This is an interview I did with author, Michelle Goodman back in 2008 when I was writing for Constant Chatter. Since I just recommended her books in a video I did on a few of my favorite books for solopreneurs, I thought I’d share this original interview. At this moment, the links may be dead, but I’ll work on getting them updated or deleted first chance I get.
I love how My So-Called Freelance Life took the freelance idea and actually goes deeper and teaches you the important things you need to know about, like how to get the jobs, how to charge for the jobs, how to handle your clients, where to find the space to call your office, etc. What made you decide to write about freelancing and alternative careers?
People have been asking me how I set my rates, deal with health insurance, and make sure I have enough money to pay my bills since I started working for myself as a freelance writer and editor 16 years ago. Those questions have only increased since The Anti 9-to-5 Guide — which covers flex, temp, contract, overseas, outdoor, and self-employed work — came out last year.
People always want to know, How do you handle hell clients with grace? Negotiate copyrights without sounding like a greedy pig? Work at home without going insane? So I decided to write a “sequel” of sorts, in which I answer as many questions about freelancing as I could cram into 240 pages or so. Hence My So-Called Freelance Life.
Up until somewhat recently, I always thought of a freelancer as someone who was just plain and simply a writer. In your book, you address that many different jobs can be freelancing gigs. So what or who is a freelancer?
There are freelance designers, illustrators, photographers, publicists, translators, editors, indexers, bookkeepers, attorneys, accountants, web programmers, virtual assistants, marketing gurus, business coaches, dog walkers, actors, musicians, masseuses, and on and on and on.
Anyone who works for themselves as an independent professional is a freelancer. In the United States, 20.9 million people work independently. And whether we choose to call ourselves a freelancer, consultant, independent contractor, or small business owner, the work-related issues we face are generally the same. Regardless of whether we hire employees or incorporate, we’re all running our own business — meaning we all have to hunt for clients, ensure our checks arrive on time, and crack our own whip each week to get our work done.
Being a solopreneur and working from home can feel isolating and lonely, where can the average freelancer go to get support or mingle with other freelancers?
There are loads of digital and face-to-face social networks that can help:
- Blogs are a great place to start.
- Biznik.com is a wonderful online community for independent professionals. But it’s not just a Facebook knock-off. The site is loaded with tips, and many members host and attend free meetups on a regular basis.
- The Freelancers Union hosts meetups around the country for freelancers of all fields.
- Your friendly neighborhood coworking office space is sure to be frequented by other independent professionals. Maybe you can’t afford to rent a desk there. But surely you can drag yourself out to a free networking event they’re offering.
- If you’re a writer or media professional, see mediabistro.com’s regional events and online forum.
- You can even meet like-minded freelancers in freelance-specific groups on LinkedIn and Facebook (do a search and see what you find).
- Finally, if you’ve never joined an industry-specific professional association, now might be a good time to do so. At the very least, check out their events or join their email discussion list.
Do you have any must haves for the work-from-home freelancer? What helps to keep you sane and organized?
My top must-haves:
- A separate office space, even if it’s just a corner of the living room “walled off” with a curtain or screen. That way, you have a bit more separation between you work space and your living space.
- A daily routine and schedule so that you, your roommates, and your clients have no question about when you’re at work each day — and when you’re not. This can help you stay on target with projects, even when you’d rather be watching TV.
- Caller ID, so you never have to hear from a telemarketer or a friend who’s bored at work while you’re on a deadline.
- A backup computer and technically inclined friend (or freelancer you hire) in case your laptop craps out. Not having a computer for an entire business day is not an option.
- Project to-do lists, deadline and invoice spreadsheets, and online and offline folders galore. When you’re juggling multiple clients and projects each week, you can never be too anal. If you can’t locate a detail you need in 30 seconds or less, it’s time to take a Saturday off and create a better filing system for yourself.
Are freelancers still able to earn a livable income in this crazy job market?
Yes, most definitely. Freelancers are far cheaper to keep around than staffers, and the dozens of seasoned freelancers I know are doing just fine. We may have had a client or two drop off our radar, but that happens during any given year, not just during a recession. And if we lose work, it’s often because a company is folding, merging, or laying off 10+ percent of staff. A company doesn’t does slash its freelance workforce without slashing the projects those freelancers were working on.
The key is to be endlessly flexible and ultra-informed so you can quickly adapt to changes in the job market — and your industry. Pay attention to industry news so you’re not taken by surprise if a star client tanks or lowers their freelancing budget. Talk to other freelancers to see what they know about the companies you’re working for. Don’t let any one client dominate more than 30 percent of your schedule (if they go belly up, you still have 70 percent of your workload left).
If you predominantly work for the media, you absolutely should be reading GalleyCat so that you’re not the last to know if a beloved paper, magazine, or website slashes its budget. I suggest diversifying into other business sectors too so you’re not standing on such shaky ground (print media is suffering greatly these days). And if you’re only offering clients one skill — for example, writing, editing, designing, coding, bookkeeping, or business consulting — it’s time to broaden your horizons. Writers who also edit, design, consult, teach, or project manage are infinitely more employable than writers who only write.
With “only one in two Americans happy with their jobs” what tips or suggestions do you have for the person that is ready to break free of their current, corporate job?
- Start freelancing on the side. It can take several months to a year or more to work up to having a full-time freelance workload. And unless you have six to 12 months’ living expenses saved, you need a paycheck of some sort while you get your freelance business off the ground.
- Network you buns off. The idea is to meet as many people in your field as you can, preferably before you leave your day job. Learn from them. Trade ideas with them. Charm them. These may be future clients — or people who will refer you to future clients.
- Create a killer online portfolio. Whether you’re an aspiring journalist, web designer, or project manager, start accumulating samples for your portfolio while you still have a day job — that is, while you have easy access to assignments and customers. A web portfolio not only shows you mean business as an independent professional, it saves you loads of time in that “So tell me about your experience” dance. WordPress makes creating a digital portfolio site simple.
- Learn to run a business. Half of working for yourself is wooing clients, understanding contracts, managing projects, paying taxes, and making tricky judgment calls. So if you don’t know the first thing about running your own shop, now’s the time to learn. My So-Called Freelance Life can help with that.
Any closing advice for the current freelancer or freelancer-to-be?
I’m a big fan of surrounding yourself with other freelancers, both inside and outside your industry and vocation, both online and off. Not only will they be your biggest source of support and suggestions (say, for where you can get the best price on a new printer, or find an affordable contracts lawyer), they’re likely to be your best source of referrals for new work. I know a lot of people think that self-employed folks have no business “talking to the competition,” but I find that many freelancers are more than happy to share tips, and when a project isn’t right for them, connections.