All posts by Jake Poinier

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.

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

Expanding Your Freelance Network

freelance networkCatherine’s post yesterday, “Helping Another Writer = Good Karma,” was a timely one for me, and I wanted to expand on her thoughts—because it’s even better for your freelance business if you expand your freelance network beyond just referrals for other writers.

Some examples from the past week:

  • I received a referral from a client for a PR project that was really outside my expertise, so I sub-referred it to someone I know who’s capable of pulling it off.
  • I referred a long-time graphic designer colleague, who’s recently gone freelance, to a client who needs some high-end talent.
  • And while editing a white paper for another client, it occurred to me that another client (a professional speaker and author) might find the content useful for her audiences, so I introduced and connected them, too.

None of these will result in direct business for me, and I don’t know for sure if it will mean additional business for any of the people I’ve introduced to each other. And as Catherine pointed out, my motives for doing it were a blend of unselfish and selfish. Sure, I might help some folks generate some additional revenue. Sure, if my matchmaking works, I’m going to cultivate some good karma with clients and potential clients as well as fellow freelancers…and maybe some additional business or referrals will come back my way down the road. There’s nothing wrong with that, eh?

From a bigger-picture perspective, I think we often fool ourselves into thinking that participation in social media means we’re being social. It doesn’t. Real business means picking up the phone or sending a thoughtful email, personally connecting partners, clients, colleagues or friends in ways that improve their own networks and results.

In the comments, share your matchmaking tips or anecdotes. What do you do to expand your freelance network and influence?

Jake Poinier dispenses freelancing advice at and runs a Phoenix-based editorial services firm, Boomvang Creative Group.

Photo courtesy of Nate Brelsford.

Is It Really a Vacation If You Work?

My wife and I recently took our summer vacation — a 12-day trip that took us to Massachusetts, where we enjoyed the company of family and lobster; Las Vegas, where I can’t tell you most of what we did, because that stays in Vegas; and San Diego, where we chartered a sailboat and alternated between utter peace and quasi-mayhem in one of the world’s busiest harbors.

Now, here’s the confession: We both had our laptops and iPhones (mine equipped with a mobile hotspot) in tow, and I had my digital recorder and earbud microphone.

It’s a shame to ruin your time off with work, isn’t it? Doesn’t that just defeat the whole principle of getting away and decompressing?

Meh, not really. There have been times where we’ve taken completely unplugged vacations; this time, it wasn’t really an option. My wife is finishing up her master’s degree and had assignments due. I had received a plum writing assignment two days before we left from one of my longest-term and most lucrative clients. (I didn’t even tell her I was going on vacation.) I’d need to do the interviews, though not the actual writing, from the road. At the risk of sounding like a professional athlete, “It is what it is.”

And at the risk of sounding like a politician, make no mistake: We didn’t work the whole time. Indeed, we compartmentalized our work bouts to as short time frames as possible — and were 100% in vacation mode every other waking minute. And that, right there, is the key.

Yes, it required a mind-shift and significant self-discipline to leave a hot craps table to interview a CPA about tedious multistate tax issues and the rapid increase in IRS audits. In an ideal world, I surely wouldn’t check emails from a secluded little harbor where we were the only ones anchored.

But at the risk of sounding like a goon in a mafia movie: It’s just business.

Jake Poinier is the owner of Boomvang Creative Group, a Phoenix-based editorial services firm, and writes an advice column for freelancers at