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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?


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.

Why an Online Presence Is Important for Writers


If it were difficult to penetrate the international literary scene a decade ago, today many young Filipino writers are getting published in international magazines all because of the Internet. Furthermore, with the advent of Guru, Elance, and other job markets, Filipino writers are able get projects and commissioned work abroad. That means a wider market and more jobs (and more money!) for writers.

Many years ago when I applied for admission at the University of the Philippines, I was weighing the pros and cons of taking creative writing as against journalism. My parents’ advice echoed in my mind: You can never get rich by writing.

Of course, these days, making money through writing is not altogether impossible and one can actually live comfortably by doing copywriting, manuscript editing, and Web content work. While this isn’t the type of creative work that most writers aspire for, it brings food to the table, and whoever said you couldn’t write a novel or a short story on your days off, eh?

A project fell onto my lap a few weeks ago, courtesy of a forgotten profile on Perhaps things like this don’t happen frequently, but it bolsters what I have always believed in: for you to break borders and find jobs elsewhere, you must have an online presence.

Work in the Office or BYOB*?

My office desk. Am I ready to say goodbye to an IT guy on standby?

I’ve been contemplating on working from home in the last couple of months mainly because I’ve started to love freelance work. I thought I was ready to make the shift from 9-hour office worker to independent Web worker who gets to do some cooking while she writes.

(I kid. I always burn the rice when I cook while writing.)

So I came up with a list of advantages and disadvantages for working in an office and being my own boss:

Working from home is good because I can be around more often for my little boy and it will enable me to be more productive without the distraction of casual office conversations (which run for 30 minutes without your noticing). It will also save me on cab fare to work, the energy of reporting to a brick-and-mortar office, and commuting time.

On the other hand, what I love about working in an office is that a part of me is comforted by the idea that there are people around (okay, I admit, I am afraid of being alone–sometimes) and that when I get bored I can sneak downstairs with a friend and watch people smoke or try to climb over the barricade to get to the commercial district across the street.

I also like the idea that I have IT guys in the office whose only responsibility is to make sure the Internet and the entire network is running fine. At home, the mere act of picking up the phone and reporting that my Internet connection is slow or nonexistent irritates me no end and sometimes interferes with my writing mood.

And yes, the idea that there’s someone who does the accounting is also comforting, because I honestly do not want to be bothered with contracts and billings. I like knowing that I can march off to the nearest ATM twice a month and get my pay, and not have to remind my client that it’s time to issue me a cheque.

But the nice thing about working from home is that, if you are able to snag a number of well-paying projects, you actually stand to earn more than if you do office work. (And you don’t have to pay taxes!–okay, I’m kidding: I’m not encouraging you to renege on what you owe the government.) There’s also the fact that you can work when you want to or as long as you want, and if you’re sleepy, you can sneak in an hour’s nap and nobody will raise the roof. As long as you get the job delivered on time and in fine condition, who complains, right?

Am still weighing things for now. My freelance work isn’t enough to pay all the bills for a month yet, so there’s no way I’m giving up my full-time job. But who knows? I believe that whether I work in the office or or at home, there always will be something to pick on. It’s only a matter of living with the situation. Maybe in six months, we’ll see.

*In case you didn’t know: Be your own boss