don’t be funny about asking for money: I’m answering your questions

freelance money questions resolved

Years ago, ages it seems, I had a job where I had a great deal of control over how much people were paid. I conducted performance reviews, sat in on budget meetings, and fought for comp increases for valuable employees. Even though money in and of itself isn’t the only way to retain employees, it doesn’t hurt to recognize and reward hard work. However, what I started to notice was that the talented women on my team weren’t raising their hand and asking for what I thought they deserved. Their anxiety in broaching the question of title changes and quarterly increases was palpable and I remember at the end of one review me saying, that’s it? That’s all you’re going to ask for? From then on, I made a point of mentoring women to fight for what they deserved. It seems counterintuitive, right? Companies want to keep costs down (especially salary + benefits), and here I was teaching my team how to ask for more. However, it was important to me because only one person in my career taught me how to fight for myself. He taught me to ASK for what was my due. My mentor coached me on salary and benefit negotiations (and contract negotiations, in general). From him I learned about BATNA, and more importantly, I learned how to be assertive and bet on myself. Because, quite honestly, in enrages me that men–when acumen and experience are leveled–make more money than I do.

After my recent Great Depression, I made it my mission to give the people I care about more of the kindness I’d received during those dark months. I passed around resumes, reviewed Statements of Work, and even though I’m not a lawyer I explained the importance of IP and indemnification. I told several of my friends they were underpricing themselves, that they should ask for 50% of the project fee, up front, that they should bill project with an hourly cap because hourly doesn’t always cut it especially for those who have tenure and years of experience.

I scanned Facebook group posts where women were trepidatious when it came to asking for more. After sharing one of my contracts with a few of my friends for reference, it put me to thinking that it behooves all of us to share information and be helpful where we can. It behooves us to price right for the work we do so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

So…I’m here to help. Here’s what I know:

  • How to create air-tight Statements of Work/MSAs (Master Service Agreements)
  • How to price for marketing and writing projects
  • When to use hourly vs. project fee
  • How to negotiate (I’m pretty ruthless)
  • How/when to renegotiate and ask for more

If you have any questions related to the above, drop them in the comments (you can leave a comment anonymously), and I’ll do my best to answer all of them in an upcoming post (or point you to the right resources), and if you see questions and you think you can help, chime in!

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

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on imposter syndrome + being a student

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We’ve all read about imposter syndrome, ad nauseam. Some argue that it doesn’t exist, that we’re right to experience self-doubt because we’re grappling with the reality of our limitations, that there will always exist things we know and don’t know, and our paralysis comes from confronting that fear. We’re taught that women experience imposter syndrome more than men because we’re told, straight out of the womb, all things we are and not. We’re taught to recede, to stand behind, to support. We watch old shows and movies where women are diminutive and deprecating, where they either pander to their beauty or folly. We tell our girls that they’re pretty before we praise their intellect, curiosity or artistic temperament. Even now, even after all this supposed change and time, women are still, in some respects, considered lesser than. I had a significant other who once tried to explain derivatives to me as if I was a small, developmentally-deficient child while I quietly reconciled his financials and made all his numbers foot.I have a journalist friend who studied engineering and she’s routinely talked down to by people who have nowhere near the amount of education and experience she has. In my last job, I spent more time trying to appease and be liked while my male peers’ acerbic and abusive behavior was tolerated and even accepted. And I’m not the only one. Women have to balance respectability with likeability on top of all the actual work they have to do.

I hate the word “ladylike” because it implies limitations, a way women should behave. So is it a shock that we doubt ourselves simply because we’re reconciling all the ways we should and should not be before we even evaluate our level of acumen and experience?

The things we carry.

I’ve been privileged in the sense that I’ve had a lot of wonderful professional opportunities and I’ve made a career over the past twenty years based on what I can build. I’ve built companies, brands and mentored hundreds of people. I’ve published books and a literary magazine and started an impact organization that aided disadvantaged women in Bed Sty, Brooklyn. And yet, whenever I start something new–an article, a book or a new project–I suffer from crippling, abject terror. Even if I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do dozens of times before, I still get anxious. I still wonder: can I do this? Still.

I read somewhere once that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 90% of the criteria while men will apply if they have at least 60% of the required experience. I’ve built my career on overcoming fear and, on paper, I was never qualified for every job for which I’ve applied. I was all about positioning and side hustles. I was hired for a marketing role in book publishing because I had built and marketed a successful literary magazine online. It also didn’t hurt that I was a writer who was a voracious reader. I won a senior role at an agency because of my curious, non-linear CV. I tell people that I go to the challenge, even though it momentarily terrifies me. What did I know about managing clients after spending over 11 years on the brand side? What did I know about marketing business and diet books when I never read or enjoyed either? What did I know about starting an impact organization or a literary magazine? I’d start every venture taking inventory of all the ways in which I wasn’t qualified for the challenge put in front of me.

The one thing I truly know how to do, the one thing in which I have confidence is my ability to tell stories. Stories always start with a fixation–writers exorcise their obsessions–what gets them hot. A kind of primal attraction. Then there’s an outline for the three acts or movements, and the realization that although you may have an idea of where the story will go, it never goes where you intend it. The mark of a confident writer is the acceptance of the unknown, of all the factors that are beyond your control once you dive in and wade your way through your fixation. So I like to think of every new opportunity in the same light–I focus on the aspects I do know, the things I can control, and then I play it as it lays. I’ve also come to realize that failure is part of the process. There will be books you will write that will end up in the bin. There are projects you will take on that will be a disaster, and it’s important to separate your self-worth from what you do because who you are is not what you do.

It took me forever to realize that.

Image Credit: Gemma Correll

Image Credit: Gemma Correll

When someone says they’re an expert or a guru, I do this squinty thing with my eyes. Both imply there’s nothing left to learn, that one is now and only a teacher while I believe that everyone, regardless of age and tenure, is always a student. There’s always more to learn. A yoga teacher told me once that the mark of an advanced yogi is someone who repeatedly returns to the basics classes to re-visit and re-learn the foundation poses. After twenty years of practice, they swallow their ego and re-learn downward facing dog from the ground up.

I think I’ll always panic right before I start something new, whether it be a writing project or a project. However, what comforts me is that this feeling inevitably passes because like writing a book, I break down the story and tackle what I can, day by day. If you consider the whole the possibility of you being subsumed by it is greater than you saying, ok, today I will do this one thing. I break everything down to its component parts, and I’ll tackle each part knowing that I’m moving to the whole.

What also gives me comfort is the fact that I go into everything with the perspective of a student. At the moment, I’m bidding on a major brand project and I’m also downloading newsletter marketing tutorials and listening to podcasts about how to build Facebook ads. One would think that I’m at the point in my career where I’m passed the tactical. Yet, I don’t see it this way. I see it as coming back to the mat and re-learning my poses. I see it as always taking the role of the open and receptive student instead of the arrogant, closed teacher.

Top Image Credit: Pexels

my captain obvious moment as a freelancer: play nice with all aspects of yourself in the sandbox

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

When I started my career in finance, I learned about the power and peril of diversification. Creating a diversified portfolio carries with it an element of calculated risk–too much and you lose focus and expertise, too little rendered you a specialist tattooed with an expiration date. Your work lies in cultivating balance in the extreme so that in the event the ground opens up and gives way, your fall won’t be precipitous, bottomless. A strategic, well-rounded portfolio is the hedge you need to weather industry downturns and personal catastrophe. When I started my career in digital marketing in 2001, many of my peers were recalcitrant–they considered online commerce a blip, a fad that would inevitably fade and their marketing prowess, experience, and education would prevail. They resisted social networks and failed to learn the language of a seismic behavioral and cultural shift that would become omnipresent, ubiquitous. A Darwinian marketplace rallied against them, rendering smart, albeit stubborn marketers, obsolete because they didn’t diversify–they failed to keep up. On the flipside, you’ve seen what happens when one company or person tries to be all things to all people: they end up being nothing to no one. They end up broken, a whole that would never equate to the sum of its parts. They’re reduced to a spin-off, a division excised from the whole, auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For much of my career, I drew a fine line between work and art. Never have the two played peacefully in the sandbox because one was always kicking sand in the other’s face. Work colleagues were hardly aware that I wrote lyrical, dark books and writer friends were always shocked when I used words like “brand positioning” and “customer segmentation”. One part of me made money and the other derived purpose from writing the small stories that rarely registered on the cultural radar. One part of me paid for the other; for much of my own career, I served as my own patron. I had become my own benefactor. For a while, this strange symphony worked. I wrote my first book and published a successful literary magazine while working in marketing at Time Warner Cable and HarperCollins. I started (and subsequently sold) my second book while juggling brand strategy and digital marketing projects as a consultant. But money sometimes gets tricky and soon I regarded my “work” with mounting annoyance. I was beholden to marketing in order to create the kind of stories that bolted me out of bed in the morning instead of looking at it for what it was: another vehicle that allowed for storytelling.

To use an anti-feminist, subjugating turn-of-phrase: I had become my own bitch. And I didn’t like it.

This week my therapist and I talked about how I fell so hard, so fast when I moved to Los Angeles. Part of it was prolonged grief from not adequating mourning the death of my mother (sound familiar?), for sure, but, more importantly, I had spent the year prior to my move in a state of persistent acceleration. There was a cross-country move to plan, projects to land and conquer, a book to revise with my agent and sell, and the subways, the frenetic rush of people, the axiom of living in New York: do it faster! and it was only after I unpacked all the boxes did I realize I had been running on empty. I’d been forced to settle in quiet and I didn’t exactly like what I saw. I told my therapist that I wanted physical and geographic space, to which he responded: from what, your friends? I laughed, shook my head no, then shook my head yes and then said I don’t know. Maybe all of it? Maybe I’d built my life defined as one thing, stuck in that thing, and moving offered the promise of not being the thing people knew, or expected you, to be. I arrived and wrote a good book in two months and then fell apart.

During the journey back, I created a portfolio–you know, your resume in narrative form with pretty pictures and colorful slide dividers because everyone craves the elevated, derivative state. We want our stories beautifully told. We want our personal brands to be luminous, yet accessible, yet aspirational, but still inspiring and achievable. Yet in creating the outline which would morph into the final presentation, I found it difficult to tell the story of me without including the whole side of my life devoted to storytelling. Suddenly, it felt strange to not talk about the dual nature of my life and the value that it brings to bear. I took on a small project for a successful blogger (and dear friend) where I helped her tell her story in professional form. Gone are the media kits and capes decks–I wanted to create something that started the conversation but wasn’t the whole of it, and I found tremendous joy in using my two loves: marketing and lyrical storytelling and profiting from those lives lived without needing to take a long shower.

Today I had a wonderful chat with an acquaintance who served as my editor on a short essay I’d written about going to Ireland with my pop. I’d be referred to her by a friend and she was curious about my background. Could I edit books? Could I develop projects with authors? Could I help authors structure their books and tell their stories in a compelling way?

Of course, I can.

I started talking about all the work that wasn’t on my resume. Editing at Scholastic, working closely with editors in book publishing, editing and publishing a literary journal, butchering my friend’s novels and helping them create structure and refine their voice in their work. I even trotted out the Columbia MFA, although I’m fairly ambivalent about the degree now, and regret the debt that accrued as a result of it. I’ll be paying for my writing to the grave and so on.

As a freelancer coming out of a long hiatus and finally back in the proverbial saddle, I realized that I’d been myopic about consulting. I failed to create a portfolio that spanned my strengths: marketing, digital, social, editing, brand architecture, organizational design/process, writing, editing, brand development, project management and development. I hadn’t mined a network that would account for my diverse skill set. I hadn’t positioned myself as someone who could create, distribute, analyze and refine. It was only this morning did I see the need to have all the kids playing nice in the sandbox because right now I need all the kids to rally.

Now I position myself as a creator, someone who builds things and tells stories, and what distinguishes me is my range, breadth, and depth. What sets me apart is the fact that I color outside the lines and I also create new books in which to color.

This is why I want to remain here. I want to feel the new, uninhabited and unconquered. I want the space to be able to see.

competing with toddlers turned strategists

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It must be good to be a thirty-year-old guy, a friend tells me one day over diner pancakes and eggs. I’ve known my friend for nearly a decade and we meet for breakfast to trade war stories of the freelance life. He listens to me prattle on about being outbid my men and toddlers turned strategists, and after a long silence passes my friend, the epitome of cool, calm and collected, confesses that he’s afraid of approaching his “best-buy” date. Do I know what it’s like to be a forty-something, fifty-something man being interviewed by a kid who just learned how to shave? I nod in tacit agreement (about the age, not the gender) and I think about my friend, who’s razor sharp and one of the smartest people I know, a man who looks good for his age and then it occurs to me that in thinking that phrase, looks good for his age, I’ve too been programmed to believe that on a long enough timeline, we’ll all approach our best-buy date. We’ll all face professional extinction.

Unless you’ve been burrowing under a fortress of Winona Ryder movies, Soul Asylum DVDs, re-runs of All in The Family and Different Strokes, or choruses of Conjunction Junction, the world as we know it has changed. My generation (the ubiquitous X) grew up without the Internet or tethered to devices that provided a means for connection/disconnection, and we were taught to believe that you had to pay your dues; you had to work long and hard for professional success. We filed papers in file cabinets, we took unpaid internships (I couldn’t afford to), we faxed, and we didn’t speak unless spoken to because we were groomed to know our place in the pecking order. We were programmed to respect hierarchy as if the corporate world were some aboriginal tribe with the CEO serving as its all-knowing elder.

No wonder we were called Generation Apathy. No wonder the next generation took a look at the ones that preceded it and said, you’ve got to be kidding me. You could hear the collective group-text murmur of hell no. This is a generation who would go on to break ranks and tear apart everything we had come to know about one’s career trajectory. Theirs was a generation that wouldn’t settle.

Most of my peers have perfected their get-off-my-lawn rhetoric. Gen-X’ers love to throw around words like “entitled”, “greedy”, “lazy” and “impatient”. However, a day doesn’t go by when we don’t hear the constant refrain of Generation Fucked — millennials are poor and burning out. But this story isn’t about the plight of Gen Y; it’s about age and struggle.

Many of my close friends are in the 20s and 30s and there’s much to be said for reverse mentorship. Our generations have tremendous, equal value and we’d be insane not to collaborate to undo the ruin that Boomers imposed on us. Millennials have ruffled the proverbial feathers of the status quo and we’ve seen an avalanche of companies focused on impact and social good, an uptick in entrepreneurship, careers based solely on using the internet (or building applications and software for it), and more importantly, they changed the perception of the freelancer as no longer a code for failure. Consulting isn’t a dirty word or what you did when you were in-between jobs. Finally, people stopped asking when was I going to get a “real job” because freelancing has been legitimized. Organizations and a plethora of websites are devoted to the care and feeding of this new breed of worker.

After I left a job that was slowly killing me, I envisioned taking some time off and then returning to the world of sixteen-hour days, supply requisition forms, and 401Ks. However, one client turned into another and suddenly my days were of my own design. Instead of taking on clients I didn’t believe in for the sake of paying employees and managing overhead, I connected with business and brands I believed in. I took on projects that challenged me, and I found that creativity couldn’t be found chained to a desk. I’ve done some of my best work in the past few years, and being a consultant has fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Every freelancer will tell you the hardest part of their job is deal flow. Some are lucky to have retainer clients — a consistent stream of income that provides a financial salve in the months where their inbox is filled with tumbleweed and crickets. I’ve been privileged to have consistent work over the past three years, but a buzz that was once annoying has morphed into a shout I can’t ignore. The buzz being: wow, you’re really expensive.

Last week I wrote about the value of experience, but I didn’t touch on age and how it could potentially be a liability. Last fall I bid on a big global project and I priced it fairly because I knew the work would look stellar in my portfolio and the client would be a coup. However, the client came back to me and told me that my fair rate was “extremely high” (huh?) and that others came in at half or a third of my rate. Considering the work and scope involved, I found it impossible to price south. I wrote the client and outlined what would be needed for the role:

  1. Someone who’s successfully launched products in global and local markets.
  2. Someone who understood the nuances + cultural indicators between markets.
  3. Someone who could create an actionable global strategy with measurable results but also break down the tactical roadmap, budgets, and resources needed.
  4. Someone who had an in-market resource on-hand.

Ultimately, I won the project and the client confided that no one came close to the experience needed for the role but they were willing to cut costs where possible. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. People who have little to no experience mispricing their work or misrepresenting their level of experience. Anyone who owns a Snapchat or Instagram account is automatically a strategist. Anyone who can create a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, is automatically a seasoned copywriter or journalist. Part of me wonders if I could be a surgeon if I binge-watched enough of Discovery Health.

We live in an age of P&L surgeons who are all too happy to take scalpels to their marketing budgets, to settle for “just good enough” instead of successful and extraordinary. Businesses who are willing to sacrifice short-term bottom line benefits for long-term brand health and business growth.

It’s no secret that society reveres the young. Helen Mirren looks “great for her age”, women are encouraged to age gracefully, and people who have dedicated their careers and lives to companies are quietly being replaced by their younger, phone-toting doppelgangers. No one wants to be reminded — in life and in business — of the inevitability of extinction. People feed off the energy and verve of the young, resulting in bottom-heavy staff plans and ignoring the precarious balance needed in weighing verve with experience and perspective. We live in an age where one is endlessly traded in for another rather than playing the long and viewing the composition of a team and company with a level of diversity (gender, sexual orientation, and age) that will drive real and meaningful growth.

Instead, many tenured freelancers feel their age as an indelible mark, a liability and a perception that experience automatically means expensive — as if placing the correct value on our breadth and depth of experience is viewed in the pejorative. Or perhaps they feel age breed a lack of verve and passion. Most of us feel the cost cutting, projects awarded to those with less experience or who are willing to take on more for less. Photo editor and writer, Heather Clark McKinnon, laments, “Content creators and editors are paid less now for the same work. As a photo editor for a huge American company, my contract has gone down 35 percent over the last 8 years. They are now outsourcing most of the work to India.”

While freelancing is finally a viable, respected career option, it’s become Darwinian, and to remain relevant and working we need to maintain diverse revenue streams or capture and own a niche. Otherwise, we find ourselves boxed in forever competing on price as the years tick on and the days age us. Today, several of my peers have shared encouraging words, that there are clients — even if it seems few and far in between — who believe in the power of experience, who understand the need to diversify their teams, who believe in what and whom they invest. We’re grateful for people like Stephanie Faris Berry, who shares that, “as someone who regularly hires designers for the author side of my business, I have personally seen the experience vs. price argument play out. When I hire someone, I know what I hire will represent my “brand” and when someone quotes $25 and someone else is quoting $150, the $150 designer immediately gets my attention. I might settle for something in between those two extremes, but it will be someone who has talent and experience vs. someone who is new and cheap. I think anyone who is serious about building and growing a brand will see that experience as worth it.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the hustle of the young, hungry and inexperienced — but I believe that an environment where clients still pull the strings (regardless of the guise of “freedom” promised to freelancers) creates tension between those who have experience vs. the young and ambitious, creating a severe divide. And what we’re left with is an old refrain dusted off, a record played on repeat: how can I get this cheaper?

We should complement, not compete.

Photo Credit: Pexels

freelancer roundtable: we tackled your money questions

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When people ask me how long I’ll stick with this freelancing thing, I tell them I’ll play this hand until I’m forced to fold. Until I have $0 in my bank account and all my credit cards are maxed and I’m facing eviction. I’ll keep at this because setting my own hours, having control over which clients I’ll take on, and the freedom to write short stories, is the greatest gift I’ve given myself. It’s been over two years and I’m still at it, and even though I’m going through a dry spell right now, I’m turning my attention to writing as much as I can and sharing all the knowledge I’ve gained so far.

Money is such a sensitive topic for some, and I think that’s bananas. We, especially women, NEED to talk about money so we can level the playing field. Talking about money helps us create and fight for our worth. I hope you enjoy our responses, and if you find these panels helpful, let me know in the comments (along with suggestions for future roundtables). Now on to the questions!

Harper Spero writes: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a connector. I’ve connected people with friends, jobs, apartments, business opportunities, sponsorship/partnership opportunities and the list goes on. I get completely jazzed from making these connections. As a new entrepreneur, I’ve realized how much time I’ve put into doing this pro bono and have FINALLY realized how valuable my resources and connections are. I’m in the process of building out an affiliate program in order to be compensated for making connections but am stuck on the challenge of….how much do I charge? What are my contacts worth? So much of what makes a publicist successful are the relationships they’ve established. I welcome your thoughts regarding pricing and structure. Thanks ladies!!!

Meghan Cleary: Dear Harper, you sound amazing first of all. Without knowing exactly what types of connections you are interested in monetizing it’s hard to say as I have found there are so many different structures and so many different ways it can go. For example someone doing business development at a startup might get a fee of 3-5% for introducing to the startup to a VC that then comes through with funding. For securing a strategic partnership or sponsorship, it could be as high as 15% depending. And then in some industries, connecting people is considered part of the job and doesn’t bring in the revenue in and of itself, but instead drives a business pipeline of potential deals. Saying all of that, my main advice if you want to monetize your connections, is to create some type of ballpark deal structure for yourself based on how much value the connection will yield on both sides.

Leah Singer: Good for you for realizing your time and expertise has value! I’d do some research to find out what the standard rates are for publicists and communications experts in your city/state. Then determine how much money you need to live on, and then come up with a formula based on that. Your time IS valuable. So don’t undercut yourself.

Aly Walansky: While I know nothing of doing something like this via an affiliate program model (though it’s a very interesting concept), my going response when asked for coffee to “pick my brain” is along the lines of “Thanks so much for thinking of me, my rate for an hour of consulting is…” – and that rate can change based on what we are discussing (and how in-depth you expect me to get), but I guarantee you it’s more than the cost of a latte.

Felicia Sullivan: Harper, congratulations! This sounds like a fascinating venture, and I’m hoping you might educate us down the road on what you’ve learned from it? In terms of monetizing your contacts, I’m going to agree with Meghan on this one. I don’t see this endeavor functioning purely in binary terms. Depending on the situation, you can benefit through remuneration, experience, goodwill or through additional connections/relationships. If your referral brings a tangible financial benefit between the two introducing parties, then I’d take, at minimum, a 10% commission. For example, I’ve referred a client to a friend who has an agency, and my friend paid me 15% of the first year’s retainer income. Sometimes, I make connections where there isn’t an explicit, expressed objective, but I think the karma I’ll get in bringing together two smart people is invaluable. I also think it puts me in someone’s mindset. In that way, I’ve gotten business because of this good karma. It’s not an A+B=C relationship, but the goodwill comes back to me at some point.

In short, it really depends on the situation, your motivations, and the desired outcome. Do you think the person can you offer you up something in terms of contact barter? Are you doing it because you’re being altruistic? Or is this a pure financial benefit? One thing I would stress–don’t make your contacts purely about financial gain. That fosters greed and it never bodes well for anyone.

Joy Bennett writes: This will be such a good series! I’m totally with you on being more transparent about money.

I find myself struggling to make the jump from charging per hour to charging by value. I hear over and over that this is a better way to do it, but I don’t know how. Time is at least measurable, so it’s easier to wrap my head around.

But some projects have a start and end, while others (especially social media management) are ongoing and can become time sucks if you let them.

I currently have different hourly rates for different kinds of work, which is my first go at value-based pricing. I do want to build in time for some things – especially limits on how much time I will devote to monitoring social or limits to numbers of revisions. I usually start with a rough estimate of hours X an hourly rate to get to an amount per project. But I also factor in how much I want to do a given project and the client’s budget, which means sometimes I lowball myself and take work on for love, not money. Other times charging what I believe I’m worth will cost me work and makes me think I’ve overpriced myself. It ends up feeling so subjective. Is this lack of a set estimating process normal? Or is there a better more objective way to do it?

How do you approach this?

MC: Dear Joy, Here is my number best resource and tool to go to value-based pricing. It is free and a true gem: http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/breakingthetimebarrier/

LS: I prefer to charge by project than hour too. The worst thing you can do is get into a situation where a client wants to nickel and dime the minutes you spend on a project. So for larger projects that are more one-time based, then I do a project rate. I detail to the client what that amount includes (e.g. meeting, phone calls, research, drafting document, two revisions/edits, and delivery date).

That being said, I do have some clients that want monthly, ongoing work. There are two ways to approach this. One is an hourly rate, which I tend to do if I know it’s monthly work. You can also do a retainer amount. Similar to the project scope, you charge $XX per month that includes all the work you do. I think if the work you do is writing, this is the best way to do that because it’s sometimes impossible to know if an article will take you two hours or 20 minutes. And you don’t want to get short-changed because something may take you less time.

AW: It’s totally normal. I absolutely have some projects that I take at “love” rates and others I ask for more money. There’s a quality of life issue. Will I be miserable this whole project? Or is it something super fun and interesting that I will enjoy and feel fulfilled at the end of?

FS: Joy, I have several models based on the project, timeline, and sanity level of the client–all meant to protect my time and hours. If the deliverable is a packaged product (i.e. a brand guideline, a strategy, copywriting for a website), I charge a flat project fee and that fee is based on a calculation of a number of hours I think the project will take, giving a little cushion for veering off the road, emails, and the like. That project fee has an hourly cap attached to it, and I’ll often say, this costs $5000 for X amount of hours, and anything over that hourly costs Y in terms of hourly rate. Some clients fear hourly because costs can get out of control, while a flat fee + hourly gives both of an assurance that the price is contained but the value of the work gets rightful compensation. Make sense?

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Lena writes: Should you price your services differently when you’re first starting out doing freelance work? I always feel uncomfortable quoting people a price that is “standard” among graphic design or editorial professionals when I just graduated from college so recently. But it could go both ways – either discredit the work that I do and make people think my services are actually worth less, or help me build a portfolio by attracting clients who would otherwise not be able to afford my work even if that means shortchanging my income.

MC: Dear Lena, This is a question everyone grapples with at every stage of their career. The most important thing is to determine the value in it for you – and your desire or passion for the project. Even if a publication cannot pay you what you want will that piece work for you in other ways? Will it introduce you to new sources of editors to pitch or get in front of? Will it allow you to monetize your writing or graphic work in other ways? If they can’t give the rate, can they give promo – marketing your article or work in their emails or social media? In the end, you need to decide how much you desire the project – does it light you up? Would it be fun to work on? Do you love it? And then determine if it would for you to take a hit monetarily because you love it so much or because it will work for you and elevate you in other ways. This is different than just doing whatever work comes your way for whatever rate when you are building your name in your field. Determine and evaluate what will work on a case-by-case basis for you.

LS: There are several things that you should consider with this. You need to charge the amount you need to earn a livable wage. Don’t undersell yourself just because you’re new to freelancing. If you were in the same line of work prior to freelancing – or were in college and received the training – then you’re not new to the business. For many people, money equals value. If you don’t charge the standard, a client may not think you do the same quality work that others do. Also, your clients aren’t going to know how many other clients and work projects you have. Just because you may only have one or two clients to start, you’re a business and that’s what you’re selling to others that need your services. This is not to say that it’s bad to take on one or two pro bono clients when you’re first starting out. But don’t make that a continued practice. Charge what you’re worth!

AW: Yes. There’s absolutely instances when I accepted a lower rate when I was “new” –and in some cases, I simply didn’t know how to fight for myself or respect my work yet, but I also was building a portfolio and they were giving me that opportunity.

FS: This is a GREAT question. While I have a set hourly, day and project rate, I’ll often adjust those based on the client, considerations of my portfolio mix (i.e. I really want to do X kind of work to bring some more diversity), or pro bono work because it makes me feel like a decent human. If you came from a set salary and years of experience, why take a pay cut? Your talent and experience didn’t change, your job did.

Think about it in terms of how you’d negotiate your salary for your next job. Are you taking a role that’s a stretch, where you’ll have something to add to your professional toolbox (this is bullshit jargon, but I like it) so maybe the pay cut pays dividends in the end. And once you prove value and indispensability, you can negotiate up pretty quickly. If you’re moving laterally or a promotion up, I’d keep my rate or raise it.

Sometimes you’ll charge less because you believe in the project, you love the people, you’ll get something true and meaningful out of it (the non-tangibles), but for the most part don’t discount yourself.

Amanda writes: I’m in the food writing, recipe development, and food photography field as a freelancer. Status quo in the industry is to have a rate sheet that depicts different services available, as that is what the brands or PR agencies ask to see. What I hate about this is it feels like I am pigeon hole-ing myself. It can totally depend on the project, the timing, the urgency, the rights to the images/copy, and most of all, then the rates are set for some time. It doesn’t feel like I have much wiggle room. Do you have any advice on how to handle that?

I’m also wondering how to negotiate, rather than back down after 1 exchange of “my rate is this” “we only have this for budget”. It seems that I always want to make something work and end up undercharging.

Thanks so much for your help!
Amanda ~ heartbeetkitchen.com

MC: Dear Amanda, This is bummer but certain industries have a cost of entry and sounds like that’s what this is for yours. You want to be considered so you need the rate sheet but the reality we all know is it always depends on the project what the rate comes down to. My advice would be to create a very specific rate sheet with clear parameters around additional fees – like you mention for rights, etc. Don’t asterisk them in small type, be up front and clear. Use the rate card as a discussion starter to get your foot in the door for the gig, and then ask a lot of questions about the project to get a better sense of what it would cost. Give an estimate based on what they tell you. Then put together a very detailed scope document when you get ready to sign with the client. Include the scope of work you will perform, rates and clear parameters about additional fees for over time, rights, etc. That way you will give yourself some padding. In terms of they have x to work with and it will cost y, see my answer to Lena. You have to decide if you want it and it will work for you. But saying that, I’d always say to their first number, can you do z? Z being 30 percent more than what they are offering. If not, you asked and you can determine from there if you want to do it.

General thoughts about $:

To everyone, be aware that there is always price perception in the market – a very huge tool in the marketing world. Many times people will not perceive the value of something if it is priced too cheaply, so marking up your fees can actually help in some cases. Obviously you don’t want to mark yourself up and out of the market or charge exorbitantly high rates – but be aware that often if you are priced too low the person hiring you might think well this person doesn’t value their work, why should i?

General advice to every woman working, in business for themselves or in the world in general – always, always ask for 30% more than you think you can get. You will get it. And you will also be correcting our wage gap one deal at a time.

Also no one work for free, please and thank you.

LS: Developing a draft of a rate sheet is important because it will help you get an idea of what you want to charge for certain services. But just because you have a rate sheet doesn’t mean it’s published and set in stone. You are right that the project scope will be different for each client. I say develop the rate sheet, and then tailor it toward to the client and project.

With respect to negotiation, you should only do what you’re comfortable. So if the company wants a different rate – and you really want the project – maybe it’s worth negotiating your rate down a bit. But if you get the sense the project won’t be worth it or you’re not excited about it, hold firm with your rate and leave it at that. If they don’t accept your rate, it’s not the right fit.

AW: I have been guilty of under selling myself, too. But I always find negotiation is fine. Not all projects can be fit into neat little rate sheet categories. It’s OK to have a discussion and see what they need and what you can do for that.

FS: I second Meghan’s answer, and I would also check out my response to Lena’s question, which allows for some flexibility in holding to a base rate, with wiggle room for negotiation. I’ve also tackled projects with phases (you deliver a portion of the work) so the client has budget flexibility and you get paid for your work. And honestly, most brands have the budget they’re just allocating it to different people. I shouldn’t have to reduce my rate or take less money because the client doesn’t have the budget? It makes me think of this Oatmeal comic and this write-up of the recent HuffPo/Wil Wheaton kerfluffle. They’re valued at $50MM but they can’t pay their writers? PLEASE.

triple tomato soup with buckwheat groats

triple tomato soup

For the whole of my career, I’ve been running on empty. Fresh out of school, I worked the long hours, took on all the projects just so I could prove myself. With every job or assignment I took, I always maintained a side-hustle–a creative outlet that invariably led me to my next job. Because when you’re interviewing alongside dozens of candidates who are essentially photocopies of one another, anything you can do to set yourself apart was tantamount. I’d never worked in book publishing, but I secured a job in online marketing in 2006 because I’d ran and publish a successful literary magazine, built and marketed a dot.com business from the ground up, and learned the fundamentals in marketing at a corporation where you needed to complete a requisition form in order to get a new pen.

I lived to work.

All those years I never found the fact that I’d sometimes go months without seeing daylight strange. I assumed it was par for the course, this is what you did in order to be successful. Giving the whole of yourself over to somebody else in exchange for a paycheck–you never stopped to think of what would happened if you gave away all the best parts of yourself, put yourself up for auction, what would be left? And is selling yourself and the years worth the paycheck? Because, invariably, you might make more money but the money only funds the distractions that take away from your overworked, anxious life.

When I left a job as a partner in a social media agency, I knew I would probably never make as much as I had but I was okay with that. I learned that I didn’t need things, and as long as I had a shelter, food, books, and the ability to travel and care for my cat, I’d be fine. I didn’t need fancy handbags or clothes each season since I normally wear the same ten items in my closet. I ended up donating and giving away my closet. I ended up making a fraction of what I used to make, but I got my sanity back. I became the friend who listened instead of waiting for her turn to speak. I became the friend who never took out her phone at dinner. I became the kind of friend who stopped cancelling plans.

I was present.

One of the reasons I moved to California was that I craved a quieter, slower life. I knew the risks–fewer friends, meager professional network–but I assessed that if I were going to panic about project work at least I wouldn’t be doing it in six feet of snow. Last year’s thirteen-month winter was relentless; I was tired of the grey mornings and cold that burrowed its way under your blankets and settled. Last year I woke daily to sadness, and I came here hoping to feel less of what I felt then.

What I hadn’t expected, so quickly, is how I’d become allergic to my home. It’s incredible how geography and proximity to stress changes things. Out of the maelstrom of the city, I started to react to calls where people would talk loud, fast and over you. I grew tired of the ubiquitous panic, the urgency, the we-know-we’re-not-curing-cancer-but-we’ll-still-act-like-we-are, anyway. The velocity and intensity with which people worked unnerved me, and yesterday I spent an hour with a wonderful client explaining how we could do great work without having an aneurysm.

Because I’m not living like this. I have this one life and I’m not living it to crawl my way into an early grave.

I know I have this privilege of risk, of turning away work with the knowledge that I may have to put my rent on my credit card. But I’m okay with that. Because if I wanted constant anxiety I would’ve never left my former life. I never would’ve given up a biweekly paycheck and health insurance.

I’ve worked for nearly 20 years and I finally want to choose the way I want to live this one life. For as long as I can, I’m going to try to live it on my own terms. And I’m not going to shoulder unnecessary stress.

My call went better than I expected, and I tucked into this soup late last night spent from the day but happy.

INGREDIENTS
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped into fat chunks
1 28oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, rough chop
1 qt of vegetable (or chicken) stock, reserve 2 cups of the 1 qt aside
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stems
1 cup of basil, roughly chopped
Salt/pepper
1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed and drained

DIRECTIONS
This is honestly the easiest soup you’ll ever make. Add the oil to a large pot and turn the heat to medium/high. When hot, add the shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt, sauteeing the mixture for 1-2 minutes. Tumble in the heirloom tomatoes and toss with the shallot/garlic mixture for 3-4 minutes. Add the San Marzano tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, stock, and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook on low heat for 25 minutes.

Five minutes in, fill a small pot with 2 cups of the reserved stock and 1 cup of the rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low, cover, and allow to cook for 17-20 minutes.

Add the soup to a blender with the basil (or you can use an immersion blender) and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the large pot, add the cooked buckwheat groats, stir, and cover. Cook for another 10 minutes on low.

Season with salt/pepper, and chow down.

Untitled
triple tomato soup

plum millet muffins

Plum millet muffins

After two months of working seven days a week non-stop, of churning out brand voice guides and strategies, of working with graphic and web designers, and Skyping with a new client in Tuscany–I was wiped out. Every Sunday I re-enacted study hall with one of my closest friends, and we’d sit on her couch, side by side, taping away in silence. We’d work for hours and sometimes I’d read something aloud to her, something that wasn’t quite working, and it felt comforting to be able to bounce ideas off someone, to feel foolish in front of a friend–better that than your client, right? And we’d lament over the constant stream of emails, conference calls and deliverables, and then we’d feel grateful to have these problems. Because better a storm than a drought. Better to pay your rent than put your rent on your credit card.

To say that I’m far from financially solvent would be an understatement. I’m still paying off six-figure graduate loan debt; I’ve the burden on monthly IRS payments and credit card debt from a time when I cared about such things as designer footwear. And although I buy everything in cash and try to be smart about spending, I’m nervous that I haven’t put anything away from retirement. No safety net exists to catch my inevitable fall.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about getting my shit together as my accountant has begged me to do, but up until yesterday I’ve been plagued with an irrational fear of no work, no money, and all these bills to pay. So instead of paying down my debt, I sit on savings. Believe me when I say that I know this isn’t smart or rational. I’ve read all the books, watched the shows and once worked with an advisor. My relationship to money has always been fraught, deeply emotional, and I’ve only just become to untangle myself from many unhealthy habits.

For two months of significant labor, I’m collecting a check and I’ve decided to pay off two of my credit cards, bringing down my debt to the level it was TEN YEARS AGO.

Because I’m nearly 40 and I’m really fucking tired of carrying credit card debt.

An old friend reminded me that I have to consistently invest in myself, know that I am the greatest hand I can play and I will get work. I will be able to travel and live simply.

There will come a day when I will no longer shoulder the burden of mistakes made in previous lives.

Until then, cheers to small steps in paying down debt and celebrating with muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/4 cup millet
1/2 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 medium red plums, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/4 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Soak the millet in a bowl with 1 cup of water for at least 12 hours. Rinse the millet in a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a small pot. Add 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the cooked millet with a fork. You should have about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooked millet.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

Mix the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine the orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil (or coconut), almond milk, and vanilla extract. Whisk until the ingredients emulsify.

In another bowl, toss the plums in one tablespoon of flour. This will help keep the fruit from sinking in the muffin pan. Gently stir the flour mixture into the liquid mixture. Fold in the plums and 1 cup of cooked millet.

Divide the batter between 10-11 muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of millet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

plum millet muffins
plum millet muffins

freelancer files: people are funny about money

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:

1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).

Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.

Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.

Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.

After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).

One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.

Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.

Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.

See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.

This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.

If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.

want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you I’m privileged to have such good people in my life? If you would’ve known me 10, 15 years ago, you would’ve met a paled-down version of me–a woman who was anxious, defiant, focused on quantity over quality. But I guess that’s what happens with age, you come into your own so beautifully and acutely, that people have a tendency to cleave to that which is calm and good.

To that end, imagine my joy to discover that so many of my friends and peers were so generous with their knowledge and time in helping readers of this space get the answers they need should they want to pursue a freelance life. I’m humbled by their generosity, the fact that the time it took to read and respond to your great questions took them away from billable work. So I’m grateful for that, and I think part of being a successful freelancer is to know when you should give your time and to whom.

So thank you, dear readers, for your questions. As I was preparing to chime in with responses, I realized that my peers were so eloquent and so helpful, that I would only be parroting versions of their words. I hope you find value here, or at least inspiration to give of your time and pursue that which you hold dear and love. –FS

Question #1: This is going to be the newbie-est of newbie questions and rather embarrassing to ask, but…how does one start freelancing? In particular, how does one break into freelance copy editing, especially if one does not have many, many years of solid experience in the field? Honestly, I have no idea how to start! My background is mostly in academia, but I am in a situation in which I need to look for employment elsewhere, and I am thinking about freelancing as I navigate my way through the rough seas of job hunting and relocating. Well, thank you, Felicia and everyone else, for offering this great service! –RINE

Lindsey Tramuta: Great question! I would first start small and see if anyone in your immediate network could use copy editing services. If you can seek little projects on the side initially, you’ll build up your portfolio and get more comfortable applying for freelance gigs or connecting with potential employers once you have the experience under your belt. For me, I had an idea that I thought would fit in nicely with a magazine so I asked a friend who had previously written for the magazine if she would be kind enough to share her editor’s email (she was no longer writing for the outlet and didn’t cover the same beat) and she did. That doesn’t work every time but in this case, she opened the door for me, I reached out to the editor and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Also, if you’re looking to actively veer your career in a new direction, make sure you update your close friends and contacts with personalized emails (or phone calls!) so that they know to keep an eye and ear out for opportunities that would fit with your interests.

Amber Katz: My advice is to network beyond belief. Find some people doing what you’d like to do, in this case, freelance copy editing, and email them and ask them if you can take them to coffee for a 20-minute meeting. In the email, ask if a phone call would work if they’re not able to meet up and come to the meeting/call with three questions you’d like answered. Another thing I’d recommend is simply emailing your network and let them know you’re taking on freelance copy editing work if anyone has any leads. You may have to offer your services for a small fee (never for FREE, unless you really don’t have any related experience, in which case you may need to do a project or two gratis) so you can put together a portfolio. Good luck!

Leah Singer: I would suggest doing a few things. First, if you have experience doing copy editing (or any of the freelance skills you want to do) in your current job, make sure you highlight that on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. Even if your job in academe is not a copyeditor, if you’re performing that work as part of your job, it’s relevant and should be promoted.

Second, start finding organizations that will use your talent in a volunteer capacity. For example, see if your church, synagogue or kid’s school or club needs a copyeditor for their newsletter, and volunteer to do the work. When you’re well established, I don’t always advocate giving away your time and service for free. However when you’re starting out, you need to get the clients and experiences to build your business. And remember, nobody knows the work you’re doing is volunteer or paid!

Third, harness the power of social media! Find a few friends or post something on Facebook that you’re starting this service and want to do some copyediting for people’s blogs, articles, etc. Then make sure to get testimonials for your LinkedIn profile and future website!

Matthew Sharpe: I’m a freelance editor and writing coach and I started freelancing somewhat by accident. I taught creative writing in the evening at a local university. Some of my students were grown-ups working on novels, and they got in touch after the course was over to see if I’d continue helping them with their novels. Same thing happened after I attended a few writers’ conference over the years. I confess I’m not great at advertising and marketing my own services, so most of my work has come to me via word of mouth.

As for copy editing: okay, so you don’t have many, many years of experience. Do you have any? That will certainly help. I’d get in touch with the copy departments of all the major book publishers and magazines and let them know you’re available, and what your experience is. If they have an opening, they’ll give you a test. If you do well on the test, they’ll start giving you some work. If you do well on the work, they’ll give you more. Etcetera.

Cariwyl Herbert: No need to feel embarrassed at all! We all must start somewhere, and most endeavors begin with asking questions. If you are ready to take clients, put the word out to your network. Email your friends and family to let them know what you are offering. They’ll gladly hire you when they need copywriting, and they will tell their friends as well. You can also post your services on sites like elance.com and odesk.com; both are portals catering to freelancers.

Alexandra Ostrow: Good for you, Rine! Depending on your role in academia, you likely have more related experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. Take a look at the projects you’ve worked on, and make a list of the times when copyediting played a role. This list is the beginning of your portfolio. Also, let your network (colleagues, friends, family) know that you’re beginning to work as a freelance copyeditor and are looking to take on new clients. If you’re open to it, offer discounted services to new clients for a limited time period. This will help grow your portfolio. Bottom line, if you’re gravitating towards freelance copyediting, this is either a passion or an innate skill of yours. Believe in yourself and go for it. The hardest part is often just putting yourself out there.

Kim Brittingham: Years ago I worked as a legal assistant and I used to wonder the same thing. How do these freelancers get work to begin with, so they can eventually work only for themselves? And I’m still not sure I have the answer! I have friends who write full-time, and they get non-stop work just pitching ideas directly to publications. But I think that requires a lot of persistence, and you have to be good at coming up with a lot of different ideas all the time (enough that you can afford to have the majority of them shot down). I also suspect it takes time to establish relationships with editors who will look forward to your pitches and respond to you quickly, or even reach out to you and offer an assignment.

I also know of some writers who get work through eLance.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com, but I personally haven’t used those sites because I think most people who go there seeking writers and also looking for a bargain, so you wind up making really insulting money.

My path to becoming a full-time freelance writer was a little unconventional. It started in the ‘90s when I published a ‘zine called Café Eighties. I did a lot of interviews with entertainers, and after a while, people came to know me as a writer. Eventually, someone from a local publication reached out to me and said, hey, would you be interested in writing something for us? Then when the Internet came about, I was completely fascinated. I wanted to tinker and figure out what I could do with this thing. I had a really early website, I was on message boards, et cetera. I remember posting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to write what we call “web content” today, although I don’t think that term was being widely used back then. I got some responses. I wrote articles about personal safety in the context of dating for a telephone forwarding service; I wrote about novel ways to propose marriage for a diamond company. One thing led to another. Eventually I sold a book to Random House, in part because I had built a following with my personal blog and stuff I posted on social media. I was extremely lucky in that I didn’t have to work hard to get a literary agent to notice me; my agent approached me first.

Then I had some more skills in my pocket, like the social media, blogging, et cetera. I had even more to offer as a freelancer. Then one day I got a call from a guy I’d taken a class with at Media Bistro. He asked if I’d be willing to ghostwrite a book for him. I signed a contract that made it possible for me to quit my job as a legal assistant. Since then, I’ve taken some part-time jobs here or there to get by while doing the freelance writing thing, but I’m happy to say I haven’t had to do that in the last three years. Most of the work I get today is repeat business and referrals. People also find me on LinkedIn. For example, I occasionally publish a blog post to their content platform “Pulse”, and people have reached out to me with work after liking what they read. I think it also helps that I’ve carved out a niche for myself, working with executive coaches, management consultants and thought leaders. When you specialize in something, you have a better shot at winning business than if you try to be everything to everyone, in which case you disappear into a vast sea of other Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades. I do still take outsourced work from marketing agencies, though, because I enjoy the variety. One day you’re writing blog posts for an insurance company that caters to teachers, the next you’re creating mildly crass Facebook memes aimed at 20-something heterosexual men who gamble. It’s fun!

Question #2: Thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions! I’ve been working as a freelance editor part-time along with my normal day job in academia. I’m currently looking to grow my business. I’ve been wondering about keeping regular clients happy, yet still being able to take a week or two off throughout the year. –EGEORGIAN

Amber Katz: There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a week or two off throughout the year. It’s all about sending your freelance clients an email 2 weeks before your vacation and letting them know you’ll be off the grid for a couple weeks and could they please submit any requests for work by X date so you have time to finish up before you leave. Then, use an Out Of Office notification to let people know you’re away and not checking email until X date and to contact you in case of an emergency using a special email subject line.

Cariwyl Herbert: Everyone is entitled to time off—even freelancers! It isn’t difficult to take a day off here and there; put an out-of-office alert on your email if you’re worried. For a longer vacation, simply give clients a couple weeks notice so they know what to expect.

Leah Singer: For me personally, it’s been hard to take chunks of time off and not do any work (although I know people who do it well). I usually always check email or have client work that needs to be done in some way. However, it can be done and it just requires a lot of planning and working in advance. If I know I need to take a few days off, I schedule time on my calendar to do work ahead of time. I also let my clients know I won’t be working on those days. Also, some seasons are slower than others. December always seems to be less chaotic, which is great since my daughter has the last two week of the month off of school. I also take advantage of holiday weekends since the rest of the world tends to slow down during these times.

Matthew Sharpe: I think just give them a lot of advance notice about your time off. If feasible, offer to do extra work in advance of your vacation so they won’t be stranded. Everyone needs time off. People generally accept this, in my experience.

Kim Brittingham: One thing that helps me is flat-out refusing to work with unreasonable and/or demanding people (FS note: Hallelujah!). I have a pretty good instinct about people, and usually after just one conversation, I can sense whether or not they’re going to be a giant pain in the rear. Life’s too short for that. Just say no. BACK AWAY FROM THE NUTJOB. That’s why I never have issues with clients calling me at odd hours or expecting me to be available 24/7 to discuss things that are in no way urgent. Also, I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Tell your client how many hours you have available to them, when you take calls and when you don’t, when and how often you will meet via Skype or conference call, et cetera. Put it in writing.

The work I take allows for a lot of flexibility. For example, I have clients to whom I provide the same amount of content every month. I know when my deadlines are, so if I want to go away for a week, I just work extra-hard to get everything done early. But I do make sure I’m available by e-mail while I’m gone. If that’s not possible, I let all of my clients know in advance when I will be out-of-reach. I also accept longer-term projects, like ghostwriting books, but when I accept those projects, I also accept that I won’t be doing any extensive traveling until the gig is over.

Alexandra Ostrow: It’s all about setting expectations. Just like you, your clients are likely looking to take a vacation (or three), and should understand you need some time away. It’s unlikely to be an issue as long as you let them know ahead of time about your plans, and then work out an arrangement where either a) you complete all deliverables prior to takeoff or b) you have a trusted colleague cover your role while you’re away. If it is still an issue, I would personally question whether that particular client is worth sacrificing work-life balance.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


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the one lesson you need to know in business + in life: be good to people

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In a serendipitous turn of events, I’ve been reunited with a former colleague on a project. Although I don’t have many fond memories from my time spent at an agency, I’ve been privileged to know and mentor an exceptional group of women–women who have gone on to build companies, build brands, and break ranks. It’s been a joy to witness their bloom, and I feel humbled to have played a smart role in their career. Often I’ll circulate project and job leads to former members of my team because I can vouch for their work, and more importantly, the strength of their work ethic and character.

Recently, a dear of mine (and now client) was on the hunt for a temporary social media lead for some of her clients, and I recommended an old colleague of mine. Not only is she a perfect cultural fit, but she’s managed to get up to speed in a manner in which I can only describe as lightning. And then my friend asked me to step in and play a larger role in strategy, and what do you know, reunited and it feels so good.

So…here’s the punchline. Remember the story I shared about how I snapped at a direct report during a meeting? And this direct report confronted me privately (and rightly so) to let me know that my behavior was not okay? And remember how I spoke of humility, how it was important to admit when you’re wrong, to accept, and act upon, constructive feedback even when the words feel like wounds that will never close?

Fast forward a few years and now this former colleague and I have been reunited on a project. Now we’re older, wiser, demonstrably different than the two women facing one another, shifting uncomfortably in our seats, in an airless conference room. We write one another in hashtags, #reunitedanditfeelssogood, and trade stories about our former selves. And all of this put me to thinking of a lesson learned:

ALWAYS BE GOOD TO PEOPLE. NO MATTER WHAT.

My mentor once told me that karma has our direct dial–we can’t escape it, so why not be kind to those who inhabit our world, regardless of title, rank and file. Of course we’re human, prone to outbursts, minor connivery, and indiscretion. We may snap and misstep, but it’s important to breathe, take a walk around the block (or five), and return to a place where you’re able to view a situation a little more objectively, with a bit more clarity. It’s important to right wrongs and treat people with the kindness that you yourself would expect from others.

Now this is not to say that this works for everyone in your life. Some people will be unkind; there are those who will be undeserving of your love and friendship. Admittedly, it’s been my work to let go of my anger towards certain people who have been cruel, conniving, and petty–people who have tried to make me feel small. But while I work on that (work in progress, work in progress), I keep reminding myself that the world is smaller than we think. That people have an uncanny ability to weave in and out of our lives when we least expect it, and wouldn’t it be easier if we were simply good to people because it was the decent thing to do?

Because we can be two women on a new project laughing off that time we spent in the conference room, angry. Could barely remember that time having existed.

five tips for freelancers: because some of you are doing it wrong

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Over the past two years of being a consultant*, I’ve seen it all. I’ve cringed during uncomfortable conference calls when counterparts waged a financial war over 30 minutes of billable work, and I shook my head when another freelancer told my client, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t big enough to be a priority. I’ve had to bear witness to freelancers loading a gun and shooting off every limb until there’s nothing left. Freelancing isn’t for everyone–some prefer the structure and rhythms of a traditional office environment, and that’s totally fine–but for those who have made the leap it’s important to know that there are nuances in handling client relationships and managing yourself. I’ve read through Copyblogger’s exhaustive list of all the mistakes one could possibly make as a freelancer (all 53 of them), but I keep seeing the same excruciating five over and over again.

TIP ONE: GET RIGHT WITH YOUR LOVE. Nothing says you’re not my priority than telling a client you can’t manage their request because you have other deliverables…for other clients. I’ve seen scenarios where a freelancer would tell a client they couldn’t answer their question (which was actually a simple one) until the following week. I’ve seen countless instances where people would be too transparent with their workload (I’m so slammed with other client work, can I get back to you on this? is a constant refrain). Let me let you in on a little secret: your client doesn’t care about your other clients, obligations, or workload–they only care about what’s in front of them. Clients care about their own problems, and they hired you for solutions.

And I get it. You need to juggle multiple clients because of the uncertainty of deal flow. You need to save for the drought. Sometimes your clients ask stupid questions (and they do, often) and you just don’t have time to answer them. Sometimes you read through your emails think, are you kidding me with this? However, let me be clear about something:

The fact that you can’t manage your workflow is your fault, your problem. Right now, I’ve three very active clients and they barely know that one another exists. And that’s how it should be. Want to know how I got to this place? Simple:

a. Be clear about your work arrangement, hours allocation and response time for “fires” in your contract. I go through the pain and bloodletting during the contract process. Contracts are critical because you’re not only negotiating the deliverable, IP, warrants, and all that other nonsense, but you’re also stipulating how you will work with the client and their expectations on your time. You’ll go through so many rounds on the contract that your client will have your availability committed to memory. In all my agreements, I define the hours or days allocated to a project, how we’ll mutually manage overages, and I even have clauses about how I’ll manage fires and normal response times on off-hours, and how I can be reached in an emergency. I hired a lawyer to manage my vendor agreement, and usually use a lawyer for 1-2 hours if I’m working off a client’s standard MSA/vendor template so I can ensure my language is covered, however, there are amazing affordable resources like Upcounsel, where lawyers can help you in one-off agreement negotiations.

b. Maintain your agreement (because there is the reality of the slippery slope) but be open to flexibility: Be thoughtful and strategic about managing client requests during off-hours. Is this an urgent request and can it be completed quickly? Is this just a one-off question that won’t take more than five minutes of your time? Then manage it. Your client will be grateful. If the request is substantial, be open with your client and remind them of your terms but suggest a midway point if the request is urgent, i.e. I’m sensitive to the request, and although I’m not available at the moment (I never say why because they know and don’t want to be reminded!!!), how about I come back to a solution at [insert later point in time]? Or, offer an alternative resource internally, or someone you trust who can supplement the work. Notice how I’ve address urgent inquiries. Use your best judgment in determining what’s truly urgent. If the situation is not urgent, kindly remind your client of your terms.

c. Manage your time: The hardest part of being a freelancer is establishing your own structure amidst a day without guardrails and routine. Establish a routine. Use productivity tools that are best for you–click here and here and here and yes, here, for some excellent resources. And, more importantly, be honest about what you can manage, because while I understand the need to squirrel away cash, at one point you will face diminishing returns and your performance will suffer, which will affect your performance and future referrals. Personally, I can only take on one “big client” in a 3-6 month time frame, and then I can take on other clients where the workload is no more than 10-15 hours a week. I usually have 1 big client and 2 smaller projects cooking at once and that tends to work for me. Yesterday, I read this interesting post where a freelance web designer takes on projects sequentially. Not right for me, but figure out what works for you and the services you’re offering.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

TIP TWO: RIGHT-SIZE YOUR APPROACH. Because consulting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A few years ago I bemoaned a client to a dear friend and peer. I prattled on about how my start-up client wasn’t doing things the right way, they skimped on the essentials of branding and marketing, to which my friend responded that I was doing the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. She continued and said that startups don’t have the time, luxury or money to do everything according to plan, that I had to rethink my approach and focus on the essentials for the client. I had to deliver what my client truly needed at that point in time, as opposed to what they should have.

That advice has lingered with me since, and now I’m able to shape my services to all sorts of client sizes and budgets. What I would deliver to a billion dollar electronics giant would be markedly different than my deliverable to a start-up clothing brand. Usually, the latter is leaner, tighter and execution-heavy. Yes, there’s strategy in both but the strategy for an established brand or business is demonstrably different than the needs of a burgeoning brand, whose positioning and value proposition may change over the course of refining their product or service.

What you think your client should do might not really sync with what they need, and you have to be prepared to be a consulting chameleon. Assess your client’s objectives, evaluate their resources and budget, and deliver what works best for them now, even if it’s a phased approach. I LOVE a phased approach because it gives me the flexibility to add and refine over time while offering the client a more risk-averse approach (and they can see your BIG THINKING!). All too often I see startup founders shake their head when reviewing a proposal, with a that’s nice, but that’s not really feasible when I’m still trying to get my product in shape.

In short, be flexible, be malleable. Realize when you’re fitting square pegs into round holes.

TIP THREE: DON’T GET SURGICAL ABOUT EVERY BILLABLE HOUR. No one believes in getting paid on time more than I do. If you expect me to deliver at a specified time, I expect to be compensated for my work at a specified time. However, we live in the real world not an imaginary one, and sometimes in this world people in accounts payable go on vacation, people forget to submit your invoice for processing or the direct deposit might take forever and a day to set up properly. Give your client the benefit of the doubt and don’t roll in acting like a collection agency if your check is under 5 days late. Client service was invented for a reason, people.

While I establish late fees in my contract (usually when payment is over 30 days), I also specify and negotiate payment terms in my agreements. Few companies pay N30 and even fewer pay on receipt. Most companies pay N45 and I’ve even seen N60. Luckily, most of my clients pay N30, and I have a few different gigs happening at once so the cash flow feels continuous (although I admittedly have to get better at budgeting–WIP!!!).

I usually wait five days after the payment due date before I send notes of inquiry because I try to exercise the belief that most people have good intentions and want to pay for the work you’ve delivered. And while I’ll send out the troops for clients who are clearly being egregious with late payments, don’t issue the brigade if the payment is a few days late and exercise compassion for when clients have good reasons for delays.

Also, while it’s important to track your project hours, don’t get crazy over every billable hour. I’ve actually seen emails where freelancers nickel and dime over a 1/2 hour. I’ve read emails where a consultant underdelivered on a project because they didn’t have enough time in the hour allocation. Umm…that’s your fault. As a consultant, it’s critical that you price right, profile right, and allow for flexibility in the contract when the deliverable changes or you encounter scope creep. Delivering subpar work and telling your client you’re doing so will ensure that you will never work for them, or anyone they know, again.

In general, you’ve noticed the constant, quiet refrain of flexibility. While I have iron-clad agreements and I’m pretty direct when it comes to how, when, where I work, I allow for a degree of flexibility for the times when I know being flexibility is an investment in the relationship and future business. Be smart. Don’t think in the billable moment.

TIP FOUR: DON’T ALWAYS BE PITCHING. There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

I’ve created education guides (e.g. social media best practices, worksheets for branding exercises, etc) that I use as investment products and soft-sells. Once I’ve established my value with a client, I’ll often send guides that are relevant for their needs/business, with no explicit sell. I’ve done mini education sessions (or the clients have used these guides for internal education), and I’ve almost always secured MORE business because of it.

Be strategic about the sale and offer additional services when you’ve established trust and value, and have some back-pocket tools that you can offer than can bring you closer to a sale.

TIP FIVE: HAVE A PLAN FOR RECIPROCATING/COMPENSATING FOR LEADS. Can I tell you how many people have received project leads or jobs because of my network? Can I tell you how many people have thanked me or issued a % compensation for their completed project as a result of my introduction or lead. Believe me when I say the former is greater than the latter. I continue to be shocked by the fact that people feel entitled to connections or leads. Every single time I get a lead, I thank the person who made the introduction, because although the project might not come to fruition I have someone new and valuable in my network. If the project comes to fruition, I offer a % referral fee on final payment. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do even if people refuse it.

At the very least be humble and thankful for any lead, even if it’s beneath you, not appropriate, not in budget, etc. I’ve experienced ingratitude that’s prevented me from sharing leads or referrals, moving forward. Every referral speaks to my brand and my integrity and I won’t risk either over an ungrateful/entitled referral.

*Bit of Advice: I accept LinkedIn invitations from people with whom I’ve worked previously and prospective clients. If we don’t know one another, please make an effort to pen an introduction to your connection request. Otherwise, it feels like the equivalent of you walking into my home, uninvited.

(guest post) the freelance life: surviving the drought

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Earlier this week I tweeted that I was seeking advice from freelancers on enduring deal drought. Those who freelance know precisely what I mean, and pipeline is what keeps us up most nights–how and from where we’ll secure our next project, how we’ll endure the period from this to what’s next. My friend Daniel Doebrich, being the thoughtful and methodical person he is, sent such an exceptional and thorough list that I invited him to pen a guest post for this space.

I had the opportunity to briefly work with Daniel when I was a managing partner at my previous company, and found him smart, passionate, detail-oriented and creative. We’ve kept in touch in the two years since and it’s been incredible to see his trajectory, and more importantly, to share valuable information and leads with one another. I think you’ll find his advice pragmatic + helpful, and let me know if you dig this sort of thing–guest posts, that is.

About Daniel, in his own words: Daniel has worked in social media and digital marketing from its nascent days. He has positioned a number of startups and emerging companies, and helped large corporations to develop a digital mindset. At the core, he connects strong analytical skills with a storytelling approach to define result-driven strategies. Past clients include: Target, BMW, Audi, Unilever, Credit Suisse, Vodafone.

After years in the agency world, Daniel decided to work as a freelance digital strategist, advising a diverse set of clients, from emerging startups to large-scale companies across different industries. He is also partner at MISTER, a digital creative agency, where he develops striking websites and e-commerce for new generation brands such as Hood by Air, EN|NOIR and Alyx.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Freelance life can be fun, thrilling and filled with inspiring projects. You have more creative freedom, and clients will appreciate your unconventional ideas if you make them relatable to their corporate structure and mindset.

In between those dedicated times, where you are driven to deliver a strong creative proposal to the client, sometimes ecstatic about the opportunities, there come the periods when nothing happens. Your phone is still. Days without any new email in your inbox, other than those newsletters which you loathe. You marvel for a second about your recent success, but then you realize that you need to work hard, leave that comfort zone once again, and hustle to land your next gig. Those breaks can stretch, drive you crazy and get you to a point where you wish that you didn’t have two left hands when it comes to being a waiter.

In these moments you should remind yourself of a few things.

On surviving the drought, because it’s a struggle:

Always be humble and friendly with people, whether it’s your landlord, your personal assistant at the bank, or your friends. Do things without expecting anything in return. It will pay off when you are late with your rent, or need support to raise the credit line for a while.
Don’t overspend while you have a strong income. Keep being reasonable with your spendings instead. Do you really need to go out that night or get another drink, or go for dinner? Put that money aside, you will need it in bad times.
Don’t feel self conscious if a friend offers to treat you in bad times, but don’t get comfortable with it either. Sometimes it’s just great to be invited for dinner in a time where you couldn’t spare a dime.
Take time off even when it seems counterintuitive. While in the drought, you sometimes want to just keep working and contact everyone you possibly know, but your brain screams stop. Take some time off. Even if it seems to go against reason. You need that break and there is nothing more important than having a fresh mind and good energy.
Work out. The only way to prevent you from going crazy by the sheer thought of your open bills is a good, hard workout. Do it regularly, and push just a little more. In those moments, you will find the ideas that take you to the next stage.

On generating leads (always be closing):

Write it down. It’s the most important rule to success. Make plans and get them on paper or a Google doc. Only by outlining the immediate steps, and by defining specific actions you can make them reality.
Keep your network alive. Understand with whom you like to work and who is helpful in getting you leads. These people know your capabilities or might have a good network themselves. Keep them posted about your projects.
Create lists and keep them up to date. Sure, LinkedIn is great, but it’s so unstructured. Create a spreadsheet and divide it in a way that makes it easy for you to filter contacts according to how helpful they are in generating leads, how quick they respond, or which industries they serve.
Be precise. Create an initial email that sums up exactly what you are searching for. Describe the set of tasks you want to work on. Provide examples. The more precise you are the more likely the recruiter or contact at any company can match you to a job opportunity/project.
Be personal. Send an email blast to start with, but make every email personal. It will get you more responses than just writing an anonymous email. More importantly, it will keep you in people’s mind and lead to unsolicited leads later on.
Pitch your crazy ideas. If you have a good idea, let’s say to do a startup innovation workshop within a big company, prepare a short pitch deck, research the people who are responsible for innovation on LinkedIn, and make that cold call (i.e. write them an email). It works wonders. You will have few responses, but the people who answer might open a whole new opportunity for you.

I am pretty sure that you know most of the above and it might seem trivial, but remember them the next time you are in a period of slow business.

Connect with Daniel on Twitter // Instagram // LinkedIn // website (MISTER)

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