Archive for November, 2010


Resumes & Testimonials in the Digital Age

Contributed by freelance writer Bruce Shutan

Is it necessary to even have a resume in today’s digital age when virtually anyone can stake out a spot in cyberspace and pen an unlimited narrative about their career, skills or accomplishments without worrying about confining the highlights to a single page?

Of course, it depends on each person’s situation. But for the most part, I believe that it’s much more effective for freelance writers with at least some sort of a track record and online presence to spring for their own Web site that features a bio, as well as a client list and writing samples if they’re far enough along in their career. Finishing touches should include a photo and contact information.

One element that I would avoid like the plague involves testimonials from editors or colleagues, which I think are unnecessary and even could be construed as presumptuous, sycophantic or arrogant unless someone is just starting out and could use a jump start. Why not simply let one’s work speak for itself?

For those of us who have a full-time gig with a newspaper, magazine, Web site, TV or radio station and want to test the waters of freelance writing there has to be some sort of starting point. A LinkedIn profile with bulleted points is probably the best sort of compromise for entry-level freelance scribes whose career is an empty canvas. If there’s enough material that can be strung together in complete sentences, then I think it’s a cleaner and more professional presentation. That’s just my humble opinion. Some folks may beg to differ.

Moira Allen, editor of Writing-World.com, has suggested that freelancers whose job history may bear little resemblance to their writing ability draft a “skills” resume rather than a traditional one that lists work experience in chronological order. The focus would be on skills and qualifications that are relevant to the job these individuals are seeking, with the information listed in a separate section as opposed to a work history subset.

I think that freelance writers who have written for a few media outlets and have a handful of clips, even if they’re not archived online or available to the public, must invest in their own Web site, which can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. There’s no excuse not to in this highly competitive business climate. And as the Internet becomes increasingly sophisticated, I believe that the traditional resume, with its cringe-worthy description of one’s job objective, eventually will go the way of the dinosaur.

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has written for about 75 publications or corporate entities. His extensive reporting on the American workplace dates back to 1985, with a showbiz sideline developed in 2000 when he began contributing to Variety, a must-read for entertainment industry insiders for more than a century. He can be reached at bshutan@gmail.com.

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Employee Benefits for Freelancers

The one thing I miss the most about the corporate life is a great employee benefit package provided by a generous employer:  health insurance, life insurance, sick days, vacation time, a retirement plan and more. As a freelancer, however, traditional employee benefits aren’t handed to us on a silver platter. Sure, we get to choose our own work wardrobe, have an incredibly short “commute” downstairs or down the hall and enjoy setting our own schedules, but that doesn’t pay the bills when we need to go to the doctor. Fortunately, freelancers have options for all of these benefits and more.

Health insurance:  When I started freelancing, I couldn’t afford health insurance, but I qualified – for a time – under my state’s health plan so I could get coverage for myself and my daughter until I was no longer eligible. When I earned enough to write full-time, I went online to get quotes for individual medical coverage. I went to esurance.com, put in some basic info. and, in minutes, received about a dozen health care plan options. I opted for a plan with some first dollar basic benefits (the first six medical visits per year were covered, for example) as well as catastrophic coverage. In addition to this option, some professional associations like SPJ and the Freelancers Union offer group discounts to their members.

Life insurance: Life insurance can also be purchased fairly easily online at sites like esurance.com. Another option is to find a local agent who represents a single company (e.g., New York Life, MetLife) or multiple companies. Originally, I purchased life insurance on esurance.com. As my family’s needs changed, however, I chose to work with my Edward Jones investment rep who was able to offer quotes from several companies.

Retirement plan:  There are a variety of retirement planning options available to freelancers including individual retirement accounts (IRAs) – traditional & Roth; solo 401(k) plans; SEP plans; and more. Because retirement planning can be complex, it is best to work with a qualified advisor. I chose to work with a local Edward Jones rep who reviewed my financial situation, time line and goals and was able to create a SEP plan tailored to my needs and to fund that SEP with investments that were appropriate for my risk tolerance and financial goals.

Sick days:  I don’t know about you, but when I’m not working, I’m not getting paid…but that doesn’t mean I have to work 24/7. I plan my schedule around my assignments, sometimes working longer days than others and taking time off when my work load is lighter. There are other options, however. In terms of sick days, I try to stay ahead of the schedule in terms of assignments. That way I am planning for the inevitable – getting sick, caring for a sick child or parent, or dealing with unavoidable work delays. With a little cushion built in, I can take the occasional sick day when I need to.

Vacation time:   Freelance expert Michelle Goodman (“My So Called Freelance Life”) builds time off when calculating her current minimum hourly rate. She accounts for benefits and time off, so she is only working as much as she wants to reach her financial and lifestyle goals.

For more employee benefits advice, stay tuned for freelancer Paula Pant’s upcoming blog post on The Independent Journalist.

Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer, editor and marketing professional in the Seattle area. She is the owner/publisher of two hyperlocal community blogs, iLoveKent.net and iLoveCovington.com, and she serves as the chair of SPJ’s freelance committee. For more information about Neuts, visit her website Virtually Yourz.
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Freelancing Pay Rates: Hourly vs. Flat Fees

As a freelancer, one of the questions I’m most often asked by new freelancers is “how do I charge for my services?” There are several ways to do this, but the most popular are quoting an hourly rate versus offering a flat fee. In the column linked below, this question is addressed on The Writing Coach’s blog.

Freelance Writing Pay Rates:  Hourly vs. Flat Fees

Another good resource for information on rates is the Editorial Freelancers’ Association. These rates are more specific to editing, but they address writing as well.

[This content was generously provided by freelance expert Maya Smart. After spending six years in the trenches, Maya Payne Smart founded WritingCoach.com to help journalists, authors and other writers build profitable businesses. She currently serves on the boards of the Society of American Business Editors & Writers and James River Writers. Visit WritingCoach.com for tips and tools to help you build a more profitable writing business.]

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91 Journalism Blogs & Websites

The Journalistics’ blog recommends these 91 sites and blogs for journalists and freelancers, including everything from journalism start-ups to investigative journalism blogs.  My personal favorite – the “just for fun” category featuring Overheard in the Newsroom and the Twitter feed for @FakeAPStylebook. When you have some time, peruse the list, check out a few links and let us know what sites you really love!

91 Journalism Blogs and Websites

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Top 10 query letter gaffes

I love this article on Writer’sDigest.com by Ann Rittenberg. Here are the top 10 reasons your query letter could get tossed in the slush pile or vanquished to the Trash Bin in your prospective editor/publisher’s email box. My favorite is #1, a query letter that begins with “I have written a fiction novel.”  Top 10 Query Letter Gaffes

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