The dogs days of August

August has always been an awesome month for me. It’s my birthday month. (Shout out to my fellow Leos.) It’s the month that I experienced my first kiss. It’s the month I survived what should’ve been a life-ending accident. (Got run over by a pickup truck 1,000 miles into an ill-fated cross-country bike trip, when a guy fell asleep at the wheel in broad daylight in the middle of Nowhere, Montana.) It’s the month I finished writing my first book, The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid. But above all, it’s the month that I quit my final corporate job forever back in 1999 to go into this wild and wacky world of freelancing.

So, while the rest of the world tends to do their State of the Personal Union in January with New Year’s resolutions and all that jazz, for me, it’s August when I think about where I’ve been and where I’m headed. A recent article in the Atlantic, Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think, happened to strike just the right note at just the right time. No matter where you are in your career, I highly recommend reading it—it’s a lot more hopeful and thoughtful than you might believe at a glance at the headline.

Being of a, let’s say, particular age, this concept jumped off the page for me: “Vanaprastha…whose name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning ‘retiring’ and ‘into the forest’…is the stage, usually starting around age 50, in which we purposefully focus less on professional ambition, and become more and more devoted to spirituality, service, and wisdom. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop working when you turn 50—something few people can afford to do—only that your life goals should adjust.”

I’m no mountain-top mystic nor am I especially touchy-feely, but this hit my browser at a time when I’d been thinking those same thoughts. I recently started mentoring some younger freelancers. In 2019, I’ve spoken at the ACES and Editorial Freelancers Association conferences, and I’m looking forward to doing the same at the NAIWE Be a Better Freelancer Conference in October.

Sure, I’m as ambitious as ever and not retiring anytime soon. The later I get in my career, however, the more I get a charge out of seeing newer freelancers (of any age) strike out on their own.

The best writing tip I ever received

editing adviceAfter graduating college, I believed I was well prepared for my first real-world editing job at a national magazine. I’d been corrected and coached by wonderful teachers over the years—but somehow, it ratchets things up a notch when you’re being paid to perform a task that was previously a matter of As, Bs, and Cs on a report card. Continue reading

When Creating New Client Estimates, Think Small

Don’t be fooled—I’m not referring to the price tag being small. What I’m saying is that the more granularity the better when compiling your estimate for services, particularly for a first-time client or someone who hasn’t worked with freelancers before:

There are three primary reasons for being detailed in an estimate:

  1. Showing significant detail indicates that you listened intently to the client’s request and understood all the nuances. Essentially, you’re repeating back to them what they told you—communicating that you’re on the same page. From a visual perspective, a comprehensive estimate conveys more authority. (Think of how you perceive estimates on, say, automobile repairs—even if you don’t understand what all the line items mean.)
  2. If the client wants to negotiate, a detailed estimate gives you a lot more wiggle room to take out specific tasks rather than just decreasing your price.
  3. Finally, having a formal list of work-product tasks in your estimate and agreement/contract puts you on much firmer ground if your client is inclined toward scope creep. You can (politely!) point to the document to say “that’s outside our scope, here are the ramifications.”

Following the rule of “the newer the client, the more detail is required” is guaranteed to save you headaches. As time goes on and I develop a strong, trusting relationship with a client, it becomes less necessary to give quite as much detail, particularly if projects are somewhat obvious.

Improving Your Vision

I attended an academically rigorous high school, where As were hard to come by. My senior year, I taped a handwritten note above my desk that simply said HONOR ROLL. It was a constant reminder of what I wanted to achieve.

Truth be told, I missed the honor roll by one letter grade in the final term. Still, it was the closest I’d ever come to making it…and I was confident that putting my goal in writing (and in a place I couldn’t ignore) had pushed me psychologically.

Fast forward to life in the working world. During my early career in magazines, the goals weren’t of my choosing, but they were clear: Brainstorm the topics, assign the articles, hound the writers, edit the copy, get it into the art department’s hands, and stay up late gorging on pizza when it was closing week and we had to send everything to the printer. Rinse, repeat.

Putting Your Goals in a Place They Can’t Be Ignored

As freelancers, it’s on us to determine our goals. At least once a year, I’ll sit down at a local coffee shop for a few hours and write down an unedited list of things I want to achieve over the near and long term. But I made a mistake two years ago: I left the list inside a notebook, which I filed and forgot about for months.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably because it’s a bit overwhelming—and maybe counterproductive—to look every day at a piece of paper with 50 or more handwritten goals on it. That’s where a vision board comes in. Much like my honor roll reminder way back when, being able to glance at a poster board helps with inspiration. (If you’re interested in some great info about vision boards, I highly recommend Christine Kane’s process.) For me, it’s an extra step toward keeping the big picture, quite literally, right in front of me.

Obviously, a vision board doesn’t solve everything. You also have to create systems for your freelance business, a broader topic for another day. Nonetheless, for a daily reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing, investing in a poster board, some magazines, and a glue stick pays significant mental dividends—especially since a vision board is far too big to tuck away and forget!

On a business note: I’m truly looking forward to my stint on the NAIWE Board of Experts and talking shop with fellow freelancers. If you have freelance topics you want me to address in my upcoming blog posts, articles, or webinars, please share them in the comments. You can also ping me on Twitter: @DrFreelance

Here’s to a fantastic, prosperous 2019—whatever your vision is!

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash