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6 Lessons from 6 months of freelancing

My freelance life: Free as a bird

I had not realized it until my good friend KC brought it up last week: “You’ve been working freelance for more than six months!” she exclaimed. “You’re now a regular! What do you get?”

(Over here, a new employee is usually given a probation period of six months, before she is “regularized,” as we call it. Regularization has its perks: a possible increase, health benefits, allowances, etc. )

Wow, it’s been six months. How time flies. It hasn’t been easy–I think nothing is really easy when you’re starting independently. Things can be unpredictable, and you simply have to be ready for the next surprise. Looking back at the last six months, here are six lessons that have stayed with me:

  1. Be brave. One needs courage to stick around. An old college classmate was amazed when I told her I was consulting and doing  freelance writing and editing work, “That’s very brave!” I smiled. I didn’t tell her it took years of building up my freelance portfolio before I knew I could make it independently.
  2. Trust. There’s a kind of security that comes with being an employee, and that’s knowing that at the end of the month, you’ll be paid–unless your employer goes under. In my case, there’s no one else to pin my hopes on, except God. I admit there are months when I feel doubtful that I’ll last till the next, but God has always delivered. I am amazed that whenever a bill comes up, there’s always money coming in from a client. I can say now that God is really my partner in all this.
  3. Save.  I wasn’t a big saver when I was an office worker, because I knew that at a certain date every month, my employer would pay me. Today, I’ve learned to always set aside a portion of my freelance income in bank accounts that I don’t touch. It’s not a lot, but it’s growing, and I feel mighty proud of myself that I’m learning how to save now. I hope, by the end of the year, it can actually finance a big trip. Who knows? As lesson #4 goes . .  .
  4. Be open to possibilities. Would you believe me if I told you I’m earning more now than what I used to back when I was a full-time employee? Yes (and I say this without bragging), and I don’t even work 8 hours a day. I didn’t think that was possible until I actually sat down and counted how much money was coming in (yes, I do my books now, although I have an accountant who does all my taxes) and monitored the hours I worked. It’s true, I often work six days a week, but I don’t work all day. I try to get a whole day off when I can, and still be able to go to my yoga class at least three times a week, but when it gets too busy, I’d be happy to work an entire day.
  5. Don’t sell yourself short. I’ve learned that it’s okay to say no to prospective clients who balk at my asking price. But I’ve also learned to meet halfway and found ways to cut corners. Because I worked hard with every job that came my way, some clients have realized that I am worth every cent I ask for.
  6. I’d do something for a penny if I really loved it. That said, I’ve accepted writing jobs that paid less than what I’d usually make, only because I loved the work and it helped me improve as a writer.

With six months of freelance work behind me, I’m a grateful child. I still don’t know where I’ll be six months from now (come back in March 2013, and I’ll tell you), but I have a lot of trust in my partner up there.

If you’re an independent professional like me, I’d love to hear some of your freelance lessons. Please do share! (Or e-mail privately.)

Image credit: “Kite Bird” by Debbiewaum


Do You Work in Your Pajamas?

I was reading a newsletter from this up-and-coming freelance marketplace and the testimonial of a contractor caught my eye. When asked what the best thing about working from home was, she said, “Right now, I’m in my pajamas.”

I don’t know what it is with some people that they get such a kick from working in their pajamas!

I have 5 reasons why I would never work in my pajamas:

  1. Dressing up for work mentally prepares me for the day’s challenges.
  2. If you’re like me and your home office is in a corner of your bedroom, it can be difficult to fight the urge to jump into bed especially when you’re dressed for the occasion.
  3. I want to be dressed decently if I happen to have an impromptu video call with a prospect or a client.
  4. If you’re home-based, the only time you actually get dressed is when you get out of the house. And tell me, how many times would that be in a week?
  5. Do you really want to be in pajamas all day? Seriously?

Whether you’re working from home or in a corporate setting, I really think you should be dressed appropriately. It’s also for your own good. Remember what they say: Dress for the job you want.

Image: Thanks, Prototype7

Freelance Lessons and Resolutions

And so the year has passed and gone. Now that things are back to normal after the chickenpox, I am belatedly sizing up the year that was and making my New Year’s resolutions (because it is impossible to be thinking of New Year’s resolutions when one is bed with the pox).

Last year brought with it some freelance lessons I will always take to heart:

  1. Be brave, little one. Starting off your freelance career means one should be brave enough to send out feelers to possible prospects. I was lucky that S, who was my boss at a publishing house 5 years ago, had e-mailed me the contact information of an Internet marketing guy who was looking for a writer. Unfortunately for me, I read S’s e-mail one year later!
  2. Ask and it shall be given to you. At the off-hand chance that S’s former client might still be looking, I sent him an e-mail offering my services. And that is what got my freelance career moving last year.
  3. Seek and you shall find. The second half of the year was a dry spell, writing wise, and I was looking for something challenging to do. Thanks to Noah, whom I had worked with at the old arts and culture blog, I found Angie, who’s into crafts and sewing and whose weekly newsletters I now do.

This year, the quarter is starting off fine. I’m doing Angie’s newsletters regularly now. These newsletters are always a joy to make because I get to practice my coding and fledgling Photoshop skills. And I’m editing a book, AGAIN! I’m just so happy to be using my Chicago Manual again. Glad to be  editing. I think my editing skills are getting rusty so this ebook is good practice.

And because of all these freelance activities, I have resolved to do the following this year:

  1. I will save all my freelance earnings this year. So help me God.
  2. I will use my time wisely and well and learn when it’s time to stop writing, relax, and watch Gossip Girl.
  3. I will try to do more things that feed the soul, such as catching writing talks, visiting art galleries, reading more online and off. Specifically do more things that do not involve sitting down and being in front of the computer.
  4. I will take notes when I’m writing and not let a good quote pass me by.
  5. I will write more frequently, online and off.

So help me with all these well-intentioned resolutions, God.

What’s your freelance and writing resolutions?

Image: “Fireworks” by Gabriel77

Financial Tips for Freelance Writers/Editors

Reading Jessica Monday’s article “Tax Tips for Writers” made me realize how unwisely I managed my freelance income in recent years.

If you keep a full-time job like I do, freelance projects bring in extra, nontaxable income (well, in the Philippines, that is). The extra money coming in can be overwhelming, and yes, sometimes you find yourself spending on unnecessary things, thinking that your bank account won’t dry up. The bad news is, it does–especially if there’s no extra money pouring into it.

So how do you work out your finances, especially if you’re maintaining multiple jobs? Here are a few things you can do to make financial management easier.

  • Keep your freelance income separate from your savings account or your payroll account from your full-time work. Separating income sources will make financial management easier. Your full-time job should pay for everything (well, in my case, this is what I try to achieve)–the freelance earnings should be set aside for something else.
  • Deduct your operational expenses from your freelance earnings. What are these? Telephone and Internet bills are one. If your freelance work involves client meetings outside of the home, your transportation and food expenses should also be deducted from your freelance income. The same goes for courier and handling fees (when you need to ship contracts abroad) and even business cards. For freelancers who maintain memberships with freelance sites, membership  dues should  also be deducted  from the money you make as a freelancer.
  • Gadgets and computer accessories like headsets, flash drives, and mouse pads–basically anything that you need for your freelance work–should be paid for with your freelance earnings.
  • Record, record, record everything. I honestly had no idea how much I earned from my freelance projects until I sat down today and plotted everything in an Excel file. The bad thing is, because I never cared enough to record everything, I don’t know where all the money went (I can assume the bulk of it went to my child’s education).

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?

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”