How are you going to improve in 2012?

It’s a new year. That’s a good time to look back and look forward to learn from the past and improve your performance.

This year will be my second in full-time self employment. Last year involved a huge amount of learning as I got the hang of working by myself for myself most of the time. I managed to get and keep a regular contract client but I still needed to keep finding other clients and ensuring that I make the most of my available time. I spent some of the quiet time over Christmas and New Years thinking abut 2011 and what I could do to build on the success.

It’s easy to look back and only think about all the things I didn’t do well. However, I think that it’s easy to look at the negatives and create a list of things to do and improve upon that’s too long to do and that distracts you from your main business. this year, I’m going to focus on two things and two things only.

Organizational skills

Managing my time remains my biggest challenge. While there’s an emphasis on the “free” in freelance I need to work harder at creating and maintaining good work habits. That means making better use of my time.

I have a whiteboard on the wall in my office that I use for jotting down notes and reminders. This year, I’m going to draw a five day plan on the board and divide each day into three slots and allocate a specific activity to each slot.

The idea isn’t to totally regiment all my time but to provide some structure. One of my weaknesses is that I can be easily distracted. By creating a regular schedule I can make sure that I make the most of my office time.

Improving my Craft

My main task is writing. I believe (and am told) that I write well but that’s not an excuse to rest on my laurels.

In order to improve my writing I need to do two things more than I have been recently. I need to spend more time reading and more time writing. This ties in nicely with my time management objective as I’ll be setting aside part of my week to write in different styles.

Like all journalists, I’m a slightly frustrated novelist so I’ll put some focus on writing fiction. I don’t know if I’m any good at it but I have some good critics at home and I’m sure they’ll provide honest feedback. My plan is to put at least one three hour block aside each week to write some fiction.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading more than I have in some time. I’ll continue that, endeavoring to read outside my comfort zone. That’s always being a challenge for me as I know what I like.

So, what are you going to do to makem2012 evenbetter than 2011?

Best links of the week

This weeks best links for freelancers.

Each week, I read about the art and science of running your own business. Here are a few of the articles that caught my eye this week.

How To Work From Home Like You Mean It [Fast Company] – Working from home requires a new mindset and a good system, not just a nicer pair of pants (but put those on, too).

Be Ready When Someone Asks, “What Do You Do?” [Freelance Switch] – Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people what it is you really do. Many people hear the word ‘freelancer’ and don’t quite understand what it means, other than you probably work from home in your pajamas.

Boost Your Freelance Writing Career In 2012 With These 5 Social Network Tips [Get Paid to Write Online] – Start 2012 with a bang by improving your social network activity.

12 Must-Read Freelancing Predictions for 2012 [Freelance Folder] – Don’t you wish you could see into the future of freelancing? If you could, you’d know what freelancing trends are coming up and what niches to concentrate on. You’d be ahead of the game on social media too.

And, just to finish things off, here are a few of the stories I’ve had published recently.

Apple CEO salary jumps to $377M

Review: Kingston Wi-Drive

Review: HTC Sensation XL

Group Test: Routers

Four things the 2012 CIO will need to focus on

Have a great week.

Time Wasting Clients

Hitting deadlines can be challenging when the client doesn’t help.

Some clients expect you to be able hit short deadlines even though they delay sending you important information and are clearly out of their depth when it comes to managing time and organising a project. But time wasting clients cost you money.

Continue reading “Time Wasting Clients”

Dealing with disaster – losing your income

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.

Image Credit: The Ammons Law Firm

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

What was your cheekiest pitch?

Pitching for work can be tricky. But sometimes an unconventional approach can be successful.

Cheeky MonkeyA few years ago, I decided that there was a magazine I really wanted to write for. It was a combination of the subject matter and the prestige of the masthead that drew me. However, it was clear that the editorial team was fairly stable.

After a few months of reading the magazine I noticed that one of the regular contributors was not delivering at the same quality as he had previously. In depth topics lacked analysis and seemed to filled with padding rather than the quality I was used to.

I looked up the editor’s contact details and sent an email stating that I was a freelance writer looking for new opportunities and that I felt that the column I was reading was dropping in quality. The editor responded to my email saying he’d keep me in and. I thanked him.

About a month later the editor contacted me and offered me a three month trial writing the column in question. That was six years ago and I’ve written for every issue of that title ever since.

So – what’s been your cheekiest pitch?