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The Boss of You

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My So-Called Freelance Life: Q&A with Michelle Goodman

December 16th, 2008 by Lauren · 7 Comments

photo: Michelle GoodmanOur friend and admired colleague, Michelle Goodman, graciously took the time to do a Q&A with us. Her new book, My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire, is chock-full of great advice for entrepreneurs of all stripes, whether you fall into the “freelancer” category or not.

Bonus: Amazon.com has a deal right now where you can pick up Michelle’s two books and a copy of The Boss of You for just over $30! Could there possibly be a better holiday gift for the entrepreneurial gal (or guy) in your life? I think not…

OK, enough sales talk — on with the interview!

photo: Michelle GoodmanSo much of the advice in My So-Called Freelance Life applies to small (and even large) business owners as well as freelancers. Are there specific chapters you would recommend to non-freelancers who are considering picking up a copy?

It’s hard to narrow it down because I agree that most of the book (if not all of it) applies to startups of all sizes, but here goes: Chapter 1, “Business Plan to Go,” can help you identify your entrepreneurial goals. Chapter 6, “Name Your Price,” tells you how to establish a fair market price for your services or wares. Chapter 10, “The Check is Not in the Mail,” tells you when working for free can be worthwhile from a marketing standpoint — and when it’s most likely a scam you should run far, far away from.

Chapters 11 and 12, “Let’s Make a Deal” and “Get It in Writing (But Don’t Sign Blindly),” are two of my favorites because they tell you how to negotiate rates and contracts like a badass. I also really love Chapters 13 and 14, “Care and Feeding of Your Clients” and “The Client from Hell,” because customer service and setting boundaries with would-be bloodsucking clients is such a huge part of working for yourself. I’d probably list all eighteen chapters if given the chance, so I’ll stop there.

I hear from a fair number of freelancers who got into their careers unconsciously — it’s like they woke up one morning and realized they’d become a freelancer, without necessarily planning it that way. What advice would you give someone in that situation?

I agree. So many people find themselves freelancing in the wake of a layoff and before they know it, they’re running a full-fledged business. If you too are an accidental freelancer, take stock of the work you do and the clients you do it for. Are these the types of projects you want to be working on and the types of people and organizations you want to be working with? If not, list the kind of freelance projects that interest you most and the names of at least ten organizations you’d love to work for. Then tap your professional and personal networks to see if you can find a way in. If you need to acquire any additional skills or portfolio samples to make yourself attractive to these organizations, get cracking.

Even if you are happy with your clients and workload, it’s important to revisit your freelancing goals –income, creative milestones, client wish list, and so on — at least once a year. (January is a great time for this.) Get too comfortable and you’ll quickly get bored, burn out, or start to feel like an employee all over again.

If you had “do-over” privileges, what’s the one thing you would change about your freelance journey?

There are so many things I would have changed. I would have taken better advantage of my last staff position (publicist at a New York publishing company in the early nineties) before going solo. Specifically, I would have saved up some money to cushion my landing as a freelancer, taken on a few more freelance journalism and copywriting projects to beef up my portfolio, and made more contacts in the publishing and magazine industries while I was still in New York. I also would have read a book or taken a class on freelancing or running a small business instead of diving in head first and spending a couple years figuring out how to swim. Plus, I would not have bought a lifetime’s supply of staples and paperclips like I did sixteen years ago at Office Depot. I’ve barely made a dent in them.

As someone with a business partner, it’s hard for me to fathom juggling all the roles a freelancer has — sales, marketing, invoicing, bookkeeping, etc. etc. — not to mention the actual client work. What do you tell people who worry that one or more of those freelancer hats won’t fit?

There’s no getting around selling yourself to new clients during your early years. I know a lot of new freelancers are loathe to do it, but as I promise in the book, it does get easier — dare I even say fun – with practice. Plus, email and social networking sites make contacting new prospects so much less painful for you (and less intrusive for them). So you really have no excuse there.

As for marketing, that’s pretty closely tied into selling your services, but there are many aspects of marketing you can farm out to other freelancers (for cash or trade): you can have a writer fine-tune your promotional copy, a web designer set up your blog or web portfolio, a virtual assistant create and maintain a Facebook group or fan page for you, and so on. And there are all sorts of free or low-cost applications that can help you automate your invoicing or bookkeeping. Also, an accountant or tax advisor who specializes in working with freelancers in your industry is a must; that is one road you don’t want to walk down alone.

While I’ve always advised newbies not to go overboard spending money on computer software and consultants, some investments will save you untold cash, hours, and/or headaches in the long run. If given the choice to pay a web designer to tweak my website or to try wrestling with the blasted WordPress code myself (usually results in me swearing at the computer and tearing out clumps of my hair), I’ll gladly pay the designer and use the time saved to make money doing something I actually know how to do.

I think all entrepreneurs — even those with staff — can relate to your tips about time management and balancing “task mistress” with “zen mistress.” I loved your advice about how to deal with friends and family who assume that because you’re self-employed, your schedule is infinitely flexible. What kinds of tips do you have for those of us who have trouble saying no to friendly interruptions in our workdays?

Don’t do social lunches or midday coffee dates with other self-employed pals, unless you’re meeting right around the corner from your office and can be back at your desk within the hour. At least once a week, I get a request from someone who wants to “meet for lunch downtown — since we’re both working from home.” I’m about 30 to 60 minutes from downtown Seattle, depending on parking and traffic. Factor in the other person dealing with parking and traffic, and my entire afternoon’s shot. Better to get your work done first, then play.

Also, don’t do laundry or turn on the TV while you’re working. Don’t answer or look at your phone just because it’s ringing or vibrating, unless you’ve been waiting for an urgent call. If you accidentally answer a call from a friend looking to shoot the breeze, say, “What’s up?” in your clippiest “I’m busy” voice and tell them you need to call them back after business hours. Don’t answer the doorbell, unless your neighbor’s house is on fire. If you like to work out during the day, go at the same time Monday through Friday so you don’t throw off your work schedule. And finally, if you want any chance at getting that big project off your plate by midnight, shut down email, Facebook, IM, and all web browsers until you’re finished.

Tags: Boss Ladies We Love · Business Advice · Entrepreneurial Inspiration · Resources for Women in Business

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