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The Freelance Edge

The Freelance Edge, CWIP's annual event that always covers a range of topics, was on February 15. This year included a keynote on finding and retaining clients, and breakout sessions on time management, price management, contracts, and taxes.

The Keynote

The keynote speaker was Vickie Austin, a public speaker, business coach, career coach, and writer living in Chicago. She spoke on finding and retaining great clients. There is a reason this woman makes a living from public speaking and coaching people on pursuing their passions: she commands the room. The first thing she did was physically move the table at the front of the room. “Own the room!” she shouted.

Walking up and down the aisle, she advised all of us to, “Have a plan. You are in business and any good business has a written business plan for 3-5 years in the future.” She spoke of the actual physical endorphin rush one can get when accomplishing tasks on to-do lists. Other tips she shared:

  • Grow your “Golden Rolodex.” In other words, know how to network for results. Include everyone who knows you by name, which is everyone who is breathing. Begin with whom you know and be willing to give referrals as often as you ask for help.
  • Find a community where you can share your values and visions, for example, groups such as Chicago Women in Publishing.
  • Build your “posse” by surrounding yourself with your cheerleaders, who are the people who support your mission.
  • Figure out your mission. Find out what you love to do, and make that your work, so that do what you love.
  • Give back. Be a mentor.

Time Management with Kellie Christiansen

Freelance writer and editor Kellie Christiansen presented a clear look at some of the most common hazards to a well-functioning freelance schedule. These include: overbooking, underbooking, distractions, and surprises. She recommended the following, to help maintain a manageable work volume:

  • Do not take on a project if you're not certain you can make the deadline.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for more time, but do so at the start.
  • Do not let anyone else set your schedule.
  • Do not be afraid to turn down a project: another will come.

Kellie pointed out that even distractions and “surprises” can be anticipated to some degree, and need not take you completely off guard. Some good questions to ask when structuring time:

  • How many hours do I want to work, and what will my daily schedule look like?
  • How much time will I allot for marketing myself and finding new clients?
  • What are my business hours? (Once these are established, tell everybody.)
  • How many projects can I do at one time?

Also, be conscious of when do you do your best work, and to set more than just an end date when creating a timeline; set some interim dates that will keep you on course. In helping with that, Kellie urged attendees to keep two separate to-do lists: the first acting as your year-long calendar of deadlines, and the other giving a weekly view of what is on your plate. When filling in these calendars, use an accurate gauge of how long the work of a project will take, with respect to the hours entailed as well as the duration of the project. Over time, one becomes better at estimating these.

The ideas Kellie presented centered around making a real assessment of your own freelance situation and pursuing your management of it appropriately. Maybe you work a part-time job or are raising a family and are only looking for a certain number of freelance hours per week. You may be looking to gain new clients and make freelancing your sole means of income. The excellent recommendations offered by Kellie Christiansen are applicable to the spectrum of freelancers out there.

Pricing Management with Ted Glasoe

Ted Glasoe, freelance graphic designer and photographer, outlined a practical approach to understanding the value of your work and setting your pricing accordingly. As he shared, the price you set for your work is the price you set for your worth .

Ted said to write down what makes you a valuable writer or editor: what your strengths are, and what you'll bring to a job. Then pick a lane, and stick with it—if it's your price, it's your price.

A highly helpful suggestion was to use an online calculator, such as that offered on the National Press Photographers Association website. Here you can enter all costs and set a salary for yourself. (It is important to track everything you spend for business!) Ask yourself how much you intend to work and whether you wish to charge per hour or per project. Ted shared that he thinks in terms of hours when assessing the cost of a project, then presents clients with a cost range and bullet points of what is included.

He also recommended setting the precedent of a 5-10 percent increase each year. It is preferable to do this at the same time each year, keeping in mind that the lower you start, the longer it will take for your income to be where you'd like to see it. Communicate prices in writing, and though you may feel a tendency to want to justify them, don't. Your costs as a freelancer are going up no matter what, and you don't need to open up the conversation in that way.

Some excellent notables were:

  • Never work for free. You may have one or two special projects where you are giving of your time and expertise in support of an effort or cause. Aside from those, stick to your determined pricing.
  • People hire people, they don't hire prices—and if someone does hire you for price, they'll leave you for price.
  • Keep in mind that if you're getting every job you bid on, you're not bidding enough.
Ted gave a wonderful look at how to assess the financial aspects of freelancing, and emphasized the elemental value of people and relationships, in the work of a freelancer.

Contracts with Panelists Charles and Brian Gryll

Charles and Brian Gryll, both practicing attorneys at Charles R. Gryll, Ltd., led the Contracts breakout session. The session opened with prepared questions moderated by Brooke O'Neill and then segued into a question and answer period with the audience. Here is some of the advice the lawyers shared.

What are the components of a basic contract?
At the minimum, a contract has to have an offer, acceptance, and consideration. Consideration is money for a service such as writing or editing.

Is it best to use your own contract?
Yes. It's better to use your own contract because you are familiar with it, and there won't be any surprises. This is assuming you've had a lawyer review it. A client's contract is often biased in their favor, so you must be much more diligent in reviewing it. Whatever contract you use, make sure it is clear and leaves no room for interpretation.

How do you go about making changes to a contract?
For simple changes, such as price, date of completion, or length, you can simply cross out the information you want to change and write in the new information. Both parties need to initial the changes. More complex changes, such as changing entire paragraphs, call for a rider to be attached to the contract. Again, both parties must sign the rider for it to be valid. It's very important that the original contract makes reference to the rider. This gives you added legal protection in case the contract comes under dispute.

How do you renegotiate a contract if “project creep” starts to happen?
Contracts only pertain to what they cover. It's best to put ranges in your contracts, such as “six to eight edits for $X to $X to be completed between X and X dates,” to give you some leeway. To further protect yourself, include a sentence in your contract that reads: “Any further agreements must be made in writing and signed by both parties.” Make sure you stick to this by not verbally agreeing to do work outside the terms of the original contract.

What are some red flags to look for in a contract?
Okay business terms are dates, products, and prices. A few words to pay attention to are default, liability, indemnity, choice law provision, and attorneys' fees.

Default is the simplest of these terms and refers to either party not holding up the terms of the contract and the consequences of that default. You want to make sure you know what the company considers a default on your part.

Liability refers to who is responsible for what over what time period. An example could be, “The contractor agrees to be held liable for damages for a year after publication.” Indemnity is protection for loss, meaning your client can sue you for losses they feel were incurred as a result of something you did or wrote. For example, a reader sues the magazine you write for, claiming that he or she incurred damages as a result of inaccurate information you included in an article. Your client can then sue you for the costs they incurred from the lawsuit.

The term attorney's fees is closely related to liability and indemnity. It often indicates that that the company wants you to agree that if they sue you, you are responsible for any attorneys' fees you incur when hiring a lawyer to represent you in court or arbitration. This protects the company from having to pay your legal fees. If you want each party to pay their own legal fees, that must be written in the contract.

A choice law provision states which jurisdiction's or state's laws apply in settling contract disputes. This is most often included when the client and the contractor live in different states. If working with a company located overseas, it's best to find out how contracts are enforced in that particular country.

How is copyright determined?
Writers automatically get copyrights and moral rights for their work. However, this only covers the work done for hire. For example, if you write a magazine article, you have the copyright to that article as outlined in the contract, such as a 500-word article printed in the March issue of a magazine. You would not, however, own the copyright to the company's posting of that article on their website or printing it again in a future issue of the magazine unless specifically stated so in the contract. Most companies include a clause stating that they own the rights to your work if they use it outside the scope of the contract. This is nearly impossible to get negotiated out of a contract. An alternative is to try to negotiate a one-time, up-front fee for any future use of your material.

What about royalties?
Writers get royalties from all primary sales (e.g., when people buy your book for the first time at a bookstore or an online retailer), but not from secondary sales (when the owner of the book resells it).

Are agreements contained in an email enforceable? What about electronic signatures?
The courts are currently inconsistent with how they treat emails. Electronic signatures are usually enforceable.

Do you know of any free or low-cost legal resources?
There are a few. They are hard to find because for-profit resources pay for search engine optimization. Many sites will appear free, but give you the beginning of what you are looking for and then require you to pay for the rest. A pretty good, free general legal site is Avvo (http://www.avvo.com). It covers many areas of law, and you can ask and get answers from actual lawyers. Another good site is Nolo (http://www.nolo.com), which is full of short books designed for laymen, including sample contracts for sale. Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute (http://www.law.cornell.edu) is also a decent resource. Sites containing information about legal issues specific to writers are Writer's Digest (http://www.writersdigest.com); Writer's Contracts (http://www.writerscontracts.com); and Right Writing ( http://www.right-writing.com).

Taxes with Panelist Julie Herwitt

Julie Herwitt, CPA, addressed CWIP members on the topic of freelance-related tax issues, despite it being her busiest season. As an artist, Julie is well aware of the needs of writers, editors, musicians, artists, and other creative types. Her advice included the following take-aways: 

Save all business-related receipts.
If you have your computer repaired or purchase supplies for your office, the IRS will need to see actual receipts in the event of an audit, not just a credit card statement. 

Business-related meals are deductible at 50 percent.
You can deduct 50 percent of the cost of a meal before, during, or after a substantial business discussion. For an easy reminder, write the names of your dining companions and how the meal related to your business on the back of the receipt before you put it in your wallet. 

Document use of your car.
Any time you use your car for business purposes (e.g., to the bank to deposit checks, to an office supply store to purchase paper), you can deduct the mileage. Keep a log of the date, address of where you went, and number of miles traveled. You can keep a notebook in your car or create a log in Excel. It is also possible to document actual costs, but this is more complicated, and Julie strongly recommends the mileage method. 

Business use of home is an allowable deduction.
It is best to have one room dedicated solely to your business. The equipment and supplies in that area should be used solely for business. Determine what percentage of the square footage of your home this office represents, and you can also deduct that percentage from your utility bills. 

Deducting travel for business is easier if you are within the United States.
If you travel within the United States, you can deduct only portions of the trip that are not personal. Since business travel is often abused, the IRS has strict guidelines about international travel; in order to deduct an international trip, the entire trip must be for business purposes.

Decide which business entity is best for you.
You have several choices as a freelancer when you structure your business: sole proprietor, limited liability company (LLC), partnership, S-corporation (S-Corp), and C-corporation (C-Corp). Most freelancers opt for the sole proprietorship; however, this entity offers no liability protection.

The Keynote section is adapted from a longer article by Rhiannon Falzone that you can read at http://depaulenggrads.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/lessons-from-chicago-women-in-publishing-guest-post-by-rhiannon-falzone/. You can read more of Rhiannon's writing on her blog, www. chicagogirlmoveson.blogspot.com.

Emily Dennison (Time Management and Pricing Management) is a writer and educator living in Logan Square. She can be reached at emilywdennison@gmail.com.

Jill Wester (Contracts) is a freelance copy editor, writer, and proofreader with a background in marketing communications. She can be reached at jillwester@yahoo.com.

Jennifer Murtoff (Taxes) is a freelance editor, writer, and translator based in Oak Park . She enjoys work in the sciences and has been freelancing since 2007. Her side interests include urban chicken consulting and horn playing. She can be reached at j.murtoff@sbcglobal.net.

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