Posts filed under 'Popular articles'

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]

2 comments August 2nd, 2010

Your Freelancing 201 questions answered, part 1

When I asked folks to chime in with their burning freelancing questions last week I wasn’t expecting to get so many. Thank you — both for playing along, and for continuing to read this site despite my increasingly infrequent posts.

The column I wound up writing on the topic – Suddenly Self-Employed? Seven Ways to Boost Your Income – makes the following suggestions. Many of you will have heard some of them before. But hey, when it comes to making more moolah, a little reminder never hurts, right?

1. Follow the money. Sometimes a snoozy yet lucrative gig can be a lifesaver.

2. Don’t let any one client dominate your time. Over the course of the year, up to 25% per client is my recommended time limit.

3. Track your project time. If that $750 article takes you 75 hours to research, write, and revise, you’re either doing too much work or getting robbed.

4. Stop reducing your rates. The worst of the recession is hopefully behind us. Slashing your rates to get more work (or agreeing to a client’s slashed rates in order to hang on to them) is not a viable business model. You’ll just wind up working twice as many hours to pay your bills.

5. Institute project minimums. Why take piddly one-off assignments for $100 to $200 a pop when you can cultivate higher-paying projects and clients who give you steady business?

6. Set firm limits on pro bono work. I think by now you all know how I feel about PIE work.

7. Hire a blasted intern already. As long as you provide some educational value (a bit of mentorship), you can get a budding freelancer to do your admin bidding for free or close to it for several hours a month. And even if you do pony up, say, $10 to $20/hour for a young, eager virtual assistant, if you’re charging clients, say, $60 to $80/hour and up, you still come out ahead. Once you get them trained, having your intern/assistant take four hours of admin work off yours hands each week frees you up to make four more hours of income, dig?

[To read Suddenly Self-Employed? Seven Ways to Boost Your Income in its entirety, see]

Meanwhile, I’d like to add a couple items to the above list:

1. Jean is right: hiring an intern or assistant is easy. All that’s required is an initial investment of time. Make a list of the work you need to pawn off on someone else, hit up your local college for creative students ISO internships (require them to commit for at least three to six months) or ask your network for the names of unemployed professionals who could use a little extra cash, wade through a handful of resumes and interviews, make your choice, and then delegate your little heart out.

To keep kosher with the IRS when you pay an intern or assistant, you would simply send your intern/assistant a 1099 in January for work they performed the previous year — that is, if you paid them at least $600 for the year. Otherwise, no 1099 is necessary. You can also claim the money you pay them as an expense of running your business. Talk to your tax preparer for details.

2. Subcontracting is your friend. From an income standpoint, freelancing comes with a big limitation. Suppose you only have 30 billable hours you’re able to work each week. That means the most you can hope to earn on a weekly basis is 30 times your best possible rate. However, if you take a project that involves more work than you alone can handle and farm some of it out to other freelancers, you stand to make more money because (a) you can nab bigger projects and possibly bigger clients, and (b) you can and should take a cut off the top of what you pay your subcontractors.

How much of a cut you take will depend on the project fee, the profit margin you need to make, and the market rate you need to pay to attract quality freelancers. (In other words, I can’t do the math for you, though I can tell you I’ve known freelancers and creative agencies to skim anywhere from 10 to 50% or more off the top. I suspect the appropriate sweet spot lies between 20 and 40%, but it will really depend on the project.)

A few key considerations for those who choose to hire subcontractors:

  • Make sure your contract with your client allows you to subcontract. Otherwise, you risk violating the contract and losing the client.
  • Prepare to invest some time in finding and overseeing your team of subcontractors.
  • Give your subcontractors a contract in writing. If you can’t find a template for this in a book or online (try, talk to a lawyer.
  • As with hiring an assistant, you will have to provide 1099s for your subcontractors. Definitely talk to your tax preparer if and when you decide to go this route.
  • More freelancers on the job means more room for mistakes. If you don’t have business liability insurance, it may be time to look into it.

As for your other questions, I’ll answer them in the coming days. Thanks, everyone!

2 comments July 11th, 2010

Got a burning Freelancing 201 question?

Anyone have a question about how to take their freelance business to the next level? I’m looking for fodder for an upcoming article and would love to hear what issues keep you awake at night. Wondering how to raise your rates, tame a tough client, make more money? Want to collaborate with or subcontract to other independents but don’t know how? Covet an assistant but aren’t sure you can afford it? Do tell. Mama’s here to help.

13 comments July 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

Why I love contract work

The other day, a friend who’s halfway through a year-long contract as a technical editor said what today’s temporary workforce is never supposed to say aloud:

“My boss keeps telling me she wants to bring me on permanently, but I’m not so sure I want that. It’s funny how everybody assumes that’s my goal.”

Sure, my friend is thankful to have a decent-paying job this year, especially in the wake of her big, fat, soul-sucking layoff in 2008. But after a couple years of cobbling together a paycheck from various contract, part-time and freelance jobs, she’s no longer sold on the sanctity of shacking up with one employer — despite the promise of 401(k) matching and a group health care plan.

I can relate. I took my first contract job in 1998 and have yet to accept a temporary boss’s offer of permanent work. Some of the staffers I’ve worked alongside have said, “Why don’t you just do the permanent employee thing for five years, sock away a bunch of cash and then go goof off in soloville awhile?”

But I prefer my freedom now, even if it means paying for my own vacation days and owning a smaller house than my employee counterparts.

Of course, there are legions of contract, temporary and freelance workers who couldn’t agree less — and dire news reports of the ever-growing number of malcontent temps to prove it. They don’t want to have to find a new job every three, six or 12 months or fund their own health insurance premiums. Real or imagined, they long for the uniformity of one boss, one corporate culture, one employee manual year after year.

Entirely understandable. But in the decade-plus I’ve worked as a contract employee and freelancer, I’ve encountered many content temps who agree that contract work has its undeniable perks. Between the autonomy, flexibility and variety, many of the nation’s 10.3 independent contractors have no intention of returning to staff work any time soon. Here’s why.

[Read the rest of this column on]

4 comments June 19th, 2010

Working solo with your sweetie

For some reason, Girl Scout cookie season has always screamed ”Love is in the air!” to me — way the heck more than Valentine’s Day ever could. (Yes, I have a bit of a Thin Mints issue. What’s it to you?)

In honor of this lovey-dovey-est of seasons, I recently went on something of a writing-about-couples-who-work-together tear  (here, and here). I hadn’t given much thought to whether and when domestic partners in business together should reveal their coupledom to clients — that is, until one of these articles led me to interview spouses Kris Hoots and Steve Thomas, founders of Oneicity, a Seattle-area consulting firm that creates fundraising solutions for non-profit and religious organizations. 

Kris and Steve initially opted to keep their relationship status on the down low until clients and colleagues got to know them better. But once they realized that many of the clients and vendors they worked with were also shacked up, they decided they could afford to be less tight-lipped about their personal partnership. While the couple doesn’t exactly come right out and flaunt their marital status in their company’s marketing materials, they have blogged about it on their business site.

How about you? What’s your take on mixing love with business — and letting your customers in on the nature of the personal relationship you and your partner share? If you and your sweetie are in business together, do you play up your relationship status in your marketing materials and new client meetings? Or do you go out of your way to cloak your personal relationship from customers, vendors, and colleagues? Has your relationship status helped or hurt your business image, or has it not made one bit of difference?

4 comments March 14th, 2010

New year, new goals

Feels like I’ve been writing holiday-themed articles for weeks and weeks. (Among my favorites: Survival Jobs You Never Thought You’d Be Thankful For and All I Want for Christmas Is a Layoff.)

With 2009 mercifully in the rearview mirror, I’ve joined the fresh-start bandwagon and have been furiously outlining my freelancing goals for the next 12 months. Not resolutions (habits you want to form or change), but goals (stuff you want to accomplish).

Reason I make this distinction is because while writing about how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions yesterday, I learned that humans are hard-wired to fail miserably if they try to change too many habits at once. So I’ve got one resolution for my freelance career this year: leave part of each Sunday open for work on my personal writing projects (books, essays, stories), something I’m doing with three other freelance writer pals for extra accountability.

As for the other stuff I hope to accomplish this year, I’m calling those goals. In the interest of sharing, I’ll list some of the biggest ones here:

  • Give this site a much-needed facelift
  • Finish proposal for book #3 by spring
  • Pursue more custom publishing work (trade publications and the like)
  • Sell an article or essay to the print edition of a certain beloved national paper

How about you? What do you hope to accomplish in this brave new year?

8 comments January 4th, 2010

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]

9 comments July 5th, 2009

Taking back your ex (employer)

Another call for sources for my ABC News column: I’m hoping to write this week’s piece on employees who get laid off by a company only to wind up freelancing, contracting, temping, or working for them part-time later. If you’ve been laid off from a staff job in the last six months and have since started freelancing or contracting for that same company, I’d love to hear from you. You can be anonymous and I don’t need the company name. Besides sharing people’s anecdotes in the article, I’m looking to give tips, do’s, and don’ts of taking an ex-employer back as a freelancer or contractor. Please email me by Tuesday if you’re interested. Thank you!

2 comments March 13th, 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

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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.

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