Archive for May, 2012

Freelancer Q&A: Do I Need A Business License?

Maybe. When you start your freelance business, whether part-time or full-time, check the requirements of your municipalities to see if you need a business license. Some cities will require you to hold a business license, even if you work out of your home. Usually, the requirement applies to the city in which you reside, but some cities will require you to hold a license if you are doing work for a client in their city! As an example, I have my home office in Kent, Washington and hold a business license there. Several years ago, I did a sizable project for the City of Kirkland and my contract with the city required that I hold a business license there as well. If you live in an unincorporated area, check your county’s rules to see if a business license is required. Also, check your state’s requirements to see what you need.

The price of a business license varies as does the term. Business license fees tend to be reasonable, and are a tax deductible expense. I’ve paid anywhere from $35 to $100 per year for a license. Regarding length of the license term, in Washington State, for example, you pay a one-time fee for a business license and the license is good for as long as you own your business. Local municipalities, however, may renew annually so mark your calendar with pertinent renewal dates to ensure your business licenses are always current.

Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer based in the Seattle area. In addition to writing for publications like South Sound magazine and The Seattle Times, she is the owner and publisher of several hyperlocal community sites including and She is the regional director for SPJ’s Region 10 and the chairman of the SPJ freelance committee.

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Freelancer Q&A: Do I Need A Contract?

YES! When writing for publication or producing for broadcast, the media outlet that hires you is likely to have its own contract. When the client does not provide one, however, I recommend that you provide your own. Sure, it seems like an extra step, maybe even a hassle, but a contract protects you and your client. It spells out what you will do (e.g., write, edit), what the client will do (e.g., pay you) and the terms of the agreement.

If you can afford it, it is ideal to have a contract drafted by an attorney familiar with the work of independent contractors. If you can’t afford it, look at samples of similar contracts online and draft a one or two-page business agreement that meets your needs. You can also revise it as circumstances dictate.

So what should a business agreement include? This depends on your business and unique circumstances, but it should at least contain these basic elements:

•    Names of the parties involved in the agreement
•    Date of the agreement
•    Services you will provide along with applicable deadlines
•    Agreed upon rate or price for the project
•    Payment terms, including how late payments will be handled
•    Indemnification clause
•    Confidentiality clause
•    Termination clause
•    Client signature block (to include name of authorized party, room for his or her signature, date of the signature, mailing address, and preferred email address and phone number)
•    Your signature, date of the signature and your tax identification number

When a client and I have agreed to work together, I explain that I will email them a simple business agreement that outlines the terms we have agreed upon. I ask them to sign and return the signature page, and let them know that I’ll begin work upon my receipt of the document. This last step is precautionary, and I don’t always follow it. It primarily provides an incentive for a brand new client to review and sign the business agreement promptly, so I can start work on the project.

Though I have a signed agreement from each of my clients, I’ve only needed to use them twice to enforce contract terms. In one case, I needed the agreement to provide the project price when I turned an unpaid bill over to a collection agency. In the other, I used the agreement to fire a client who wouldn’t provide me with the information I needed to produce the work.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to enforce the terms of your agreement, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have the signed contract, and you’ll find that most clients appreciate the professionalism of having such an agreement.


Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer based in the Seattle area. In addition to writing for publications like South Sound magazine and The Seattle Times, she is the owner and publisher of several hyperlocal community sites including and She is the regional director for SPJ’s Region 10 and the chairman of the SPJ freelance committee.

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Balancing family and freelance journalism

I type this on a gorgeous sunny day in the middle of a period when personal and family matters did their best to interfere with my freelance work, at a level even I – after a good 30 years of freelancing – have never experienced before. Not only lots of heavy deadlines to juggle between, but deaths of three friends with corresponding funerals and visitations to attend (as well as notifying my network of friends, family and classmates about them), prescription-service headaches to cope with, an unexpected visit from a childhood friend, my mom’s 88th birthday to celebrate, volunteer commitments to honor …  And here it is, Mother’s Day, when I should be hanging out with my mom, and I’m sitting in my home office writing a column about balancing work and family (an assignment I almost forgot about, in all honesty, thanks to everything else on my plate lately and to, um, not putting this deadline on my calendar).

These are good things to include in our lives, but they do conflict with getting work done, and freelancers have the added burden of friends and family not always understanding what we do and why we need time to do it – if we aren’t leaving home for the office at regular hours, how can it be an imposition to manage personal and family stuff whenever it crops up?

And it’s even more challenging for freelancers with children; one demand on my time and energy that I don’t have, but that is part of the life of almost every freelancer I know.

How do we do it all?

The first and most important aspect of balancing work and family is to acknowledge that we need to create that balance. It doesn’t just happen serendipitously.

We have to start by educating everyone we know and interact with on the validity of what we do and how we do it. We have to take our work seriously, or no one else will. Then we have to figure out what comes first and when, because that will fluctuate. And we have to be conscious of the fact that the best-organized to-do list is going to blow up when something unexpected happens, such as illness, equipment malfunctions, death. The occasional reminder that “life happens” can help head off panic when it does.

Don’t let family and friends talk you into being the neighborhood or family patsy – sorry; errand-runner, helper, do-gooder – just because you’re working from home and perhaps at unpredictable hours. If you don’t mind dog-watching, cat-sitting, picking up kids from school and taking them to extra-curricular activities, accepting packages, doing airport runs – fine; if doing all that for everyone interferes with finding freelance projects and getting your work done – not fine. Learn to say no: “Sorry, I’d be glad to help out, but I’m on deadline today and not available. Maybe next time.” “I’d love to chair that event, but I’m neck-deep in work, so I just can’t take on that much responsibility. Is there something else I can do instead that takes less time?” “I’ll play catch with you in an hour; I have to finish this interview first.”

Some freelance journalists set regular work hours – even posting signs on their office doors and websites, so family and friends know when not to disturb them and clients know when not to try to contact them.

It helps to have a separate work space and your own computer that no one else in the family is allowed to use, so you can’t be bounced off it while the kids do their homework or your partner takes care of his or her personal business. Having your own work space and equipment is not only one mark of the professional, but an invaluable way of marking the boundaries between work and family.

The best tool for balancing work and family is to put everything in writing. Treat family matters and volunteer projects in the same way as paid assignments: Put them on your calendar with their dates or deadlines and even the odd “tickler”: a calendar reminder that such-and-such a commitment, event or responsibility is coming up a week later. Once you see all these things on paper (or in an onscreen Word or Excel document; whatever works best for you), it’s a lot easier to organize the time to handle all of them without going bonkers – and to know when to turn something down or hand it off because it’s just not going to be possible to do everything.

Be prepared to delegate or refer. Build up a network of reliable colleagues to turn to when you’re overloaded and must choose between a family event and a new assignment, or a crisis occurs, or a new project is in the offing that your common sense says you really shouldn’t accept at that particular time, or a worthy charity event arises that you don’t want to turn down flat.

Try to stay ahead of deadlines – don’t just meet them, but sometimes beat them, so it’s easier to respond if a family matter comes up unexpectedly. It’s hard enough to cope with a personal emergency when the decks are clear, but ulcer-generating when you have to fit it in around work deadlines. Most clients will be sympathetic to what they see as genuine emergencies, but your and their definitions of “genuine” may be worlds apart, and even the most dire issue won’t compensate for leaving a client with empty column inches or pages to fill at the last second.

Expect to burn the occasional late-night oil. Sometimes the only way to meet work deadlines while fulfilling family commitments is to put in the occasional all-nighter.

Try to maintain a savings cushion. It’s a lot easier to turn down an assignment because a family event needs your time and attention when you aren’t desperate for every incoming penny.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t put family first, because we (usually) should. Family and family moments are irreplaceable. But we have to get our work done, and sometimes family and other non-work demands get in the way. Only the individual freelance journalist can know when one should trump the other. The best way to create an enjoyable balance between the two is to acknowledge that they might interfere with each other on occasion, be as prepared as possible, and cultivate enough flexibility and backbone to direct that traffic in the directions you need them to take to handle both.

Now I’m off to spend some quality time with my mom; I’ll be working into the wee hours of the night to meet a couple of urgent deadlines, but some things come first.

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7 Ways to Deal with the Isolation of Freelancing

One of the toughest things I had to deal with when I made the jump to freelancing three plus years ago was the abrupt difference between a fast-paced, adrenaline-charged atmosphere of a newsroom, and freelancing out of a quiet, solitary home office.

I missed the crackle of the scanner with whatever breaking news. I missed rushing out the door to the everyday stories of wildfires or house fires. I missed the excitement of getting a call with a kernel of a story. I missed my newsroom buddies.

I became depressed, but took steps to get myself out of it.

This is not an uncommon problem, with all the layoffs, downsizing, rightsizing, whatever you want to call it. I have great company — some very good journalists have made the transition from Main Stream Media to freelancing and had similar problems adjusting.

Here’s some things I’ve learned that may help:

Move your body. Once a day, at least, go move. Go for a 30-minute walk with the dog. Your dog will appreciate it and your heart will too. Even better, do what my friend and SPJ freelance committee chair Dana Neuts does and schedule an hour out of your workday to work out. It will give you more energy all day and bonus — up your metabolism all day — if you do it first thing in the morning.

Stay away from the fridge. Put a big “Stay Out” sign on your refrigerator and then stay out of it unless it’s breakfast time, mid-morning or afternoon break or lunchtime. Gaining weight from fridge proximity for home-based workers is not uncommon – make a conscious decision not to. I gained weight working out of the house, which didn’t help my mood. Spend an hour Sunday afternoon planning healthy meals that give you energy for the whole week, and have healthy snacks ready when you do get cravings.

Be a joiner. Network with your fellow SPJ members. Join Toastmasters and learn to be a better speaker. Join your local writers’ group(s.) Join a cycling, sailing, noodling or other interest group (really, there are places where they noodle.) Then — write about what you learn in those groups. My group of choice is master gardening, and it’s one of my favorite things to write about.

Take a professional development class. See what the local technology center or library offers to improve your still or movie camera skills, Photoshop or PowerPoint or other computer skills.

Get a post office box. And then go get your mail once a day. Gets you out of the house and it looks more businesslike to not be getting the mail at home.

Make yourself busy. Have a Query Monday and set a goal to write as many queries as you can that day. Some of my journo friends have Freedom of Information Fridays and make at last one FOI request for a story you’re working on each Friday. Come up with a theme for your day and it will help keep you organized and focused.

Get help. If you find yourself getting clinically depressed, don’t hesitate to get help. Talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. Talk to your pastor. Get together with friends. Don’t be an island.

Here’s what not to do:

No TV … unless it’s a channel that’s solid news like CNN. When I worked at The Associated Press, we had a bank of televisions on local stations. However, the sound was off and we only turned it up when we spotted breaking news.

No housekeeping, laundry or personal phone calls during work hours. I make an exception for cleaning the office, because occasionally my editor used to make me clean my desk and also schedule the occasional hour for filing or organizing your gear. If you need to make personal calls, set a timer for 15 minutes for your break and that’s all.

Good luck.

Carol Cole-Frowe is a veteran journalist and full-time freelancer, working primarily in Oklahoma and North Texas. Her website is

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