Contract Nation

You may be hearing a lot of grim speculation about the job market right now: that hiring will not pick up until late 2012; that you need to be employed to get a new job; that salaries are not going back to pre-recession levels; or that permanent jobs are permanently gone. While there is no absolute certainty that any of this is true, I was told by recruiters back in 2006 that contracting would be the new work style. This seems to be true. I’ve had more luck getting contract work than a full-time, in-house position as a writer.

Contracting is not necessarily a bad idea if your skill sets are in demand and you are willing to set up your own business and work space. The benefits for me have been that I do not need a car or money for car expenses; I can work from home; I can set my own hours; and I can choose which projects to take on. Marketing your skills can be the biggest downside of contracting; however, if you possess good writing skills, for example, your work does the marketing for you. Many contract recruiting agencies or online freelancing companies will also give you the option to buy health insurance. You just have to ensure that you work the minimum number of hours to keep eligibility for health insurance.

Getting paid on time can be another concern. However, if you work through a recruiter, the recruiting agency, rather than the employer, pays you. This may promote on-time, correct payments. As is true for any type of contract, do not sign an employment contract until you understand everything required of you. You may find that you have signed away your rights to arbitration or that you have signed a non-compete clause without realizing it. A non-compete clause may specify that you cannot work for the company’s competitor or within a certain industry for a specified period of time after leaving contract employment. A non-compete clause is illegal in CA and may be illegal in your state. Find out before you sign one.

Should you try contracting? How flexible are you willing to be? Contracting is not that difficult to set up. I started a contract writing business with a laptop. That’s it. You can test the waters by signing up for one contract while you look for something more permanent. It keeps you employed and helps you create a body of work that you can show to potential employers. You may just decide after that first contract that you like the freedom of contracting and want to continue with it.

Pick Your Poison… Uh, I Mean Platform

OR

The "Other" Platform

 

Time was when I used Microsoft for work and Mac for entertainment. MS-DOS? Yup, I knew the commands. Windows up to Windows XP? Sure, I could figure it out. They all were stable and they all worked fine. Until Windows Vista. That was it for me. I was working in a PC-only office at the time. The boss had Windows Vista, the rest of us Windows XP. Nothing ever worked after that.

I left. I took a few weeks, and moved my personal stuff from a PC to a Mac. I went to the Mac store and did all of the free workshops. Just like that I switched. It was easy. Everything works.

However, when it comes to looking for in-house copywriting work, I am finding I still need to know both platforms. Oh, crap. I really hate Windows. The Office package takes forever to load, forever to find what I need. I get updates every week that there are more security patches to download. Word and Excel are way more complicated than they have to be. Yes, I know you have the larger share of the platform market. But you could be a little more user-friendly, Microsoft.

This is a case of knowing that I have to acquire skills that I do not want or like to use. I’ll suck it up, but I’m not happy about it. Microsoft avoidance has become a way of life. Where are the free workshops, Microsoft?

 

 

Job Perks

Downtown Trolley

As I sat at my desk the other day, trying to ignore the shrieks and giggles coming from the impromptu daycare center across the hall, my eyes fell upon a piece of paper on my desk: the bill of sale for my car. It now has been over 4 months since I sold my car, and I find that I really do not miss it — not the hassle of trying to start it, finding a parking place or avoiding the crazy drivers downtown. Good thing, too, since parking fees just went up yesterday…

This is one of the perks of freelancing: I do not really need a car anymore as I work out of my apartment. If I need to get around and can’t walk, I can always use this cute trolley that makes stops downtown.

Homeless and Writing or “Do You Want Fries With That?”

I am finding myself struggling once again to pay rent in expensive LA and this time, it may be game over. My previous post, What Would You Sacrifice For Your Career explored how much you give up as a writer, and I am finding that I am woefully unprepared to couch surf here. Many friends have left the area, and trying to frantically work to make some money so I can leave has become exhausting.

I find myself looking around at things I’ve collected over the years, books, beautiful objects, clothes, jewelry. When did they start to become a burden? When did apartment dwelling happen so I could have a place to store all my stuff? A quiet place to write, yes, but a storage locker? No.

People keep urging me, “Go apply to McDonald’s so you can pay the rent.” Are you kidding? Rents for a tiny studio are so high, I could work an 80 hour week there (if they would hire me) and still be behind on rent. I am exhausted and tired of trying to hang on.

This is the irony of my life, landing a decent paying writing job too late with nowhere to write for it. I do not know where I will land next, but I know I won’t be bringing too much stuff with me. The detritus of living (and I have cleaned out on a regular basis) becomes overwhelming when you have to move.

The job interviews are starting to happen, just a little too late. People keep telling me to “Hang in there.” I just wish I knew where “there” was. Hanging on, hanging around?  Ok, universe, I get it. This is what it’s like to be lambasted by the economy, discouraged and exhausted. I’ve gotten this far on my career path, only to give up the writing for a paycheck that I supposedly can count on? Seems a bitter pill to swallow as so many have done in the last few years in this country…

What Would You Sacrifice For Your Career?

I have thought about this a lot lately. After all, LA is home to many broken dreams and failed entertainment careers. I’m on Year 3 of a freelancing career, and it hasn’t been without sacrifices. I’ve met many people out here in CA who have given up a lot to pursue their dream careers, including one woman who became a nurse so she could take the swing shifts, the shifts no one else wanted to save up a lot of money so she could pursue acting auditions. Her life switches back and forth between taking care of people and acting. I’m not sure that I can change gears like that all of the time with good results. And giving up certain things takes a toll. For example:

Life style: Delayed gratification is hard. Really hard. You have to be able to prioritize between what you want and what you need. I’ve seen Hollywood people living in tiny cell-like places way beyond their 20 something years. I know I do not want to rent forever, that’s for sure. And it sucks to have to forego decent food and fun LA activities to pay the bills. Yes, I know we all have to do some of that, but it certainly gets old after awhile. I also never thought I would be pulling all-nighters to make deadlines going into my 50s. That gets old, too.

Finances: I’ve learned not to sneer at a regular paycheck. Computer glitches can result in no paycheck or a delayed paycheck, and how many of us actually plan ahead for this? Budgetary havoc should not become a way of life, but it often does, unfortunately.

Relationships: Friendships and partnerships can often go down the drain because of career and financial pressures. I like not having co-workers because it makes it easier to stick to a diabetic diet without co-workers tempting me with “treats.” However, freelancing can and does sometimes get in the way of maintaining friendships and relationships, causing anger, jealousy and exasperation over frequent schedule changes.

Health: This is a tough one. Many of us pursuing creative careers have little or no health insurance. We often pursue our career goals at the expense of our health, not going to the doctor, skipping needed meds, and generally living an unhealthy lifestyle.

So, when do you throw in the towel? As a good producer friend said to me today, “Sacrifice for your career is all well and good, as long as you do not let it go on for years.” She’s right. But I’m not ready to go back to 9 to 5 just yet. Give me another year, and I’ll see. It is starting to get a little easier…

Throwing Out The Five Day Work Week

We are so conditioned to the five day work week from the time we are little kids in day care and nursery school. But some businesses and governments are changing that. Some workplaces have gone to four day work weeks with 10 hour days to save money and supposedly give people more time with their families. What does that mean? If your company is on a cost cutting budget and you are a workaholic, the work doors stay closed on Friday and either you are working at home, or finding something else to do. It also means if you have kids, someone else takes the before school and after school duties. I’m not so sure that a four day week gives you more family time either. After all, most kids and most spouses are still in school or working that fifth day. But what do I know? I am a freelancer.

As a freelancer, the notion of five day work week went out the window on Day 1. You work when you have the work. Period. That means working 18 hour days sometimes because the servers where you work have been down for three days. It may mean pulling an all nighter so that you can pay rent and other bills. Your notion of a normal week quickly changes to whatever goes. It calls for exercising some control over your schedule to keep your sanity.

Creating a weekly schedule if you can helps. Getting out of the house and making plans to meet friends also helps. While I like the flexibility of freelancing, sometimes it’s easier to for the weekend to actually feel like a weekend if I schedule it with weekend things like shopping or watching movies. But I must say, I do like going to the grocery store and the movie theaters when they are not crowded during the week. Although, doing this on a regular basis can give you a total sensory overload if you do have to go to the grocery store or out to the mall on the weekend. I’m constantly amazed at how noisy these places are on the weekend, even the public library. I usually end up making a quick get away.

Freelancing also makes me more aware of how I spend my time. I’m constantly checking if I have worked enough, will I have enough money to meet bills, to also pay for the fun stuff. This can also drive me nuts, but when I look back on the week and see how fast it has gone compared to working 5 days a week in an office, then I think that the extra effort is worth it.

6 Things to Know About a Freelance Career

Freelancing gives you great career flexibility whether you are a consultant, a writer, a photographer or whatever else your career passion may be. It can give you wonderful opportunities to use your talents and to express yourself. You can also pick and choose which freelance jobs you want to do, while passing up on others. All of these things are a plus, but there are some other things you should know about freelance careers.

Home Sweet Home

Freelancing may mean you get to work from home; however, you need to plan your finances carefully so that you do not fall behind in mortgage or rent payments. Renting can be more difficult, as the landlord will want to know you are employed full-time. Some may even refuse to rent to you, or your rental agreement can change. I figured I had until the end of the summer to decide whether I will move from CA, but with a new property management company comes new decisions this spring. A year-long lease is safer when freelancing because it is more difficult to be evicted should there be problems. Month-to-month leases are more flexible, yet you can find yourself without a place to live or work should problems arise.

Go-To Person

You are “IT” when you work at home. This means that unless you set some boundaries from the beginning, people who are at home, kids, spouses, whomever, will take it upon themselves to interrupt you at every opportunity just because you are there. Your family or neighbors will call you to pick up their sick kids, pick up their mail, pick up their overdue dry cleaning, you name it, you’ll get a call for it. You need to figure out what your boundaries are and stick with them. My phone is set to outgoing calls only, which drives people crazy, but my work gets done. That may not work for you. However, you can set up different ring tones on your cell phone for calls you absolutely must take and let the others go to voicemail if your phone has that technology.

Crowd Sourcing

So if working from home can be a distraction, what about writing at a cafe? Ever hear how loud those frappe machines are? Cafe music, screaming babies and rude people on cell phones are all a part of that cafe scene, so if you are desperate to get out of the house to get some work done, source out a quiet cafe. Public libraries may be another option, but their internet may be slower, and you leave your laptop to run to the bathroom at your own risk.

Procrastination

It is easy to put off doing your work until the deadline or the bills come due. There is always another chore you could be doing, another website to browse, another sale at the store. And there is a fine line between creativity and procrastination. Sometimes, I DO have to do other things while I let an article form in the back of my mind. Writing when I am not ready leads to bad writing.

Tablets – You Said it Would Work. You Said!

New technology becomes an issue if your freelance career relies on some means of connecting to the internet. Tablets are one of the newest forms of internet connecting technology. Make sure the tablet of your choice works with the software you need and does everything you need it to do before you fall in love with it and have to buy it. Need flash? Forget an iPad 2. Need to use an ethernet connection? Ditto. Need to dock the tablet horizontally? Ditto. Test it before you buy it. Writing for 12 hours on a computer is very different from doing the same on a tablet even if it does have a longer battery life.

Tax Matters, Task Masters

Find a really good tax person, and let her do what she does best: your taxes. An accountant or bookkeeper who knows the laws on freelancing will free you up to do what you do best: freelance. The cost is worth it, as she can find you deductions you would never dream of and can keep you out of tax trouble.