Managing the Freelance Life

by John Thompson

The Editors Kingston twig met on Wednesday, January 9, for a sprawling discussion about the challenges of working as a freelancer. Subjects included the fear of saying no to work, the challenges of working from home while maintaining some semblance of sanity, managing erratic cash flow, and dealing with difficult clients.

Brenda Leifso and Stephanie Stone, two of the twig’s co-coordinators, helped lead the discussion. (Their partner in crime, Elizabeth d’Anjou, was unable to attend due to car troubles.) Also in attendance were Mickeelie Webb, Wade Guyitt, Bob MacKenzie, Sonia Gluppe and myself.

Fear of Missing Out

More experienced hands, like Bob and Stephanie, spoke about how they’ve reached points in their careers where they’re no longer afraid to say no to contracts.

Stephanie said that up until recently she felt pressure to take any work that came her way, even if it involved working nights and weekends to get it done. Lately she’s tried sometimes pushing back a bit to buy additional time and has found the client’s often OK with it.

Bob’s at a place where he only accepts work that he finds interesting. Depending on how well he’s devised his estimate, he may or may not make money, but he said he’s at least sure he’s having fun.

Keeping the Worlds from Colliding

Bob spoke about how he used to leave the house, go for a walk and return when it was time to work, to enter a different “psychological space.”

Wade works at a coworking space in Kingston, the Sanctuary, where he rents a desk for a bit more than $200 a month. He reckons that expense pays for itself with increased productivity: he’s less inclined to goof off if he’s surrounded by others keeping busy. He recommends others consider trying it if they’re struggling with working from home. (It’s one of several coworking spaces in Kingston.)

On the subject of productivity, Sonia had wondered if anyone adhered to the Pomodoro Technique—a productivity technique of breaking work up into 25-minute chunks, each followed by a short break. It’s big with software developers. I was the only one to have given it a (fleeting, half-hearted) go, and found it didn’t jive with my own work rhythms, but if you struggle with staying on task rather than on Facebook at your computer it could be worth a try.

I brought up the issue that it’s hard to read tone when dealing with colleagues or clients remotely via email and social media tools. (I’ve found it helps a lot to have some face-to-face dealings with someone to get a read of character.) Wade added that interpreting tone can be especially challenging when working with people whose first language is not English.

Getting Paid

Sonia expressed frustration with having to wait months to be paid. Bob said he’s taken a cue from the construction industry, and structures his work contracts so that he’s paid a chunk of what he’s owed in the beginning, middle, and end of the work.

Some of us use online apps to help track our hours worked. Others use Excel spreadsheets. Bob draws up a docket by hand and bills clients by the quarter-hour, like a lawyer.

To stay on top of bookkeeping and invoices, Brenda carves out part of one day of the week to deal with bookkeeping matters: Financial Friday.

For producing invoices, Mickeelie recommended Wave, a free online app that tracks invoicing, receipts and accounting, which syncs with your bank account.

The Art of Estimating and Dealing with Difficult Clients

Wade mentioned the challenge of giving an accurate quote for work, when you may not have been given much material to base an estimate on. As well, in the excitement of landing a new client, the question of whether you’ll be earning a decent rate can seem like a distance concern. As he said, “When they offer you the job, emotionally you just got paid. But you still have to do all the work.”

Mickeelie described the challenges involved with working for one difficult client who kept moving the goal posts for her editing responsibilities. As a consequence, the contract has taken much longer than expected, without any accompanying pay increase.

Mickeelie recommended the members-only private Facebook page for Editors Canada as a place to sometimes find job postings—or to vent about disreputable clients. (Note: this page is only open to Editors Canada members.)

Stephanie recalled one client that owed her $6,000 when the business shuttered. She eventually got paid, but it took two years.

She also admits she still struggles with coming up with accurate estimates; she advises, “Don’t forget there will be a second read.”

Announcements from National

The national conference will be held in Halifax, June 7 to 9! Registration opening soon.

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Coming Up February 13: Indexing

Join us in February as we hear about adventures in Indexing from twig member Nancy Wills. Join us at the usual place and time:

Free for Editors Canada members; $5 fee for visitors (first meeting free).