Freelancer Rage, Another Extension of Your Driving

Posted: July 14th, 2010

Photo by I Like (Flickr)

Photo by I Like (Flickr)

I’m not ashamed to admit that some of my biggest mistakes (and biggest lessons) as a freelancer came as a result of letting my emotions get too far out of control and take over my decision making.

Such as the time long ago when I sent Mr. Henderson an email to the effect of, “YOU HAVEN’T PAID YET. PLEASE PAY NOW!” just three days removed from handing him a $50 invoice.

Then there was the other time when I dropped some f-bombs on beloved colleagues who have been providing me plenty of work the last three years. All without receiving a raised voice in return. Looking back, they did give me money to shut the f#!@ up… ah, nevermind.

The thing is I don’t know of one freelancer who never gets angry, no matter how trivial the reason is. Part of it, if not all, is due to the stress in our lives and our work. Some days nothing seems to go right and those who happen to touch a nerve, even the slightest bit, suddenly become victims of an “earful”.

Since, in most cases when a punching bag isn’t readily available, we get a nice relief of stress by unleashing that fury upon the client. As soon as we cool off, we’re left with a few nagging thoughts over what just happened.

  • We could lose this dear client of ours (assuming you like the person)
  • You now have a rep as a hothead and not fun at all to work with
  • Face it, you’re probably an asshole too

It was immediately after the aforementioned colleague-bashing when I came upon my own realization that this can never happen again. Not even to clients I’ve made voodoo effigies of and poked nails in.

Fast forward two years later, I’ve outgrown my hothead-asshole persona and another weird thing happened as well.

Business improved. This while following only a few simple rules.

1. Stop

There will be a point after reading that email your blood gets boiling. Stop whatever you’re doing (yes even if it’s the middle of your work). Do not reply. Step away from the computer. It would be wise not to punch it either.

2. Vent (in private)

Here is where you can get crazy with the voodoo dolls or go out and buy a punching bag. You can also try my personal favorite, pacing back and forth in your office pretending to give an angry speech to your client. Just keep this out of public view, OK?

Then there are the more practical venting techniques such as a five-mile run or hitting the gym. Or just get an ice cream cone. Ice cream always brings a smile when you pretend the scoop of ice cream is the client’s face melting.

3. Ignore

This is the hard part, but just let it go for the rest of the day. Get back to other work and just concentrate on that. I know thoughts of murder will seem to permeate your head but, if you relax, it will let go.

Another ice cream cone may help if not.

4. Answer (the next day)

Great, you just had a refreshing night of sleep and are in a proper mood to answer the client diplomatically. No threats or more ice cream needed. Plus you can tone down that memorized angry speech into polite arguments for that pending email.

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Have you ever responded to a client in anger and regretted it later? Please share in a nice comment.

Recognizing The Red Flag Client (Like a Bad Date)

Posted: June 30th, 2010

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Photo by Kioan (Flickr)

Picture this: A potential client consults with you. You give a (rather pricey) estimate. He is still interested and looks like a nice project to keep you going for a while.

Then you get to further discussions. He doesn’t pay attention to your suggestions. He is unclear of his goals and vision for the project. You just don’t see eye-to-eye.

Memories of a bad date are popping into your head.

So now you face an interesting dilemma in freelancing. Do I give up a great project and the nice income it will provide or do I take those red flags into account and let this client slip away to another freelancer?

Well, do bad dates ever get a second chance?

OK, maybe once in a blue moon but you eventually become quick to learn that, at any signs of trouble, it’s time to bolt.

On the other hand, with clients, it’s not so easy. Especially if you have kids to feed and rent or mortgage payments looming every month. When your own livelihood is at stake, turning down clients doesn’t seem like a very wise option.

Let’s, however, take a look at the real cost of turning down work from “bad date” client for a second.

It’s not the lost income

It’s easy to see that letting a potential (but temporary) cash cow go is equal to taking money right out of your pocket. The mistake in this line of thought is that you haven’t earned the money yet. There is no income lost at all.

Note that the keyword here is earned. How many hoops do you think you’ll have to jump through to even know what the project scope is and create a spec for it? Plus working with a client who isn’t aligned with your own style and goals means you’ll be spending most of your time trying to figure out and give the client what he wants while he continuously rejects your work.

All this adds up to significant extra time aside from the actual time worked on the project. And extra time costs you money in time that can be spent with clients who work well with you.

Read the signs

Much like a bad date (hell, we can say exactly the same as a bad date), your un-ideal client carries visible warning signs to stay as far away as possible. These can easily be seen within the first few consultations of a project.

  • The client is not receptive to your  suggestions. You begin to wonder why you were chosen in the first place.
  • One sided (that would be favoring the client) and long communication through emails, IM or calls. While you’re trying to comment and advise, you are interrupted with speeches on the client’s requirements.
  • The client couldn’t “work” with several other previous freelancers. It’s important to ask about this since it usually means others had enough of the client in the past.
  • You can’t figure out what the client wants… even after spending the time on all the emails and calls.

Hey, I won’t go as far as to tell you to let the client down gently and run but it is in your best interest. There are plenty of other fish, er, I mean clients in the sea that are great to work with and have great projects available. There is no sense in getting down in your loss either.

Nothing like the job boards to get you back on track again.

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Let me know some more of the warning signs you’ve experienced with “bad date” clients in a comment below.

The Real Costs of Freelancing

Posted: April 20th, 2010

Image by Dave P. (Flickr)

Image by Dave P. (Flickr)

You’ve seen it everywhere; freelancers are making their presence known, even during rough economic periods. Having been one for about eight years now, I’d say freelancing is the greatest job I’ve ever had. Jump right in!

Well, not so fast.

It takes some time for a freelance business to get wheels underneath it and to turn into a profitable income. What usually makes or breaks a freelancer’s goal of independence, though, are the financial aspects that have to be considered.

In short, the cost of doing business isn’t cheap and can’t be winged. And, no, we’re not talking about having to stick with that 5-year-old laptop and using your coffee table as a desk to cut costs.

These are the real deal costs that every business, freelance or not, has to deal with.

(Note: This post is primarily geared for freelancers in the U.S. )

Taxes

For freelancers the IRS want you to know about a little thing it likes to call a self-employment tax which is roughly 15% of your income. This is on top of the tax that you have to pay from your income minus expenses and deductions. The worst part is that estimated taxes have to be paid quarterly over the year or you are penalized with additional fees come time to file taxes.

Health Insurance

It’s easy to skip this one but there is always that big “What if I get sick or hurt?” you have to think about. This is often a tough choice, too, having to decide between a huge slice of your income going to pay the premiums or an astronomical slice going toward medical treatment. Here is even more reason to not let health insurance slide by.

Operating Costs

Most freelancers can minimize their expenses by working at home and over the internet. Did you know, however, that the time you put into your business that isn’t income generating (i.e. searching for clients, invoicing) are also costs to you too?

Spending too much time not generating income and less time on actual work and, well, you get the idea.

The Payment Buffer

In a perfect world, all freelance work is paid immediately upon completion. Back on earth, though, there is almost always a lag time between completing work and receiving payment. That lag time is usually a month or more.

Living month to month and desperately depending on those payments, therefore, does not become an option. Not even when starting in freelance.

So What To Do?

This shouldn’t be a discouragement to your venture into freelancing, but financial planning will do you a world of good before taking the leap.

  • Consider freelancing part-time in addition to your job. In addition to having a fallback income, you may be able to hold on to your health insurance if it applies to you.
  • Minimize living expenses and save, save, save. That savings cushion will almost always come back to save you someday.
  • Don’t forget to set aside 20% of all income received from freelancing in a separate bank account for taxes. And don’t skip payment on quarterly taxes which are due on April 15th, June 15th, September 15th, and January 15th.

If you have any other financial advice for freelancers, feel free to leave it in a comment below.

4 Surefire Ways To Stay A Mediocre Freelancer

Posted: July 28th, 2009

Its almost guaranteed that as a new freelancer you will go through some major growing pains until things start to work out for you and your business. Right at that point we feel like we’re cruising and everything seems easy when we can juggle around our work while maintaining the business. We finally made it.

Believe it or not, we still have a ways to go before becoming the absolute best freelancer we can be. Until then, we may be paying the bills and things might be looking good but we may be falling into the traps that keep us just mediocre freelancers. The following are four ways to guarantee this:

1. Getting into a comfort zone.

When the time comes when we have clients that give us a lot of steady work, we take for granted the fact that steady work can disappear at any moment. This is in addition to the fact that, for developers and designers, technology is evolving fast and it is imperative we keep up with it.

That means freelancers have to consitently dedicate a portion of their time marketing their services and searching for new clients. It is a myth that all your time should be spent working on projects and earning the dough. And for those who rely on the latest developments for their work (hello jQuery), visiting a few tutorials every once in a while will keep your skills fresh and your services at a premium.

2. Not organizing your business.

Once a freelancer’s business gets rolling and and the work starts piling on, its easy to overlook essential tasks like accounting and time tracking.  Keeping on top of accounting and hours worked helps make the freelancer more efficient and keeps him from scrambling to find those receipts come tax day. Plus it helps to have some hard figures to see how your business is doing and if you are meeting income goals.

If you are not quite at the level to hire your own accountant, here are some recommended free tools:

Time tracking: Paymo Timetracker

Accounting: Quickbooks Quick Start

3. Faulty communication with clients.

Most freelancers work over the internet so the primary form of communication is usually email and instant messaging to a lesser extent. Let’s face it, its hard for typed words to clearly express what you or your clients want to. Plus there is huge potential for miscommunication. Speaking from experience, it is very important to word emails and explain whatever you have to in a very clear, simple manner.

Likewise, on your part, it is important to get to know the style of communication from the client. Many of them are unaware that, they too, need to explain their needs clearly to you. It is you job to pry it out of them by asking questions until you understand the tasks at hand fully.

It also helps to read every email completely and even multiple times if you have to. Nothing is worse than making mistakes and having to redo work due to something you missed in a message.

In the long run, good communication will inspire confidence from your clients and helps those projects go smoothly and more efficiently. More importantly, you virtually guarantee yourself repeat business in the process.

4. Not bothering with networking.

Many freelancers do not want to bother with networking their business since it is more or less viewed as asking complete strangers for work or, in other words, begging for jobs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, getting to know other freelancers, especially in your own field, have the following benefits:

  • You keep up with the latest going on in your industry
  • Sometimes collaborations on projects in your network can come around
  • Sometimes work gets referred to you
  • You can turn to your network for advice  (and even social stimulation)

Networking is not hard, either, especially with Twitter and Linkedin perfectly suited to freelancers. It just takes a little action on your part to say hi and meet others.

Take it from a once-mediocre freelancer

These ways of the mediocre freelancer weren’t observed from others but were all things I went through personally in my journey. The truth is we are all constantly learning and evolving in our careers and mistakes are a just part of the process. It helps to learn from those of others so I hope this can help you recognize what can hold you back so you it doesn’t happen to you.

If you have any stories of personal mediocrity in freelancing, I’d love to hear them. Send a comment below.

Is Boredom Hurting Your Freelance Career?

Posted: June 22nd, 2009

Photo by AliceNWondrlnd (Flickr)

Photo by AliceNWondrlnd (Flickr)

One of the greatest perks of being a freelancer, if not the best, is the ability to control the direction of our careers. After all, we are the CEO of our own business and it’s success and our happiness depends strictly on the decisions we make. Unfortunately, it is easily to lose sight of this as we become busy with our day to day work.  The tendency is to fall into a routine of working just to pay the bills without really enjoying what we do. In essence, the passion in our careers begins to wane.

If you ever had a regular job at the office, doesn’t this pattern sound familiar? In most jobs, this is fairly common since your work is controlled by a higher being, namely a supervisor, leaving you to do what someone else tells you. Many have left their jobs to become freelancers for this very reason. They see themselves as a slave to their job.

The irony for freelancers is that we tend to take for granted our own directional control and fall into a comfort zone where, if we have work and are busy, we should be happy with that. What results, though, is that the work eventually becomes monotonous if it doesn’t challenge our skills. A reality is that in order to be happy in our careers, we have to grow and evolve our skill set. A conscious decision has to made to do so, though.

This is where the dilemma arises. To evolve our career, we usually need to take time off our work to take classes or learn on our own. If we’re lucky we might be able to find a “learning” project where we can learn new skills while completing it. These opportunities don’t always knock our door, though. So usually the case is that the time we use to work and make money is sacrificed for learning new skills and opting to work is done.

So what is a freelancer to do?

Ask yourself what you want to be doing one year from now? Nearly every freelancer envisions themselves being the best in their field yet find themselves doing work that once challenged their skills, but now no longer. Think about what skills you want to aquire and what type of new challenging work you want to perform.

What do you need to do to get there?  There are a million ways to learn new skills, from taking classes to finding the experts in your field and seeking their advice  or even learning on your own with solo projects. Whatever it is, there is always a way.

Create a plan of action. There is always a path to greatness yet it takes commitment on your part to go down it. That commitment requires a plan set in stone and you to actually fulfill it. Skip a few hours of TV time week and take that class down at your local college or find one of the limitless amount of tutorials over the internet. Create your own projects utilizing these new skills for your portfolio.

To go about growing in our careers and eliminating our work boredom, we have to go that extra mile and work for it. The best freelancers go out there continually advance their skills and take on new challenges. There’s absolutely no reason, though, why you can’t be one of them.