March 30, 2010
I chatted yesterday with Laurel Touby, founder of Media Bistro. We talked over Skype since Touby’s currently in South Africa — one of the several countries she’s hit on her tour of the continent. (You can follow her adventures here on Twitter.)
Touby was great to talk to because she’s candid, funny, and has thoughtful advice for aspiring entrepreneurs — (and for entrepreneurs at various stages in the game). The biggest takeaway point I gained from the interview was: always listen to your customers. That isn’t as easy as it sounds. It means continually asking your customers for their criticism, thoughts, and feedback. It means staying aware of their needs and always asking them what they want to see, what they want to do, and what could make their experience better.
She also reinforced something I keep hearing from many entrepreneurs: Find out what you love doing, what you’re passionate about, and build your business around that. For Touby, her business grew organically out of something she was already doing just for fun. (More on that in the next post.) Once she realized that she was enjoying what she was already doing and that there was a market for it, she started a website. That’s how Media Bistro was born.
March 28, 2010
Not being on staff often means lacking access to standard resources. Freelance photographers I’ve spoken with complain about not having access to free equipment, software, and computers. Plus, if a lens, camera, or any other accessory breaks, they have to pay for repairs. If equipment gets lost or stolen, they have to replace it. Insurance covers some things, but that’s yet another expense to worry about.
Then there are advancements in technology to worry about. Newer, better digital cameras, lenses, accessories, and editing programs are always coming out. When they do, do you wait for prices to come down before buying? Or by the time that happens, will something even better come out? And will it be worth it to spend more money on that? Forced frugality and constant concerns about your competition can take the fun out of gadget shopping.
There are also the added costs to branching out on your own. Self-promotion and marketing takes time and sometimes money. The Internet has in some cases made it easier to get the word out about your business, but, in order for social media and networking to be effective, you have to put in a lot of time and effort.
Yet another concern is being at the whim of unreliable clients. Whether you’re a photographer, writer, editor, designer, videographer, or anything else, you’ve probably encountered a client who asked for something extra at the last minute or moved up the project’s deadline and still expected to pay the original agreed upon price. Or clients who say they want one thing but change their mind upon delivery. Or vague clients who have no idea what they really want to begin with. And, of course, you have to always keep in mind your relationship with each client. Because each job could potentially lead to future jobs.
The upside is being able to do the kind of work you want to do. There’s a lot to be said for getting to pitch the stories you want to write and choose the kind of shoots you want to do.
But it goes to show that there aren’t a whole lot of resources out there for media entrepreneurs who fall into this special category of freelancing.
March 25, 2010
Well, speak of the devil. Got questions about how new health care legislation will affect the self-employed? The NYT has some answers.
The Prescriptions blog took reader questions this week on HCR. One of the questions asked about freelancers:
Q: What are the implications of the overhaul for freelance workers or the self-employed? I’m curious about what I, as a student with university health insurance, will face, thanks to the bill, once I complete my studies.
A: Your best bet may be to get coverage through your parents. If they have insurance themselves, the new bill would require their insurer to also cover dependent children up to age 26. Currently, the insurer can decline to cover you when you’re younger, Although some states mandate that coverage extend a bit beyond traditional college age.
As of 2014, you will probably be required to have health insurance, which you’ll be able to buy through a state exchange, or face a financial penalty if you elect not to purchase coverage. Depending on your income at that point, you may be eligible for a subsidy to help with the premiums. In the meantime, an organization called Freelancers Union offers insurance that might fit your needs.
For more info from the Freelancers Union: http://www.freelancersunion.org/insurance/explore/
Anyone out there a member of the Freelancers Union?
March 25, 2010
A lot of freelancers right now (myself included) are thinking about how the new health care bill will affect them. This piece about health care reform in a “freelance economy” caught my eye.
“More and more Americans,” writes Drew Magary, “are being forced to eke out a career this way now: doing contract work in bits and pieces wherever and whenever they can, paying their own self-employment tax and buying health care on their own…We are now a freelance economy.”
In the article, Magary discusses the vast challenges in supporting a family with an unstable and uncertain freelance career. Health care is the icing on the…cow pie. Employers see benefits in replacing full-time staffers with freelancers who they don’t have to provide with, well, benefits. Freelancers and independent contractors often either buy their own health insurance or remain uninsured.
So, this week’s news that the U.S. will finally make a big step toward health care for all, meant a lot to self-employed workers.
All I know is this: Yesterday, when this bill passed, I exhaled just ever so slightly. As one of the millions of Americans working without a net, the idea that A) Insurers can’t turn my family down, and B) Insurers can’t drop me if I get cancer or something horrible like that… Well, that’s very nice.
March 11, 2010
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing freelancers in different places around the world. So far, I’ve talked to folks who’ve freelanced in New York, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, and Indonesia. Some of these media entrepreneurs are journalists and photojournalists; some are photographers and videographers who do a mix of journalism and commercial work; some are graphic designers; some work in print media, online media, TV, and/or radio.
Nearly all shared the frustrations one might expect. Media outlets have significantly reduced their freelance budgets, resulting in two outcomes: fewer jobs and lower pay. In other words, the recession has not been kind to this particular subset of the self-employed. In addition, freelancers in all different countries regularly experience problems with clients not delivering payment on time. Another frustration — this one specific to the Americans I spoke with — was the lack of health insurance benefits that would be granted by staff positions.
What I found to be especially interesting, though, were the areas in which freelancers’ experiences diverged. In some cases, one freelancer’s problem was another’s relief. For instance, some folks complained about the lack of a set schedule; but, for others, that was the best part of the job. Some were fine without a set schedule but complained about the irregularity in workflow; others said the peaks and valleys allow them to focus on creative or personal endeavors when things are slow. The latter group tended toward compartmentalizing — oscillating between work binges and the ability to truly value free time. Some said the best part about setting their own hours was the opportunity to travel at the drop of a hat — whether for work or play. Others said the best part was not being expected to have to take any and every assignment thrown their way.
Some complained about not getting paid for extra work and not getting reimbursed for expenses; others said they’ve come to expect such things, so they just roll with the punches.
And then there was the notion of team. Some freelancers faced challenges not being part of the kind of team that exists when you’re on staff. Others didn’t want to be team players at all. Some actually encountered obstacles in their work because they didn’t have the company behind them 100 percent. For instance, there were instances of clients or editors changing their minds about stories after those stories were filed — and then not delivering kill fees. There were also problems with clients not being clear about (or even sure of) what they wanted, and then balking when they didn’t get what they expected.
Perhaps the most interesting part of all of this is that very few differences arose due to geographic location or culture. Of course there are the obvious bits. Some countries have universal health care, others don’t. In some cities, independent contractors pay less in the way of taxes. In some places, there are legal requirements when it comes to a living wage.
But, when it came to preferences and perceptions, people fell into different categories based on personality more than anything else.
This is pure speculation, but I think there are a few different kinds of personalities that the freelance lifestyle attracts: entrepreneurial types who want to be their own bosses, wanderlusting free spirits, people who just can’t stand the notion of a 9-5 office job, the “damn the man”/ “down with corporate enslavement” types, and people who truly value their free time or personal life. Most people are some combination of the above. And I’m probably leaving one or more personality traits out of this list. I’ll add more as they come to me.
This post is getting pretty long, so it’s time to come up with an ending. I’ll close on a positive note. The one thing everyone said was The Reason to freelance? Freedom.
March 3, 2010
In my freelance life, I’m a food writer. I do arts/culture, environment, community, and investigative reporting too, but at the end of the day I write about food and drink more than anything else. As a food writer, I write a lot about beer. And I read a lot about beer. And I talk to a lot of people about beer. Craft beer is a bit of an obsession of mine. Last week, I got the chance to chat with a beer consultant. Really. That’s what he does for a living. He advises restaurants and businesses in all things craft beer. He also teaches classes in “beer education.” He also judges beer competitions. He also writes about beer.
Since I’ve been thinking about the viability of media consulting, you can imagine where my mind went after talking with this particular source. Could I be a beer or food consultant? Is that a potential way to suplement the bleak income I earn writing and shooting as a freelance reporter? Would that even make sense? And could it be a conflict of interest?
I don’t really know. Just thinking out loud here. Well, not out loud. But you know what I mean.