September 16, 2014

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Copy editor, Aritzia, Vancouver.

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Respect Your Time

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One of the things I see all too frequently is new freelance writers burning out and leaving the freelance life behind. I know you’re thinking, “Wow, it must be great to have so much work to do that you burn out on it. That’s the kind of problem I’d like to have.” But I’m not talking about having too much work, I’m talking about clients not respecting your time.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had the following happen:

1. Had a client contact you at 10:00 at night (or later) for a project they consider urgent (or to discuss an urgent matter or idea about a project you’re working on);

2. Had a client contact you when you’re on vacation (and they know you’re on vacation) wanting you to do something;

3. Had a client contact you on Friday evening, wanting something completed by Monday morning (good-bye weekend); or

4. Had a client call or email you at any time assuming you would drop everything to help get their project finished first.

The problem is your client doesn’t respect your time and as much as I’d like to make the client the bad guy, the issue is actually with you (sorry, but it’s true and I’m here today to hand out some tough love). The second you say “yes” to answering your phone at 10:00 pm and working until 5:00 am for the client, you’re setting a precedent, and the client will continue to expect that level of service. When you agree to do just one “little thing” for a client even though you’re on holidays, it becomes harder to say “no” the next time this happens, and it will happen over and over again. Because now you’ve given the client the idea that it’s no big deal.

For many writers, there’s a dilemma that comes with the 10:00 pm phone call: If they say no to the work, they think the client is likely to find someone else to do it for them, taking their money with them. It’s easy to see why freelance writers have a difficult time saying “no” to these situations, especially when they can rationalize it by saying, “This probably won’t happen again.” But it usually does happen again. And again and again. The next thing you know, all your evenings, weekends and holidays are taken up with answering urgent phone calls from clients and writing press releases that really could have waited until regular business hours, while your children, spouses and friends get more and more annoyed that you’re not paying any attention to them on what are supposed to be your days off.

So what can you do? The first thing you have to do is respect your own time. If you don’t, your clients never will. That means putting a time limit on when you will and will not answer phone calls and respond to emails. You don’t have to keep it to 9-5, but set up something reasonable you can stick to. Then, decide how much your free time is worth to you and, if you really feel you have to do that urgent, overnight job, charge accordingly. You are free to charge a “rush rate,” “weekend rate,” or “urgent job” rate, so long as you inform the client of it ahead of time.

Charging more for work done on your time off forces the client to either pay more for your work or, in the future, reconsider whether the project is so urgent they need to pay extra for it (once you charge extra, they tend to decide that the work can wait until Monday morning). And, if they still want the work done, you’ve made extra money for giving up your time off, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Still not convinced? Before you agree to do weekend work without extra pay, ask yourself if you’d be willing to do this every other weekend for the next year, because that’s the precedent you’re setting. Suddenly, keeping the client when you’re getting very little pay in exchange for all your free time doesn’t seem quite so appealing, does it?

What else can you do to make your clients respect your time? Wait a while before returning a phone call or email. I’m not suggesting you wait days and days, but if you’re constantly returning emails and phone calls within 30 seconds of getting them, you’re sending the message that you have nothing better to do than wait for phone calls and emails. So set aside specific times each day to return phone calls and emails and don’t worry about getting to them before that (this will also free you up from checking your email all the time, which can be a huge time waster). Be firm with the hours you will and won’t work and don’t respond to emails or phone calls during your vacation.

And lest you all think I’m above all this, my friends will happily tell you that I’ve spent plenty of weekends and nights out checking my email and voicemail and helping clients with “urgent” problems. It’s something I’m moving away from, so I can spend the time at work fully immersed in work and the time away fully focused on other things. In fact, I recently had a client contact me with a last minute project. I told him the only way I would do it is if he paid extra. He agreed, and it all worked out. If he hadn’t agreed, I would have told him it could wait until Monday, or someone else could do it. I’d rather lose the client than burn out and resent being a writer.

Respecting your time, and having your clients respect your time, is vital to being a happy freelancer.

Is Freelancing a Dream Job or Nightmare Curse?

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Choosing a career path that involves freelancing is a rewarding, empowering and gutsy choice. Freelancing is demanding of your time and effort, but it’s also likely to return that time and effort tenfold if you completely dedicate yourself to living a true freelance lifestyle.

Today’s guest post was written by Kelvin Cech, a freelance copywriter and the owner of Vancouver’s own Function Writing Group.

Before we get into it, let’s clarify something: as freelancers, we all understand the amount of work that goes into entrepreneurial endeavours, right? If you’re freelancing to get out of long hours and good ol’ fashioned hard work, then your dream job is going to crash and burn mighty quick – like, curse-level quick. The life of a freelancer isn’t easy, but it can be fulfilling. There are rights and wrongs to learn from, but ultimately freelancers possess the ability to live their lives full-steam ahead and rock their industry in every aspect of the phrase.

So how come so many copywriters, graphic designers and photographers living the freelance life consistently feel like their passion is also their curse? Why do we feel that as we devote more energy to our craft, more energy gets sucked out of our bodies and our passion for our industry?

Ask Yourself:

1. Why did you get into freelancing in the first place?

2. Are you passionate about the work that your freelance career is built on?

3. If you were a millionaire, would you still enjoy that work, at least from time to time?

Getting paid for your expertise can easily sap your enthusiasm for your work, because ultimately you’re still working for someone else. So what have you created lately that was just for you? Is there something that you wish existed that you have the power to create?

Here are three ways to balance a career in freelancing with the passion that started it all in the first place.

Create a project that relates to your field of expertise.

Freelancing for yourself is crucial – if you’re always working on a deadline for a client, then why not consider yourself a client as well? If your clients deserve your best work, then don’t you?

My task list includes guest posts (like this one!) for copywriters, bloggers and other freelancers that I admire and I try to stick to the deadlines that I set for myself. If I miss these deadlines by a day or two, well, so what? There’s no stress when your livelihood doesn’t depend on your new project.

For more expertise relating to part-time blogging and how you can fit writing into your busy schedule, check out the always-entertaining and engaging Stanford Smith at Pushing Social.

As I mentioned, I enjoy writing guest posts – they’re fun, you’re contributing to a message that you support, you’re (hopefully) helping to enrich the lives of a new audience and you’re creating exposure for your work.

Here are a few other possible avenues, related to common freelance careers, of creation you can easily explore (on the cheap, too!):

Start a podcast that directs traffic back to your business.

Write a blog (on tumblr maybe?) that explores a new aspect of your medium.

Create content in your industry that stays in your house – photos? Posters? Woodwork?

Your passion and talent for your craft is only the beginning of your freelance career. Freelancing means you have all the power, so get back to your roots and create something that you would have wanted when you first made the decision to start freelancing. Possessing the ability to act and failing to do so is the real curse.

Create something completely unrelated to your industry

Human beings are a stubborn, dedicated bunch. If we weren’t, then I suppose we would have given up on starting a fire with those tools that we found a million years ago, and we wouldn’t have learned how to ride dinosaurs. What? We haven’t done that yet? In time…

As we’ve discussed, freelancing demands much more than just your time. What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up this morning? How many ‘@replies’ you received on twitter overnight? What you’re going to include in the big contract you’re pitching for? If you remember one hard rule from this post, remember this:

“Direct energy elsewhere.”

I even placed the rule in quotes for you, so you’ll remember it forever.

Do you have a family? Do you play enjoy any sports? What are your hobbies? Do you ever just sit down without your phone or computer and watch The Daily Show? Freelancing is supposed to be a fulfilling, challenging venture – that’s why the word ‘entrepreneur’ is so unique (because freelancers are unique!) – but it’s impossible to be fulfilled if the entirety of your being is poured into your freelance jobs.

Create something that fulfills another aspect of life. It’s not allowed to relate to your career whatsoever. Go for a walk. Get a puppy. After you spend some time doing something else, come back to your work fresh, balanced and ready to get back at it.

Aspire to be More

Freelancing assumes that you’ve accepted a life of continually bettering yourself – of contributing to society first and asking questions about the money later. Working to better yourself is an enriching process – the trick is to take that process in as many different directions as you can.

Remember what I said earlier about freelancers being stubborn? Well, stubborn in this sense is easily mistaken with hypocritical. Many freelancers are guilty of being hypocrites, not following their own advice and so forth. So as I was writing this post I decided to actually take my own advice and start another blog that relates to copywriting. You can do it too, it takes barely any time and nearly zero effort.

Freelancing is about creation. Keep creating that which makes your job rewarding and soon you’ll never feel like you’re working. Does anyone else have a hobby or activity that they use to avoid the freelancing curse?

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back again to talk about how freelance copywriters take breaks. (Hint: they write.)

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