Posts filed under 'Overworked and underpaid'

Moonlighting: Should you tell your boss?

When fitness buff Amanda Furgiuele began teaching pole-dancing classes after work two years ago, she didn’t broadcast it to colleagues at her day job as a television producer.

“Although I know that pole dancing is a legitimate fitness pursuit, most people still refer to it as ‘stripping class,’” said the Maui, HI resident, who has never worked as a exotic dancer and does not allow nudity in her classes. “I was kind of worried about the social stigma. I didn’t want to appear unprofessional.”

Despite her discretion, it didn’t take long before Furgiuele’s coworkers found out.

“One of my student’s cousins was my office manager,” she said. From there, it was only a matter of minutes before her evening occupation was laid bare before the entire office.

“After a thorough round of teasing and a few moderately inappropriate comments, it’s mostly smoothed out at my day job,” Furgiuele said. “I’m glad everyone knew me as a person before they knew my ‘other profession.’ I’m not sure they would have been so understanding had they thought of me as a pole dancer first.”

According to a January survey conducted by The Daily Beast, 23 percent of those polled have more than one paying job. Some said their second job was a hobby that had morphed into a money-making operation. Others said they needed the extra income.

So does the fact that we’ve become a nation of cash-strapped moonlighters mean that your employer will support your after-hours vocation? Or could fessing up that you’ve been serving cocktails, driving a limo or designing canine outerwear on the side jeopardize your reputation, or worse, your day job?

The short answer is, it depends. [Read the rest at ABCNews.com.]

9 comments July 5th, 2009

What’s your most-hated freelance scam?

I did a post this a.m. on Nine to Thrive (my NWjobs blog on work/life balance) about the nastiest work from home scams people have been reporting of late.

Of the many the FBI warns against, my personal favorite has to be those package forwarding or product reshipping jobs listed online. If you’re lucky, your so-called employer will merely neglect to reimburse you for the shipping fees on all those electronic goods you’re repacking and reshipping. But if you’re unlucky, you could get caught up in a criminal investigation, as many of the goods these employers are hiring home-based workers to ship are stolen.

You may think that having viable a freelance skill to sell over the web and in person makes you immune to such scams. “Only rebate processors and envelope stuffers get taken for a ride,” you may tell yourself. “Not writers, web designers, and software programmers.” But I beg to differ. (Seen Craigslist lately? Or those useless “paid in promotion” — aka, PIE — gigs?)

When it comes to listing my most-hated freelance scam, I’m torn between all those “Will pay $50 for a 2500-word article/five-page website/three-city PR campaign” project listings polluting the web and those heartless do-it-on-spec-and-then-see-if-anyone-will-deem-you-the-contest-winner-and-reward-you-ten-bucks-for-it sites. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B.)

Perhaps “scam” is too strong a word here, as these outsourcing practices aren’t illegal, only insulting, not to mentioning damaging to professional freelancers who need to earn a living wage. Still, part me wishes there were some regulatory labor body that required such sites and ads to prominently display a “Hobbyists, Apply Here — Pros Who Want to Eat, Steer Clear” graphic at the top. Then those hiring managers without a clue would more quickly come to the realization that you do indeed get what you pay for.

13 comments April 6th, 2009

Want to be in my next ABC News column?

I’m looking for full-time, part-time, temporary, or contract employees who can talk about the below. Anonymous is fine, and I won’t mention your company name (legally, I couldn’t). If interested, email me here. The deadline is Tuesday, so I’d need to hear from you by Monday night. Thanks so much.

How are you dealing with rumblings around the office about impending or potential layoffs at your company? Glad to know (information is power!)? Rather not know (too stressful/depressing!)? Wish your boss hadn’t told you that that nice dad down the hall was on the layoff list? Taking bets with your coworkers about which dead-weight manager will get canned next? Know someone who’s started an anonymous blog about layoffs at the company? If you have a tale to share about how people are dealing with layoff gossip at your job, I’d love to hear from you. I’m also happy to talk to anyone who’s been laid off in the past six months who’s dealt with this.

4 comments March 6th, 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

Homer gets a muumuu and other randomata

I am sleep deprived and drowning in deadlines. Posting will continue to be light until May 5th or so. For now, enjoy this freelancer-related randomata.

Here’s what happens when Homer Simpson decides to work from home. (Via Jezebel.)

Here’s what the New York Times has to say about charging your clients enough money. (Here’s what I — and some of you — have to say.)

Here’s what a recent study on individual health insurance found:

People who buy their own health insurance saw their average annual premiums rise 18 percent between 2002 and 2005, a modest increase compared to the 34 percent jump in average premiums for people insured through their employers, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better about the 30+ percent increase in my health insurance premiums this year. After all, I don’t have an employer to subsidize the monthly premiums. Instead, I raised my deductible so I can afford coverage. Lame. But a common problem in this country.

Here’s a story that made me feel better about the above. This kind doctor quit the medical rat race and started a clinic that serves people with no health insurance. 40,000 patient visits since 2002. Nice!

1 comment April 25th, 2008

The way freelance writers never were

Exhibit A: I’m sure you’ve by now seen the sensationalist New York Times piece that might as well have been called, “Blogging Killz!” While it’s tragic that three prominent bloggers have had heart attacks recently (two of them fatal), this article was a huuuuge stretch. It did remind me, however, that no career is worth compromising your health (as I write this at 5 am, said the insomniac).

Moral of the story: The webconomy didn’t invent workaholism, crappy pay practices, and on-the-job stress. Workaholics, companies with crappy pay practices, and stress bunnies did.

Exhibit B: It’s worth reading Freelance Fizzle! The Decline and Fall of the Writer in the New York Observer, which pines for a freewheeling freelance past (complete with expense accounts!) that died decades ago — and probably only existed for a handful of A-list writers anyway.

The Reader’s Digest version: Once upon a time, magazine writers in Manhattan supposedly had it made. Today they have dwindling markets/readership/budgets to content with, not to mention — cue scary music — the web. Believe me, it saddens me greatly that print pubs are in peril. (Just this week, one of my beloved print clients had massive layoffs.) But I can whine about it, or I can wake up and smell the new economy.

Moral of the story: Freelance publishing rates haven’t gone up in decades. And unfortunately print as we know it is rapidly becoming yesterday’s news. Writers who want to eat need to have at least a couple toes in the digital pool (and depending on how much money they need to make, perhaps a couple more in the copywriting world).

Exhibit C: Procrastinating writers, take heart! Now you can strip away all toolbars, inboxes, and web connections and focus on the blank page at hand. Two distraction-busting word-processing programs (Mac version here; PC here) try to recreate the supposed glory days of writing by typewriter or clunky 80s computer, only with today’s processing speed.

On the one hand, I’m sorely tempted to check out this cool-sounding app. On the other, I did a fine job of procrastinating in the 80s and 90s, first with a typewriter, then with a Mac SE.

I applaud entrepreneurial software devs who sell their creations one download at a time, so I’ll skip the snide moral of the story here. And if anyone’s tried an app like this, I’d love to know what you think.

2 comments April 10th, 2008

Craigslist ad for freelance gig from hell

Who would answer this (sadly, quite real) Craiglist ad? WHO?

I need a ghost writer, someone to help me finish some stories and make them presentable to be published, I can’t pay for the time and effort, but an willing to give credit where credit is due. I currently have 5 stories, and you can choose which one(s) you want to work on. These are typed out COPIES, I have the originals and will keep them, looking for someone that will not tamper with the original idea, but add to the story to make publishable. I have all the ideas, just no time or patients for details, but it’s all in my head. Please let me know if your interested.

In other words, “Hi, I want to be a published writer, but I don’t want to write. Or learn how to spell. But trust me, I have the chops. It’s all in my head. I just don’t have time to type, or use my brain, or open a dictionary. And you should help me. For free. Because I said so.”

What this person doesn’t realize is that if a writer needs to do a couple freebies to beef up her skimpy portfolio, she’s going to write and publish her own dang articles (say for a cool indie women’s mag, or the newsletter of the women’s shelter down the street), not waste her time with this nonsense. Ads like this do a huge disservice to paid ghostwriting gigs offered by credible authors, business executives, and book publishers.

Promise me you will never answer such an ad. I’d sooner advise you to answer a listing on Craig’s like this.

(This rant made possible by my dear friend Diane, who sent me the CL ad in question.)

7 comments February 17th, 2008

MDs and ESQs: “I don’t get no respect”

Pity the doctors and lawyers. They slogged through countless, sleepless years of higher education and amassed astronomical student debt only to realize that they’re no longer envied and revered by the rest of us poor working slobs.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, “some doctors and lawyers feel they have slipped a notch in social status, drifting toward the safe-and-staid realm of dentists and accountants.” What’s more, MDs and ESQs “only” make six figures, when much sexier-sounding hedge funders and webpreneurs (some of whom didn’t even go to college — gasp!) are making millions.

Call me callous, but I find it hard to feel sympathy for anyone who chooses a profession just because they think it will sound good at a dinner party. (Why does the Sunday Style section measure everything against the dinner-party yardstick?) This might have something do with the fact that when I was in school, everyone and their grandmother (mine included) regarded Lawyer or Doctor as the holy grail of career choice. As for flexible, creative, entrepreneurial work? That’s what stoners and slackers did.

So score one for the so-called slackers. And note to the Times: Not everyone under 30 in the brave new entrepreneurial workforce wants to be the next Web 2.0 bazillionaire. Some just want to do work they can stomach, have some time left over to spend with the people they love, and avoid a hefty dry cleaning bill in the process.

11 comments January 7th, 2008

Dear manager, think twice before you send that next meeting invite

Here’s the latest PayScale piece. Thanks again to everyone who sent in their best hell-meeting tales.

When Marie, a sales assistant, showed up for a routine meeting with a big-time retail client, she didn’t expect to find the guy drunk. With a bird cage containing a latex chicken hanging on the wall behind him. Nor did she expect him to spend the entire meeting on the phone, haggling over money with a bunch of car dealerships.

“I thought about Kafka,” Marie says. “This was so weird.”

While most meetings from hell aren’t quite so surreal, they’re every bit as maddening. Take Judy, who worked as managing editor at a magazine and had the classic sitcom experience of suggesting a story idea in a meeting only to have her boss ignore her and then present the idea as his own ten minutes later.

“Everyone’s jaw dropped as they turned to look at me,” she says.

Or Lawrence, who worked for a travel company where the president’s wife (who doubled as the business manager) would monopolize the first ten minutes of every meeting by lecturing the staff on the finer points of carpet stain removal, sometimes even demonstrating how the team should go about cleaning spilled coffee from her prized new office carpeting.

Then there’s Ruth, who worked at a non-profit arts organization where many a meeting devolved into a group therapy session:

“At my very first staff meeting, one woman announced that she had to leave early because she was going to see her therapist, another woman started crying over something and then apologized because she was hormonal, and more time was spent talking about hair than anything else.”

With such a sense of uselessness and futility at meetings — and such a dizzying percentage of the workday sucked up by them — is it any wonder that so many attendees have taken to working on their laptops, texting friends, even snoozing through them, often in plain sight of the boss? Should it come as any surprise that workers overwhelmed by the onslaught of irrelevant meetings block out several days a month on their calendars so they can get some actual work done?

Managers, the next time you feel compelled to schedule a team meeting, think long and hard before you hit Send. The way to earn your employees’ respect is not by scheduling a pre-launch meeting to discuss what next week’s launch meeting will discuss. It’s not by holding a meeting at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday or 6:30 p.m. on a Friday. It’s not by showing up five minutes before the hour-long meeting you called is scheduled to end (and no, you don’t get points for actually showing up). And it’s certainly not by hijacking a meeting so you and the one other manager in attendance can beat to death a topic that has nothing to do with the cube monkeys helplessly held captive in the conference room.

Managers, don’t say it with a meeting when you can say it with an email. Don’t say it with a meeting before you know what the heck it is you want to say. Don’t be the crazy drunk guy with the rubber chicken in a bird cage who haggles with car salesmen during meetings with business colleagues. And if you have to be that guy, make sure you bring enough booze for the rest of the class.

For some ideas on putting meetings out of their misery, see this PayScale page.

3 comments November 11th, 2007

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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.

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