freelance

How Getting a Custom Freelancer Contract Can Help you Save or Earn Money

 

Freelancers Contract

Illustration by Viet Vu

By Tristan Blaine, Esq.

Contracts. The word stirs up such excitement, doesn’t it? But seriously, contracts can actually be sort of fun when you think about all the possible uses for them and you realize how empowering it can be to use them effectively. But not only is it empowering, a contract can help you save or earn serious money. How? Well, to start with, it can help prevent a client from skipping out on the bill, and save on the time and money that may be necessary to track down payment.

To be clear, this post is not meant to be legal advice, and some or all of it may not apply to your situation. I don’t recommend drafting your own contracts. The best way to use this information is to take it to a small business lawyer and discuss how it relates to your freelancing business. Try to find a lawyer who has reasonable pricing and flat fees (they do exist, and I’m one of them!). It probably shouldn’t cost more than $500, unless you have a particularly complex situation. If that still sounds like a lot of money, keep in mind that it’s likely a tax deductible business expense. And having a great contract could easily help you save or earn thousands of dollars, much more than what you would be spending for legal help.

Also note that the client may not necessarily agree to any of these provisions, in which case you should decide whether to drop the provisions or drop the client.

All that said, here are 6 important contract provisions you should know about to save and earn more cash.

1. Detailed description of scope of work
This one is pretty basic, but is often overlooked. Describing in detailed and specific terms what you will do for the client makes it clear that anything other than what’s in the scope of work will cost the client more money. So if the client tries to say they thought your flat rate included, for example, several rounds of revision until the client feels satisfied, you can point to the scope of work that (hopefully) says your price includes only one revision. Often the client will then concede and pay you for the extra work.

2. Intellectual property provisions
Make sure you are up to speed on what intellectual property rights you have in your work (a topic for another post; or find a good intellectual property lawyer), and that you clearly state in your contract what rights you are and are not giving to the client. Generally, if the client wants more (or all) of your rights, they should pay you more.

3. Clear payment terms
Another seemingly obvious one, but have you included exactly how and when payment is to be made? If not, the check could get “lost in the mail.”

4. Late fees
Part of the payment terms, but this one deserves its own category. Late fees are a great way to incentivize clients to pay on time, every time.

5. Limitation of liability
You may not be thinking about what happens if your client sues you, but unfortunately it’s a possibility. But did you know you can limit the amount of money the client can sue you for to only the amount they paid you? Yep, just make sure you have one of these nice little provisions, and you could save some serious cash.

6. Liquidated damages
Sounds complicated, but it’s not really. It’s simply a way to make it easier to enforce the contract in case your client violates certain provisions. You see, sometimes it’s hard for a court to determine how much one person should pay the other for not following the contract. For example, if the client uses your intellectual property but doesn’t credit you as you had agreed, how much is that worth? Maybe it’s your lost profits, but it’s often hard to figure out how much profit you would have made had they credited you properly.

To deal with this you can simply stipulate “liquidated damages” of a reasonable dollar amount or percentage of your fee, and this is the amount that the client would likely have to pay you for breaching certain parts of the contract.

Fun stuff, right? Let me know if you have any questions or comments on any of this!

Tristan Blaine is a “freelance lawyer for freelancers,” which is a fun way of saying that he has his own law practice and works primarily with freelancers and small businesses. He also created a website, Law Soup, for everyone to get some quick answers on a variety of legal topics.

How to Go on Vacation Without Taking a Massive Hit

So for the last few months I’ve been a bit of a digital nomad, if you will. I am a little reluctant to say that because my perception of being a globetrotting digital nomad is someone who of the upper crust in freelancer society, and has money and high-paying clients out the wazoo. I, on the other hand, have been doing it on the cheap. So far I’ve been to San Jose for a conference, sleeping on a friend’s couch, on vacation with the family in Hawaii, which wasn’t quite as cheap, and I’ll be in Chicago for about a month, staying with some friends and dog sitting. It took me a little bit of time to get situated and gather myself mentally, but to my surprise I’ve been loving it!

After freelancing full-time for about eight months, I felt like taking a real vacation and trying to get work done while on the go seemed a little preemptive, but I did it anyway. I’ve talked a little bit about going on vacation as a freelancer, and here are some ideas on how to get away without it taking a massive hit on your finances:

Rent Out Your Place
If it’s feasible and you’re up for it, try putting someone up while you’re away. My friend Megan goes out of town for a few months every year, and she says that subletting is easy peasy. One thing you’ll want to do is create an agreement for the subletter to sign. It should include details such as dates of the sublet, which utilities (if any) the subletter will be responsible for paying. Megan also pointed out including nitty-gritty things such as including a cleaning fee to hire something to scrub the tub and toilet after the sublet is over. Brilliant! I’m not expert on such matters, but it can’t hurt to have something in writing.

Employ the 11-Month Income 
99u has a great article on how creatives can make the most of unpaid time off, and one of my favorite things listed is to create a budget based on an 11-month income. That will account for a month of pay to go on vacation and for “sick days.” To determine how much you need to make to take vacation, work backward. For instance, if you want to make $50k a year, you’ll need about $4,500 a month, $1,100 a week, or about $220 a day. Want to make $60k? That’s $5,400 a month, $1,300 a week, or $340 a day. If you’re shooting for $70k, that’s $6,363 a month, $1,590 a week, or $400 a day. It’s obviously not hard to figure out, you just need to do some basic math and keep these numbers in mind. And it’s not a perfect science, of course, as some months you’re killing it while others, not so much.

There are a bunch of formulas out there to figure out your hourly rate, but I find that as a writer, an hourly rate can be hard to figure out. While ideally your rates should be standard, sometimes it’s hard to gauge this because writers are normally paid per article or by word count. I find it easier to figure out how much I need to make per month, and when I reach that number, I feel a little more at ease.

Set Up a Vacation Fun
Duh. But how? You can sock away money to get away when you’re just trying to eke by and foot the bill for all the taxes and business expenses that are part of freelancing. I’ve been putting away a percentage of my income after “paying myself” a monthly income toward a “fun fund.” This was something I set up when I was working a day job. Any side hustles I did such as test proctoring and petsitting. You can also use any money socked away from your Digit account (which I absolutely love, by the way), or a savings goal in your bank account.

 

Ramp Up the Workflow Before You Leave
Contently’s The Freelancer talks about how you can stockpile a bunch of work before you leave. I did this before going to Chicago because I wanted to take a train from L.A. to the Midwest, and knew there would be spotty wifi access. It wasn’t easy. I had just four days in between my travels to pack, see some friends, and get all my work done. I got most of what I needed done and wrote a blog post on the WordPress app on my phone. Not ideal, but that is life.

You can let your clients know well ahead of time you’ll be on vacation from so and so date, and then give them the option of having you submit work early. The clients I reached out to preferred the work early and it would benefit you as well. Less work to do when you get back, plus you might run into the risk of missing a deadline if there’s a hitch in your travel plans.

Do the 2/6 rule 
I think I’m butchering the actual name of this rule, but it has something to do with working for a few hours each day during your vacation. You know, just dealing with emails, financial upkeep and admin tasks, and actual work. I ended up having to work while I was in Hawaii, and after talking to my mentor Alan figured out a schedule that would work while I was there. The plan was to head over to the Starbucks down the road from my hotel,  work from 6-9 every morning, then grab breakfast with my family. I didn’t adhere to it every day, but it helped big-time to have a game plan in place.

Taking a vacation is not always perfect but definitely not impossible.

Illustration by Viet Vu

Making the Most of a Lull

So after working like crazy for a good long while, about a month ago I hit a bit of a lull. One of my clients was occupied with another project, my part-time onsite job with my old employer was tapering off, and another outlet stopped their paid content. You know, that is just the way of Freelance Lyfe, and a lot of the time you have zero control over that kind of thing.

While I had been working hard to keep my head well above water since last fall, it as my first lull and found myself with more free time than I had ever imagined.

And you know what? I started to get super anxious. All that spare time allowed my neurotic thoughts to creep up. What a waste of mental energy, amirite?

But whatever you do, DONT PANIC.

You could squander time quibbling over whether you did something wrong, or if your days as a if you should look into getting a part-time gig, or back into the 9-5. But you know what, unless you absolutely have to, all those negative thoughts are just wasted energy. Focus instead on what you can be doing with all that free time. You can even think of it as a gift.

Get Mo’ Work
If you need to get your hustle on, tap into your network to see what kinds of job opportunities are out there. I’ll go in greater detail about creating a CRM, or Customer Relations Management System, that will help you keep track current clients and potential leads, in a later post, but you’ll want to tap into connections you’ve already linked up with, which you’ll most likely have an easier time securing work.

Even if you have a lull, when it comes to consistent, ongoing work, if you can, you’ll want to keep your same pay scale as when you were busy. But what if you really need the money? I still say stick to your guns as much as possible, because when the work does ramp up again, you’ll be quick to drop the lower-paying clients. Plus you might not be as motivated to do your best work. That being said, you’re ultimately doing a disservice to both you and your clients.

For instance, I have a price range I would ideally like to charge per article, which can vary according to the type of outlet (i.e., a corporate client versus a consumer blog), word count, and the amount of research and interviewing is involved. I’m been tracking the time it takes me to write an article since I began freelancing full-time last fall, and I have an idea of how many articles I can take on in a given week. Of course, this isn’t a perfect science.

It’s also a good opportunity to go for the clients and type of work you really want to do. Who are your dream clients? What was lacking in the work you had been doing?  Having a lull is kind of like clearing half of your slate, and having half a clean slate to work with. Kind of exciting, right?

Work on Yo’ Passion Projects
Okay, you know that project you’ve let fallen by the wayside, the one that you treat like an ugly stepchild? Well, don’t lollygag. Now’s your time to get crackin’ on what you really care about. Now when I sensed a lull coming on, I reached out to some outlets that were hiring to secure more work. But I soon stopped myself.

When I first started freelancing, I had thought about doing the minimal amount of work to get by so I could focus on finishing the first draft of my short story collection and working on this blog, but work ramped up quickly and I was reluctant to decline work, especially as I was used to having a day job.

Well guess what? I’m in a really situation to focus on my passion projects. And the best part is that I didn’t really have to let go of anything. I’ll be doing the whole digital nomad thing for the month of June, and am in Chicago. I’ve got a lot I want to explore while I’m here, including biking through the neighborhoods, eating delicious grub, and working on my collection of short stories.

If you want some time to focus on personal projects or to just enjoy yourself, I find it helpful to create a bit of structure. For instance, maybe you can spend a morning block of time to do your freelance work, and then spend the afternoon focusing on your personal stuff. And set a specific time. I have lied to myself by creating a loose structure. You just gotta stay accountable!

Enjoy Yo’ Self!
Give yourself permission to chill. You earned it. And even if you didn’t, so what? Do it anyway. Go check out a museum in the middle of a day, or go out for a leisurely lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s okay not to be focused on making the dollars 24/7. In fact, you’ll probably gain some perspective on the role work, having a career identity, and making money plays in your life.

Now for work-oriented people such as myself, this may be easier said than done. I tend to turn anything and everything into a project. I will eventually learn to chill out and have less on my plate, but to be honest not sure how to go about it. Does that sound strange? Oh well.

So yea, make the most of your lull. No need to fret or despair. I guess it’s important to remember that no one client is responsible for your financial well-being, professional development, or sanity. You are. 

Illustration by Viet Vu 

How to Get Paid to Write When You’ve Never Been Published

The question I get the most from my friends is: How do I get paid to write?

I’ve been a writer in some capacity for a long time, it’s only been the last few years that I started to get paid for it.

While I’ve worked in editorial in some capacity for the last decade, I haven’t gotten paid for most of the writing I’ve done. When I first got out of college many moons ago, I wrote for for free (or for very little money) covering local music and restaurants for blogs and weeklies. And for the last 10 years or so I’ve been hard at work learning the craft of fiction. Although I enjoyed it immensely, these things never paid the bills.

I started earning side cash back in 2010 by copyediting an arts magazine and proofing books for self-published authors, and doing one-off copywriting jobs here and there. It felt great to earn some side cash. I was able to put that money toward vacations, new computers, or to use as “get ahead money.”

I spent about $800 for a certification in copyediting (my employer at the time was generous enough to subsidize for half). I made a pact for myself that I would need to find a way to earn that $800 back, I could call it even. It soon paid for itself and I can easily say it was one of the best investments in myself that I’ve made.

And although I officially started freelancing full-time as a writer last year, I got my first real gig as a freelance writer in the fall of 2014 through a content platform called Contently. Contently connects creatives (i.e., writers, designers, motionographers) with brands to create content for their marketing campaigns. I hands-down love Contently. They gave me my first real break as a professional writer and they look out for the talent.

It was at FinCon, a conference for people who create content about money, that I realized that personal writing was blowing up. I mean, I knew there was a slew of personal finance content online, but I didn’t realize how closely the financial industry paid to the money blogger community. I had initially created this blog to assert my frugal ways, to find like-minded folk, and to help others. I was essentially living in a bubble until I attended that conference.

Within my first month with my client I received a bunch of assignments and worked my butt off while maintaining my day job. It turns out I was making nearly the same as one month’s salary at my day job. And that was just from a single client. I quickly saw the earning potential of freelance writing.

So here’s everything I know (thus far) about how to get paid to write when you’ve never been published. I hope that you get something out of what I’ve learned so far.

Step 1. Figure out your niche
This is essential. Figure out what kind of subject matter you want to cover. There are about a billion places you could write for. This will help you narrow it down to writing about things you are better suited and qualified for, and helps better your chances of getting your foot in the door.

For instance, my friend Joel owns a dog walking business, and has spent a lot of years learning about dog behavior. He’d be great for writing on pet sites and dog blogs. Jeff has experience writing reviews on comic sites and is a huge comics nerd. His area of expertise is more along the lines of pop culture and all things nerdy.

You’ll also want to ask yourself these questions:

1. How hot is this market? Are there quite a few outlets that are willing to pay for content?
2. How qualified am I to write about it? The joy of writing is that you don’t necessarily need a fancy degree. You just need to show that you can do the job, and do it well.
3. Do I have any valuable contacts that would make for good primary subjects (interviewees) for pitched articles?

Step 2. Figure out which outlets you want to write for—and whether they pay
It’s best to narrow it down to a handful of outlets that you want to write for. So how do you figure out if a publication pays? Sometimes a site will have a “Write for Us” page where you can get more info or contact someone in their editorial department. They might mention whether they pay their writers. You can also check out Contently’s Rates Database. Some of the freelancer rate charts can be misleading because it depends on a host of factors, such as the niche and how closely connected the publication is to generating revenue for a company.

Another way you can figure it out is if there are clearly advertisements on their page. This can be in the form of banner ads, or more likely, through sponsored posts and affiliate links. Just because they may be generating revenue doesn’t mean they necessarily pay their writers.

You can also look at the roster of contributors. Check out their bios and do a quick Google search to see which other outlets they write for. Do they write for places that pay? Places that probably well pay, or just okay? I’ve been lucky to oftentimes know people who write for certain outlets, and can reach out to them to see how they like writing for a certain publication and if they pay by word or post. A lot of it has to do with network and niche.

Step 3. Create some writing samples
Better yet, post these on an online portfolio or to your blog.  A blog can be a money-making vehicle in itself, but it’s a great way to learn about what you’re all about. It can also provide an outlet for making friends and connections, and be a testing grounds of sorts to try out new ideas.

And look beyond the major publications you know and love. Think about places that could pay you to write some marketing copy for a brand. Some sites you can check out:

Contently
Skyword
ClearVoice
The BackScratchers

I can only vouch for Contently, as that’s the only site I’ve landed work through. Sites like Contently and Skyword have free built-in portfolios, so if you don’t have a professional website up yet, you can link your sample work on those platforms.

Even if you’re just starting out, I would steer away from low-paying content mills.

You can also write for company blogs. Check out a company’s site and if they have a blog, they may hire freelancers to contribute. It doesn’t hurt to send an introductory email to their advertising director or head of content.

Step 4. Come up with story ideas
Study the publication. If you don’t already, follow it on social media. Read the articles, figure out what the style, tone, and voice are. Subscribe to the newsletter. You can get an idea for a publication’s vibe and message.  You really need to do your homework. There’s nothing worse for an editor who is knee deep in the deluge of story pitches to get a set of pitches that show the writer doesn’t know the publication well. Make sure your pitch doesn’t go in the trash. When you pitch stories, make sure your ideas are a great fit for their content, editorial objectives, and is something you feel comfortable pitching.

I have made the mistake of coming up with what I thought was a super clever idea, then get the assignment, but realized I wasn’t able to really make it work. It really makes you come off as an amateur, and it’s really wasted time.  If you’re in doubt, do a bunch of research, think about who you would interview, and draft an outline.

Pitch appropriately.
Make sure it’s a right fit for the publication, and that it might offer something slightly different to the publication. If it’s a product blog or trade publication, you might pitch to the director of marketing. If it’s a traditional outlet, you’ll most likely pitch to the managing editor. There’s a ton of articles out there on what makes a good pitch. I found that a solid headline, and a succinct pitch of 2-3 sentences outlining the idea and some of the main points you would cover, work best.

You might feel intimidated to pitch to the managing especially if you’ve never done it before, but having sample work you can show them and letting them know how exactly how you’re qualified to write about a particular topic will help you get your foot in the door.

Step 5. Create sample articles
Imitation is a form of learning. Follow the format and layout of existing articles and write a sample article accordingly. Of course, you can write in your own style, but formatting an article to adhere to existing blog posts shows that you’re paying attention to the details. I once had an English teacher that made us rewrite our essays until we earned an ‘A.’ Do a few round of drafts until you feel as if you’ve nailed it. If a publication offers a style guide, make sure you look it over closely.

How much should you charge?
I say charge as competitively as you can.  If you’re off to a strong start, you can use that rate as leverage when you negotiate rates for the next place you write for. Oftentimes established sites have set rates with very little wiggle room. If you’re a newbie, you might feel compelled to charge less. My first client paid a very competitive rate, and that’s helped me set my rates to be fairly competitive. Sometimes articles require a lot less research, are a lower word count, and less work overall. In that case, a lower rate may feel worthwhile to you, especially if you can churn something out quickly.

The bottom line is to charge a rate that you are excited about.  If you are just starting out, getting paid $30–$50 for an article might be enough for you to get juiced up and turn in killer work. However, if the rate is too low in your book, you won’t be motivated to turn in quality stuff, and you probably won’t want to stick around for long. Good managing editors know this, and they want to make sure rate feels fair for both parties involved.

What if an outlet doesn’t pay? Should I still write for them?
In the freelancer community, “writing for exposure” is known to be a cardinal sin of sorts. And I can understand why. By writing for free, you’re undermining your talents and in some ways devaluing the field at large. I would say avoid working for free if you can. Sometimes places dangle that proverbial carrot over your head that you write for free now, it could potentially lead to paid work.  But if they can get you to work for free, why would they bother to pay you? And if they paid you, would it be sufficient pay? I have heard instances where an internship does lead to a paid position. I’m just saying you can’t always bank on it.

I know some established writers who write a single post for free because it was good exposure and was a great addition to their portfolio. It’s totally a judgment call, and a personal choice. You get experience working with an editorial team. Could it help you expand your network of contacts? Could it get into conferences or conventions that could lead to paid work? Do you get a byline?

Just remember: If you can make your first $50 writing, you can earn your first $100, and so forth.
Happy writing and good luck! 🙂

Four Ways to Structure Your Time

One thing I’ve been trying to figure out is how to best structure my time. I must say, I’m pretty awesome at tracking my time on assignments, but structuring my time within a given day is an entirely different story. It’s definitely in an experimental phase and I expect to keep trying out new things along the way. If you’re in the same boat as me, here are a few ideas to try on for size:

1. Sprints
My good friend Julia (and retirement goals buddy), who works in UX gave me this idea. As a UX designer her team works in two-week sprints, which is a period of focused, high-intensity work. Two weeks might be a bit much, so you can either organize your time to work in what I call a Mega Sprint, which is the badass version. With a Mega Sprint you crank away for a couple of days or even a week.  You can also do a Baby Sprint, which is working at high-intensity for a day or so. I did this a week ago and was surprised at how much work I managed to get done.

You may do a sprint out of pure necessity, or out of choice. Depending on how much work you have on your plate, you might be able to get a week’s worth of work done in a few days.

2.Top Load
I’m an early bird, and my dream schedule is getting most of my work by early afternoon at the latest. As I am working onsite for a gig for another month or so, I won’t be able to try this out until mid-April or so. On days when I work entirely at home, I am usually up by 6 am, work on my fiction and this blog for a bit, then start my freelance work. You can top load within a day or within a week.

Bottom Load
Conversely, you can also bottom loading, which is great if you’re a night owl who loves to burn the midnight oil. This is definitely not me, as I tend to get super groggy around 9 pm or so.

Half/Half
This is what I thought might work best for me, but have been having trouble sticking to it. The Half/Half approach is when I do a block of work in the morning, then take a mid-day break when I exercise, eat lunch, and run errands, then do another block of work in the afternoon. When I do this I tend to have a hard time settling back into work mode after the midday break. I think on my full days when I work from home I am easily tempted to run a bunch of errands or work on other things.

I love to keep my days loosely structured, meaning I’ll have a list of things I need to knock off in a given day, and then kind of do a mix of writing, admin/invoicing, sending out emails, and chores. I know some people like Cait from Blonde on a Budget likes to take one day off during the week and Saturdays, which seems like a pretty cool setup. 

 My schedule has been feeling a bit crazy lately, and once I get a grip on things I would definitely like to play around with different ways to structure my time. Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what works best.

How do you like to structure your time? Any suggestions?

What It Means to Be a Minimalist Freelancer

As someone who practices Zen Buddhism and minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means exactly to be a minimalist as a freelancer. To be being minimalist has to do with your approach and mindset to how you work. It’s about getting rid of what’s not important to you.

And as I’ve nearing the end of my 4th month doing it full-time, I wonder what I could do differently in the future. How can I better align my values with the craziness that comes with being self-employed? I am definitely still figuring that out. Here are some things I am going to keep in mind going forward:

In Your Work
I touched about this briefly in a previous post about optimizing, not maximizing your life. It’s about not taking everything that comes your way—you can afford to do so, of course. Nix projects and clients that add unnecessary stress in your life, or aren’t building your portfolio. Instead, take on work that is either meaningful, pays enough so you can work less and focus on other projects, or could lead to more meaningful work.

Of course, this can feel like a pipe dream but it’s definitely something to aspire toward. Sometimes you have to take a job simply because you need the money or are a regular workhorse who has problems saying “no” to work.

In Your Tools
Do you really need five project management programs and three tablets? I’m all for implementing apps and tools to enhance your system and processes as a freelancer, but too many tools can make your workflow a bit cumbersome.

You might find that you can do more with less, or be smarter about streamlining your work with just a couple of programs. The main tools I use on a daily basis are Evernote for my to-do list, Toggl to track my time, and Freedom, which is an Internet blocker I use when I am writing fiction. All these apps are 100 percent free. And I am landing more clients and gaining more ways of earning money, I am also looking into streamlining how I do my billing and track expenses. It’s starting to get a little messy. Oof.

In Your Digital Communication
This is something I struggle with daily. If you’re like me you have a million articles on your Facebook Newsfeed saved, subscribe to the newsletter of every blogger and website you dig, and check your email compulsively. I’ve installed Periscope, Blab, and Meerkat on my phone and pretty much every single new social media platform out there. And do I use even a fraction of them? Nope.

Try checking and responding your emails just a few times a day. For instance, when you first start your work day, before lunch, and about an hour before you’re ready to wind down. Doing your tasks in batches can help a ton.

In Your Approach
This is probably the biggest thing I have been struggling with. Pay attention to the task at hand. Don’t take on too much in any given day. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to wish you could get all your work done in one fell swoop. Take your time, don’t rush. Take breaks if you need to. Go for a walk, or a short swim at a nearby pool.

If you’re curious to learn more about minimalism, here are a few resources to get you started:

The Minimalists: Joshua and Ryan of The Minimalists have really started a culture on how we can live more fully with less. They have local meetups in different cities around the world where you can shoot the bull with like-minded folk. Joshua’s book, “Everything That Remains,” is a memoir that chronicles his path from living a crash-and-burn, materialist lifestyle to a deliberate, minimalist life.

Blonde on a Budget: Cait Flanders is currently going through her two-year spending fast. It’s inspired me to go on my own version of a spending fast. She’s pretty awesome and inspiring.

And Then We Saved: Anna Newell Jones is the queen of living a life free of material distractions. She shows you going on a spending fast can be done. Besides a bunch of articles on her site, you can also glean tips on how to go about on your own spending diet with her upcoming book “The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living.” She’s also just put out a book that includes wisdom on the minimalist lifestyle as well as interviews with some of the heavy hitters called “How to be a Fearless Minimalist in a Cluttered World.

Zen Habits: Leo Babauta is the man when it comes to creating habits to live a healthier, more meaningful and productive life. I have been following his site for years. He teaches you how you can create real change in your life by changing your habits, little by little. Check out his book “Essential Zen Habits, Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly,” which includes super short chapters on how you can change your bad habits and do all the things you’ve ever wanted to. I got through the book in a couple of sittings and it’s one that I come back to again and again.

How to Plan a Vacation When You’re Freelancing 

Now that I’m a full-fledged freelancer, I can hypothetically go on vacation whenever I so desire.  And I say hypothetically because I still have my workload and responsibilities to my clients. While there are ways of getting your vacationing on while attending trade shows and conferences, what about a 100 percent non work-related vacation? It can be tough if your work schedule is unpredictable. Here are some ways you can plan for a vacation when you’re freelancing:

Create a List of Dream Vacation Spots
My friends who work in film production tell me to take a trip whenever you can, because you never know when your next chance to take a break will be. As I am a writer and have gradually been building a base of steady, ongoing clients, I potentially can plan out my vacations. However, if there’s a lull I would probably want to get up and take a vacay somewhere. Perhaps a getaway to Macau? Or maybe an extensive trip to the national parks of Canada? One thing you can do is keep on hand a list of dream places you’d like to visit and roughly how much each trip would cost. 

If you can afford to, start a vacation fund and sock away a little each month. That way, when the opportunity presents itself, you’ll have the means to hop on a train (or plane) and go on a spontaneous adventure.

Travel During the Off-Season
Recently I wrote an article for the Society of Grownups on taking a winter trip in the Christmas villages of Europe. While it’s still up in the air whether I’ll be taking an trip overseas this winter, it helped me realize there are a lot of great vacation spots you can travel to during the winter months. Depending on the type of freelancing you do, it may be a slower time for you workwise. Plus, if you travel during the off-season, which is from November through March minus the holidays for most destinations, you’ll be able to snap better deals on trips.  You can check sites like TripAdvisor to score a great deal on a hotel room or flight.

If you’re a snow bunny, you can schedule a fun snowboarding trip. Or you can get creative and do some research on the Interwebs to see what kind of crazy cool events are happening in other parts of the world during the chillier months. You’ll be surprised at what you might discover.

Besides, I love Los Angeles in the summer. There are free movies, concerts, and fun happenings galore. While we do get a lot of tourists, that’s also when local denizens like to leave the city. As someone who does her grocery shopping on a Tuesday afternoon and avoids the crowds as much as possible, I would much rather stay local and have some summer fun.

Give Your Clients a Heads-Up in Advance 
Be sure to inform all your clients, even if you don’t have any work scheduled during the time you plan on being away. You never know when a client will give you a last-minute assignment. Giving your clients a heads-up a few months in advance will ensure they have their needs taken care of while you’re away. If necessary, have a solid list of freelance friends who could fill in for you. Don’t forget to put up an auto-responder email message and send out your invoices before you take off!

While it can be tricky to make time for a vacation while you freelance, it’s definitely not impossible. It just takes a little more planning. As I worked a lot in 2015, I plan on getting away this year. Happy travels! 🙂

New Year, New Start: Optimize, Not Maximize

As you know last year I decided to take the leap and become a full-time freelancer. It was a major decision for me, and a very difficult one at that. I was offered a high-paying contract gig, one that paid nearly six figures. I know. It was the most money I’ve ever been offered for a job. As a writer and proofreader who has only worked in non-profit and publishing, I never thought I would be ever be offered that much money for a gig. I waffled over it like crazy, and didn’t sleep for days.

And although adjusting hasn’t been life on Easy Street, I know that it was the right choice for me. I have decided to commit to at least a year to freelancing, until the end of this October. Ideally I would love to live this way for as long as possible, but I figure a year would help me get a feel for the ebb and flow of this sort of work and learn to roll with the punches.

As we kick off a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to spend the next year as a freelancer. The toughest thing is achieving a balance between all the things I want to work on, I find that my passion projects and freelance business are oftentimes at odds with one another. Instead of trying to maximize my work, I want to try to optimize.

What does this mean, exactly? Maximizing and optimizing are terms used in the investing and business world. Maximizing means to gain as much as possible, no matter what the cost. Optimizing, on the other hand, is finding an approach with the most cost-effective or highest achievable outcome given the constraints. Okay, so I may be tweaking the meaning slightly, but to me this means figuring out what’s the important to me, what gives me the most joy, and putting more time and resources into the things that matter more.

The big questions for me are:

How much freelance should I take on? How much money should I try to make?
How much time should I devote to passion projects?
What can I do to best support these priorities?

Income-wise, December was an amazing month for me. I made more than twice as much as I did working my old full-time job. But I worked like crazy and had little time for anything else. My family and I took some weekend trips over the holidays and I remember getting up at 4 am to work. I worked in the lobby of a hotel while my family was out and about. It sucked. And I am going to be  honest: I don’t ever want to work in that fashion again. So instead of taking on as many clients as possible, working crazy hours and making as much money as possible, moving forward I can be a little more picky with clients, work less and make enough to survive. I can then make more time for my personal projects, which are my fiction (I am working on a graphic novel and collection of short stories), and this blog.

While trying to grow and develop my freelance business, I will continue to carve out some time each morning to work on my projects. I have not been successful at this, to say the least. My goal is to start super small. I will start with 10 minutes every morning and see how that goes. Of course, you can’t get too much done in 10 minutes, but as my good friend Alan Steinborn of Real Money has told me, consistency is key. You must do it every day, no matter how long.

To support my goals, I am going to commit to working my own projects every day, no matter the looming deadlines. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. I am going to be careful with taking on more freelance work. If I find myself having any downtime or a slower period, I will be sure to have a game plan in place to take advantage of this time.

So I ask you: What’s important to you? What steps will you take to optimize your life? What will you do to support these goals? 

 

How Freelancing Has Changed My Relationship With Money

November 22nd was officially when I hit my one-month anniversary as a full-time freelancer. I know I’m late on posting this, but funny thing is I’ve been super busy freelancing  so haven’t been able to post as much as I would like to.

 

I’ve had to make some tough choices and declined some full-time opportunities to focus completely on my freelancing efforts, and it’s been a bit of a nonstop wild ride ever since.

I landed two big end-of-the-year projects essentially on the same day, and and one point hired someone to help with some research because I was so slammed.

I am not gonna lie. Transitioning hasn’t been easy, yet at the same time I don’t think I have ever been happier in my life.

All excuses aside, I wanted to share something that I wasn’t expecting to happen, and that is my relationship with money has changed quite a bit. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a bit of a work hog. Kabir Sehgal in his book Coined explains the science of how humans are addicted to money. I’ve been a work hog for as long as I can remember.

The funny thing is that every since I started freelancing full-time I’ve been spending a lot less money, and it’s not because I made a minimal spending pact to myself. It’s because I have started to break  the habit. Here are a few reasons why I’ve been spending less money:

Greater Integration of Work and Life
Now that I spend a lot of time in my home office, aka dining table, I can (if time permits) go for a bike ride or a short hike if I need to take a break from my work. I also get chores done throughout the day instead of stockpiling it for evenings and weekends. I can cook and tidy up in between writing.

By the way, 2 p.m. on a Tuesday is prime time for very little foot traffic at Trader Joe’s and the laundromat. Having the freedom to be out and about when things are more chill at shopping areas has helped curb my spending big time.

One small thing has helped me not waste food is by checking out my fridge and kitchen pantry every day. This takes me about 5 seconds and visually logs what I already have. My mind goes on autopilot, and makes an assessment of how much food I need to purchase for the week.

Way Less Bored
When I was working full-time at a day job, it wasn’t necessarily that I hated my job and needed an escape, but it was just more tempting to take a break with a co-worker and buy a snack or go out for lunch. Also when I would drive home from work and didn’t feel like going straight home, I was tempted to swing by Target or a grocery store and pick up some items. The funny thing is a lot of the time I didn’t really need anything, I just enjoyed getting lost in the aisles. Spending money served as sort of release. I did this partly out of habit, but also because my commute in the car made it that much easier to shop.

Now if I ever need a to relieve stress I can go for a walk or meditate for a few minutes.


The Money/Time Exchange Is More Transparent
When you work full-time for one person, you agree to give X amount of time for X amount of money. The amount of hours you put in can increase with no extra pay, but it rarely decreases for the same amount of pay. On top of that, the only times you get extra money is by working more hours, if you get a raise, or a bonus.

If you do a great job, chances are you might get a pat on the back and there’s a high chance you’ll be saddled with more responsibilities.

As a freelancer, if you track your time, you can easily see how many hours you are swapping in exchange for a set amount of money. The great thing is that you can decline taking on an assignment or project. Sure, you may be missing out on an opportunity and some money, but depending on where your priorities lie, it may be well worth it.

So if I know writing an article will take me, say a total of 4 hours, and I am getting paid X for it, I could potentially take a look at my bank account and see I am good for the month and not take it. As a work hog I normally do take on assignments if I can, but the option of saying “no” so I can work on my own stuff is there, which is pretty awesome.

 

Realize this: Spending is not a necessity, and it’s not really a want. It’s more of a habit.

3 Things You’ll Miss When You Freelance—And How to Recreate Them

The benefits of freelancing are many: freedom, flexibility, and making prank calls in the comfort of your home at any hour, to name a few. In the last month or so since I’ve made my foray into freelancing full-time, I’ve found there are actually a few things I sort of miss about the 9-5. Maybe you feel the same way too? Here are three that come to mind, and how you can re-establish them on your own.

Structure
The fact that you’re left to your own devices when you first start out freelancing can be a bit of an adjustment. When you work a 9-5, your schedule may largely be dictated by your boss or company infrastructure. But you don’t need to be babied, right? I imagine it’s the same quasi-wonderful problem people who enter retirement face—trying to make the most of the oodles of unstructured “free time,”at your disposal. Well, the thing is you have deadlines to meet, and depending on how well you manage your workload, you may be able to manage carving out a generous amount of free time for yourself.

I am personally struggling with this. A challenge I’ve facing is that since I’ve freelanced on the side for a good year or so, I am used to working on nights and weekends. So I fall into the habit of working through the weekends, which I don’t really need to do anymore.

I’ve been experimenting with working for 4 hours in the morning, then taking a 2 hour lunch/exercise break, followed by 4 hours in the afternoon. If you’re someone who prefers to work 4—6 hours every day instead of 8-hour days during the week, this might work for you. You can also structuring 4 hours of your day, then gradually level up to 5 hours, then 6, and so forth. The joy is that you are the master of your schedule, and you can fashion it any way you like.

Community
Yes, it’s true. Depending on your personality, you may at times miss water cooler talk, and even that one guy in the office with the funny voice and (unless that guy was you). And you might feel nostalgic about the camaraderie of having office mates and being part of a team. But guess what? You are now part of a global network of freelancers.

You can schedule coworking meetups with fellow freelance buddies. I’ve been meeting up with friends at different coffee shops a couple times of week. As long as you stay on course and don’t turn it into social hour, it’s a great way to catch up and get some work done.

Check out a monthly networking event through Freelancers Union or Freelance Friday. Meetup is also a place worth checking out for more meetups in a particular field. These mixers are 100% free. Put on your friendliest smile, your favorite hip go-getter ensemble, and a short stack of business cards. Although business cards may seem outdated to some, I try to keep mine on hand at mixers. You really don’t need too many, and if you’re itching for ones with an eye-catching design and are top quality, check out MOO.com Although biz cards purchased through MOO.com can be a little pricier than standard ones, you can sometimes score a deal. MOO offers a lot of different options, which will definitely please your inner design snob.  

Stability

And by stability I mean the illusion of stability. When it comes to a full-time job, I hate to get all doomsday on you, but you really never know when a round of layoffs could occur or a company goes under. I think the best way to create your own sense of stability is to squirrel away money for your emergency fund. I highly recommend at least 6 months if you can swing it, and up to 12 if you wanna be a rock star. Start out with a baby savings fund, then level up to a mama savings fund. Stretch goals might include an HSA to help with your healthcare costs, and an extra money cushion (perhaps a separate emergency fund account?) so you can “afford” to take sick days and days off.

It’s no easy feat to freelance, and many people who have gone through the ropes say the first few months of self-employment are the hardest. So fear not, little freelance soldier, and tough it out. I place my bets that it will get easier as you go along.