Posts filed under 'This freelance life'

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, routinely using stories from sites like and 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

Freelancers, what’s your work mantra?


Sunday night, after a glorious weekend on the Olympic Peninsula, I came home to several hours of uncompleted work. Due 9 a.m. Monday, hard stop. After two leisurely days of beach strolls and sunsets, communing with my computer was the last thing I wanted to do. So I picked up the remote, switched on the tube, and landed on an episode of “Deadliest Catch.”

[Flickr photo by madame.furie]

One of the skippers was chewing out a deckhand who’d retreated indoors with a torn stomach muscle. With just a handful of crew on his Alaska crab fishing boat, the skipper needed all hands on deck, pain be damned.

“I’ve worked through torn muscles and all kinds of pain,” the skipper snarled. “Unless you have a bone sticking out, you suck it up and get back to work.”

Obviously, writing is nowhere near as grueling as fishing for Alaska king crab. Still, those were the words I needed to hear. So I switched off the tube, and with “Unless you have a bone sticking out, you suck it up” as my mantra, I slogged through my project and made my deadline.

When it comes to how we approach work, I’m a firm believer that each of us has our own mantra, motto, or credo. It may be a quote by a beloved author or philosopher. It may be something you heard a friend, relative, or reality TV star say. You may even have an entire theme song running through your head while you work.

[Read the rest of this post on Nine to Thrive.]

6 comments July 25th, 2011

Stressed and proud? Frantic freelancers, you’re not impressing anyone

You know those emails and status updates we frantic freelancers love to write about how we’re so busy juggling 11 assignments that we don’t know how we’re going to make it to Friday? We’re not helping ourselves — or our freelance friends — by playing the stress kitty. After reading a Women’s Health article on the topic, I blogged about this Stressier Than Thou phenomenon on Nine to Thrive yesterday. Here’s a snippet, complete with takeaways:

Don’t gloat. Stop bragging about how stressed and busy you are. It’s not impressive. Instead, you’re likely to repel those who’ve found better ways to cope with their own taxing schedule. Exude too much frenetic energy at work and you risk looking like someone who simply can’t handle the pressures of the job.

Don’t enable. The next time a friend or colleague boasts about their bloated workload, resist the urge to reply with, “I know. You should see what I have on my plate today. Seven meetings, a presentation I need to finish for next week, and a report due tomorrow morning. It’s madness.” Instead of playing the one-up game, say something like, “Wow, sounds like a hectic week for you. Any plans to relax after work tonight or this coming weekend?” In other words, encourage your pal or colleague to chill the heck out.

[Read the rest of this post on Nine to Thrive.]

3 comments May 12th, 2011

Five dirty little secrets of working from home

Last week my editor at asked me to write a column outing what goes on behind the closed doors of freelancers, telecommuters, and kitchen-table entrepreneurs who work from home. I had a load of fun collecting the confessions of virtual employees and self-employed folks who work from their domicile (catnap, anyone?). As you’ll see below, I’ve got a handful of confessions of my own. Feel free to chime in with yours in the comments below.

Last fall my significant other and I moved in together. Although he was no stranger to my feral freelancer habits — living in my robe, working late into the night, not leaving the house for days on end — I cringed at the thought of him seeing me daily in all my unkempt, agoraphobic glory.

So I did what any disheveled freelancer would do: I got an office job — one that required me to show up at approximately the same time each day, looking fresh and professional.

Three months into the gig, I began to miss my bathrobe. Six months into it, I gave notice.

Now that I’m back to full-time freelancing, I’m trying to prove to myself and my new husband that working from home doesn’t necessarily mean living a life devoid of structure. But it’s not easy.

On any given day, my best-laid plans for a morning walk with the dog might be foiled by an urgent question from an editor about a story I’ve filed or an elusive source calling to say she’s available now, and only now, for that needed quote. Although I no longer skip the daily shower, I do sometimes skip out on date night with my sweetie when work gets too overwhelming. And while I’ve stopped working in my robe every day, I’ve taken to working in his.

Not all freelancers, telecommuters, and kitchen-table entrepreneurs are untamed insomniacs given to various states of undress. Many boast of adhering to professional attire and rigid work schedules. I’m convinced, however, that they’re in the minority.

To prove my point (or perhaps just make myself feel better), I informally polled dozens of self-employed professionals about their dirty little secrets of working from home. Here’s what they had to say.

[Read the rest of this story on]

8 comments April 28th, 2011

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

Seeking sources who’ve freelanced through crowdsourcing sites like Helium, 99designs, and crowdSPRING

Hello, happy freelancers! I’m writing an article for about the pros, cons, and WTFs of throwing your hat into the crowdsourcing ring on sites like Helium, 99designs, crowdSPRING, iStockphoto, and Threadless – and I’m interested in interviewing freelancers who’ve participated in the design contests, writing contests, or other crowdsourcing cattle calls on one of these sites.

Note: I’m not going to delve into project bidding sites like Elance, oDesk, and Guru in this article, just sites that feature content contests or otherwise require freelancers to create work on spec before money even enters into the equation. So please only respond if you have experience with these on-spec/contest sites.

Any takers? I’d like to hear about your experience trying to land work, clients, or money through these sites, be it good, bad, or downright fugly. I’d prefer to talk to you on the record, but I don’t necessarily have to say which site you’ve used if you’d rather keep that detail quiet and I don’t need your clients’ names. My deadline is Friday, 3/19. If you’d like to be interviewed, leave me a note in the comments or email me. Thanks so much!

1 comment March 14th, 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

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]

Add comment February 25th, 2010

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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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