Posts filed under 'Money honey'

How to roll with changes in the freelance writing landscape

I recently was interviewed for the freelance journalism site Ebyline by Susan Johnston of the The Urban Muse. Here’s my favorite question from the bunch. (You can read the interview in its entirety here.)

What changes have you observed in the freelance landscape over the past several years?

Online assignments have gotten shorter. Many national media outlets that once asked writers for 800-1500 word web stories are now asking for 300-600 word blog posts. This has decimated pay rates for freelancers writing for these sites. Online aggregation has become the norm, too, with many leading sites heavily relying on partner content (for example, msnbc.com routinely using stories from sites like Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com). This also means fewer opportunities for freelancers.

But not all hope is lost. Freelancers who want to write for mainstream web outlets just need to fold in more lucrative assignments to supplement their income. Consumer magazines, trade and custom publications and copywriting remain a good bet, as do editing, teaching and coaching. And diversification, staying on top of publishing trends and following the money is perhaps more important than ever before.

A few other changes that seem to be the norm now thanks to web and mobile publishing:

  • More freelancers are expected to provide links, photos, videos, audio and/or HTML tags when filing their stories, as well as promotion via social media outlets when the story runs. Depending on how well you negotiate with editors, this will either mean a bit of extra work per assignment or a bit extra of pay.
  • Given all the aggregation that’s happened in recent years, all-rights and work-for-hire contracts are fairly standard for online writing these days. That’s not to say you can’t negotiate or can’t find an outlet that will let the rights to your work revert back to you at some future date. It just seems that these deals are more scarce.
  • Many online startups have no qualms asking freelancers to write for free or close to it. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of new, hobbyist or exposure-hungry writers willing to take the bait. For this reason, I advise inquiring about the rate in the first conversation you have with a new-to-you outlet.

[Read the rest of my Ebyline interview here.]

8 comments February 16th, 2012

Artist at heart? 6 reasons to keep your day job

I’ve always objected to the notion that you need to take a year off to write a novel, paint a mural or record an album. Likewise, I’m equally bothered by the assertion that an artist with a day job is a sell out. Eating is a noble pursuit. So is learning valuable business skills you can apply to hawking your own creative wares.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for creative endeavors, be they full time or on the side. But I’m also for living like a grown-up, as opposed to, say, couch surfing or subsisting on Ramen-ketchup casserole indefinitely.

Of course, the rub is finding the time and energy to practice your craft while doubling as someone else’s employee. Same goes for keeping your resentment of that pesky day job at bay.

Summer Pierre, author of The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week, knows this dance all too well.

Before becoming a mother this year, the illustrator and writer supported herself with an administrative gig in the academic sector. But rather than view her day job as an obstacle to making art, Pierre came to appreciate it as a vital part of her creative life — and not just because of the paycheck that kept a roof over her head.

“Not everyone does well being isolated,” said the Brooklyn-based Pierre, who plans to return to part-time bread-and-butter work this fall. “I need structure. I need people. So the job for me was really providing that.”

But cash, colleagues and water coolers aren’t the only reasons published authors, gigging musicians and exhibiting artists cite for straddling the employee world. The next time you’re tempted to ditch your day job (or pooh-pooh another paycheck-earning artist), consider the following.

[Read the rest of this column on ABC News.com]

2 comments August 2nd, 2010

How much pro bono work is too much?

Maybe you went into business for yourself because you had a million-dollar idea. Or you wanted to set your own hours. Or you wanted to exercise your right to turn away clients who wouldn’t recognize integrity if it slapped them upside the head.

Whatever your MO for going solo, you probably hoped to make that proverbial difference in the world, no matter how small. Chances are, though, your desire to pay it forward has led you to bite off more pro bono work than you can chew somewhere along the way.

Get in over your head with non-paying clients and, at best, your schedule and quarterly earnings take a beating. At worst, you realize you’re dealing with an ungrateful, opportunistic customer, at which point resentments flare, fur flies, and bridges burn.

So how much pro bono work should you accept? How should you choose the customers to whom you donate your services? And most important, how do you ensure these friendly freebies don’t land you in the scope creep sinkhole

[Read the rest of this article on American Express OPEN Forum.]

3 comments June 19th, 2010

Plan your exit strategy

When Vanessa Troyer and Chris Farentinos launched MailBoxes4Less.com in 2000, they didn’t give much thought to how they’d exit the online mailbox distribution company.

All that changed in 2006. Recognizing the huge growth potential in manufacturing high-end mailboxes for builders and retailers, the Los Angeles couple decided to channel all their efforts into a second business, Architectural Mailboxes. This meant selling the highly profitable MailBoxes4Less.com to free up the necessary funds.

It wasn’t a scenario most entrepreneurs envision when they think about exit strategies.

“No one was sick,” says Troyer, 45. ‘We didn’t want to retire. Investors weren’t saying ‘I’m done.’ There was no reason to sell the business.”

But sell the couple did, garnering more than $1 million for the venture they’d founded eight years earlier with just $25,000.

It was the right move: Today Architectural Mailboxes continues to grow, with products in every Lowe’s store in the nation and more than half of Home Depot’s locations. Amazon carries 140 of the company’s products. And, Troyer says, the business is on track to grow by 38 percent by the end of 2011.

Hoping to follow in Troyer and Farentinos’ footsteps? Experts say the best way to ensure you leave your company when and how you want–with money in hand–is to start plotting your exit strategy now, even if you’re still developing the business plan. Sadly, study after study shows that a majority of entrepreneurs have no exit strategy whatsoever in place.

If this sounds familiar, don’t fret. You’re about to get a crash course in preparing for two of the most common ways to successfully exit a business: turning the reins over to a relative and selling the company.

[Read the rest of this article on Entrepreneur.com.]

2 comments April 7th, 2010

How to dig out of business debt

Like many entrepreneurs, Adam Levy expected to do well with the music equipment company he started in 2002. Armed with an MBA and pile of money made in the late-nineties technology boom, he invested six figures in his new venture and waited to cash in.

Only things didn’t go as planned.

His business partner, a music industry mastermind, abandoned ship within the first 18 months and the company floundered. Seven years later, Levy still wasn’t making a living wage and was six figures in debt. Out of cash and out of choices, he filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

“If I had known then what I know now, I would have just cut my losses, swallowed my ego and moved on,” says Levy, who’s based in Hoboken, N.J. “I didn’t and it almost cost me my marriage.”

Slash Your Budget

Of course, declaring bankruptcy — which experts say should be a last resort — isn’t the only way to stop the bleeding. Reducing your spending should be at the top of your list.

“Getting out of your office space is one big thing I’ve seen people do,” says Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin School of Business. Same goes for trading in that gas-guzzling delivery truck for a smaller vehicle or selling off that five-figure color copier and learning to love Kinko’s.

[Read the rest of this article -- including resources for negotiating both business and personal debt! -- on Entrepreneur.com.]

Add comment February 25th, 2010

The startup cost no new freelancer should go without

Got an email from some mystery reader the other day asking, “Is this site still active? I haven’t seen a post from Michelle in many months.” (Actually it’s been just under two, but who’s counting?) In an upcoming blog post, I’ll explain why I disappeared from the blogosphere for such a long stretch. But first, some fresh content…

Work It, Mom! just ran a new Q&A with me and I wanted to share my favorite question of the bunch:

If you were just starting out as a full-time freelancer and had just enough money each month to pay for ONE of the following things, which would you choose, and why? (1) Hosting for your own website. (2) Mobile web and e-mail on your cell phone/Blackberry. (3) Membership in a paid job listing site like FreelanceSwitch. (4) Four Americanos.

My answer: Easy: web hosting. It’s criminal to not have a website as a freelancer these days. You need your own corner of the digital universe where people can easily learn who you are and peruse your samples and/or client testimonials.

Number one, it makes you look like you’ve joined the twenty-first century (if you forego a site, don’t expect potential customers to be impressed). Number two, it saves you extra time you might have spent explaining your work/approach/MO to a new client. Number three, you can make a one- to four-page WordPress site in a morning. Number four, Web hosting costs less than $10 a month. Number five, in the time you spend scouring those (often crummy, $10/hour) ads on freelancing job sites you could have sent your new URL to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, started schmoozing with other freelancers on Twitter, and drummed up your first client by word of mouth or the power of SEO. I’m a big fan of joining a community and cultivating relationships rather than bidding into the void on projects advertised on job sites, unless it’s a really, really kickass-sounding job.

As for options (2) and (4), I don’t use a smartphone and I don’t drink coffee.


Bonus answer: Yes, you can build a site with an address like http://anti9to5guide.wordpress.com/ for free, but having your own URL is so much easier for people to remember and looks a bit more serious.

Yes, coffee makes the deadlines go ’round, but it’s expensive. If you drink it, brew your own.

Yes, a cool smartphone + data plan will liberate you to work anywhere, but as a new freelancer you should be watching your pennies. Besides, do you really need to be online 24/7?

And yes, some people swear by using freelance job hunting sites like Elance, oDesk, and Guru to land their first few gigs or to supplement their freelance income, despite all the cons they themselves are all too happy to admit (wading through all the crap-pay listings, giving the site a cut of your earnings, the preponderance of bidders willing to work for slave wages). But on freelance email list after email list I subscribe to, people regularly say that they haven’t found such race-to-the-bottom bidding frenzies worth their time.

I can’t speak to the job listings on Freelance Switch specifically; if anyone has a review to share, by all means please do. I’d love to find a job listing site serving multiple freelance disciplines to recommend to new freelancers. As for writers, I hear wonderful things about the publication editors and the freelance listings they post on Freelance Success, which costs about $100 a year.

13 comments June 4th, 2009

Monitoring the layoff rumor mill as a freelancer or contractor

Last week I asked if anyone wanted to weigh in on my ABC News column on how layoff gossip both helps and hurts office workers. (You can read the column here; it ran yesterday.)

But employees aren’t the only ones who grapple with layoff gossip. As a freelancer and contractor, I’ve recently had to temper my monitoring of the downsizing rumor mill about several of my clients. On the one hand, you want to stay informed of budget and headcount cuts so you can plan accordingly (save your pennies, find new clients, be sensitive to editors enduring employment upheaval). On the other, you don’t want to fall so far down the rumor rabbit hole that you can’t think straight.

In other words, you don’t want to be like the freelance journalist I interviewed for my column who said this:

“I get obsessed with the gossip to the point that I become unproductive. Instead of pursuing the work I have, I’m chasing down the latest choice tidbit on whether this other business is going to close. I’m on the phone with colleagues, I’m reading all the blogs, tuning in to the TV, to Twitter, you name it. It’s probably all a waste of time, but hope springs eternal and all that.”

I can relate to this. As a reporter, I love a juicy story too, especially when it affects my own life and livelihood. I’ve certainly lost a couple afternoons in recent weeks tracking the latest newspaper body count. But I’m trying to remember that if I don’t do the work that’s already on my plate I could be next in line to get the boot.

How about you? How do you deal with the layoff rumors swirling around your star clients?

3 comments March 13th, 2009

Trimming your freelance/personal expenses with a mind to indie business

Like everyone else, I’m looking for ways to shave expenses. Dinners, presents, movies out, and tickets for live music are now few and far between. If I need clothes, I buy used as much as possible (I’ll break for new undees, sneakers, and socks though). If I play with friends, one of us suggests eating in or going to a free event, like a book reading or a talk. European vacation plans with the boyfriend are on hold. You know the drill — the frugal freelance budget, only on steroids.

I’m especially psyched that this insurance agent helped me pick a healthcare plan that costs $1500 less a year but still covers the stuff I need covered. (By dropping maternity, pharmacy, and vision bennies, I save money — who knew!?) And I made the switch from cable TV to Netflix a little while back. Together, these changes save me $200 a month, which ain’t too shabby.

Still, each time I revisit the “Where I can save?” question, two monthly expenses that I don’t really need to be incurring jump out at me:

(1) The money I pay to have my house cleaned every 4 to 6 weeks (about $100, depending on how dirty the house is). This is a total guilty pleasure for me. But I hate to clean and rarely have time to anyway. Besides, I look forward to that one day a month when I sit on the freshly vacuumed couch, survey the tidy, dog-hair-free living room, and think “Ahhhhhh.”

(2) The money I pay to have a 40-pound bag of Buddy‘s food delivered every 4 to 6 weeks (about $10 delivery charge each time). For some reason, picking up the dog food is an errand I’ve always hated. Usually I realize I’m out of kibble when the dog needs breakfast and an editor needs the article I’m working on. Also, those bags are dang heavy. So when I heard about a local delivery service, I was all over it.

Although I aspire to live leanly as possible — even if it means sucking it up and picking up my own mutt chow and mopping my own damn floors – I have a hard time letting either service go because these people are independent business owners. It’s a total thrill to not have to pay Comcast $60 extra a month or to tell LifeWise Health Plan where they can stick their stupid, plundering rate increases. But it does not feel good at all to take business away from another self-employed person. So I’ve decided that I’m keeping both services, depression be damned. Unless I have to start dipping into the dog’s food myself, I’m getting my house cleaned and my kibble delivered to my doorstep.

How about you? Are there expenses you feel you should cut back on but can’t bear to dump because you’d be contributing to another small business owner losing income?

21 comments February 28th, 2009

When to work for free — and when to run for the nearest exit

I have a guest post on Marci Alboher’s Shifting Careers blog in the online version of today’s New York Times. The intro follows. You can read the rest  here.

Despite the fact that I’ve gone from greenhorn to grizzled veteran in my 16 years as a freelancer, I receive calls and e-mails like the following at least once a month:

“We really love your work. And we have a great opportunity for you at our exciting new media venture.”

Translation:

“We’re launching a new Web site/magazine/start-up and we’d love to have you do some consulting work for us. For free.”

My hopeful client will then explain that his or her company is poised to be the next Google or that some former “Apprentice” contestant who’s long since faded into oblivion is on the advisory board. All this is meant to butter me up for the next line, which happens to be the sentence in the self-employment lexicon that I hate the most:

“It will be great exposure for you.”

No one ever filled a gas tank or bought groceries with exposure. The 20.9 million Americans working as consultants, freelancers, small-business owners and independent contractors are not keeping a roof overhead by getting paid in exposure, or “PIE,” as I’ve taken to calling it.

But writers, illustrators and other creative types aren’t the only ones who routinely get asked to donate their time and talents to clients devoid of outsourcing budgets. Business consultants, virtual assistants, bookkeepers, programmers, publicists and all other manner of self-employed professionals get offered platefuls of PIE, too.

Sometimes the PIE — with all its promise of fame and fortune at some vague date on the horizon — will sound pretty delicious, especially if the economy’s in the gutter like it is now. Sometimes you’ll convince yourself that a little sliver of PIE couldn’t possibly hurt your bottom line. But usually these gigs are as empty as the calories at your favorite bakery counter.

Read the rest of this post here.

6 comments November 10th, 2008

Do you know where your quarterly tax payment is?

Happy tax day! If you’re a U.S. freelancer, not only is your 2007 annual tax return due today, your first of four estimated tax payments for 2008 is due too (PDF form here).

If you need a refresher course in freelance tax-paying, here’s a collection of some favorite freelance tax posts from this site (complete with bonus resource list!).

And if want a good chuckle, here’s a hilarious yet ever-infomative piece on freelancing by Salon‘s Catherine Price.

See you in the post office line!

Add comment April 15th, 2008

Previous Posts

Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

Books I've written

My other blog

Popular articles

My Twitter handle

Posts by category