Archive | December 2008

5 Freelance Lessons I Learned in 2008

Tomorrow’s the last day of 2008, and as I walked home today, I thought of the many things that happened to my career and my freelance work this year and the lessons they brought. I hope you learn something from this:

1. Learn how to say no. I’m the kind of person who finds it hard to say no, so sometimes I get shortchanged. I get relegated to the back seat. Saying no doesn’t come easily to anyone, and it’s something every freelance worker should learn. Say no when you’re being pushed to the wall. Say no when you’re shortchanged. It might be difficult at first, and you’ll probably lose sleep over it, but it’ll be good for your freelance career.

2. Work with the best people. If you’re new to freelancing, it helps to “ally” yourself, so to speak, with people who have built a good reputation in the industry. I’ve tried Elance and Guru alone in the past and found it difficult to build up my portfolio, but I was lucky to be taken in by a good friend, a freelance illustrator and designer, who has a good reputation on Elance. His experience helped us secure our first project. We’re now working on a comic book project together, with him doing the illustration and I writing the text. Freelance work can be scary at first, especially when you’re alone, so it helps to be with a solid team that will back you up.

3. Never shortchange yourself. I’ve mentioned that I often add a free service to first-time clients, and I still believe it’s a good practice. But when it comes to proposals, it’s always right to quote clients a price that you’re comfortable with. It might not be the cheapest, but prove that you’re worth every dollar.

4. Deliver the best quality on time. You want to be known as someone who gets the job done, fast, so be consistent. This will help you build a good reputation and is always good for your freelance career in the long run. On the subject of delivering on time, it’s always best to manage expectations, so if you think a deadline isn’t realistic, speak up.

5. Pay it forward. I never refuse a project if I can still accommodate it, but if I can’t, I make sure that a fellow writer/freelancer gets it. I believe there’s a lot of work for everyone, and if you’ve built a good reputation, I am sure freelance work will come in steadily. On that note, I also believe that by passing it on to someone who might also need the job more than you do, you not only strengthen a friendship but feel positive that you’ve done a good turn to someone, and that’s always good for the soul, isn’t it?

What are your freelance/career lessons for 2008?


Giving a Little Extra Can Help Your Freelance Work

We network. We ask around. We send out impressive portfolios. But if a potential client were to choose between two freelance writers who both wrote well, delivered on time, and charged the same rate, but the other one offered a free extra service on the side, which one would he most probably choose?

I would say he’d choose the one that offered the extra service. Like everyone else who likes something free thrown in, clients like a little extra on the side.

I always make it a point to give a free service, especially to first-time clients, because it’s a way of building what could be a long-term relationship with them. If I were a client and I was happy with an initial project with a writer/editor, why would I look for anyone else?

When I’m doing book editing work for an author, I throw in a free encoding service, because some authors do write by hand and they send in manuscripts in notebooks, sometimes several of them. I simply adjust my editing rate a bit to cover part of what would cost the encoding (so when you think about it, it really isn’t 100 percent free). Sometimes when I’m feeling generous, I give the service free. Either way, it helps me as a writer because while encoding, I read the manuscript and get an idea of its overall plot.

How about you? Do you offer extra services to clients and how has this practice helped grow your freelance work?

Telling it like it is

Unlike other people, I haven’t been blogging because there’s nothing to write about. In fact, there are a million things to write about! I have a long list of articles I want to write here and here, but you know what they say: The body is willing but the flesh is weak.

One of the many things I have had to deal with lately is how to communicate my creative expectations with designers. In previous lifetimes, I have had the good fortune to work with kick-ass designers who know exactly what I had in mind (they were adept mind readers, thankfully, and always thought ahead of me). I don’t expect to know more than a designer in terms of colors, blending, typography, and usability, but I’d like to think I have a trusty head on my shoulder that knows good design from a bad layout that’s put together at the last minute and sent to me shamelessly, expecting me to say “Let’s go ahead with it” when it is just plain ugly.

What was worse than shamelessly sending me a draft of a holiday card with colors so blinding and a typography that was more unimaginative than playful? Taking my comments personally.

Maybe it’s my fault that in the past I had let things go, given them a day or two extra to improve (yet never doing so), and sugarcoating my comments because I was afraid of hurting their feelings. But finally (and I’d like to think of it as good), I decided I just had to tell them. The colors are painful to the eyes. Can you find a more reader-friendly font? Is there a way to tweak the logos so their colors blend with the layout?

And then I am accused of being not nice  simply because I said the truth?

I remember back when I was 21, fresh out of college, and I was working as PR associate for Joan Orendain, who never sent out a press release without its going through at least five drafts. Nothing was ever sent out that was less than perfect. I remember how I just wanted to cry because there were times when (I thought) her comments were too harsh, because I thought my work was already perfect but she didn’t agree.

We thought of it as military school, but today I look back with gratitude because I knew I wouldn’t be such a meticulous and detail-oriented editor who wanted everything to be (at least almost) perfect. If you had only your life’s work to show for, wouldn’t you want it to be almost perfect as well?

This whole episode reminds me of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in which nobody, except a child, had the gumption to point out that the king wasn’t wearing anything. Everybody just went with what the majority had say because no one wanted to speak his mind and look stupid.

I wish this designer had heard me at my uncensored worse. It would have been more fun.

Getting Rid of a Bad Client, Finally

Last month, I finally put my foot down and ended my contract with an Australia-based Pakistani client whose sites I had been writing content for since February this year.

He had all the signs of a potential bad client–except I refused to read them:

1. He always paid late. Late payments are a big issue for me, especially as I am not the sort who feels comfortable sending billing statements and reminders to clients to process payments me. Being late once or twice is forgivable, but being late every month, or worse, putting payments off the next month just because the accountant comes over only once a month is unforgivable. We have bills to pay and families to feed! Any freelance worker who turns in quality work on the expected date should never have to go through the embarrassment of having to follow up with a client. It’s money that’s yours. Why should you beg for it?

2. He always asked for more than what was agreed on. I’m usually generous to first-time clients and throw in a free service,  but it’s too much when a client asks you to do an interview when all you have initially agreed on is simply rewriting. I remember when this client asked me to do a Q&A that I quoted him a special price because it would involve some research. His reaction? “That is not going to happen.”

3. He does not give clear instructions, yet expects you to  get things right the first time. This is my favorite part. For months, this client and I have been on a guessing game, with me always trying to second-guess what it is he wants. As a rule, I always send out follow-up questions to clarify his instructions, but he doesn’t reply or replies late, if at all. Four out of six times, I got his instructions right.

4. He doesn’t trust the people he works with.This applies especially for home-based full-time work. It takes a huge amount of trust to believe that your employees who are in a different country and are two hours ahead of your time are working at the hours they should be.

For some time I thought this over, playing around with the figures in the mind. The last thing I wanted to do was to upset my budget. Of course, that was some money that could go to my savings account, but I realized that I would rather sacrifice money than to be stressed by a bad client.

Highly recommended reading: Joel Falconer’s post, “How to Spot a Dud Client and Get Out While You Can”