of freelancing – in the near future. If you’re interested let me know.

However, here’s my slide deck from today. Naturally, it’s not the same when you just look at the slides without the rest of my presentation. I’ve added a couple of extra slides here to add some extra information.

Persistence – key to getting published

Respected freelancer Alison Aprhys, pictured right, tells this story of persistence and self-belief.

I wanted to cover the Victorian floods but could not get a media outlet to commit to buying my images / stories, so I just drove to Horsham / Warracknabeal as an independent freelancer. Took gumboots, camera, laptop, sleeping bag and loads of determination. Met some amazing people,worked 16 hour days, got some good material. The result is that a US firefighting website has now commissioned me to write an article and supply images!

So go for it. Believe in yourself.

What a fantastic story. On those days when inspiration strikes but you can’t find an editor or other client who’ll commission your story I hope you remember Alison’s story.

Let’s quickly look at the lessons we can learn from Alison’s short vignette.

  1. Have the idea
  2. Work your contacts and see if they’ll take the story
  3. If you believe in the story, trust your instincts and do the work
  4. Look at alternatives for selling the story
  5. Do a great job
Four firemen doing flood relief in Victoria's west. Image Credit: Alison Aprhys -

It’s one of the great challenges of the freelance journalist. You’ve think you’ve got a great story but you can’t find an editor who’s prepared to take a chance that your sense for a story is right. Or that they won’t get something from someone else.

Doing what Alison did is a huge leap of faith. Alison believed that she had a great story. So she went out, did the hard work and gambled that she’s be able to sell the story.

Have you got the guts to do what Alison did and invest time and money on the self belief that you have a story worth telling? Let us know in the comments.

Contracts – model contracts

Having reviewed some of the key components of a freelance contract it’s time to look at a couple of actual contracts. I’m not saying that these are the contracts you ought to use (I’m not a lawyer – you should get legal advice before signing a contract) but they’re examples of the sorts of contracts you should try to use.

From the International Federation of Journalists

I quite like the model contract provided by the IFJ. The download link is on this page [as at 21 January 2011]. There’s a version in Microsoft Word format that can be easily modified to suit your specific needs.

The language is simple, it covers the key areas of payment and terms, defining the work and ownership and copyright and it’s usable for different types of work.

From the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Written for Australian journalists, the MEAA model contract [as at 21 January 2011] also ticks all the boxes for freelance workers and is a good template for building your own contract. It also covers indemnity for the freelancer.

So, that’s the end of this short series. I hope it’s been of value to you. Please share your thoughts through the comments and keep coming back to Journo Advice.

Contracts – copyright, ownership and intellectual property

When you complete a piece of work and deliver it to a client can you re-use it with another client? Or, can the client then use it over and over? Can they on-sell it? Can you resell it to another client? All of these questions have, at their heart, the basic principles of copyright, ownership and intellectual property.

As a a freelancer, you need to decide whether a piece of work has any recurring or ongoing value.If it does then you need to protect that value by withholding copyright. That means making the terms of use clear for that piece of work to the client. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you take a photo at a sporting event and sell it to a newspaper. Will you give the newspaper ownership of the image, allowing them to use the image over and over with the newspaper and their other publishing properties? Or will you retain ownership and only license the newspaper to use that image under a specific set of circumstances?

Ali vs Liston 1965- from Philosofi

The image on the right is a great example. It’s one of THE iconic images of boxing legend Muhammed Ali at the peak of his powers. He destroyed the champion Sonny Liston in one round of boxing. Ali glowers over his opponent, seeming to to be taunting him to get up after a devastating blow.

Now, imagine if you were the photographer of that image and saw it being reused all over the place for close to 50 years. I imagine that you’d like to receive a commission each time that image is used. Well, if you shot such an iconic image, or wrote a brilliant story, then you can write a contract that restricts your client’s use of your work so that either you received a payment for each re-use (if you’re a journalist, these are usually called reprint fees).

When you negotiate a contract with your client you need to take matters like this into consideration. Are you selling the work to a client of granting them a license that limits use of your work in specific ways? The following is an example of the intellectual property clauses from a contract I have with a consulting client.


9.1      <my company>:

(a)       agrees to assign to <the client>, all existing and future Intellectual Property Rights in existing or future Materials;

(b)       acknowledges that no additional documentation is necessary to complete the assignment made under paragraph (a) and that by virtue of this Clause all existing Intellectual Property Rights in existing Materials vest in <the client> and all future Intellectual Property Rights in all future Materials, on their creation, will vest in <the client>; and

(c)       must do all things reasonably requested by <the client> to ensure that the Intellectual Property Rights are assigned to  <the client> under this Clause

9.2      <my company> warrants that the Intellectual Property Rights assigned to <the client> under Clause 9.1, and <the client> use of those rights, do not and will not infringe the Intellectual Property Rights of any other person.

9.3      <the client> grants <my company> a royalty free licence to use any generic models or methodologies that are not confidential, provided the use of those materials are not used for or in relation to a customer or competitor of <the client>.

In this case, I’ve sold the my intellectual property rights to the client. This suited the terms and the nature of the engagement.

Here’s an example of a similar clause from another agreement I’ve previously used – this time from a publisher.

I hereby assign a license in the attached article (in all printed and electronic forms including internet distribution) for a period of 120 days from submission to <the client>.

<the client> may not on-sell or provide a usage license to another publication without the express written consent of <my company>

If a license to re-use the work is granted, <the client> will pay the author 50% of the amount of the agreed fee shown on this order upon each re-use of the enclosed article.

In this case, I didn’t sell the work – I licensed it. If you think the work you’re producing is likely to have some ongoing value then it’s important to protect that value.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share? Do you dig your heals in with your clients over intellectual property issues?Lets chat about it in the comments.

Contracts – defining the scope of work

It’s amazing but so often I hear of freelancers who end up in dispute with clients over what seems to be obvious – neither party understood what the other understood the work to be. In today’s instalment on freelance contracts I’m going to be short and sweet.

As a freelancer – before you agree to a job make sure you understand what the client expects.

That may sound like a statement of the bleeding obvious. In project management speak it’s called defining the scope. But it also involves creating an agreed process for managing scope changes. It’s often the case that as you show a client progress on a job that they’ll get ideas for different or improved features. That’s OK but you need to firmly, but politely, let the client know when those extras will

a. affect your ability to deliver the agreed work on time; and

b. cause you to incur unplanned costs.

Define the work

I’ll use the example of a writing project I did recently for a corporate client. The job was to write a case study about one of my client’s clients and their business partner. Here’s how I defined the scope

1. How many people was I expected to interview?

2. How many words did I have to write?

3. Did I have to fit into a particular corporate template?

4. Did I need to source supporting images?

5. How long did I think the task would take (and therefore what would I bill my client)?

6. What were the deliverables? Were drafts expected along the way?

Now, that’s a fairly simple example but it covers what services I was offering, what the client was getting and a timeline for milestones and final delivery. If you can get these things right then you’ve gone a long way to also creating a payment schedule.

It also means that if the client, after reading a first draft realises that I need to interview another subject then I can estimate how much extra time that will take and, if required, adjust my quote. We can then discuss it and  I’m not left feeling like the client is screwing me and the client doesn’t suffer from bill shock.

Defining the scope of a complex piece of work can sometimes take as long as the actual work. However, without a good plan you’ll never really know if you’ve reached the right destination.