Posts filed under 'She’s the boss'
Lauren and Emira, authors of The Boss of You (which is getting rave reviews, by the way), are back with another guest post. A couple weeks ago, I was struggling with the question of business liability insurance — what I needed for myself as a company of one, and what to say about it in my new book. I asked them for their thoughts on the matter, and the result is this post. If you have any questions about small business liability insurance, feel free to post ‘em in the comments. I’m sure Lauren and Emira would be happy to answer.
For the first few years of our business life, we weren’t that concerned with liability insurance. While it would have been nice to take a “better safe than sorry” route, we didn’t really relish the thought of putting our meager earnings into insurance. At the time were a small company, without any staff, and our contracts state that we have no responsibility for our clients’ data and that our liability doesn’t exceed the value of any individual contract.
It was actually when we moved into our office space that liability insurance came up — our building required that we carry a minimum amount, as well as Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance. Shortly after that we also hired staff, and while we certainly trusted our staff implicitly, things began to get a little more removed from our control, while ultimately if anything went wrong we’d be the ones holding the bag. At that point in time, we were really happy that we already had liability insurance in place.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve encountered a new situation with liability insurance that we hadn’t really considered when we first started out: we’ve been working with larger clients (particularly with government organizations) that actually require us to have liability insurance in order to be a successful bidder on any contracts.
We didn’t start our business with a vision of working with these kinds of larger organizations, but we know some people go into freelancing with the plan to work primarily with bigger organizations — often they actually come from having worked for a larger organization and move from a paid staff position to consulting after some time away, a maternity leave, etc. The point is, if you think you’re going to work with these kinds of larger institutions or organizations, you definitely don’t want to be trying to figure out your insurance while you’re replying to a 20+ page Request for Proposal. So, if that describes your target client, we’d strongly recommend getting some insurance in place from the get-go.
When working with larger organizations that are likely to require that you to carry liability and E&O insurance, you should work that into your pricing. With additional overhead expenses like that, you will need to charge more, simply because your cost of doing business (as required by clients) is significantly higher. So make sure you feel very comfortable charging enough to cover those expenses.
In our case, we actually went from working with an organization that didn’t require business liability insurance to that organization changing their policy (requiring us to carry insurance). And after that change, when we submitted our next quote for work at a higher rate than we had charged in the past, we made sure to gently remind the client that our rates were going up to reflect the additional costs they required we incur.
When you’re seeking out quotes on liability and E&O insurance, be warned that many insurance providers don’t really understand how to sell this kind of insurance to smaller outfits. They often have predetermined categories that are actually for bigger businesses. So it’s worth pushing back on your initial quote and making sure they really understand what it is you do, and what your actual level of risk is so you’re not paying the same amount as a firm with hundreds of employees that can technically be slotted in your category.
This is especially true for freelancers. When we first started looking for liability and E&O insurance, the carriers wanted to slot us in like we were a hosting company (we’re a web site design company), which is a whole other kettle of fish (hosting companies are explicitly responsible for their customers’ data for example, where our contracts state we are not). So we had to make the carriers understand what it is we actually do in a day, and what the real risks we carry are. And the price difference was significant.
Another piece of advice we always give on pricing and insurance is to try to renegotiate your policy annually, especially after you’ve held it for a year or two. We have a great insurance agent and she prompted me on this one initially, by basically saying, “You know I can probably get you more coverage for this premium since you’ve had no claims/are in good standing” — and she did. Now typically they don’t want to actually lower your premiums, because of course that’s how they’re getting paid too, but they will go to bat for you on getting you more for your money and that’s better than nothing.
May 10th, 2008
Are you a business of one who’s wondering whether it’s time to hire an extra pair of hands? Torn between whether you should hire an employee or a subcontractor? Fairly certain that if you don’t start delegating soon your head will implode, but not sure what tasks to farm out, let alone where to find a capable set of extra hands in the first place?
Not to worry. Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears are here to help. Lauren and Emira started Raised Eyebrow Web Studio, Inc. in 2000, so that they could be their own bosses and continue to work with the not-for-profit and small business clients they loved. They became so dang good at it they decided to write a book — The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business. So without further adieu, here’s what Lauren and Emira have to say on hiring your first employee…
There comes a time in every successful self-employed gal’s life when the question arises: How do I know when it’s time to hire some help?
The first step is to look for the warning signs that going it alone is not working out. For most small enterprises, there’s a good long stretch where you (and your business partner, if you have one) are your only employee(s). Of course, if you’re successful, you’re likely to get busier and busier, up until the point where you stop being able to juggle all the work you’ve got coming in.
We hit this point in our business about three years in, but we didn’t see it for much, much longer. It’s our hope that our tale of woe will inspire others to act promptly when the time comes to bring in an extra pair of hands.
See, between client work and the administrivia of running our business (answering email and phone calls, managing our books, and so on), we found ourselves working longer and longer hours and feeling like we were getting no further ahead. We were losing our weekends at the office, and losing sleep over the prospect of missing deadlines if we slowed down. Our success was killing us — the more work we did, the more referrals our clients sent our way, and we couldn’t keep up with the demand.
So why didn’t we hire someone right then and there? Three big reasons:
1. Fear of financial risk. We were terrified that the moment we hired someone, our workload would drop off and we wouldn’t have enough work to keep everyone busy (and the business profitable). The thought of being responsible for another person’s salary on top of our own was just scary enough to make us hesitate.
2. Fear of change. We liked our little two-person, best-friends-and-business-partners-forever setup. And we knew that dynamic would change the moment we brought another person into the mix. We weren’t ready to step out of our roles as comfortable equals and into being the bosses of someone else.
3. Fear of losing control. Yeah, we were hardcore control freaks. (Or, as our hero Joss Whedon prefers to phrase it, “control enthusiasts.”) We were completely stressed out at the thought we might hire someone who wasn’t as perfectionistic as we were, and see the quality of our work deteriorate.
So where did that leave us? Stuck in overwork hell for another couple of years. Yeah, that’s right, I said years. It got pretty ugly; there were emotional breakdowns on both our parts on a fairly regular basis, due to too much work and not enough play, rest, and perspective. People kept telling us we needed to hire help and we kept arguing with them, telling them we didn’t want to grow, and that we’d find some other way to cope.
(Now, by the way, that’s a perfectly legitimate strategy, but only if you’re comfortable turning down work so that you can stay sane. We weren’t doing that.)
So how did we get over our fears? In short:
1. We discovered that not only will a hard-working employee pay for themselves (in our case, by working a reasonable number of billable hours per week), but will speed up production times (duh) and thereby quicken up the cashflow cycle (because when projects finish faster, the billing date comes sooner).
2. We hired someone we liked. A lot.
3. We peppered our job posting with phrases like “detail-oriented” and “meticulous,” and hired someone just as careful and quality-conscious as we are.
That’s the short version. There’s plenty more on the subject of hiring help in our book. But meanwhile, please feel free to post your questions about hiring here, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
May 5th, 2008
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!
April 25th, 2008
In honor of March 8, I thought I’d list eight of my favorite women’s media outlets in autobiographical order (that is, my autobio):
- Ms. — Used to steal my mom’s issues when I was a kid. Thank god for Gloria Steinem.
- BUST – Still have the “Sex” issue with John Spencer of JSBX on the cover. (Mmmm.) Still devour every issue.
- Bitch — Cannot read an issue without having a debate with someone about something I read in it, even if it’s just an internal, telepathic debate with one of the mag’s writers. In other words, the mag makes me think. Which is a good thing.
- Seal Press — What can I say? I heart my publisher’s MO. Always have, always will.
- Broadsheet on Salon.com — Brilliant, insightful, hilarious writers. Always classy, already a classic. I pretty much bow at their feet.
- Women’s eNews — Most underrated women’s media outlet. Remember back when web stories were 100% reported? That parallel universe still exists on Women’s eNews. This site’s top-notch.
- Feministing — Because in-your-face is good.
- Jezebel — Because snark is even better.
How about you? Got any faves to share?
March 8th, 2008
Following are excerpts from my latest “How’d you land that great job?” column for the Seattle Times and NWjobs.com, the paper’s online career center. I love Laura’s job and wanted to share with the class. Plus, we couldn’t run the photo at the left in the paper, and I didn’t want to let it go to waste…
The job: Between 1994 and 2005, Laura Michalek owned and operated four vintage furniture shops in Seattle, most notably Standard Home on Capitol Hill, which she opened in 2000. A self-professed “junker,” she’d put 60,000 miles on her car every year just trolling for antique treasure at estate sales and auctions. Somewhere along the way, she became sold on the idea of grabbing a microphone and working as a full-time auctioneer herself. Today she takes the stage at dozens of local fund-raising auctions each year, helping community and arts organizations such as Home Alive and the Center on Contemporary Art drum up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Q. How did you make the leap from selling antiques to auctioneering?
A. I went to the Missouri Auction School in 2001 because I was inspired by auctioneers who I had seen while buying furniture for my vintage furniture shops.
Within a few months of finishing school, I was asked to help out at an antique auction house in Edmonds, which turned into a once- or twice-a-month gig, without pay. I did that for two years and developed my chant. That experience was priceless, because it’s not easy to get the actual “calling” experience that you need to develop as an auctioneer.
From there, I built my business on the side, until I decided to go full-tilt boogie — full time — in 2005. Thus, the closing of Standard Home.
Q. What exactly did auctioneer school teach you?
A. The school is actually only nine days long. It teaches you business skills, selling, chanting and ethics. Your instructors are world champions. The school I went to has a particularly strong focus on the chant, and you spend half your time there developing your chant through various exercises.
During the week, they sent us out to small auction houses in rural Missouri, in the evening, to sell. The whole town would come and watch and cheer us on. It was like free theater for the locals.
Q. What types of auctions do you do?
A. Contrary to popular belief, most auctions in this town are not black-tie galas. The average auction I do is a $100,000 fundraiser. But I do everything from a $2,000 auction to a $500,000 auction — from public schools, private schools, nonprofits, art organizations and environmental groups to big galas at downtown hotels. All of my clients have a financial need that a successful fund-raising auction alleviates. There is no posturing or fancy money sitting in the room.
Q. What advice can you give budding auctioneers?
A. Start working or volunteering at any kind of auction, just to be around them. Work the ring at an antique auction, or volunteer to check guests in at a fund-raiser. Sitting on an auction event committee, reading business books, learning how to speak in public via Toastmasters — these are all very helpful.
Learning how to ask for money is also important. Working retail is a great way to get a glimpse into the mind of the buyer. Getting nonprofit experience and understanding how the fund-raising world works is helpful too.
I also believe a formal education in auctioneering is essential. I recommend attending the Missouri Auction School and reading books such as Growing a Business by Paul Hawken and To Be of Use: The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work by Dave Smith.
Q. What skills are essential for making a living as an auctioneer?
A. Being able to handle a tremendous amount of pressure and decision-making in a small amount of time and having a reservoir of patience are great virtues, and of course being able to shoot from the hip. I went to auction school with a small business background, a comfort speaking in front of people and a suitable personality, but it’s all for naught if you can’t actually auctioneer and sell.
Once you get the schooling, practice all the time and start selling anywhere you can, even for free. You really have to create your own opportunities. Early on in my auction career, I not only had to convince folks to have an auctioneer but an auction. At the first auction I called, each item was worth $2, but at least I was selling something.
There is no auction too big or small. I still stand in backyards selling baked goods today. And I still go and watch other auctioneers to see what I can learn from them.
Want more? Read this Q&A in its entirety on NWjobs.com. Or you can read past installments of “How’d you land that great job?”
February 28th, 2008
It’s the most wonderful time of the year (that is, if you’re a CPA). That’s right, folks, tax season is upon us. And not surprisingly, I’ve had a couple requests recently for a round-up of this site’s past posts on paying your freelance taxes.
Before we get to the round-up, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that I’m a freelance writer, not a financial professional. Tax laws change every year, and no one knows their nuances better than your friendly tax professional. So although you can get some initial pointers from a freelance blog, I wouldn’t substitute them for the almighty input of someone who’s trained to fill out tax returns. Capiche?
OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
January 24th, 2008
Number of members of the Facebook group Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich: 23,000
Percent of Americans who think electing a women president would be a bad thing: 9
Percent of Americans who think electing a woman president would be a good thing: 33
Percent of Americans who think the gender of the president does not matter: 55
Amount of male corporate directors there are in the United States for every female corporate director: 8
Percent greater salary that U.S. female corporate directors (surprisingly) make over their male counterparts: 15
Percent of women who asked for higher compensation in a recent gender and salary negotiation study: 50
Percent of men who asked for higher compensation in that same study: 83
Average salary that participants of another study said they would award a female applicant who, in a videotaped job interview, expressed anger over losing a past account: $23,000
Average salary that participants of that same study said they would award a male applicant who, in a videotaped job interview, expressed anger over losing a past account: $38,000
November 30th, 2007
Since many of you work or aspire to work in creative fields, I thought you’d get a kick out of my latest “How’d you land that great job?” Seattle Times story, which profiles Roberta Browne, lead animator at Bungie Studios, maker of Halo. I think Roberta’s career path is particularly interesting because (a) she initially struggled with how to turn her talent/love of illustration into a viable career, (b) she tried her hand at freelancing and realized it wasn’t for her, and (c) she has an enviable position in what’s traditionally been an ultra-male field. So, without further adieu, some excerpts from my interview with Roberta…
The job: Roberta Browne grew up on what she refers to as “a steady diet of Looney Tunes cartoons and ‘The Wonderful World of Disney.’” All her spare time in high school was spent drawing cartoon characters, all her notebooks were covered with doodles. After getting a commercial illustration degree at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, she tried her hand at freelance illustration for two years — and wound up earning the bulk of her income by waitressing and bartending. Feeling off her game, she returned to school for animation and, upon graduating, landed her first job as an animator. A decade later, in May of 2007, Browne joined Bungie Studios in Kirkland, Wash., where she works as a lead animator, a job that involves everything from 3-D software to brainstorming sessions to pratfalls.
Q. How did you land your first game animation gig?
A. I studied animation at Sheridan College, located in Oakville, Ontario. Every year the school would hold an open house to showcase the work of the graduating students. There was usually a big industry presence, with representatives ranging from small post-production shops to big movie houses to game companies from both Canada and the United States. After graduation I was offered a job at a small post-production house in Toronto, creating animations and effects for various TV shows.
I was contacted a few months later by Broderbund, a game company located in the San Francisco area. One of their lead animators had attended the open house and seen my reel. I was offered a job. I have to admit, the initial draw of living in California overshadowed the opportunity to work in games. I wasn’t really sure what was involved in being a game animator, but I thought I could figure it out. What I discovered is that animating for games is an exciting, challenging and extremely rewarding job.
I worked at a couple of game companies in California before moving up to Seattle in 2003. Over the years I worked my way through the ranks, starting as an animator, working up to senior animator and then finally to lead animator. I have worked on seven released games in my career, as well as a few prototypes that did not make it to market. Some of the more notable titles are “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Xbox), “Shadowrun” (Xbox 360/Vista) and, of course, “Halo 3.”
Q. What does a lead animator do?
A. My role has changed from creating animation content to managing. I oversee a team of five animators. Most of my time is spent planning, problem solving, coordinating with other functional groups and working with the animation team to ensure they have everything they need to create animation content. I sit with the animation team and participate in [their] reviews of content so far, brainstorming, and acting sessions. Acting sessions involve falling onto mats, jumping, punching and so on. We hand-animate, so there’s no motion-capture technology involved. We’re old school in that regard.
I try to get in a little bit of animation here and there, but it is very limited. It was an interesting transition going from creating animation to helping others to create animation. But I have found it extremely satisfying.
Q: How does game animation differ from film animation?
A. Games are different than films in the sense that the animators create a bunch of smaller pieces of content that are then combined in the game engine. In film, animators work on shots or scenes and animate all the motion from start to finish. So a game animator needs to collaborate with other disciplines. That’s what I love about working in games — it takes art, design and engineering working together to fully realize and bring a game character to life.
Q. Are you a gamer yourself?
A. I do play games outside of work, about three to five hours a week. But I do not consider myself an avid gamer. My passion lies with animation and bringing characters to life. A lot of my free time is spent taking figure drawing and figure sculpting classes at a local art school. This keeps my observational eye sharp, which is a skill I use on a daily basis as an animator.
Q. What advice can you offer hopeful animators?
A. There are so many schools offering animation courses. My advice to those looking to pursue a career in animation is put your focus on learning how to animate. Many schools focus more on teaching different software, and it is fairly easy to get a character to move around. But to have that character act and emote is the real trick. Look for the schools that offer training in animation principles and acting. Having a solid understanding of the basic principles of animation and acting is the key to being a successful animator. Once you accomplish that, you can work in any area of animation production.
You can read the rest of my Q&A with Roberta — complete with recommended resources for aspiring game animators — on NWjobs.com.
November 13th, 2007
OK, so now you know that I like to dabble in short-term contract work once every few years. Some call it temping, others call it permatemping, still others call it seasonal work. I call it Putting Myself Back In The 9-to-5 Marketplace Every So Often To See Just How Much Job Responsibility And Corporate Clout I Can Command, While Earning A Pretty Penny To Boot. Not only does this experience make me more marketable as a freelancer, it helps pad my savings account so that I can run off later and freelance for a slightly less lucrative industry — say, perhaps, maybe, oh, I dunno, book publishing.
Evidently one Amazon reviewer, who I believe is a lawyer and an accountant, considers my on-again-off-again romance with these short-lived temp stints proof that I’m a less-than-successful solo worker. This reviewer seems to think success equals nothing more than ensnaring a corner office (which I actually have at my contract job — and what a lovely view of the parking lot it is!), a company car (does a company laptop count? if so, check), and a fat salary (ahem; you don’t think I’m going to work for the man for peanuts, do you?).
I write this not to refute ESQ/CPA Guy’s review. That would be dumb. Without differences of opinion, reviews would be useless. I write this because this reviewer’s definition of success struck me as so narrow. What’s successful for me may not be successful for you (and clearly won’t be successful for ESQ/CPA Guy).
So after reading this lovely post on Boss Lady about succeeding on your own terms, I thought I’d list my own ingredients for a what I consider a “successful career” here:
- Having the flexibility and autonomy to work when, where, and how I want (in other words, at home, wearing this, listening to this, with my dog at my feet, and a midday break for a rousing game of fetch in the backyard)
- Asking for the rate I know I’m worth and getting it
- Knowing my bills will always be paid and that a fat vacation involving a 14-hour plane ride is not entirely out of the question
- Writing for household-name companies, publications, and websites
- Writing for the audience I want to write for
- Receiving high praise, referrals, and repeat business from clients and editors
- Receiving awards or grants for my work
- Working on the projects I believe in, with the people I want to work with
- Working on projects that are so enjoyable I forget I’m actually working
- Working on projects that make a difference in someone’s life and just might even help someone in need
Now how about you? How do you spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s?
September 14th, 2007
Elizabeth Cockle writes: Have you encountered any former cube dwellers who left the 9-to-5 world because they could earn more on their own? Making the leap definitely requires guerrilla measures in budgeting and taking second-choice projects to pay the bills, but what about down the line? More women would be inspired to flee the cube with proof that they can be just as financially successful, if not more so, working on their own.
Excellent question, EC! The short answer is, yes, of course you can make more green working solo, and yes, I’ve met many freelancers and entrepreneurs over the years who’ve made as much as or more than their former 9-to-5 selves, in all industries too. But all this depends on your business structure, how far along in your business you are, and what you did in your former 9-to-5 life. For example, last time I was in the cube as a full-timer (back in ’92) I was making under $20K at a book publishing company. Since I already wasn’t earning enough to live on in the greater Manhattan area (yeah, even back then) there was only one way for my income to go and that was up.
I think it’s important to be realistic about the fact that depending on what type of solo venture you’re embarking on, you may not draw much of a salary the first two or three years (despite customer checks pouring in), which experts at organizations like SCORE will tell you is normal for brick-and-mortar businesses with hefty operational overhead and merchandise to make, buy, and sell. But if you’re shifting to a sole proprietorship with minimal business expenses, say as a freelance editor, you should start seeing some green in your personal checking account right away, unless of course you’re undercharging.
Since every industry, solo job, and entrepreneur’s own career path and level of experience varies, it’s impossible for me to say (or even guarantee) that you’ll make X percent more than you did before — and at what point that will start to happen. It’s also up to the freelancer or business owner to negotiate prices and rates wisely (competitive yet commensurate with her experience) so that she doesn’t shortchange herself. And this negotiation should an ongoing process — otherwise, how else are you supposed to get a raise?
It’s also important to realize that just because you make, say, $80 an hour as a freelance copywriter this year and you made $40 an hour last year as a corporate copy monkey doesn’t mean you’re making 50 percent more money than before. This should be fairly obvious, but in case it’s not, allow me to explain: You’re now paying your own benefits; the higher rate should account for that and then some. You’re also not getting paid to invoice clients, market your business, or negotiate contracts; again, the higher rate should account for the fact that you’re working more hours than you’re billing for.
With all that in mind, I think it’s key for cubicle expats to define what “making more money” looks like to them. (You also need a business plan, but that’s a whole other blog post.) How much more do you want to take home? Do you consider it “making more money” if your take-home pay is the same as it was when you were a corporate drone but your billable + unpaid solo working hours now amount to less than 40 a week? (I do!) And how do flexibility, autonomy, and creative control rate? For me and many others, this trio is as critical if not more important than commerce.
Feel free to chime in if you’re making more (or less, or the same amount of) money now that you’re a solo artist or small business owner. What have been the high points? The rough spots? What have you learned? As always, inquiring minds want to know…
July 23rd, 2007