Freelancing on Vacation is no Vacation

Freelancing-1024x681When you tell people you are a freelancer, way too many of them have that image in their brains of you in a hammock in a beach house watching the waves crash in some tropical paradise, drink in your hand idly typing on the laptop across your knees.

Yeah, right.

Freelancing is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, and it gives me a lot of opportunities that I never would have in the corporate world. Still, it is work, and not the kind of work where you can take a week off and still get the same paycheck like clockwork.

My wife, the Twin Miracles, and I just returned from our most ambitious family trip to date – one that I had hoped not to work on, but bills and such eventually made it a necessity.

So on our first full day there, I packed up the laptop in the backpack and headed off to find the hotel’s business center after the rest of the family was tucked in around 9:30 p.m. I walked the lobby three times before finally asking for directions, at which time I was told that the business center no longer existed, and had been turned into a place to buy tickets to a popular resort.

Instead, I was directed to find a comfortable spot in the lobby. After walking around a theme park all day long, I fell asleep after about 8 minutes on that couch.

I did literally the same thing the next night.

Our trip involved two different cities and the second hotel was a significant upgrade over the first, in large part because the business center actually existed. The wireless was deplorable and the thermostat seemed stuck on 83 degrees, but I got in a few hours of work.

The next night I dressed for the heat only to find the thermostat hovering around 66. After an hour of slowly turning into one of those sides of beefs that Rocky is always punching I went and asked the front desk about it. They had the controlling thermostat down low in their back office to stay awake apparently.

Our last night was at a third hotel near the airport we were flying out of, and when I went to that business center, it turned out to be two computers at a desk in a extraordinarily open area that included a fireplace, couches, a balcony, and, a bar. The bar had a live speaker pulsing out music and colors with no one to enjoy (save me). I tried to unplug the thing or turn it off for 10 minutes to no avail. I asked the bartender to do it for me and she told me she couldn’t until 10 p.m. in case customers came (it was 9:48 p.m. when she said this).

I had a big trial job ahead of me that night that I really wanted to nail to get the bigger contract so I put on my head phones figuring 12 minutes from now it would be peaceful.

Nope, at 9:57 p.m., not one but THREE people showed up for drinks, a pizza that appeared out of nowhere, and random conversations with the bartender. Suddenly I’d become the old man shaking my fist at the people having a BBQ in their backyard past dusk when the deed restriction clearly states you have to be quiet at sundown.

Happily, my Spotify drowned out the revelry, I nailed the trial job and we made it safely home the next night by 10 p.m., where my three favorite girls went off to Dreamland, and I went back to work.

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Mission Impossible: Writing About Yourself

Mirror Who Am I WomanUnless you’re a narcissist or a massive lover of words (guilty), writing about yourself is one of the toughest things to do, whether you’re introducing yourself to a new set of employees or employers, redoing your LinkedIn page or resume, or simply crafting a 150-word bio for your company’s website.

A recent client of mine came to me for help with that final task. She was relatively new to a company (two years in), and all of her experience had been with a different firm in a different field. She felt like she didn’t stack up to the long, industry-specific bios of the company’s CEO and Vice-President.

The funny thing was, her LinkedIn page and my brief conversation with her were full of fantastic information. She had an amazing tool box of skills, 20 years of experience overall, and more than 12 as a top-level manager. After doing some research on her company, pulling out some adjectives that her coworkers were using, and running a few drafts, the bio nearly wrote itself.

I’ve actually struggled with writing about my own skills when I first got on Fiverr, which is a lot more of a “sell yourself” website than Upwork. At some point you have to stop worrying about people thinking you’ve got a big head and just unleash your skill set. As legendary baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

Noisli: My Favorite New Workspace App

imagesWhat is it about a coffee shop that makes it so much easier for me to focus on freelancing? Why can’t I get that level of concentration when I’m sitting in my home office with an unlimited amount of music at my fingertips?

I don’t know the science behind it, but I was able to bring the effect home recently after discovering Noisli. While writing a blog about the best apps to improve your productivity, I happened across Noisli, which provides you with a bevy of options of white noise to play on your device of choice. Sounds of rain, the ocean, my coffee shop, and about two dozen other choices are available on the free version.

I went with the coffee shop, as that’s one of my favorite places to hone in on article writing or any ind of editing. The effect was instantaneous, almost shockingly so. It was even better than Starbuck’s, which sometimes pipes eclectic music a bit too loud for my tastes. My computer began piping out the low buzz of conversation, cups clinking, drinks being made, and the occasional open-and-close of a door.

I focused in on almost immediately, with the only reminder that it was artificial noise a rather loud female laugh that pops up about every hour or so. The rest of the time, I was like a laser-beam, focused, on task, and most of all, really efficient and creative, which is kind of the point, right?

It’s not for everyday use, I’ve found, although I tend to trend towards non-vocal music when I’m working. The lone exception is my entire family’s current fixation with the soundtrack from “The Greatest Showman,” but otherwise it’s a steady diet of Noisli, Star Wars soundtracks – “Rogue One” and “The Last Jedi” are both getting heavy rotations, as well as some of Spotify’s custom “reading/studying” playlists.

If you can’t get focused at home, whether because your beagle is snoring too loud, the neighbor keeps using the weed eater, or the refrigerator won’t stop calling your name, give Noisii a try. This blog is not affiliated in anyway with Noisli, but if someone from Noisli is reading this and wants me to be their WordPress shill, just let me know I’m all about that passive income stream.

The Day That Upwork Died

On June 21, 2016, despite protests from all corners, Upwork installed its new pricing scheme, which for every contract less than $500, jumped Upwork’s cut of a freelancer’s earnings from 10% to 20%, while at the same time introducing a 2.75% free for all clients who hire from Upwork.

 

upworkfailI’ve already extolled the highway robbery of Upwork’s move in a previous post, and I’m happy to report that a good number of my long-term clients have approached me via outside channels asking if we can find an alternate means of payment because THEY don’t want to pay the 2.75%! I’ve happily agreed, and it’s been serendipitous – no long lag times waiting on Upwork’s payment allocation; in most cases I’m submitting invoices one day and getting paid the next.

 

The announcement was made in late April and in my little corner of the freelance universe, the ripples were immediate. My Upwork-based earnings dropped 32% from April to May as my clients started suggesting we move our arrangements off the platform. From May to June, my Upwork-based earnings have dropped 62% – and I’m loving every minute of it, I’m on pace for my monthly numbers and I’m actually making more money, since Paypal takes around 2-3% instead of Upwork’s 10%.

 

And now, with apologies to Don McLean, a musical tribute to Upwork’s demise.

A long, long time ago

I can still remember when Upwork used to care about us,

And I knew my future was bright

Cuz I can edit and copywrite

And maybe make my clients happy for a while But Upwork, well, they sure got greedy,

20%? That sure seems needy.

Bad news in my email

A price change destined to fail.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about their foolish pride,
My clients and I are headed outside,
The day that Upwork died.

[Chorus:]
So bye bye to Upwork’s price bloat,
Hoped that Stephane would give in, but he needs a new boat,
And all the freelancers watch their dollars get stretched,
Singin’ man, we sure miss oDesk …
Man, we sure miss oDesk.

Now you can have your 20 percent,
But I’ve still got to pay the rent, so
It’s Paypal and Skype and other apps for me.
Do you believe you’re too big too fail?
That you could convince us through emails?
And town halls where you never answer real concerns?

Well, I know that you’re in love with money
Cause my clients told me something funny
Now you’re charging them extra dough?
Do you think we’re all that slow?

I am a father of twins with a beagle who bays,
A wife, a house, and bills to pay
But I won’t be robbed, still have my pride
And that’s why Upwork died.

[Chorus:]
So bye bye to Upwork’s price bloat,
Hoped that Stephane would give in, but he needs a new boat,
And all the freelancers watch their dollars get stretched,
Singin’ man, we sure miss oDesk …
Man, we sure miss oDesk.

The “Death” of Newspapers: 15 Years Later

About 15 years ago, every man and woman who worked for a newspaper started being told by management that the Internet was the Devil; that we would all lose our jobs because of its freedom of information distribution, and that a degree in Journalism would be worth less than the paper it was printed on within a generation.

I was working for a newspaper 15 years ago, and I heard the same fear-mongering from the leadership of our chain. Only in hindsight do I realize that they weren’t really worried about the journalists they employed, but rather their own pocketbooks.

A lot of us did in fact lose our jobs in the newspaper industry as the Internet evolved. Newspaper advertising sales dropped, classified sections became obsolete, and cash cows like car dealerships and grocery stores went online to hock their wares. But what we do – journalists, writers, editors, photographers, and designers – didn’t vanish into thin air, we just evolved right along with the Internet.

If running my own freelancing business has taught me one thing, it’s that the world needs great writers and communicators now more than ever. And that realization means that my degree in Journalism and pedigree for being able to pluck a subject out of thin air and write compelling copy about it; or take someone else’s creative work and sharpen prior to publication, is liberating, exciting, and quite frankly, one of the best revelations of my professional life.

As a newspaper guy, every year had its arc for me – back-to-school, sports, festivals, city council, school board meetings, the occasional crime wave, scandal, or election, feature photos, and try to stay awake during the summer time. It was an easy gig, but ultimately a boring gig, and one that seldom did anything to spark my passion or challenge me as a professional.

Compare that to the last 12 months, in which I have:

  • Worked with a Grammy winner
  • Reviewed a cyber-securities proposal sent to the Department of Defense and the US Air Force
  • Co-written a whitepaper on the evolution of corporate intranets
  • Served as news editor for a major education news website
  • Edited a ghost story that made quite literally jump in the build-up to the reveal
  • Dived head first into the twin worlds of SAP and BI, and ended up writing stories for a magazine whose headquarters is on the other side of the world from my office.

The Internet might have sent a whole bunch of newspapers to the morgue, but it had the opposite effect on those of us who worked for them. Death? No, the Internet gave us life.

 

The Adventures of Freelancing Dad: A Real Kick in the Budget

superheroOne of the greatest upsides of freelancing is that you can spot a job listing, inquire about it, get interviewed be hired, and start working on really cool, high-level projects within a matter of hours.

One of the worst downsides of freelancing is that it can all be over in that same short period of time.

Last week, I took a real double whammy of economic reality when one of my most lucrative, long-term contracts kicked me, and another writer, to the virtual curb because of “a change in the company budget.”  I got a six-hour severance bonus, which was nice, but I couldn’t help briefly thinking, “Hey, what about all that hard work I did for you?” before remembering the nature of the beast.

A few days later, a new position I took that allowed me to do some really fun, really creative sports copy editing went up in smoke for exactly the same reason. I’d become good email buddies with the writer at this job, and his boss dumped the responsibility of letting me know my services were no longer required on him.

While it’s easy to get attached to jobs and projects, the fact remains that we’re hired guns, and no matter how qualified, talented, and essential we might be to a project for a given amount of time, the honeymoon is going to end at some point.

I moped for about an hour about my loss of cool jobs (and income), until the next business day rolled around, and with it new opportunities, possibilities and business relationships. By noon I was writing a resume’ for a US Naval officer, punching up copy for drug rehabilitation facilities and proofing Powerpoints for a major software solutions conference in San Francisco.

Freelancing forever!