Archive for January, 2011


Do you plan to get sick? If not, you should

The moment I knew something was wrong my day already was booked, solid. I had a book-writing project to work on before sunup, interviews and reviews to complete before lunch and an evening of editing that would last past midnight. If I escaped my desk for fresh air and a glance at blue sky, I would be lucky.

But then an itch started down deep in my throat, past the point where coughing scratched it. A flood of morning coffee failed to drown the symptom; granola for breakfast just made it worse. By lunchtime, the odd dizziness accompanying fever joined in to knock me out of my desk chair and into bed.

Yes, folks, freelancers suffer illness, too. Not all of them, however, are prepared to handle it. As trouble sets in they could be like I was: enduring symptoms as well as guilt, the latter caused by my belief that inactivity at work meant lost income.

The trick then is figuring how to suffer in peace rather than panic. So, before considering a new project, freelancers also should consider what it takes to keep the money coming in when the work isn’t, particularly during illness.

To start, it helps to have healthy habits. A balanced diet and regular exercise should be tools of the writer’s trade because they help ward off problems and minimize the onset of others. Before my illness set in, weeks had passed since my last exercise; as a result, my back was sore from sitting all the time and my stomach had spread over my belt loops. Returning to exercise changed my mental as well as physical well-being — I could concentrate better and see more clearly the planning errors I had made that probably contributed to my illness.

Among those other errors was having a datebook that resembled an overstuffed suitcase, filled with too many projects and appointments and not enough time set aside for rest and relaxation. Sure, I love to write, but like the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing …”

Thus, I had to dispense with the mentality that caused the overloaded datebook. I had been piling up projects thinking that the more on my plate each day, the more money I would have in my pocket, not realizing that I was devaluing myself in the process. When billing for work, freelancers should look past the day’s expenses to the larger goal of possessing a lifestyle that allows relative comfort and benefits, such as insurance. Never ignore the possibility of becoming ill and losing a day’s worth of work, or more.

Finally, explain this larger goal to clients up front. Make it clear that good health and well-being means good work on a project. And if an itch in the throat turns into something worse, have no hesitation to call clients and explain the problem. In my experience, clients understand that sickness happens. Better that freelancers understand that, too, so they can keep the job and the life they love.

Tips from other sources:
* How to handle sick days as a freelance writer
* Freelancing during an illness
* Illness: The freelancer’s best frenemy
* Where can a freelancer find health insurance coverage?
* Employee benefits for freelancers

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Freelancing with a Family

Contributed by Kathy Ehrich Dowd, freelance writer

Want to be there for your child’s every milestone, but aren’t ready to surrender your creative-yet-professional side after your kiddo is born? There is no perfect solution, but freelancing seems to come pretty close.

I have been a full-time freelance journalist since 2004 and have always loved many things about the gig — the flexibility, the variety of assignments, and the lack of commute to name a few — but I have never loved my setup more than these past 18 months during pregnancy and the birth of my son.

While other preggos lamented exhausted days filled with battling nausea during client meetings, swollen ankles crammed into “professional” shoes or the simple act of getting out of bed for work after a sleepless night, I slept in as needed, happily attended my Tuesday morning prenatal yoga class and worked comfortably, often in stretch pants and slippers.

I have become even more grateful for my freelance life after my son was born. While some full-time working away from home moms I know battle guilt because they feel they aren’t spending enough quality time with their kids and some stay-at-home-mom buddies struggle with the loss of their intellectual, “adult” side, I realize I am incredibly fortunate to have the best of both worlds.

My son is now 9 months old and I feel lucky to have figured out a work/life balance that works well for me and my son — for now, anyway. I take him to daycare three times a week after his first nap (usually about 10:30 or 11, much later than most other kids whose parents need to rush out the door early in the morning). My parents are usually available to come on his non-daycare days as needed, and my husband can handle weekends if I need to work. When my son is home with me I will often work during his naps and can occasionally sneak in an email or two when he’s awake — I just have to keep a watchful eye to make sure he’s not biting the vacuum cord or getting into some other kind of crawling baby trouble!

What this all means is that I can spend hours in the playroom with my son singing songs, helping him learn to walk and simply marveling at this tiny person who discovers something new practically everyday. Babies are babies for such a short time, and I revel in the time we spend together. And, I must admit, I revel in our time apart, where I can pursue the journalism career I love, without the guilt.

Freelancing can be tough. It can be isolating, the work/cash flow can be uncertain and the administrative aspects of the job can be a hassle, but if you’re a journalist and also a mom (or dad!) to little ones, freelancing offers something so many careers do not: lots of flexible, unhurried time with the people you love most. To me, that is worth more than anything.

Kathy Ehrich Dowd is a frequent contributor to PEOPLE Magazine and has also written for TV Guide, USA Today, Women’s World, the New York Daily News, Tonic.com and many other publications. Learn more at www.kathyehrichdowd.com.

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Contract Terms Every Freelance Writer Should Know

Contributed by Maya Smart, The Writing Coach

Whew! Landing that new client was a boon to your bottom line. However, now the editor is asking you to sign a freelance contract that’s packed with legal terms you’ve never seen before (or haven’t paid much attention to). To help you protect your business, we put together this short list of terms that every writer should know.

First North American serial rights

Magazines and newspapers often ask writers for the first North American serial rights. By agreeing to this, you’re promising first dibs on your story in the U.S. and Canada. Many publications (a.k.a. “serials”) now say these rights include their websites, too. In other words, they won’t pay you extra for putting your print story online, in the digital version of their periodical. Even so, with FNASR, you retain the copyright.

To read more, visit this post on The Writing Coach’s website.

About 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. Her mission is to provide the tools, information and advice that freelancers need to thrive, from marketing basics to advanced business-building strategies. Smart also uses her expertise to teach entrepreneurial journalism courses for the Society of Professional Journalists, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism and other organizations for wordsmiths. 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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Making Your Best First Impression with Editors

Contributed by Freelancer Carol Cole-Frowe

Love hurts.

That is — love of yourself — enough to put yourself out there in a positive way.

Good self-marketing is probably the toughest part of being a freelancer. Journalists have been taught from day one to make themselves secondary to the story. But as a freelancer, how you put yourself out there says a lot about how much you believe in yourself and your talent and how many quality freelance jobs you get.

When I became a freelancer, I did a search on the Internet for business card templates. I figured that I had some newspaper design training in college and surely that would translate to picking out a good business card that would represent me well. I knew that was important and my first impression with any editor.

I found lots of inexpensive templates and one spoke to me that day. I ordered up cheap business cards that had sort of a curly, flourishy thing on them. Heck, I thought they were even sort of pretty.

A couple of weeks later, I was having lunch with one of my friends, who is retired from the largest newspaper in the state — and my 70-plus year-old veteran journalist friend took one look at my new cards and grinned.

“Didn’t know you had started writing romance novels, Carol,” she said.

Not that there’s anything wrong with writing romance novels, but that’s not exactly me. I think of myself as a lot more serious journalist, with a strong investigative streak.

Those business cards ended up in a bottom drawer in my desk.

I went back to the website, looking for something that more reflected my essence as a journalist. And I found a nice template with a vintage typewriter that probably dated back to before I was born. I printed those babies off and in a few days, they were in my mailbox.

And once again, my journalistic friends had something to say about it.

“It makes you look old,” was almost the universal reaction.

Ouch.

Who wants that? Nobody, especially when journalists are promoting themselves as tech-savvy, multi-platform producers.

I showed a graphic designer friend of mine, Shirley Morrow of Morrow Design, my two card efforts and she had a strong reaction (after she stopped laughing.)

“NO.”

Shirley has been in a few newsrooms and she’s known me for quite a few years. She volunteered to tackle the problem.

She riffed off the copyright symbol, designing a round business card with a circled C in the middle and the F by it’s side, much like the way I often sign off as C2F.

Shirley added the perennial joke about drinking coffee in newsroom, with a “coffee stain” on the round white card, with my professional memberships on the back of the card reversed into a latte color.

It’s just so darn cool, if I say so myself.

And we printed a whole bunch of smaller stickers that I can apply to everything from envelopes to invoices to reporters’ pads.

I confess that when Shirley proposed a circular business card, it gave me a bit of heartburn. Would people put it into their Rolodexes? Would people type in the info into their address book because it wouldn’t go into one of those business card scanners. Would people save it or lose it? Or would they use it as a coaster?

The answer to all of the above is — yes.

The best reward was when Los Angeles freelancer Bruce Shutan, a member of SPJ’s national freelance committee, held up my card in a freelance workshop at SPJ’s national conference as an example of doing it right. It was a surreal and wonderful moment.

What did it cost me?

I paid for the printing and even splurged on an emboss of the circle C and the F in the middle. Shirley and I will trade out my writing for her design on the “friends of Shirley” plan. I’m at her beck and call on projects that are appropriate for what I do.

I would encourage you to spend a little more on anything that directly reflects your image as a freelancer, whether it’s a business card or your website. Using cheap business cards just positions yourself as being a freelancer who may or may not perform professionally.

If you have a friend who has those graphic design talents, remember that there are things you can do for them as well to trade out your talents. Write for their website. Write some press releases for them. Brainstorm on their clients. It all creates a synergistic effect with your creative friends.

But even if you don’t have a friend with graphic design talents, it’s still worth it to have something that reflects you.

And love yourself enough to improve your image on what you’re putting out there. It will reward you in kind.

 

Carol Cole-Frowe is a full-time freelance journalist working primarily in Oklahoma and north Texas. She is president of the Oklahoma pro chapter and co-chair of the SPJ Region 8 spring conference April 8-9 in Norman, Okla., at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Should I work for free?

A lot of budding freelancers ask me this question – should I work for free (or for low pay)? The answer, however, is not as simple as the question. While many experienced freelancers would say NO without blinking an eye, I would caution you to weigh your decision carefully.

How do you decide? Consider this – are you getting anything out of being published in a particular venue or from a particular editorial relationship? If you can say YES, then I say “go for it!” If not, say “no, but thanks for the opportunity” and walk away.

For example, several years ago a website called Dr. Hottie magazine offered to pay me $50 each for articles on personal finance, women’s health issues, relationship advice and more. While the pay was below market, the pieces were easy to write, about topics that I enjoyed, and were in a niche where I had not yet been published. [And, yes, I made sure there was no porn or online dating involved!] So I said YES! I got a small paycheck, but the exposure I got in being published in a new niche was invaluable. (Freelancer Michelle Goodman, author of My So-Called Freelance Life, calls this PIE – payment in exposure.)

Other times I’ve been asked to edit eBooks or self-published books in exchange for a percentage of the book’s sales. I always say NO to this scenario, because book editing is a time consuming task that takes me away from my regular work schedule. In addition, I have no control over book marketing and sales, so there is no guarantee I will get paid anything. And, lastly, when an author is not willing to put forth any money toward his project, I question his commitment to his work and investment.

In other words, “freelance” does not mean “free,” but don’t be so quick to turn down opportunities that pay little to no money. Explore the opportunity first, and make your decision wisely.

 

Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing professional based in Kent, Washington. In addition to writing for publication, she edits books and is the owner and publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveCovington.com, hyper-local blog sites. She serves as the SPJ freelance committee chair as well as on the national SPJ and SDX Foundation Boards. For more information, visit VirtuallyYourz.com.

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It’s About Time: the 6 to 6 Plan

Contributed by freelance writer Carol Cole-Frowe

The bane of any freelancer’s success is how they tackle the time management monster.

Friends, family and colleagues who think you have flexible time love to eat it by requesting “just a little help” on this or that.

“Can’t you just do this one little thing for me,” they plead, whether it’s picking up cleaning or chairing a committee or writing a newsletter for some group to which you’ve been recruited.

I recently found someone who had a great idea about structuring time and I’ve modified her plan to take my freelancing to the next level.

My friend Dana Neuts, SPJ national freelance committee chair and a successful Washington (state) freelancer, came up with the 6 to 6 plan.

Dana “clocks in” to her freelance duties at an ambitious 6 a.m. and works through to 6 p.m., when she firmly shuts the door to her home office and “clocks out.”

She takes four hours out of that 12-hour day, with an hour apiece devoted to: lunch, a nap, workout and an hour for her pro bono work, which is important to her (yes, read lots of SPJ volunteer work.)

Before you tune out over starting work at 6 a.m., consider a freelancer’s entire day.

My day starts by reading at least a couple of newspapers front-to-back and maybe hitting some news websites, in my jammies with a caffeinated beverage in close reach. I find lots of local story ideas that could translate to a national or international audience this way.

I check my list organizing my day complete with phone numbers for any contacts I might want to call, and any appointments. I may rough out a query to a national magazine.

At 8:30 a.m., I do strength training and cardio three mornings a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for about an hour in a local gym. I do yoga on alternate days for about an hour. On the way home, I visit the post office to pick up mail (I use a post office box for privacy).

When I get back to my home office, I tackle whatever the day has for me. It might be Monday, my main query day. Or I might be researching stories. Or I might be invoicing.

Because I often eat my hour lunch at home, which doesn’t take an hour, I may use part of that hour to pick up my own cleaning.

I used to take a nap until I learned that I have sleep apnea, and now that I use a breathing machine to help me sleep, I no longer have a need for a nap. That means there’s an hour of flexibility to start an hour later or end an hour earlier. Or work that hour to benefit your bottom line.

My biggest problem is keeping the hour devoted to pro bono work from growing legs. Because I’m the president of my chapter and co-chairing the regional spring conference, that hour keeps trying to get out of its bounds. Sometimes, it’s successful. But because I have been working the 6 to 6 plan, I really try to measure it and limit it and manage it.

We freelancers have an image of being home working in our sweatpants or jammies and there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, we go out to interviews dressed professionally.

Time management is the toughest part of any freelancer’s life. Many things will try to take your time and others will find plenty of ways to use up your time and productivity.

But if you’re going to be successful and run a profitable business, you need to run the business of — “you.” Your time is gold and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

The 6 to 6 plan is doable and if you work it right — quite profitable. Make it work for you.

 

Carol Cole-Frowe is a full-time freelancer who writes for regional and national magazines and newspapers and international wire services. She is the president of the Oklahoma pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Tracking Income & Expenses

To be a successful freelancer, you should run your operation like a business. This not only means getting business licenses and insurance, but it also means closely tracking your income and expenses. The information is necessary for your taxes, of course, but it is helpful to see where your work is coming from, who pays and with what terms and how you are investing back in your business. It can also help you identify important patterns in your business, so you can budget for the future.

For example, maybe December is always a slow month for you. If that’s the case, then in the late summer, put together a solid marketing plan to pitch stories and seek out new clients to help fill the gap.

So how do you record this info.? When I first started freelancing, I simply made up two Excel spreadsheets:  one for income and one for expenses. In the income spreadsheet, I tracked sequential invoice numbers, date of invoice, client name, project or work performed, amount due, date billed and date paid. I could then take this info. at the end of the year and sort by client or by date to see which clients were the most lucrative and determine which months were the busiest.

For expenses, I created a simple spreadsheet to record date, vendor (Staples, Office Depot, Target, etc.), item(s) purchased, cost and how paid (credit card, business debit, business check, etc.). I also created a spreadsheet to track my mileage, collecting date, reason for trip, client or prospect, location of trip, and miles driven. All of this was useful at tax time.

As my business grew from part-time to full-time, Excel spreadsheets were not robust enough to handle my bookkeeping needs, so I switched to QuickBooks SimpleStart. This special edition of QB is a scaled down version of the full program, providing tracking for income, expenses and assisting with tax prep. This was a great program – at the time, it was very affordable (less than $100) and it served my needs without giving me too many features.

After about three years with SimpleStart, I upgraded to QuickBooks Pro which is a full-featured bookkeeping and accounting program. At this point, I realized that managing my freelance business was becoming a bigger task than I’d imagined, and I hired a bookkeeper. She visits my office for a few hours each month, enters my expenses (I still track invoices and payments), reconciles my bank accounts and prepares my 1099s at year end. Yes, this is an added expense, but it frees up my time to focus on other tasks like writing, editing, business development and continuing education.

Not sure where to start? Ask other freelancers how they manage their bookkeeping and accounting or consult with a small business expert or accounting professional for advice. Good luck!

 

Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing professional based in Kent, Washington. In addition to writing for publication, she edits books and is the owner and publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveCovington.com, hyper-local blog sites. She serves as the SPJ freelance committee chair as well as on the national SPJ and SDX Foundation Boards. For more information, visit VirtuallyYourz.com.

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