Tag Archives: freelancing

In Praise of Failure

By Jake Poinier

If I’m honest with myself—and, yeah, that can be tough to do—I recognize that I have learned as much or more about the freelancing business from failure as I have from success. I’ve been at it for 14 years now, and have enough distance from some of my most major screw-ups to laugh about them. For others, the sting is a little too fresh and harsh.

You’ve got your obvious mistakes, when you bid too low, or let the client run you ragged with scope creep, or simply took on a job that looked boring…and it turned out to be worse than you imagined. But the main thing is to not make the same mistake twice. That’s not failure, it’s foolishness.

There’s another aspect of failure, though, that’s a little more subtle and a lot more under your control. In order to improve your freelance business, you need to try things that you haven’t done before. Maybe it’s experimenting with different industries and media types, or trying out different marketing techniques. (If you want a ton of low-cost, high-potential-upside failures, cold-calling is a great exercise.)

The bottom line is that we may expect perfection from our actual creative work as freelancers—perfect grammar, punctuation, turns of phrase—but the sales/marketing/management aspect of the business doesn’t follow the same rules. If your query letters aren’t working, perhaps it’s not that the story ideas are bad. If new clients are haggling on price, it’s not necessarily because your rates are too high. If you’re having trouble finding prospects, it could be simply that you need to take a different approach.

Normally, you think of January as the time to try new things, but I’m telling you right here, that there are freelance clients out there now, coming into the pre-holiday rush, who can be grabbed with just the right pitch or approach—and it might be different from your current methodology. Sure, you might fail. But what would happen if you succeed?

Jake Poinier recently published his first book about freelancing, The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid. He runs Phoenix-based Boomvang Creative Group and blogs under the pseudonym Dr. Freelance.

Books about Freelancing

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorby Joe Wallace

There seem to be quite a lot of books about freelancing. A quick look at Amazon.com shows a number of titles, some of which seem dangerously close to being outdated judging by dates alone. Why do I say that? Because things change so much in this electronic age that the book in 2008 or even 2010 that seemed relevant and on-target is quickly dated by the types of social media platforms and fads used to network, the always-shifting challenges when it comes to the quality and availability of freelance work, etc.

There are two basic types of books on the freelance lifestyle. One I personally have no use for–the ones with titles like, “How To Make Bizillions of Dollars In Freelancing” and “90 Days to Quitting Your Day Job Forever And Ever Amen Because You’re a Hotshot Freelancer Now”. Sure, saying there are only two basic types is a massive generalization, but a quick look at the books out there does tend to make one believe that generalization has legs. Or at least is growing them rather quickly.

The OTHER type of book about freelancing is far more valuable. These are the books with titles like, “How I Went From Being a Day Job Zombie To A Full Time Freelance Superstar”.

See the difference? One type of book is stopping just short of claiming it can help turn YOU into a full time freelancer in 90 days or less (or whatever), the other type is explaining “How I Did It”.

The value in the second type of book? There are NO PROMISES IMPLIED. Unlike the first kind where there’s the implication that if you just follow the magic formula, success can be yours. These selling points are fairly misleading even when they don’t set out to be; “How I Did It” is far more valuable, honest, and worthy of your hard-earned book buying dollars.

Sure, many will disagree. Some will tell me not to judge a book by its cover. But I’m NOT, I’m judging it by the title and any promises implied therein. Maybe it’s even more shallow to judge a book by its title…but I believe in the old idea about truth in advertising. And if your book’s title isn’t “ad one” for your work, what is?

–Joe Wallace

Joe Wallace sells vinyl on the internet, writes articles about personal finance and veterans issues, edits book manuscripts, and is an audio professional specializing in field recording, post production, and sound effects. Contact him: jwallace@freelance-zone.com

Today’s Writing Tip: When to Use Can or Could


It’s easy to determine when to use the word can and when to use could. Can indicates ability. I can type a letter. I can run 10 miles. I can write a fan letter to Jon Hamm, although he probably won’t answer. Can denotes certainty. Could denotes uncertainty.

I could go to visit my sick neighbor if I don’t have to work on Thursday night. My neighbor could die from pneumonia if her immune system is not strong. My son’ s car could last another five years if he’s lucky. The most significant word in the last three sentences is “if” because the first part of every sentence depends on another factor.

It could happen, but maybe it won’t. Whereas when we use can, something will generally happen or at least the person has the ability to make it happen.

Parents used to teach children table manners by differentiating between the words can and may. A child would say, “Can I go now?” after dessert, and the parent would retort, “May I go.” Because clearly the child can go by simply getting up and leaving the table. Using may is a way of asking permission.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and two short stories, and is also a manuscript editor. Find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/.


Freelancing, Working From Home, Yahoo

Joe-Wallace-Vinyl-Collector-and-authorby Joe Wallace

In recent years it seemed like everyone was going freelance, working from home, doing the thirty-second commute. But in more recent times it looks like the rubber band, so to speak, of freelancing is snapping back the other way. Consider the latest news about Yahoo and its new CEO’s policy bringing in work-from-home staff back into the office. Is this a trend you can watch spreading to other companies who suddenly decide that working in your jammies is bad for productivity?

Not yet. But keep watching those headlines and you might see plenty of “me too” stories about others, inspired by Yahoo, who want to yank their employees back into the land of the cubicles.

This is good news, and bad news for freelancers. The good news is that the reality check has finally arrived. It’s not, as many websites want us all to believe, EASY to be a freelancer or work-from-home guru. It takes discipline, dedication, and the ability to resist all of your regular time-waster distractions you indulge in when you’re not sitting in front of the computer. It also requires more transparency and accountability to make things work properly.

Some just don’t have what it takes, some are total overacheivers. But it’s not EASY, whatever the outcome.

The good news is that these kinds of reality checks are GREAT for our freelance businesses–those who continue to thrive as freelancers have an additional–and totally subjective–air of achievement. We still succeed where Yahoo “failed”. We are trustworthy enough to remain in our jammies, keep turning things in on time and on target. We rule.

But with that it’s realistic to expect a higher standard. If you can do what Yahoo wouldn’t dream of letting you do (now), working from home, it’s likely that expectations will increase. After all, there MUST be a reason why Yahoo’s CEO is so bent on yanking employees back under the glare of the florescent bulbs, right? RIGHT? Don’t be surprised if the bar gets raised in the wake of all this…even if it’s just a little bit.

But the pros need not worry–we’re used to this sort of thing. Occupational hazards include a wee bit of jealousy that we’re still wearing what we went to bed in when we deliver that product. It’s only right to expect to be scrutinized a bit closer when things like the Yahoo story pop up. The mantra? It all goes back to Gloria Gaynor; “I Will Survive”.

Freelance Multitasking From Hell: The Blog?

Joe-Wallace-Vinyl-Collector-and-authorby Joe Wallace

Sigrid Macdonald’s post this week about multi-tasking resonated with me in a major way because I’m about to dive headfirst into multi-tasking hell. Earlier this year I went round and round with a decision about going back to school and finally decided to take the plunge and dive into the Recording Arts For Film program at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Academy in Chicago.

The TFA program features an immersive, hands-on approach, and it’s not your traditional pick-your-classes-and-attend-when-it’s-convenient schoolhouse. Instead, your schedule is chosen for you based on your career choices and you put in an eight hour day. Which necessitates me having a night shift for freelance work.

Yes, I decided to stay freelance with my current work load, keeping all my current clients, shifting my work to the evening hours instead of first thing in the morning the way I’m used to working.

I won’t accept any new projects after Saturday, when the first official TFA event happens (a student/faculty mixer, but official nonetheless), but my current clients will never notice any difference in deliverables, quality of work, etc.

How do I know? Well, it’s simple really–I’ve done all this before. AND worked a second job on top of it. None of my clients ever realized I was doing anything BUT working on their projects. And that is the way I like it. It’s as it should be.

All this is terribly self-promotional–or at least it sounds it–but there’s a reason why I share any/all of this. I’m going to be blogging about the whole experience here as it unfolds. I may have done this before, but there are always new lessons to be learned, especially when you’re multi-tasking at such a type-A workaholic level. It can be done. In my case, it WILL be done…and I’ll write about it all here on top of everything else.

A freelancer’s most important asset is his or her flexibility. If you can’t bend with the circumstances, your skills are pretty much useless in terms of earning a decent living. You might be able to scrape by with a rigid, uncompromising approach to your work, but you’ll never get off the treadmill unless you can master the Judo of freelancing.

And that’s what I intend to explore once again in my experiences at TFA, in addition to all the film audio work I’ll be doing and learning. Foley, field recording, sound effects, game audio design, dialogue looping, post-production…a whole universe of sound and plenty of opportunities for a freelancer to move ahead in a different–but related–field.

In fact, even before classes start, I’ve found some interesting freelance fodder in the textbooks. One entire textbook is a guide for audio engineers on how to carve out a career as a self-employed person. Substitute your discipline of choice–writing, editing, marketing, coding–and this book still resonates. I’ll be running a review of it in the near future, but for now, suffice it to say that my journey begins here, on the threshold. I’m happy to bring you along for the ride.

Joe Wallace is a writer, editor, multi-media visual artist, and now a student again. He may be the only one in his classes outside the faculty who remembers Gerald Ford as President, but at least he still has most of his knee cartilage. For now. Wallace blogs about multi-media production and indie film making at www.now-sound.com and vinyl records at www.turntabling.net.

Becoming A Writer: Should You Quit Your Day Job?

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

I have been asked this question many, many times and my answer has not changed. Aspiring writers often want to know if they should quit their day job and go full time into freelance writing.

My answer is no. A solid no.

Freelance writing is an extraordinarily difficult career field. It’s tough for even those of us who have been doing it full-time for a long while. And it’s one field that ‘taking the plunge” so to speak, is not advisable.

But let me be more specific…there is a why to this. Here are my top four reasons to transition slowly to the freelance lifestyle…

  • The money is unreliable. You are depending on a variety of clients to pay you, which means that checks may or may not be on time. Or, they may not pay you at all. Do you want to bet your rent (or worse yet, house payment) on that? Once you are more established you’ll get a better feel for how to budget like this–but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t easy. Going from a regular paycheck to this type of income is an adjustment.
  • You need regular clients. Despite the idea of freelancing for all different kinds of publications, a lot of us freelancers have a cache of regular clients that we work for to pay the bills. This takes time to build.
  • Habit changes are hard. Are you used to working for yourself? Do you have the discipline to get up and get to it in the morning…or are you more likely to watch some television? How are you going to do errands like banking and grocery shopping, but still make sure you are on deadline? Give yourself some wiggle room and build toward all of this slowly.
  • Having a savings helps. If you can sock away a few bucks to help get you through the lean times at the beginning of a freelance career (or as an emergency fund for times when a client is late paying), your life will feel a lot better.

For you seasoned freelancers out there–do you have anything to add to this list? Feel free to share!