Entrepreneur Mom

with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

To learn more about Aliza, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! and her website, www.mediaegg.com.

Michelle Goodman and her so-called freelance life

Categories: Books & Articles, Uncategorized

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Are you still aspiring to go out on your own in business? What about a freelance business? Blogger Maia Nolan spoke with Michelle Goodman about diving into a freelancer’s life.

Nearly two decades ago, Michelle Goodman dove headfirst into full-time freelance writing. Although there were bumps along the way, Goodman has managed to come out on top, and in her new book, My So-Called Freelance Life, she has assembled her hard-earned knowledge into a step-by-step guide for fledgling freelancers in all fields. Goodman (who is also the author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide) graciously carved some time out of her hectic schedule this week to share some of her insight with Entrepreneur Mom:

What keeps smart, talented women from taking the plunge into full-time freelancing? And how do we get over it?

Fear of not having enough work. Fear of having to sell yourself. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of having to buy your own health insurance, set up your own retirement fund, and deal with all the legal and tax aspects yourself.

I don’t think people get over it so much as decide, “To hell with it! It can’t be any worse than working for the joker I work for now/applying for full-time jobs I don’t even want/collecting unemployment checks for three more months.” And then, after as much preparation as they have time to do, they dive in.

It’s worth noting that no matter how much advice and how many tips you get before you start, there’s still so much you’ll learn on the fly as a rookie independent professional. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing (see next question).

A lot of the advice in My So-Called Freelance Life is based on your own experiences — good and bad. Looking back, what are some of the mistakes you made when you first started freelancing full-time?

The biggest mistake I made on my first couple of freelance projects was being too much of a pushover about project parameters and signed contracts. If a client wanted to agree to the project on a handshake and was hedging on some of the project details (number of revisions, how long the project might last, when I’d get paid), I was all too happy to play along. At the time, I was just grateful for the work. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

After a couple of nightmare projects with ill-defined terms and clients who nearly nickel-and-dimed me to death, I got wise to ways – and the beauty – of clearly defined project terms and putting every last detail in writing. It was very much a live-and-learn thing. And I think those early hell projects are what prompted me to put so much in my new book about contracts, negotiations, and dealing with nightmare clients.

What are some of the unique challenges women freelancers face?

If I may generalize a moment, we women have a much harder time than men asking for the price we believe we’re worth and know to be the current market rate. I’ve heard freelancers with 15 years experience say they don’t want to ask for a cost-of-living rate increase because they “don’t want piss off their star clients.” I’ve also heard women liken negotiating project fees and terms to “playing hardball” or “acting like a used car salesman.”

Here’s the thing: Many clients have no idea how much it costs to work for yourself (health insurance, unpaid days off, self-employment tax, non-billable hours) or how long it takes to write a press release, build a website, or put together fundraiser. And if you take whatever rate they’re doling out, you might just find yourself working for minimum wage. I like to remind people that as freelancers, we’re not campaigning to be class president or prom queen; we’re trying to pay our bills just like anyone else. And negotiating a fair market rate (or walking if we must, when we can’t make the numbers work) is all part of the process.

Another issue women struggle with more than men is selling ourselves. Many of us think that listing our accomplishments in neutral, smug-free language either on our website or when we meet a potential client is the equivalent of bragging. It’s not. If you’ve got 10 years of experience and have won three national awards, those are facts. And when a dream editor, project manager, or art director asks you for your credentials, you’d be foolish to try to make yourself appear any less experienced and perfect for the job than you are.

What do you tell women who want to work for themselves but are afraid to take the plunge? (Besides, obviously, “read my book.”)

Recession or no, I always tell people to start freelancing on the side. You can’t expect to quit your job tomorrow and have a full-time freelance workload waiting for you – not without some preparation anyway. So if you’re fortunate enough to have steady paycheck, spend a couple evenings a week or part of each weekend getting your freelance ducks in a row. Build your website. Fill your portfolio with small jobs you can do after hours. Network with other freelancers. Learn how to market yourself, pay taxes as a freelancer, and review a contract. And save your pennies because you’re going to need them that first year. Basically put yourself through freelance boot camp so that when the time comes to quit your job (or you get laid off), you’re more than ready.

If you were just starting out as a full-time freelancer and had just enough money each month to pay for ONE of the following things, which would you choose, and why?

(1) Hosting for your own Web site.

(2) Mobile web and e-mail on your cell phone/Blackberry.

(3) Membership in a paid job listing site like FreelanceSwitch.

(4) Four Americanos.

Easy: web hosting. It’s criminal to not have a website as a freelancer these days. You need your own corner of the digital universe where people can easily learn who you are and peruse your samples and/or client testimonials.

Number one, it makes you look like you’ve joined the twenty-first century (if you forego a site, don’t expect potential customers to be impressed). Number two, it saves you extra time you might have spent explaining your work/approach/MO to a new client. Number three, you can make a one- to four-page WordPress site in a morning. Number four, Web hosting costs less than $10 a month. Number five, in the time you spend scouring those (often crummy, $10/hour) ads on freelancing job sites you could have sent your new URL to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, started schmoozing with other freelancers on Twitter, and drummed up your first client by word of mouth or the power of SEO. I’m a big fan of joining a community and cultivating relationships rather than bidding into the void on projects advertised on job sites, unless it’s a really, really kickass-sounding job.

(As for options (2) and (4), I don’t use a smartphone and I don’t drink coffee.)

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One comment so far...

  • I completely agree that Fear has been holding me back from taking the plunge. Which is why I started to do everything on the side. I set myself a goal to be out of the workforce by the end of the year. I think starting out part time allows you to make mistakes and work out the kinks w/o stressing over where your next meal will come from. It gives me the freedom to start slow and build.

    Stephanie @ BizzieMommy  |  June 8th, 2009 at 3:59 pm