Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

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I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Summer Hours

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Hopefully, everyone who celebrates Memorial Day Weekend had a lovely one, and there are bank holiday weekends for everyone else either just passed or quickly coming up!

That brings up the question of “summer hours.”

When I worked in theatre, there was no such thing, unless I was working on a particular summer season, where the work intensified, rather than rolled back.

When I worked for a publishing company, most people took off by 12 or 1 PM on Fridays (many took the Hampton Jitney out). Support staff/admin people usually stayed until 3 or so, and there were early happy hours all over the city.

As a freelancer, I spent far too many years overworking. And summer hours weren’t an option.

I intend to change that.

In the Women Write Change group, the concept of “summer hours” came up. Some are taking Fridays off. Others take Mondays off from client work to do other writing projects. When I worked in theatre, Monday was usually the dark day, so Mondays feel more natural to me, but my inbox is usually quite stuffed from not looking at email over the weekend.

I’ve found my brain naturally checking out by about noon on Fridays since mid-winter.

I live on the second floor of a restored historic house in a small city in the Berkshires. There’s no air conditioning in the building, and it can get HOT in the summer. The ceiling fans and other fans help, but it gets hot.

Something I started doing last summer was taking longer mid-day breaks, which has evolved into the whole Taking Longer Lunch Breaks that I talked about on this site a few weeks back. I made like a European and took a big chunk of the afternoon off, and then, when it cooled down, worked in the evenings.

This summer, I’m going to try a mix of things. I plan to work longer hours, taking the Midday Heat Break as necessary, from Mondays through Thursdays, so that I can stop client work by noon on most Fridays. There’s flexibility in this, because if I take a day off midweek for whatever reason, I may have to work through Friday and into the weekend.

That’s one of the things I love about the freelance life – as long as I meet my deadline, I choose which hours to work on which projects.

There’s a lovely lake about ¾ of a mile from the house, and I intend to spend a good portion of sunny days there. Chances are I won’t drag the laptop up there, but I may take the Kindle or the tablet up and do some work lakeside. Writing in longhand is also an option, as is editing on hard copy.

That is the plan. However, we all know the best plans going awry, and all that.

I will let you know how it goes. Are you making adjustments for your summer schedule? What are they? How do you decide your summer hours?

Concepts of Time

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At this point in the game, I shouldn’t be surprised when, during an initial conversation with a prospective client, said individual tells me how long something “should” take to write, and that’s why they want to pay per hour instead of per project. “Oh, if you’re a fast writer, you can do X amount of words in X amount of time and can earn a lot of money.”

This is often said by non-writers who think that writing isn’t ‘real’ work. “I’d to it if I had the time.” No, sweetie, you wouldn’t, because you couldn’t come up with something that would hit and reel in your target market. That’s why you have to hire someone to do it. What you’re telling your freelancer “only” takes X amount of time is something you’ve been trying to get done for ten or fifteen times longer than that, and that’s why you’re hiring someone to actually get it done. These clients are the same clients who don’t pay for research time or percolation time. And don’t like to pay per word.

So many factors play into how much “time” a piece takes to write. Those include the tangibles, such as:

–how much research is provided

–how much research I need to do

–interview time

–fact checking time

–any meetings required in the process

–the actual writing time

Add into that:

–computer/internet issues

–unexpected interruptions

–natural energy fluctuations in the day

Layer on top of that:

–percolation time needed for the piece to take shape

–outlining (if necessary/appropriate)

–the several revisions necessary before sharing a draft with a client

–proofreading

Each of these elements takes a different amount of time, depending on the project. That’s true even with systems in place and tools to streamline. The same basic tasks can take different amounts of time on different days.

Clients who understand that they can’t discern how long it “takes” to write something (other than setting project deadlines) also understand that the service for which they pay isn’t JUST the final words on paper or screen; it’s the creativity that goes into those words. It’s the created worlds that engage and expand the audience.

To find the right words to create that enchantment takes a different amount of time for each project.

Setting reasonable project deadlines for drafts and deliverables makes sense, and is necessary for both freelancer and client. A client stating that it takes X amount of time to write X words is not.

Enter into partnerships with clients who understand that creativity is what makes the deliverables actually. . .deliver.

(Note: this should have posted yesterday, May 18, and failed to post. Apologies).

Work Placement Flow

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One of the things many of us realized, when forced to work remotely, is that our energy levels don’t always fit into the hours we are told to work. We also realized how much time is wasted in a commute, and how much time is frittered away at the office.

If someone prefers to work in the office, by all means, they should be able so to do.

But for those of us who are more productive, efficient, and focused working from home, we should also be able so to do.

Between the pandemic, the move, trying to get back on my feet after the multiple surgeries, and the fact that I am now older than I ever expected to be, my energy flows differently.

In order to do the best work for my clients within the deadline parameters, I found I need to adjust how and when I work, so that when I work, it’s high quality. Being a freelancer helps with that, because as a freelancer, I decide which hours I work on which projects.

(As an aside, let me emphasize again that being a “full-time freelancer” means you are putting in full-time hours for a variety of clients, and those hours are when YOU chose. If you are “full-time freelancing” for a single company, it means you allow them to take advantage of you, by making you work fulltime hours without benefits).

Back to the topic: I do my best creative work early in the day. I do my best critical work later in the day.

That means that I do my first 1K of the day on fiction or scripts as early as I can hit the desk. It means if I’m writing an article or a blog post or creating copy, most of the time, I will write it in the morning, and revise it later in the day.

If I’m stuck in morning meetings with clients, that means I don’t create until the following day. If I’m pushed to create same day, it’s going to have to be massively reworked the next day. If the material from the meeting is left to percolate while I do other tasks, I can create the next morning, and it needs much less revision.

I try to limit meetings anyway, to a small number per week (and if the slots are filled by the time you want a meeting, you get pushed to next week). Work isn’t done in meetings; it gets done in spite of meetings.

Afternoons are best for revisions. It’s creative, but it’s a different kind of creativity. Can I write in the afternoons? Yes, especially if it’s been a creative morning on other writing, or on research that fuels the creation. But, in general, the critical portion of my mind steps forward in the afternoon. I am more likely to catch the overused phrase, the typo, the incorrect name. Shaping, honing, sharpening works better for me in the afternoons.  If critical reading with comments need to happen, it’s better for me to do them in the afternoon. Or I’ll read and take notes, and then write it up and fact-check the next day.

Different days have different demands, so I don’t force myself into a strict schedule. But I’ve noticed, over the past months, what types of work happen more easily and more creatively in which time periods. I adjust my schedule as much as possible to accommodate that.

Because when I’m working, I want it to be high quality. I don’t want to be resisting because it’s something that my brain veers away from at that point. I want to place the work when the energy is best suited to it, and still get it done on time and on budget.

By allowing myself to flow more, I get more done, and at a higher quality.

For me, that also means not having a detailed “To Do” list. I know loosely where I need to be on what each day, each week, each month. Instead of deciding that from 9-9:15 I will work on X, and from 9:15-9:30, I will work on Y, I decide I’ll start with X. X is going well, and hits the stopping point, so I stand up, make another cup of tea, and flow to Y. Y sputtered a bit, but I got what I needed to for this point in the process, so I can put it aside to percolate, and then work on Z, which I didn’t even plan to get done.

On the other hand, if I’d boxed myself in starting X at 9 and finishing at 9:15, I would have stared at it resentfully until 9:12, and then, by 10, I’d have had something done, but wouldn’t be happy with it.

It wasn’t always that way; in earlier days, I could drop down into whatever project was next on the list, pound it out within the time frame, and move on to the next until I fell off the chair from exhaustion. But I’m older, hopefully wiser, and not willing to work myself into the ground like that anymore. It doesn’t create better work. It’s more likely to create burnout.

Everyone has a different process, and processes evolve as we do. If strict schedules work for you, by all means, create one and stick to it. But, if you’ve been struggling and feeling chained lately, try placement flow, and see if that helps you focus and keeps you engaged and energized.

Invited to Apply

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A few weeks ago, I got a flurry of emails with the subject header “You are invited to apply”.

I was confused.

None of them came directly from companies, although some of the companies mentioned were companies to whom I’d sent LOIs in the past.

All of these emails were from job listing sites, such as Indeed and ZipRecruiter.

I keep an eye on job listings, even while I pitch companies directly. It’s good business to know who is hiring for what, and to see which jobs keep coming up with a high turnover (big red flag about the company).

During the Stay-at-home order of the pandemic, and prepping for last year’s move, I also had used these job sites, looking for work that would inform where we’d end up, if there was something worth giving up freelancing (there wasn’t).

In other words, these listing sites have my information.

But the “invite to apply” had little to do with the kind of work I do, or that I want to do.

Why is that?

Because it’s a computer looking for keywords in the resume, not a person trying to match a company and an individual. Because it has nothing to do with anyone’s skills, and everything to do with algorithms. It has nothing to do with either the potential employer or the job candidate.

If you listen to the ads these listing sites post on, for instance, radio, they talk about how they “find” candidates for the employer within a day, rather than the candidates finding the job listing. It’s not about a smart HR person working for the site looking through those signed up and finding good candidates. It’s a poorly designed AI bot looking for SEO words in the resume, and encouraging the candidate to apply.

No, thanks. If a company is interested in the resume forwarded by a site or a recruiter, then the company can set up an initial conversation, so we can see if it’s worth going further. If YOU are courting ME, don’t tell me to fill out a bunch of unnecessary online questions which are already answered, should you read my resume or look at my portfolio samples. All you are doing is wasting my time to up your numbers. And you are not doing the company any good with your “found” candidates.

I am a copy/content/script writer, not a truck driver. And yet, the AI “invites me to apply” as a truck driver. Because I have a certificate in sustainability on my resume. It’s there because I pitch to environmental organizations to write copy for them. I’m not taking it off to please a poorly designed bot.

So when you see “Invite to Apply”, I suggest the delete button post-haste.

The Idea Fountain

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First, The Personal

Yes, I’m back. The last post on this site was in March, when I was just starting to get into the Move From Hell. I thank you for your patience, and hope you will join me on this new journey.

The Move From Hell is mostly complete. I moved from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, to an environment that values artists and actually believes in paying them. When asked what I do and I answer, “Writer” the response isn’t, “No one does that. What’s your REAL job?” with which I was constantly met on Cape. The response here is filled with resources and events I might enjoy, and requests to take a socially distanced walk around the lake or at the Spruces to talk about some aspect of writing. Or art. Or theatre. It is a much healthier environment for me, on multiple levels.

Most people here are vaccinated. Most indoor spaces require masking. Most people don’t fuss.

As I said, a much healthier environment, all the way around.

I’ve gone fully remote, instead of a mix of remote and on-site clients. It is unlikely I would go back to onsite work, unless it was a part-time position with an arts organization. But I doubt I would even do that until at least next summer.

Now, The Professional

I’m happy to say that The Idea Fountain has come back on. During the actual move, when I was mired in trying to find a place to live, then trying to find mover who would actually show up and do the work, and getting some things into storage, etc., etc., during a pandemic, my creativity fled. I was able to do the minimum work required to keep us afloat during the move, but I was not working, creatively, at my best.

When I first moved here, I was so exhausted, on every level, that I was lucky to make it through the day for the first few weeks.

But lately, the Idea Fountain has turned back on, and I’m actually happy and able to create again.

What is the Idea Fountain?

It’s useful for both fiction and nonfiction work. My definition of the Idea Fountain is that something you come across in the course of your day sparks a flow of ideas. Those ideas often go on to have more ideas, and so forth and so on.

Sometimes, a call for submission turns on the Idea Fountain. Often, in my work with businesses, it’s their creative brief, or our consult conversation.

As I writer, I find looking at paintings and sculpture restorative. When I am stuck in my words, looking at art unsticks me. My uncle was a reasonably well-known artist in Europe, working in stained glass, woodcuts, and casting large bronze figures. I have several of his sketches that inspire me. Most of my art books are in storage right now, but I’m across the street from a college library with a huge art book section, and I can use my Community Card to check them out.

So, there’s usually a stack of art books nearby.

This weekend, I spent time sitting on my front porch, paging through a book about American ex-patriate artists in Florence, during the Impressionist period. I got an idea for one of next year’s plays for an organization for whom I regularly write in New York (the other idea for them came from a line in a biography I read a few weeks ago – when the Idea Fountain was a mere trickle). I also got an idea for what is turning out to be a series, rooted in a group of painting students doing a Grand Tour. While I was writing up those notes, so as not to lose the ideas, an idea with which I’ve been playing for years, starting directly after WWII started poking at me again, and I made notes on that, too. It started poking its head up again because of a reference to generations of artists who were also artists during world events (such as WWII).  A throwaway line I read in a novel sparked an idea for a short story.

All over the course of a few days.

The Idea Fountain has turned back on.

At the beginning of August, I’d resumed my regular first 1K/day of fiction very early in the morning, in longhand, which had gotten erratic during the move. I wrote on the front porch. It’s getting too cold and dark to do that, so I’m writing in the living room; eventually, I may start writing again at the rolltop desk. But that primed the pump to get the Idea Fountain flowing again.

How does that work in freelance/business writing?

On some projects, the writer is paired with a graphic designer (or brings one in), and the two feed off each other. I love discussing ideas with a graphic designer; they toss out image ideas, I toss out words, and we get there together. If I’m writing something without graphic needs, I dig into my knowledge of those for whom I’m writing (or I gain the knowledge). Is there an image within the company already that will spur the piece (for a marine life press release, it would be an endearing photo of a seal or sea turtle; for a holiday fundraiser, a photo of one of the decorated trees, etc.). Or I image characters and situations around which I can build a story for the organization (see my page on Mission-Specific Entertainment).

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: ideas are like cookies. They tend to come in batches. So prime your pump however works for you, turn on that Idea Fountain, and let it flow.  Ooh, a fountain spewing cookies. I like that image.  If you show up and do the work daily, on the schedule you set for the work, it gets easier and flows more smoothly. Show up consistently, even on the days that are difficult, and the flow resumes. Some days it might feel like a trickle, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get the flow steady again.

Take notes on ideas, even if they seem like tangents. Perhaps they’re not right for this particular project, but they will be right for a different one. Creative time is never a waste, and not every result is immediately tangible.

The more joy you take in the process, the more the ideas will flow.

How do you get your ideas flowing?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Words Matter, Especially in Scope and Job Descriptions

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When you’re a freelancer and generate project contracts, it’s important to put in the scope and parameters of a project to limit “scope creep” – where the client expands the project, but doesn’t pay you for additional work, time, and expertise.

In early meetings:

— Discuss the scope;

–Make sure you have ONE person with whom you’re dealing on the project (not working by committee);

— Make sure it’s clear how many revisions are included in the initial quote, and how much overruns will cost;

–Set a schedule, including when the client has to have material back to you with comments for revisions or the next stage of the project;

— Put in a clause about late fees;

–Put in a clause about change of direction or additional work being billed at X dollars per hour;

–Ask for a deposit up front, and the balance paid within a specified time after you turn in the project. If it’s a long project, have regular payments over the term of the project.

There’s negotiation, that’s part of it. The first draft of any contract is the STARTING point of negotiation. If you originate the contract, expect negotiation. That’s good business. Know how far back you’re willing to negotiate BEFORE you send over the contract. When you are offered a contract, read it over, and negotiate. If the other side demands you sign a boilerplate, and says, “We don’t negotiate contracts” – walk away. They are not an ethical company.

Once you’ve negotiated the contract, WHEN the client starts the scope creep, the additional fees are already in writing and signed.

However, more and more companies are putting up listings for short-term projects, and it’s necessary the analyze them the way one analyzes a real estate listing. All those jokes about how landlords get away with sub-par rentals by using pretty words? True for per-project or short-term calls.

For instance, let’s take a look at listings for “content strategist” or “marketing strategist.” The dictionary defines “strategist” as “a person skilled in planning action or policy, especially in war or politics.”

PLANNING.

If the employer/recruiter used words to their true meaning, the “strategist” would come up with the plan, which would then be implemented by the staff.

But that’s not what the job entails.

Most of these “strategist” listings say the most important element is strong writing skills. But then, BUT THEN, they also want the strategist to have design skills, such as Photoshop or InDesign.

Say what?

That’s right. They’re calling it a “strategist.” In actuality, instead of hiring a team comprised of a terrific copywriter and a terrific graphic designer, they want to save money and only hire one person.

Scroll down further. Look at the rate – when they even bother to list it. I think it should be a law that no description can be listed without the payment – none of this “based on experience” or not listed. State what you’re offering.

Find the rate yet? Rub your eyes, and look again. It’s not a dream. It really is that low.

The company wants ONE person to do TWO skilled jobs, but is paying less than EITHER job should be paid, and calling it a “strategist.”

Someone who is good at planning and policy would laugh in their face and walk away.

Words matter. Read ALL the words in your contract or your job description, understand them, and negotiate.

It will save you a lot of pain down the road.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Career Re-Shaping

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I realized that last week’s post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my career.

I’ve re-shaped my career often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always my focus.

Any job outside the arts ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.

If the job got in the way of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.

A PAID opportunity.

NOT an “exposure” opportunity,

Remember, people die of exposure. Insist on the cash.

I started in lighting, for theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I moved into stage management.

From stage management, I moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep writing – through all of this, I always wrote).

I stayed, happily, in wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I didn’t want to be one of them.

I moved away from New York to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts in name only.  They love it when prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage to do what they do.

I took a job that I thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something” was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something” wrong with them.

Still, when I was fired from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds are just scars.

I went back to a local theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and woefully underpaid, but still worth it.

Then, I worked to rebuild what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.

All of this time, I was still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing radio plays, and so forth and so on.

I found some local clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office.  Many were one-and-done, some because that’s all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite, but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.

I spent more and more time with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to work with Americans right now.  I worked with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists. Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more often.

I was actually willing to set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11 at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.

On the bus, I could write my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were in Boston, not where I am.

I was at that turning point earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for at least the next year or two.

Then, the pandemic hit, and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14 days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.

The positive part of the pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.

Now that they’re forcing us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely full-time for years.

It means I can re-shape my career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York and San Francisco).

It also means I can live anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I can afford.

When I worked on Broadway, I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.

I’m also looking at different types of work.

I write.

I’m not a graphic designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.

I’ve managed plenty of teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar and other writers is cake.

But I don’t necessarily want to.

I want to write stuff.

Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.

I’m more cautious about working for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you pay for the skills you need.

Here? The constant dirge is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”

Um, no.

Some positions that I would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time. That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago are no longer on my list.

I grappled with this for a few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was being lazy.

Then, I realized most of that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my subconscious.

People grow and change, and so do their careers.

It’s not a failure.

It’s a natural process.

Growing and changing is a positive, not a negative.

It doesn’t mean you have to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go next.

Yes, there’s an element of privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.

But deciding to take one’s career in a different direction is not a failure.

It means you are integrating all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience. It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.

It also means that when you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which is better for both you and your employer.

One would think/hope companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone who just shows up every day.

You look at your life and decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how and what and where we work factors in a great deal.

Maybe you can’t change your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do some research, and take small steps regularly.

Small steps lead to big change.

That’s a good thing.

How have you re-shaped your career?

Controlling Scope Creep

image courtesy of GLady via pixabay.com

Freelancers talk a lot about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters, and they keep expanding.

One of the joyful parts of creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.

To get there, you need the project to grow and change.

But the “scope” and the vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.

There – the contract. That’s how you control scope creep.

I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”

Why not?

Why aren’t companies being upfront about what they want in the position?

Two answers:

The first is that the person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which is common.

The second is that the company wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.

As a freelancer, you have the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

After your initial conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for “scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those possibilities into the contract.

For example, I have a clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.

When I receive the second round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.

Often, far too often, I get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”

No, it’s a revision. Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.

Dates and Turnaround Times

I put in turnaround times for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the contract is vital:

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

–Notes/revision requests are back to me by Z date

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

–Acceptance or additional requests for changes is due on O date

–final payment is due on P date

–late payments are changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of original fee)

Longer projects may have payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.

“This is business, not personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just business.”

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

I also have a clause in my contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.

Late Fees/Rush Fees

I have a clause for late fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original fee + 20% + the total of that.

Rush fees are for work turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to stay up extra hours and push through.

I do make an exception on rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day turnaround.

When the Client Provides the Contract

In some cases, the client provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request, meet them halfway, or walk away.

A client who offers a contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused by the contract.

What About Job Descriptions?

As we’ve discussed over the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure that we help shape new work styles.

I’ve seen an array of articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.

There’s plenty of work that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my creativity.

There’s not a cubicle on the planet that could provide conditions even close.

Negotiation

If you are looking for a job as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades, companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything and employees have no say in it.

Remember: companies need employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.

Oh, horrors.

They push the “if you don’t take this, we’ll hire someone else.”

Go ahead.

Don’t be afraid of AI, either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced by AI.

There are plenty of jobs that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do and create work that no robot could ever come up with.

With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.

Yes, you might have to accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s temporary.

When I made the commitment to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my way up to a career on Broadway.

If I’d stayed in a corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”

Instead, I DID.

So, when you are in negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.

You can choose not to answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview process, you can ask for more definition.

The other thing you can do is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.

There was an article on line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.

What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.

And savvy freelancers work on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.

If there’s room for scope creep in the job description – negotiate it.

If the job description says you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.

If the job description demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly ask what kind of car they provide.

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

How do you control scope creep? What points do your contracts over?

The Difference Between the Mythical “Full-time Freelance Job” and the Full-time Freelancer

image courtesy of GDJ via pixabay.com

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because so many people are out of work and worried, the predators are out: expecting unpaid labor/samples/”assessments” as part of the hiring process, content mills re-branding themselves as “agencies” pretending to offer good work opportunities when they’ll just grind you to a pulp and destroy talent; writing jobs on “commission.”

But another disturbing trend I see in a lot of listings is this:

“Full-time Freelance”

There is no such thing as a “full-time freelance” job for a single company. If you’re working full-time for a single company, you are an employee for that company. Especially if they dictate the hours worked. Perhaps you choose to be an independent contractor on a 1099. But you SHOULD be on a W-2 at that point, and getting full benefits.

The only reason a company “offers” a “full-time freelance” position is to get out of paying benefits, sick days, holidays, etc. They are taking advantage of the non-employee to save money, yet expect the same behavior and hours and deference they would from a salaried employee.

There’s nothing wrong in working for a single company. But if you’re going to be working employee hours, you need to have benefits. Again, especially if they dictate which hours in the day they expect you to be working and available.

Or, if, for some reason, it suits you to remain on 1099, make sure YOU set the rate and it is what it would be to be on staff with the cost of benefits plus 20%. If they’re not going to give you benefits, make sure they pay enough to cover putting aside benefits and a little extra. You can find out what employees make through sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com. Or come in as a consultant, which bills at a higher-than-staff-person rate.

A full-time FREELANCER is an individual who works a full week (be it 40 hours or whatever that individual chooses to make the amount of money necessary) for a variety of different companies. There may be some overlap, especially across time zones, to communicate during mutually-acceptable hours. But the full-time freelancer arranges the hours and schedules in a way that best serves both the work and the life.

A full-time Freelancer chooses the clients with whom they do business, sets rates, works the hours that are best suited to the individual task and the energy needs.

In the best situations, the full-time Freelancer charges enough not to just cover rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, home office equipment and supplies, etc., but also for retirement, vacation fund, and a little extra.

The full-time Freelancer is constantly in marketing mode, sending out LOIs, broadening networks, and keeping an eye out for new clients who might be a good fit – or recommending fellow freelancers to jobs that might be a better fit. That time needs to be built into the work week, without a loss of income.

Since most work in the US is “at will” and can end at any time, both types of work run the risk of loss of income at a moment’s notice. But the unsalaried freelancer working full-time hours will have to scramble, while the full-time freelancer has other clients paying in while replacing the recently lost client. Freelancing work tends to run on short-term contracts, which gives at least a little stability, but those contracts end, and not all are renewed. Other work can be one-off work, and the full-time freelancer has to ride the feast-or-famine cycle.

Even if working for a single company as a freelancer, that freelancer needs to always be aware of what’s out there, and ready to leap to a better situation.

Working full-time for a single company without benefits is good for the company, but rarely good for the freelancer, unless the freelancer gets a high enough to cover independently funding benefits.

Working as a full-time freelancer can be stressful – the constant client hunt – but it also gives more variety, flexibility in case of management turnovers and sourings, and expansive opportunities.

But if someone offers you a “full-time freelance” position – look at the details very carefully. Negotiate up to make sure you are getting as much as any staff member receiving a salary and benefits, set your own hours, and are free to take on other work as you wish.

Remember: every job offer is the starting point of negotiations. If they offer you their endpoint, they are not worth your time.

Happy negotiations.