Viewing category ‘Now I'm free(lancing)’

Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

Things to do to be a better freelancer

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

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Theoretically I’m supposed to use this space to help other freelancer writers figure out how to do what I do, or at least what I aspire to do. Surely there’s some magic formula or fool-proof set of directions which will allow the aspiring freelance writer to land gigs, find fulfillment, make tons of money (haaaaaa!), and still balance home/family life while doing it. Right? Wrong! There’s no one way to do it because people are different, and that’s part of what’s so great about freelancing—you can call a lot of your own shots, which increases the odds of your work life actually being, you know, a good fit for your particular life.

This is a good thing. The only drawback is that it can make it kind of hard to say, “Here! Here’s a thing that will help everyone make this life more successful for themselves!” The best I can manage, most times, is a “this is what works for me” or maybe a “most freelancers I know find that….” No magic formulas, here.

But today I got to thinking that surely there are some pieces of advice which are universal in this field. I think there are. The only question, really, is whether these will make you a better freelancer or just a better human in general.
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Keeping focus when the lines are blurry

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Now I'm free(lancing)

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The best thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.

The worst thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.

(Both of the previous statements are true, by the way.)

I’ve been grappling with the advantages and pitfalls of working from home for years, now. Some parts of it I’ve totally figured out—at least for me—and I can say without reservation, for example, that I’ve pretty much got the whole science of getting dinner into the crock pot in the morning down to a science. I’m also pretty good at fitting a couple of loads of laundry into my day, and it not only gets the laundry done, it means I have to get up from my computer and stretch and walk around a bit. Win-win.

What I think I didn’t start really considering until recently was how it’s not just having the physical office here at home that makes things kind of blurry. I mean, yes, I’m working here and not somewhere else, but I’m also writing about my life, my family, my kids… it feels like everything that matters to me is kind of all knotted up together. That’s nice, sometimes, but it can also be confusing. And a little scary.
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There’s a hole in my bucket

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

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I used to love that song as a kid, you know… the one about how there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Eliza, dear Eliza. Nothing seemed funnier than the notion that a string of relatively small misfortunes could lead to an endless loop of inability to do anything.

Now that I’m an adult, I know that that song is a pretty good metaphor for life, if you’re not careful. Heh.

So here’s my current bucket: I’ve decided to paint my office. This causes me plenty of anxiety already, because my office is currently just the way I want it, and there’s a lot of stuff that has to be moved and taped in order to paint, and I won’t be able to use this space for a few days, and when would be a good time to not have access to my office, exactly? Never? But it’s okay, because I have my laptop, and really, I can work anywhere, so I need to just chill out and settle down.

The first issue I ran into was the color. I’ve been living with a dreary brown (not of my choosing) for nearly six years. I thought choosing something better would be easy. That was before I started looking at paint colors, though. I described this on my personal blog as “falling down the rabbit hole” because that’s exactly what it felt like to me: as someone who tends not to be overly visual/observant, to start surveying an entire palette of color possibilities and trying to imagine how it would feel to be surrounded by any of them was overwhelming, to say the least.

But it turns out that the color-choosing is the least of my issues.
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Are freelancers really more depressed?

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing), Things you should be reading

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Every now and then I come across an article that I think is probably important because it makes me mad.

That’s what happened with this article from Fast Company by Anya Kamenetz titled “Why Freelancers Are So Depressed.” The blurb at the top rather ominously proclaims, “It’s not just February. The work-home blur, social isolation, money woes, and heightened personal risk all mean being a freelancer can be dangerous for your mental health.”

But I saw a lot of fellow freelancers linking to this article, so I figured it must be worth a read, even though I kind of hated it before I even read it. In my personal experience—and yes, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data—most freelancers I know are far less depressed than those working in conventional office jobs. In fact, the most common reason people cite for entering freelancing is that they were unhappy with the lack of control inherent in working for someone else.

So let’s talk about this supposed depression.
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Freelancing rates and administrivia

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing)

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Hands down, the question I am asked most often is, “How much do you charge per hour?” The second runner-up is, “How do you decide how much to charge per hour?” The answers to both of these questions aren’t nearly as straightforward as you might think; for one thing, projects differ, and while I keep a certain ballpark figure in my head, sometimes I charge by the hour, and sometimes I charge per piece or even per entire project. It varies depending on the situation. For another thing, how I set my rate works for me but may not work for someone else. It’s a pretty individual thing, and so when I’m asked these questions I tend to try generalize and then I worry that folks think I’m being evasive (when really I’m just trying to explain what I see as all the factors in deciding).

[Sidebar: For whatever it's worth, I do always try to point folks at a good resource in terms of finding an appropriate range of fees. For my fellow writers, maybe look at this table of editorial rates to get a general idea.]

This brings us to the question Karen asked a couple of weeks ago, and I promise, this is all related. She said:

I am relatively new to freelance, although I’ve been reading this blog (via wantnot) for several years. I don’t remember seeing you talk about how you handle the administrivia. I feel like I spend a frustratingly vast amount of work time doing things that can’t be billed for — invoices, finding a better way to do xyz, relevant webinars, that kind of thing. (Perhaps you don’t work hourly but instead flat rate per project — I know there are a million and six ways to do freelance, but at the moment I’m almost entirely billing by time.)

This is relevant to rate-setting and the thing that I think trips up most newbie freelancers.
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How do freelancers get work?

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing)

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Last week I asked what questions you’d like to see addressed here—preferably germaine to freelancing, but I’m not all that picky—and you came through with some really good ones. Sheryl was the first comment and asked the question everyone wants the answer to:

I’m curious how you look for work. I’m sure most of it comes by word-of-mouth recommendations, but when you’re soliciting, how do you decide who you want to work for, and how do you approach a prospective employer. Do you frequent freelance sites,or do you wander around the internet looking for bad writing and then swoop in to save the day?!

This is the quintessential how do you freelance? question, and as a bonus, I now want to wander the Internet looking for terrible writing. Heh.

There are three primary ways to find paying freelance gigs, of course, and I’ll try to explain how/why I do what I do. Your results may vary, and I only speak for myself, of course. (Was that enough disclaimers? I hope so.) That said, here’s the rundown:
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The somewhat-annual “what do you want?” post

Categories: Like talking but with more typing, Now I'm free(lancing)

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Every now and then my day-to-day life as a freelancer settles down somewhat and I can’t think of any interesting way to spin what I’ve been doing that week. (“I got up in the morning, got my guys off to school and work, sat down at my computer, and worked for the rest of the day. And then the next day I did it again. And then again.” Not terribly informative or illuminating to read, right?) It’s a pretty good way to live—I’ll take boring in the grand scheme of things over a crisis anytime—but it doesn’t make for really excellent blogging.

I suspect y’all prefer it when I do things like underestimate my taxes or double-book myself on projects. Being stupid is funny! Yayyyyyy!

Okay, kidding aside, given that I’ve been writing here for a looooong time, I often reject a possible topic because I feel like “I already covered that” when, in fact, readers come and go, and things change, and everything has a season, turn, turn, turn…. Wait. That last bit is a song. Ignore that.

Anyway. It’s time to find out what burning questions you have.
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Homeschooling from the home office (really)

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Now I'm free(lancing)

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I’ve mentioned it here a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a lot of detail about the fact that we are now—technically, anyway—in our second year of homeschooling my 13-year-old son. His first year out of public school, we enrolled him in a 5-day-a-week program, and so my responsibility in terms of that homeschooling was limited to showing up for field trips and filling out our state-mandated homeschooling paperwork each month. Hooray for programs where you can be a homeschooler without having to do it yourself! I had been quite apprehensive about the switch (even though it was absolutely the best thing for him), and was happy to find a program that worked for us.

As we wound down that first year, we looked back and took stock of the changes. The good news was that stepping away from public school had absolutely been the right choice. The not-exactly-career-enhancing news was that our beloved “Hippie School” program—while absolutely the right social environment—was perhaps not completely what my son needed, academically. Feeling grateful for the flexibility of freelancing and working from home, I got over the last of my reservations and we decided to drop his out-of-the-home enrollment to three days/week. I am now actually homeschooling two out of five of my work days each week.

I stacked the deck in my favor, though. I’m smart like that.
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How much of a schedule do you need?

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Now I'm free(lancing)

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If you work from a home office, chances are you’re already well-acquainted with the phenomenon where everyone else in the world who isn’t a freelancer assumes you just don’t have a job. (Do I sound bitter? Maaaaaaaybe just a little.) Show up for one middle-of-the-day event and suddenly everyone assumes that “flexible schedule” means “I would be happy to put down the bonbons and appear at your beck and call as often as you’d like.”

I’d love to say this happens more often if you’re a parent—small people in our care seem to come with various obligations at school and elsewhere—but I’ve heard plenty of similar stories from my child-free colleagues as well. Sometimes people expect that if you set your own hours, you must always be available. Funny, it doesn’t exactly work that way.

There are actually two separate issues just about every freelancer I know has to grapple with at some point, regarding scheduling:
1) The expectation that you are always available,
and
2) How much structure you require in your day to get stuff done.
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The sweet spot between wanting and planning

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing), Things you should be reading

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It’s the key downfall of more than a few freelancing creative-types that they’re good at “creative” but not so great with the “business” side of, you know, running a business. I have always—perhaps smugly so—prided myself on never falling prey to that sort of “whatever, man, it’ll work out” sort of business management. This maybe makes me “smarter” than some of my fellow writer-types, but let’s be honest—mostly it makes me just more anal-retentive. It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I’m constitutionally incapable of that mystical “letting the universe show me the way” thing that so many of my cohorts seem to embrace.

My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek here, by the way. While I’m glad that I always pay my taxes on time and such, of course there are moments when I believe everyone else is more creative, more meaningful, more everythingniftykeen than I am.

So when I shared that I thought it was time to make another vision board, it was because I’d become keenly aware of everything being off-balance for me, business-wise. I wanted a bit of inspiration while figuring out which sorts of practical measures to put in place and get myself back on track. As an overly-cerebral type, I find this sort of exercise good for me—it gets me out of my own head, for a bit.
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