Archive for the ‘Self-employed’ Category

The biggest freelancing “do.”

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

[photo credit]

June marked the two-year anniversary of my freelance writing work. Not of my official declaration of freelancerness, but of the first time I agreed to write on a contractual basis for a legitimate company hiring my services.

In these two years of freelancing, I’ve been both painfully idle and gainfully employed. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve had  successes. So, although this isn’t a “how to” blog in the least, I’ve decided to put together a list of some of the most important steps to success I’ve picked up along the way.

#1 Biggest DO: Be dependable.

For us anxious types, maybe this comes naturally — after all, the fear of disappointing someone far outweighs the inclination to skirt by on the bare minimum. But I will say this has been the number one reason I’ve stayed employed, and it’s been the most consistently offered praise from my clients and subcontracting higher-ups. Being dependable basically means doing work well and finishing it on time, although there are other subtleties. To be dependable, you need to start with the following three steps:

Stay organized

Your schedule, calendar, task list, inbox and billings resources HAVE to be kept up. I’ve mentioned the apps I use most — Sparrow, iCal synced with my Google Calendar, Wunderlist and Billings — in other posts. Here are a couple notes on my methods:

  • • I essentially use my own sort of inbox zero method to control my emails. Before I label and archive messages, I add tasks to Wunderlist and due dates to iCal, and I keep a list of notes and items to revisit. I also don’t archive anything that needs a response until I send that response. I star emails that pertain to current projects, and unstar them when the projects are complete. My inbox stays clear and I never worry about losing little details or ignoring peoples’ correspondence.
  • • Time-tracking and invoicing are way too important to mess up. Your clients should never have to worry about you under-billing and asking for more money, or over-billing, which makes you look dishonest. Pay for an app that does what you need it to.  Billings works perfectly for me because it creates and organizes time slips efficiently, has professional-looking and intuitive invoicing, and tracks all my accounts in a way that makes sense.

Communicate clearly

Sometimes this feels like over-communicating, but it’s better to be a little tedious than to be misunderstood. Especially when a deadline is at stake. A few tips to get you started:

  • • CC whenever it might be necessary to keep people in the loop (and don’t worry about clogging their inboxes — that’s their issue).
  • • Send “heads up” and “FYI” messages if you know something is coming up that might affect your client’s schedule — especially if you’re asking for something.
  • • Explain your actions (“I tracked my changes so you can distinguish between the first and second round of revisions”).
  • • Repeat details from past correspondence to give context.

Don’t assume everyone else is organized just because you are. Make it easy for your clients to figure out what’s going on without referencing past messages or files.

I recently got props from a client because I asked him to confirm his receipt of a very important email, since my phone’s email app wasn’t showing it in my sent folder. It had sent (whew), but that simple follow-through was followed up with an “I really, really appreciate the way you take care of business.” Now, I might just have a very affirming client… but either way, being conscientious never hurts.

Be resourceful

Sometimes your client is your best resource. Other times, it’s Google. Learn to distinguish between the questions you need to ask and those you can find the answers to. And give yourself plenty of time, in case your research doesn’t pan out — if you are going to ask questions, it’s better to do it early on in the process so you don’t look like you procrastinated.

Find out who your resources are at the beginning of a project, and ask if it’s OK to contact them directly. It will be a lot less likely that your emails and phone calls will get lost in someone else’s shuffle. Basically, don’t be presumptuous, but do take charge and solve problems.

Have questions or anything to add to this list? Let me know!



No results.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The strangest thing happened today. I submitted a story around 10:30. And I signed on to check my student emails and grading list. All of the items are dated 4/24 or later, which means it has not been five business days and I don’t have to grade anything until tomorrow. I already put together my month’s-end invoices. I am waiting on a couple assignments. This means that for the first time in three months…

I don’t have to do anything.

Tasks Today: No Results.

Yeah, there’s plenty to do: get ahead on grading, wash those kitchen towels I forgot to throw in the laundry last week, work out, put away some clothes or take out the gross amounts of recycling piled next to the dining table. But I get to decide. It’s blowing my mind a little.

You see, I spent February and March and a couple weeks in April working on a really consuming, pretty monotonous project. From taking on that project until now, I worked anywhere from 8 to 16-hour days as a full-time writer and half-time teacher with some more freelance work on the side. I had to submit the same word count every day regardless of topic, required research or other factors, whether it took me half the day or I worked well past my bedtime. That means work sucked up weekends, I ate like a college boy, and I wore the same sweatpants for 5 days straight. I didn’t really read for fun (with the exception of the Hunger Games on our anniversary trip), didn’t play piano, didn’t go to the gym or really even move much. Didn’t clean. Didn’t shower. You get the picture.

Finally I had enough. Providentially, this enough-having aligned with an opportunity to contract with a great writing agency in Portland more or less full time (once transition time is over). I have no idea what this will actually look like or what the summer will hold, but I’m so excited.

Two weeks ago, I gave my notice for the writing project.

On Friday, I submitted my resignation for my half-time teaching position so that I’ll be able to focus on writing completely once June is over.

Is this really happening? Eight months after I bought business cards and started a website, I am well on my way to meeting my goals.

I was so, so afraid it would never happen. (And truthfully, I’m still afraid of what’s to come.)

I’m learning—slowly, maybe—to put away fear and walk boldly.



Thursday, April 19th, 2012

What I wish I were doing right now….
[photo credit]

I always do this….Yes, I’m referring to the fact that it’s been a MONTH since my last post. :) But for once, I don’t feel guilty about it. That’s because I have been working harder than I have since my master’s program to accomplish a whole lot in a very small amount of time, and I just haven’t had the energy to let you in on it.

People who talk about the feast and famine of freelancing are not lying. Turning down work seems ludicrous when the presence of a next project is never guaranteed, so self-employed people tend to sit around for days and then go on crazy late night and early morning binges. I have never been dependent on coffee, but I’m seriously considering going there after this morning.  Not only did I get up at 5:45 and pump out two of today’s articles before 10 while also doing a few dishes and making breakfast for Eric and two breakfasts for myself (who knew mornings could last this long??), but I also decided I should actually blog. Slow down, coffee. You’re too good.

Lest I deceive you into thinking I’m always this productive, yesterday I wrote a total of two articles, along with only a couple other very small projects. My mind wasn’t present, my body was lethargic, and my research was hard.

Thankfully, I have a slight break on the horizon: tomorrow I’m taking a trip to Spokane to visit my family with my best friend, and the job that’s currently taking up the majority of my time ends this week.

To tell you the truth, I just have not felt like blogging. My creative energy has been stamped out by some very tedious writing projects, and the last thing I want to do at the end of the day (which, many nights, hasn’t been till 10 or later) is continue to stare at a computer screen. Instead, when I do take breaks, I’ve been enjoying getting out in the nicer weather we’ve been having, interacting with church friends at a couple events, and sitting on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother with Eric. It’s the little things…

I’m extremely excited for what’s ahead, though, and I hope to begin posting a little more regularly about my process. I’ve said shockingly little about what freelancing is truly like now that I’m actually doing it consistently.

Rambling post over. See you next week!


I was about to…

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

gripe about being sick

or complain about the frustrating company I’m doing a project for

or make excuses for why I have not blogged in a while

(woe is me)


It hit me this morning.

You know how sometimes you work so hard for something, but then when it finally comes it’s already the new normal? How you can anticipate a dream for so long and have it materialize so gradually that when it happens it’s nearly routine? How gratitude can escape so quickly in the midst of all this just because the new doesn’t meet fairytale expectations every single second?

Well, friends.

I am writing.

From my home.

Calling my shots (mostly).

Cuddling with my cat.

Making a full time income (for this month).

And that is not lost on me today.


Five reasons you shouldn’t become a teacher

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

classroom[photo credit: Todd Binger]

Here’s a little change of pace for you all.  I suppose I’ve whined enough recently. If this post looks like whining, it really is not.  It is a well intended warning and cautionary tale that I don’t think is told often enough. Mostly.

Teachers change careers at a stunning rate—something like half of all teachers stop teaching within the first five years.  Considering that most new teachers in 2011 and 12 have master’s degrees, that’s a lot of wasted education and money for those individuals, and awfully bad news for education as a whole.

I went into teaching in 2009 with the idea that because I love English and loved working in the youth group, I would be able to cut it as a teacher. Two student teaching positions, lots of job searching, plenty of subbing, a half time job in a junior high and a (current) position as an adjunct teacher later, I realize how much more seriously I should have taken my decision.

The truth is I could just as easily make a “five reasons you should become a teacher” list. I could even make that “fifty reasons.” The point is not that teaching is a bad or unworthy profession (quite the contrary) but that young people who think they want to be teachers are not told often enough the reasons why they may need to consider their options more carefully.

Without further ado…

5 reasons you should not become a teacher.

1. You are going into teaching because you don’t know what else to do with your degree.

Really, seriously, worst reason ever.  And don’t you be tricked like I was into thinking that this idea just hadn’t dawned on you until graduation, and how silly of you, of course you were meant to be a teacher!  Some people do reach this realization and live happily ever after with it.  Just proceed cautiously—the epiphany will not be enough to sustain you. And you will figure out something to do with your English or history or sociology degree.  Chances are, it’s what you love and are afraid to do.

2. You just really like teaching.

Here’s a tricky one.  You absolutely must love teaching to be a teacher. But you cannot only love teaching. Because the reality is, you will spend a huge amount of time not teaching but writing (and losing) important lists, making copies, shuffling papers, holding your bladder, attending meetings, calling and emailing parents, repeating yourself to people (kids and adults) who didn’t listen the first time, etc. Teaching is filled with red tape, bureaucrats, and people who like to tell you how to do your job. Students often control their parents, who control school funding and therefore administrators, who control teachers.  Sometimes students think they just straight up control teachers without all those middle men. It is what it is. Yes, there are some exceptions—but mostly there are just exceptional, superhuman teachers who somehow deal with it all and continue to love teaching.  Make sure you’re one of those. If you are, God bless you.

3. You don’t know what it’s really like to work with students.

This does not mean you don’t like kids, or that you haven’t spent time around them.  Enjoying children (particularly older children and teenagers, who really are just fun to hang out with sometimes) is not the same thing as enjoying working with children. Until you have spent enough time volunteering in a classroom to know what working with children is really like, do not proceed.  I found out the hard way that mentoring kids in small groups in church is not even remotely like being in charge of a student’s grades, the way she occupies her time for an hour a day, and making sure she’s not being disruptive. You will be the uncool adult in charge. The disciplinarian. The bad guy who calls home. Which brings me to…

4. You care if people like you.

Teaching, like parenting, is best accomplished when you care deeply about your reputation as an educator, yet don’t give two shakes what people think about you. (Sound impossible?…No comment.) To be a decent teacher, you need a combination of teachability and unshakeable confidence. Teachability because you never will know everything. Unshakeable confidence because everyone and their mother (literally) will tell you you don’t know anything. You must be so sure of your calling that you are willing to juggle being disliked by kids, parents, other teachers, and administrators all at once.  I promise all four will not like you at the same time.

5. You aren’t sure you are sure you are sure you want to be one.

As I mentioned above, teaching is a calling. Not one, generally, that you decide upon last minute. Not one influenced by not knowing what else to do. Not one that sneaks up on you.  Many of the most talented teachers I know have always known they want to be teachers. Some decide later in their educations, but have gotten their feet wet somehow in teaching (usually through volunteering or a class in undergrad) and can say with certainty that they are prepared to experience the joys of teaching amidst the struggles.

In conclusion, I have learned that I am just not as cut out to be a teacher as I thought I was. I’m not a bad teacher, and my “success” has made this realization even more confusing. Truthfully, it’s been a painful (and expensive) realization, and since coming to it, every time I talk to teacher friends I see how obvious their passion is and how obviously lacking it is in me. The way they are able to deal with the things that bother me with so much more grace and perspective, because the end goal, the absolute joy of teaching, is their single passion.  And they find it, against all odds.

I hope you find that passion in yourself, whether or not you end up becoming a teacher.

Meanwhile, I’ll panic about lesson plans and get excited to write about medical software. I can’t explain it, either.

Any questions or comments on what I’ve addressed here can be directed to my email (contact page) or left in comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.