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?

The Longer Lunch Break

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Taking a longer lunch break has been a terrific decision.

I started doing so after last summer’s move, mostly because of the heat. Mid-day was terribly hot, and I don’t have air conditioning in my home office (or anywhere else in this home). Even with the ceiling fan on, sometimes I couldn’t think straight.

I took a longer lunch break. Instead of forcing myself back to the desk to be unproductive, I spent more time on the acupressure mat, or reading on the porch or the balcony. Or reading or writing something not related to the workday, just noodling with ideas or reading about something that caught my fancy.

When it cooled down for me to think straight again, I went back to the desk and worked later into the evening before stopping for the day. Or went back for another work session after dinner, if it was a very long, hot afternoon.

I adjusted back in the fall and winter, but found that I burned out by mid-afternoon.

So I’ve started taking a longer lunch break, no matter what the weather. After years of rushed lunches, or half hour breaks or eating at the desk, or unpaid lunch time, I’m taking at least an hour, often an hour and a half to two hours. This is not errand time. Errand time is separate. This is rejuvenation time.

Sometimes I sit in the rocking chair in my reading corner, reading something that has nothing to do with work. Or I’ll lie on the acupressure mat. Or I’ll sit on the front porch or the balcony, with a book, or a notebook to noodle around with daydreams, or just look out at the mountains.

When I return to work, I am refreshed, and have a more focused, productive, and creative afternoon.

This is a European-style attitude, and they know what they’re talking about.

When I skim job listings and see a full-time position only pays “37.5” hours, or that the workday is 9 hours because of the lunch break, I don’t even bother to send an LOI anymore. I hope those days are over for me.

I will take a long lunch break. I will come back refreshed. And it will be about the quality of the work, not the quantity of the hours at the desk.

How do you spend your lunch breaks?

Spring Refreshers

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It’s spring.

Well, sort of. Here in the Berkshires, we have 60 degrees one day and snow the next. But there’s a potential for spring.

Spring motivates a desire to clean house and freshen things up. As you do this to your physical space, don’t forget to do that to your virtual space, too. What should you do and how?

Websites

Visit your websites as though you were a stranger. Read through every page and take notes. Does the content make you want to hire this individual?

If the answer is no on any of the pages, rewrite the content on the site so that, if you were a stranger looking for someone in your field to hire, you would hire. . .you.

Take out passive language, and make it active and engaging.

Update clips, samples, portfolio pieces, rates, and the scope of your services. As our careers grow and change, we want to focus on different services at different times. Update your website to reflect that.

Are there visuals you want to add? Is there information that’s no longer relevant and you can take off? Anything you remove should be saved in a file on your computer or a flash drive, in case you need to refer to it, or put it back on.

Is your contact info updated? If you have a sign-up for any goods, services, or a newsletter, does the link work? It’s time to fix all of those.

Is it time for a website redesign? Is that something you can do yourself, or something you want to hire out? Take time to think about what you want and how you want to communicate it. But spring is a good time to refresh.

Clip File/Portfolio/Samples

Hopefully, as you’ve created new work these past months, you’ve kept samples as hard copies in your clip file, and also saved or created digital copies that you can use on your website, your online portfolio, or Google Drive.

If you haven’t, now is the time to catch up. I keep several hard copies in a file folder in my filing cabinet. I also keep digital files (PDF and .doc, where appropriate) on my hard drive, my flash drive, and my backup drive, so I can use them as needed.

I check my online portfolio to see if I need to add, remove, or rearrange my samples.

Resume(s)

At this point in the game, I have a Master CV that is about 30 pages long. It is for me, not something sent out.

From that, I’ve crafted my Freelance Resume, my Theatre Resume, and my Writing Resume, which are relevant to my work. There is some overlap between these resumes, but each is geared toward the type of work in its name.

When I moved last summer, I updated all my resumes. It’s time to take another look and do it again, especially since I’m entering a grant cycle.

What do I need to add? What’s old enough it can fall off? What’s old, be relevant and stays on?

I have a version in .doc format and one in PDF. The PDF is the one I send out.

Social Media

This is a good time to clean up social media accounts. I’m not a muter; I’m either all in with people’s facets of personality, or all out. I either follow for everything, or unfollow and/or block.

I cleaned up my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, and it was wonderful. I could have actual conversations again, and I promised myself to do this more often.

Clean up feeds/followers/posts. Decide what you want the accounts to achieve. I have a personal Twitter where you take me as I am, or bye. I have a business Twitter that’s more focused on business writing, but not to the exclusion of my integrity. 

In spite of knowing better, I have several Facebook pages for the different series I write. I have a LinkedIn account for business only.

My Instagram account is for fun. Not much book promotion; no business. It focuses on cooking, gardens, cats, travel. There have been a lot of creepy accounts showing up lately on that feed, which I’ve steadily blocked, but it’s giving me pause as to whether or not I want to remain on the platform.

Cleaning up my Pinterest pages will be a long process, probably pushed off until summer, because it’s got too many tangents right now, and I’m not using it to its full potential.

Memberships

Are there any memberships, professional organizations, or other groups in which you participate? Do you need to renew any of them? Drop out of any of them? Recalibrate your relationship with any of them? Put aside a few hours to go through all the paperwork and make those decisions.

Artist Statements/Bios

If you work in the arts and apply for jobs and/or grants, you need an artist statement. It’s a good idea to revise it at least once a year (or twice a year). As your work evolves, your need to communicate how your vision evolves.

No matter what your profession, a good bio is a must. You submit it with guest blog posts, speaking engagements, conference presentations, etc.

I try to keep three versions up to date: one at 50 words, one at 100 words, and one at 250 words. I often have to tweak the versions to align with a specific usage.

Time Now Saves Time Later

Making the time to do this cleanup now will save you time and aggravation later, as opportunities arise and you have everything you need at your fingertips.

Go forth and clean!

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.

Research Time IS Work Time

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A potential client discovered me via LinkedIn, and contacted me about a project. They wanted me to write a white paper-ish document. I use “ish” because it didn’t truly fit the definition of white paper, but was similar. It was in a field out of my usual wheelhouse, but a topic in which I was interested and could get up to speed quickly.

They had no interest in a per-project rate for this; they wanted to pay per word.

I rarely do a per-word rate anymore; per project makes much more sense for both the customer and for me. When they quoted me the per word rate, it was considerably lower than what I use.

I told them that the per-word rate was below my usual rate.

Them: It’s non-negotiable.

I already figured out I wasn’t going to do this gig, but I wanted to get more information, just to either prove or disprove my growing suspicions.

I asked them how much of the research they would provide, how much I would provide, and what sources or references they would point me toward. Some of the information/sites I knew were behind pay walls. What was the budget for that? From the creative brief, it would take somewhere between 12-20 hours of research, along with interviews and fact-checking, to complete the project, if I had to start from scratch.

The answer: None. I was expected to handle all the research.

I then explained that it made more sense to use a project rate quote than a per word quote.

The response: “We don’t pay for research time. We only pay by the word.”

Me: I’m not paid for research?

Them: We don’t pay for research.

Me: Are you willing to provide the research?

Them: No. You’re responsible for the research and fact-checking.

Me: But you don’t pay for research?

Them: That’s correct. We only pay for the words written.

Me: I’m not the right fit for the project.

Them: We don’t negotiate rates.

Me: I understand. And I am not the right fit for this project. Thank you for thinking of me. Goodbye.

Had I accepted this project, I would have worked for less than half of my per-word rate AND put in 12-20 hours of unpaid research. AND paid for anything that was behind pay walls.

In other words, it would cost me money to work for them.

Research time is work time. Finding trustworthy sources, hunting through archives, taking notes, making sure one has the references correct, fact-checking. All of that takes time, and that time is worth money.

Even if a client provides research, one still has to read it and, in some cases, fact-check.

That takes time.

That time consists of billable hours.

Project quotes make more sense for a piece such as this. You can look at the creative brief, figure out how long any research/reading/fact-checking is likely to take, figure in a decent rate for writing the article, and come up with something that works for both of you.

If the potential client’s budget can’t encompass your project quote, you can negotiate scaling down the scope to fit into the budget, or you can refuse the project.

“We don’t pay for research time” is a huge red flag. It means the potential client expects free labor as part of the contract, and is a good indication of future scope creep without compensation.

Value your time. Charge appropriately.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Real Costs of the One-Way Video Interview

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One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”

First of all, any interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.

A one-way interview is a waste of the interviewee’s time.

I am not an actor. I do not make audition tapes and perform for you.

I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.

But I am not performing in order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.

As someone who worked in production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production, labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:

Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.

Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .

Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.

-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.

Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.

Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.

Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.

Non-union can start as low as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests, but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.

Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.

Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.

Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.

The actual shoot.  When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.

-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.

In order to make your “quick, 3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:

40 hours (a full work week) AT LEAST

$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical labor

We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.

All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.

Even if the job pays $60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.

“Make an introductory video” robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.

Because if it WAS a video production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create something “introductory” for them without pay.

Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.

Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.

Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.

“But it’s not professional, it’s just an introductory video.”

If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.

If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.

If you start your relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.

Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.

Room to Re-Shape One’s Career

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Yes, I’m back. I’m still working on the article about how companies are driving away skilled workers, even as they scream they can’t find them. But I didn’t want to be off this blog for too long, and there’s something else I’ve been grappling with and coming to terms with over the past weeks that I decided to share.

I noticed, as I research companies with whom I might like to work, that I’m drawn to different areas that I was eight or nine months ago.

More and more often, the title of the job turns me off. I don’t even need to read the description. Or, I get about two paragraphs in and say, “Nope. This isn’t for me” then click away and move on.

When a company genuinely captures my attention, whatever positions they claim to look for, I dig into the research, find the right person, and send an LOI, telling them why I think I’d be a good choice for their company, either for a particular project, or in general.

I wrote a guest post a few years back about not waiting for the job you want, but creating it.

In the past couple of years, I’d moved away from that, but now I’m going back to it.

The layers between the people one would actually work with have become more convoluted. Notice I say “work with” and not “work for”. That is deliberate. I’m not at the start of my career. I am interested in “working with” even when I technically have a boss.

The issue of layers is especially deep when third party recruiters are involved, which is something I go into the other article I’m working on for this space. I have to say, all of the third party recruiters I’ve encountered in the past ten years have been a waste of space, and have certainly wasted my time (and therefore, I’m sure, the company’s time). As I track the listings for companies using third party recruiters for the past year or so, I notice they fill a job, and then a few short months later, they’re looking again to fill the same job. I suppose that keeps recruiters in business, but it doesn’t do the client companies much good.

As I noted above, I’m looking for something different now than I even was at the top of the pandemic. I’m more focused, and less flexible. Part of this is due to a recalibration of what I want and need out of my work; part of this is that I am not twenty begging for my first job, but someone with decades of experience and skills. I no longer have an interest in working FOR a company that does not value either of those, by underpaying me or by trying to shove me into a position that’s more about work no one else wants to do than about my skills.

The SEO keywords used in the position descriptions are just as likely to turn me away from a company as engage my interest.

(This article turns out to be tied to the one I’m still working on, about companies driving away skilled workers).

But even when the descriptions are accurate and the company is interesting, there are roles in companies that no longer interest me, even though they used to.

In the past, if I was interested in a company, I was willing to take on tasks out of my wheelhouse in order to expand my skills, or do something that’s uncomfortable if they agreed it was temporary. Of course, it never is; once you take on more than your job, it becomes your job. But if I overall liked and respected the company’s mission and vision, especially if it was a nonprofit, I was more likely to accept a broader range of tasks.

That is no longer true.

I know what I want my tasks within a role to encompass. If the company is trying to cut corners by hiring one person with strong skills in one area, but minimal skills along a wide range of areas instead of multiple skilled individuals, that position – and that company – is no longer a good fit. Because let’s face it, most companies WON’T train, no matter what they promise. They expect you to figure it out on your own without additional compensation. Usually on your own time.

At twenty-three, it was an interesting challenge, especially if I thought I had a future with the company.  In theatre jobs, I was always willing to take on more, because I knew the theatre was my career, and I would progress. I did. I made it to Broadway.

In non-profit work, I often took on extra tasks because everyone was working flat out more hours for less pay. But after awhile, there’s burnout. Resentment builds, no matter how committed one is to the mission, because that way of working is unsustainable.

Boundaries need to be set going in, by both parties, held, and respected. Most managers will keep assigning as many tasks as they can get away with, no matter what you agreed upon when you started.

As a freelancer, it’s often easier to hold and set boundaries. I have a contract that spells out boundaries, payments, etc. When scope creep threatens, I can point to the contract and say, “Sure, I’ll take that on; this is how much it’s going to cost.” I can also say, “That’s not part of the agreement, no.”

But as I’ve been researching a putting together LOIs and pitch letters to companies these last months, I’ve noticed what keywords turn me off instantly, or, as I read a description, I realize, “no, that’s not for me.”

At first, I was worried that I narrowed my options. I could hear the toxic reprimands we’ve all had at times: “You need to be a team player” or “Where’s your commitment to the company?” or “You need to take this on right now to get us through this rough patch” or “How can you succeed if you won’t do what’s needed?” or “Your job is to make me look good.”

Notice all of these are demands. None of them are questions to negotiate or navigate new needs as a company grows and changes.

They’re about guilt and manipulation rather than problem-solving, which is unsustainable.

 I’ve since made peace with it. Trusting my gut has always been the best choice. I’ve paid for it every time I let myself “logic” a way out of what my gut told me.

As a professional, I’ve grown in skills, knowledge, experience, over a wide range of topics. Some of those skills I enjoy using; others were hard-won and are painful to implement. Why would I make choices that increase my pain load instead of choices that make it exciting to get up in the morning and get to work?

We all hit periods where we have to take whatever’s offered in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But we keep growing, searching, changing for what is better for us and for our situations.

It is okay to discover that what worked for you five years, ten years ago, or even ten weeks ago, no longer does. That knowledge gives you a foundation to make new discoveries and make decisions based on what makes your life better.

Liz Ryan, at the Human Workplace, emphasizes how we are the CEOs of our own companies. That’s so important to both remember and to implement. Right-to-work means companies have made the choice their workers aren’t worth loyalty. So workers need to make the choices that serve their lives best.

How have you found what you want and need from your work evolving over the past months?

Controlling Scope Creep

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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

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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.