Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When Your Personal Life Intrudes On Work

I work from home. Which gives me tremendous freedom--the freedom to travel and visit friends all over the world, get things done during the day, and organize my time the way I see fit. Well...kinda. The truth is that while the freelance way of life looks like it's 100% flexible all the time, those of us who are in it know that it isn't as free as it looks. Even so, friends and family members who come from the nine-to-five lifestyle see unfettered freedom in our lives--and sometimes look to take advantage.

I've had a boyfriend sign me up to drive a friend to the airport in the middle of a workday with a big deadline looming, because "I'd be home anyway." I've often been expected to pick up the slack for chores, housework and errands because I work from home.

And it can be even worse when it comes to travel or visits. I love to have visitors, and I love to travel. But when friends and relatives come to visit at a time when you can't take off, they often don't understand that you have to work and they might have to entertain themselves for some time during the day. If you had to physically go to an office, that would be one thing. But I've been in situations before where friends might have felt a little hurt because they thought I had more freedom to take time off whenever I wanted--and the timing just didn't work for me.

Full-time workers often get paid vacation time, as well--and might not fully grasp that when you take time off, you take an earnings hit. I've done many working vacations where I've had to juggle work and fun on a trip, along with others who were really on vacation. This worked out fine in some cases--especially with a bunch of late risers, where I can get up early and get most of my work done before lunch. But sometimes it's caused tension. I've learned that working vacations go much more smoothly when you're on your own and can set your own schedule.

These things have to be handled delicately. Sometimes getting out of the house--on any excuse--is a good way to draw boundaries. If friends and family see you're not home, they'll be less likely to try to distract you from work. How do you draw your boundaries?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Intermittent Posting

I'm currently traveling--working vacation--and will be posting intermittently throughout the rest of March. I'll be back to a regular posting schedule after April 11. Have a great few weeks!

Monday, March 8, 2010

How to Spot a Content Mill

I occasionally get emails from people who want me to check out a certain site and tell them if it's a legit writing opportunity or a content mill. Content mills aren't hard to identify. Here are a few signs.

They have a list of topics: you just write the article. Many content mills operate like this. They'll post up a list of desired topics and all you have to do is write something that goes under that category. Legit news sources don't operate like this. To become a writer for a legit news source, you have to pitch them an idea that their readers will like, and editors are quite picky about topics. They don't just publish a list of very general topics like "home improvement" or "dating tips" and then let anyone who feels like it write and submit articles for them.

Their editorial process is nonexistent. If they usually "accept articles straightaway" with minimal review, it's a content mill site. Some sites have editors and do have some quality standards, but in comparison to a real news site it's quite low. If you're encouraged to submit articles directly without querying an editor, it's likely a content mill site.

Their hiring standards are low. Does it look like the site takes just about anybody? Then it's likely a content mill. Content mills are playing a volume game; they are trying to boost the amount of content on their site for SEO purposes and under that model, more (and faster) is better. They want as many people writing for them as possible. They're not trying to compete with legit news sources for quality and timely coverage. A legit news source will set the bar higher for freelance writers: you'll never see the New York Times actively soliciting people to write for them online; well-paid legit publications don't have to advertise for writers. If they don't have stringent hiring requirements for writers, they probably don't care how well you write as long as they get in the requisite keywords--and they're willing to pay that way.

Their pay is low. Some sites will tell you what they pay up front, others won't. But if you're getting paid something like $10 or $20 for 500 words, or if revenue is at all connected to how many views your article gets, it's a content mill.

How do you spot content mills and other less-than-ideal writing opportunities online?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Way We Work Best

I had this client once who was ongoing and ordered a LOT of work. The project required work and response almost every day, and it paid fairly well. It sounds like an ideal project. But the client was also very demanding, deadlines were short notice and everything had to be spot-on perfect on the first try.

I pride myself on perfection when it comes to things like grammar and spelling. But there started to be errors in some of the documents I sent. At first, I was mortified--how could I be making these mistakes? I had never made them in any other situation--and thankfully, haven't since with any other clients. It was out of character. Thinking about it, though, the problem was fairly clear. I realized that the pressure of the situation was at least partially to blame. Ordinarily I am careful and exacting. But when the pressure starts to ramp up, my attention to detail starts to flag.

The bottom line? I learned that I am not someone who thrives under high pressure. I need deadlines that give me room to breathe. I need to be paid enough to be able to afford to take this time. Exacting work requires mental time and space. Now I'm careful not to get into situations with clients where the work is very high volume and demanding, even if it's well paid--I know I'm not my best in these situations.

How do you work--and how have you learned?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taking the "Free" Out of Freelance

Thanks to The Irreverent Freelancer for finding this interesting article in the LA Times about freelance writing--specifically how the wages for freelancers have been spiraling down and down recently.

The article discusses how publications--on the web but also in print--have been slashing their budgets for writing, asking for shorter and more superficial coverage of topics, and using language designed to get people to write for free--promises of "exposure" and an opportunity to "expand your brand." It documents how publications that pay $2 or $3 a word are hard to find these days, and freelance writers who used to make about $70,000 per year are now struggling to bring in half that. Is this what freelance writing has come to?

The thing is, there are two different types of freelance writers: freelance journalists and copywriters. Both are often referred to as "freelance writers" and sometimes they're lumped together, although their working situations and the types of writing they do are very different. And from where I sit, the situation seems a bit more dire for freelance journalists, because they rely on the news industry--which is changing drastically. Print circulations are going down, newspaper advertising is going down in favor of websites like Craigslist which are largely free, and websites are going up--even blog sites that don't pay their writers or pay them a pittance.

For copywriters, the situation is a bit different. We dictate what we make--in most cases, the client doesn't set the price. We're dependent on businesses, sometimes businesses in very lucrative niches, for income--not newspapers that are rapidly losing circulation and revenue. And we have something to sell besides our writing ability--which, although it's a valuable skill in my opinion, is somewhat harder to justify getting highly paid for when everyone and their mother thinks they could be a writer if only they could find the time to finish that novel. If you have something else to differentiate you, like a software or sales background or marketing expertise, clients are often willing to pay for that.

However, websites like Elance definitely set the pay bar low for copywriters as well as freelance journalists--go there if you want to get paid $50 to write someone's 10-page brochure. And I see ads all the time from a creative staffing company I belong to for freelance copywriters needed by top ad agencies--working at wages of $30 or $40 an hour. Not so great, although I bet it's better than the wages a lot of freelance journalists are seeing.

What do you think? Is the situation more dire for journalists than copywriters? Or are we both in trouble?