Category Archives: freelance money

My Freelancing Motto

book and script editor for hire Joe Wallaceby Joe Wallace

My freelance philosophy is pretty simple. I don’t over-commit, but I do wake up at 5:30 every morning wondering how I’m going to get everything done. It all gets done, on time.

That sounds like I am a total workaholic, spending every waking moment of my day on projects, gigs, and with clients. But that’s not true. I spend plenty of time learning and attending classes. I also travel. But my workload is respectable and actually causes fear in the minds of less-busy people.

I’m happy with that.

The key is that I combine my interests with my work. I love collecting vinyl records, so I sell them online. This gives me a great excuse to buy more records. I love the internet, and a great deal of my work involves online research. I am addicted to cinema, recording, making music, and editing.

So I started working on independent film and video game projects in the Chicago area, doing location audio, sound effects capture, post-production and dialog editing.

To be fair, I have a background in these things. I didn’t start from scratch in media. But it’s not hard to learn what it takes and the world is full of independent film producers now. You can find a way in if you look hard enough. But having the persistence to stick out the lean times in that industry is the same as any other. A true freelancer finds a way to keep at it.

One of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is determine what kind of work you DO NOT want to be doing, and move away from it as soon as it’s financially possible. For some, that isn’t realistic for a variety of reasons. But you CAN work TOWARD doing that. It’s a financial tightrope, but as you become more skilled and confident in your work (and have results to show for it) you can make a determined move towards combining your interests and your work routine.

Joe Wallace is a freelance social media writer and audio professional based in Chicago. His recent projects include video game sound effects and music composition for Shedd Aquarium, location audio, dialog editing, and post-production for the web series Family Values, and location audio for the indie thriller Still. Wallace is set to release his own short independent film, 45 RPM, in early 2014.

Freelance Pricing Power

It may sound strange, but much of what I’ve learned about freelance pricing comes from interactions with the construction trade during 20 years of homeownership. I’m a committed do-it-myselfer for as many projects as I can, but I recognize my limits. Over the course of building a pool (which I’ll never do again), building a deck, remodeling a kitchen, and myriad high-level electrical and plumbing issues, I’ve learned a lot…often the hard way. Here are a couple of the key lessons:

How bad do you want it? When you have a problem with plumbing or heating/air conditioning, for example, you are at the contractor’s mercy — failing to get the problem fixed could lead to discomfort, more expenses, or even a catastrophe. What’s the freelance equivalent? Someone with a project with a tight deadline. Your freelance pricing structure should always command a premium when it’s an emergency.

Fast, cheap, or high quality — pick any two. This phrase is the iron rule of construction, because you can’t have something that does all three. The freelance pricing equivalent is precisely the same; you need to get a sense from the client which are their two priorities, and estimate and set a timeline accordingly. It can be an effective negotiating tool, as well, because it enables you to adjust your pitch if the client decides they want to prioritize one of the other variables.

It’s worth having someone reliable. I have rarely picked the low bid on any given construction job, unless I really thought that it could be done for that price without unpleasant surprises. What’s the freelance equivalent? Persuading your potential client that your high-quality services are worth more than they’ve paid in the past, because you’ll get it done well and on time.

By Jake Poinier, the owner of Boomvang Creative Group and blogger at Dr. Freelance.

Simultaneously Penniless and Rich

By Jake Poinier
get rich writingIn response to my previous post, “Taxes Don’t Lie,” V.R. writes: “Won’t disagree with you on importance of metrics and measurements for the self-employed. As a freelancer myself, I had to go back and read the blog twice to make sure the entire context of your message could be categorized as ‘financial’ success. Of course it was and I calmed down. Had you attempted to speak to a ‘success’ in general, I was going to challenge your notion that the only measurements that matter are income, expenses and savings. I believe a lot of freelancers measure their success more unconventionally; perhaps by hours spent at work (or rather hours spent with their family), number of press mentions, awards and accolades, mental and physical health, number of countries visited — you know, the things that causes one to transition from corporate life to freelance life. The freelancers I know are simultaneously penniless and rich!”

V.R. wanted me to ensure that he got credit for that phrase — “simultaneously penniless and rich” — so credit is duly noted. (As it happens, it fits in with my philosophy that you should Write Like You’re Rich.) More important, his point expands nicely on what I was getting at: Measuring the financial health of your freelance business can be accomplished easily at tax time, but it’s by no means a comprehensive measurement of your overall success.

All that said, measuring success is highly individual — including those items V.R. enumerated above, and many others. The metric changes over the course of your freelance career — I don’t have the same goals as I did in 1999. Back then, it was pure survival, as the “penniless” part of the equation was all too true. Today, while I might be “rich” by third-world standards, my true wealth comes from the people, experiences and opportunities from freelancing that simply wouldn’t exist if I were still in the 9-5 corporate grind.

In the comments, what’s your favorite non-financial measure of success?

Jake Poinier can be found at or @DrFreelance.

Taxes Don’t Lie

freelance taxesBy Jake Poinier

In my last corporate job, I had a boss who was fond of saying “What gets measured gets done.” Mind you, it didn’t always make our editorial staff happy. (If you can show me something that makes a graphic designer crazier than being measured with metrics like “page output per day,” I’d be stunned.)

As a freelancer, I try to avoid such micro measures, not just because they make me crazy, but because I find them unhelpful. I don’t really care how many words I write per hour or day, because it simply doesn’t matter. At the risk of sounding crass, the only measurement that does is income, expenses, and savings. And since I spent much of last weekend doing my taxes, well, I have a pretty good idea of what went on last year, and even some insight into the first quarter of 2013.

Your taxes don’t lie. And as much as I hate doing taxes, they’re as good a reality check as a freelancer can get, and that’s an important part of being self-employed. Here’s what I learned this year:

  • Revenues were an improvement over the previous year, and expenses were about the same. Yippee!
  • Starting up a Solo 401(k) saved me a significant amount on taxes, and gets me that much closer to retirement. Double yippee!
  • I had one client that was a four-figure income stream in 2011 that dried up entirely in 2012 because they hired a full-time person who now does all their writing. Same thing happened with one of my clients that was great for the first half of the year, then my main contact left. Losing a client stinks.
  • I did work for 19 different entities, most of which sent me a 1099, meaning they’d spent $600+. Eight of them represented 75% of my total income, and no single client was more than 25%, so I feel comfortable with my diversification.

I know Catherine is a believer in hiring a CPA to do your taxes — and I do have a CPA double-check my work. But, call me a masochist, there’s a value to getting into the numbers yourself that can’t be measured.

When he’s not doing his taxes, Jake Poinier can be found at or @DrFreelance.

Photo by Jakub Krechowicz

A Totally Non-Scientific Look at Books On Freelancing

book and script editor for hire Joe Wallaceby Joe Wallace

I was browsing through today looking at all the books on Freelancing, wondering what the market for “teaching people about freelance work” is like these days. Full disclosure–I have an Amazon Affiliates account and the links here take you to Amazon where if you click and buy, I do get a wee cut for referring you.

That said, it was interesting to see all the different titles. Some looked good, some books seem out of date, and some seem like snake oil. I won’t really go into which I thought was which…but I do urge careful attention to titles, implied promises, and caution.

Is it really possible to take some of these book titles at face value? “How To Earn A Bizillion Dollars Freelance Writing In 90 Seconds Or Less” and similar titles just seem off-putting to me. The exception to this rule is a book titled Break into The World Of Freelance Writing: How I Went From $0 to $1,100 In One Month With No Experience.

Written by Megan Kutchman, this book (which I have never read) has a title I very much respect.

Kutchman doesn’t make ANY promises with this title. I love “How I Did It” books, and the title of this says it all. She doesn’t say YOU will do this, and doesn’t say “And YOU CAN TOO” in her title. This book has earned my respect…

One book I won’t mention by name DOES imply a promise in its title, basically saying YOU can earn THOUSANDS per month–not as a freelance writer, but as a professional BLOGGER. This is a bit more misleading. Yes, you may be able to do this. Hell, I myself do this. But it’s getting into sticky territory to write a how-to book about something as nebulous as pro blogging unless your advice itself is fairly nebulous. (Update: I welcome anyone to contradict that statement…as I like to say, “Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll believe you”. But please be sure to tell me WHY I’m wrong!)

Again, full disclosure–I HAVE NOT read that book, either. But I’m talking about first impression factors here and “should I buy this book” things. If it were my money on the line, I would gravitate more toward “how I did it” titles and farther away from “YOU can earn ZILLIONS By Freelance Whatevering”.

In the end, it’s your call…but setting and getting realistic expectations are important. Sure, marketing hype sells copies, but at the end of the day if you don’t sell some steak with your sizzle, you’ve failed as a writer. Some people are better marketers than writers, a fact of life in this biz…so let the reader beware.

–Joe Wallace

Ethics in Freelancing

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

Once I had a client that needed some writing done on financial topics which included those very unsavory payday loans you might keep seeing advertised late at night in infomercial-land.

I was young in my freelance career and hadn’t really experienced much in the way of ethical dilemmas in my work, so in the end, I tried to give this client what was asked for but still keep within a certain ethical boundary. I wound up writing about these payday loans, describing what they are and how they work, but also encouraging the reader to carefully read contracts and especially the fine print.

I wrote that nobody should ever sign a contract they don’t fully understand, and a few other reasonable cautions. I felt like I should probably never take on that kind of work ever again, but at least I wrote something that could not be disguised as snake oil.

But I was wrong. I learned later, confidentially, that my work had been turned over to another person who took out all of my reasonable words and basically distilled my work INTO snake oil. The client WANTED snake oil and wasn’t too happy that they got “read the fine print, too”.

That was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Ethical freelancing is important. It’s not up to me to tell YOU what YOUR ethics should be, but I can say from experience that when the little voice in your head starts bugging you with nagging urges to ditch a certain project because it’s making you feel crawly, listening is a very good idea. Even if it means losing that week’s income. In the long run, whatever you have to do to make up for that lost cash is worth it.

If there’s any advice to be gained from my experience, it’s that–don’t ignore your instincts, they’re there for a reason.