Friday, April 27, 2012

Just Saying "No"

When I was in business school, one of the ideas that repeatedly came up in discussions about business strategy was that being successful is just as much about what you don't do rather than what you do. I'm realizing that this is true in the world of freelancing, as well.

Today, I decided to turn down a project from someone who was referred to me by my main client, and it wasn't an easy decision to make.

While I enjoy the work I've been doing, I've recently decided to expand and try to take on new clients. Because of this, I was thrilled when I found a job offer in my inbox that, for once, wasn't full of poorly spelled promises for ways to make thousands of dollars a week from home.

Unfortunately, the client was looking for someone to provide ongoing SEO work - while I've done some SEO work for clients in the past, I'm certainly not an expert on it, nor do I particularly enjoy it. So, although it would have been nice to have the extra work, I turned the project down. I tried to be as professional about it as possible, telling the client that I didn't think I'd be a good fit, explaining why, and offering to pass along the name of anyone I came across who would be better for this.

I've only had to turn down one other potential client so far (for the same reasons), and the response was almost exactly the same both times -- they understood, and appreciated that I was honest with them about not being suited to the job.

In the work I do for my main client, I've seen firsthand how easy it can be to take on projects that are 'sub-optimal.' While my real area of interest and expertise is technical writing, I'm currently working on a number of projects for this client that have nothing to do with tech writing, mainly in software development and IT. While I'm glad to have the work, I'm concerned that I've gone, in the eyes of my client, from "skilled writer" to "jack of all trades who'll be available to help us solve whatever problems come up."

Again, I'm glad to have the work, but most of the projects I work on nowadays aren't ones that are helping me build a portfolio, grow my client list, or practice and improve my writing skills.

A friend of mine (an extremely skilled technical writer, actually) once told me that, "money is like education - more of it is always a good thing, as long as you don't think it makes you better than others." 

Hopefully, in the near future, I'll be able to pick up some projects that are more writing-oriented. In the mean time, though, I'm glad for the education (and money) provided by working on projects outside of my comfort zone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Question of Law

I've never been comfortable with confrontation. Thanks to a combination of anxiety and procrastination, I often put off doing things that will result in confrontation, even though I know they need to get handled eventually - and, more often than not, will get worse the longer I ignore them.

I've been debating the idea of formalizing a lot of the aspects of my work as a freelancer for a long time now, and I think I've finally convinced myself that it's time to act: I need to find a lawyer.

Doing my taxes for 2011 (submitted yesterday morning, naturally) was a big kick in the pants, and a reminder of just how much of my work is still informal - I work with a limited number of clients, without contracts, without a dedicated work space, and without much in the way of overhead or startup costs, which is nice.

Of course, it's not nice when there's an issue with a client - say, bills that haven't been paid.

In short, I was doing a small project for a client, writing daily blog posts for a website they managed over the course of a few months. While it was supposed to be an ongoing project, the checks started arriving more slowly, then stopped coming at all. After repeated assurances that they'd "mail out the check today" and such, I finally spoke with someone at the company who told me that they were having trouble getting their own clients to pay them. I offered to send them a list of all the future charges and invoices, which they eagerly accepted, and yet, still no check.

I finally took a deep breath and sent a sternly worded email informing them that, while I understood they were having difficulty in the bad economy, I was still expected to get paid at some point -- and was promptly told they were in the process of going out of business. They would still pay me, of course, but it would take time, and they'd have to spread the payments out over the course of a few months.

This was a month or two ago, and I still haven't seen any of the amount they owe me.

While the whole process has been unpleasant and uncomfortable, it has given me a great incentive to actually find a lawyer, draw up formal contracts, and decide on a set of standard billing practices.

I'm really hoping that a sternly worded letter from a lawyer will have more of an effect than an email from me, but if not, I may end up learning a lot more than I really want to about collections and the small claims court system.

The smartphone/credit card scanner that my banker suggested the other day is starting to look a lot more attractive...

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Adventure in Writing, Life, and Shiny Things

Do you ever have one of those days where you just can't seem to get anything done? Where every time you try to tackle one of the things on your todo list (assuming you've actually been able to sit down and write one), you end up getting distracted by something else that you should really get to first, which, of course, you don't finish, because you get sidetracked again?

Do you ever have one of those weeks? Or months? Welcome to my world.

Naturally, I've decided, against all logic and reason, to choose one of the least structured, most self-motiviation-required careers: freelance writing.

In these pages, I'll try to document my journey -- which, if my experiences so far have taught me anything, will end up somewhere totally unexpected.