So now that you’ve seen how I work the Magic Hour and spend too much time talking to my cats, it’s time for our first official peek at a day in the life of another freelancer. Kicking things off is the very awesome Amy Palanjian. Amy and I bonded instantly when we were hired as assistant editors at the now-dead Organic Style in 2004. The magazine was run on such a shoestring budget that instead of having cubicles, we shared a conference table with two other editors — ensuring that we would either get entirely sick of each other or become best friends. Spoiler alert: It was the latter.
I’ve decided that in addition to hearing how these freelance writers spend their day, you’re also going to want to hear a little bit about what kind of work they do and how they got where they are — so keep reading for that conversation with Amy after her daily routine.
Here is Amy:
Here is a rule that I have about email: Once more than five people send me a link to something, I have to really read it and Have Thoughts. This week, it will not surprise you to hear that the link I keep getting emailed is Nate Thayer’s dust-up with The Atlantic when one of their online editors asked him to write a 1200 word article for “exposure.” (If you missed this whole deal and want a good summary of how The Atlantic and general world responded to Nate’s post, check out Jane Friedman’s excellent write-up here.)
“Exposure” is just a fancy word for “free.” As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of working for free, although there are a few respectable instances where you might decide that it makes sense and exposure is one of them. Ironic case in point: I let that very blog post about not working for free be re-posted to Medium and Ed2010 for free – because those sites are run by colleagues who I like and respect and because I know they have lots of freelancers among their readership, so the piece could reach people who would find it helpful.
Co-worker Walter gets on top of some filing.
Introducing a new feature for The Freelance Life: Day in the Life snapshots! I love when other blogs do these — especially So How Was Your Day?, which obviously does nothing but — because I am absolutely beyond nosey (yes I will also look in your bathroom cabinets when you invite me over, without a modicum of shame). And with freelancing, there are just so many endless variations on how you could spend your day! But I have a working theory that while there are many different effective working styles, there are better and worse things you can do with your time to be productive and successful. And that perhaps the freelancer stereotype of sleeping until 3 PM, working in your pajamas and eating Ramen noodles for all your meals falls into the “worse” category.
When you’re starting out as a freelance writer (or really, in any creative/media-driven career), this really annoying thing happens: People ask you to work for free. A lot.
I don’t know too many lawyers or investment bankers or insert-almost-any-other-profession-here who have to work gratis or for “stipends” (read: slave wages and maybe some swag from the beauty closet) for years before they get a regular paycheck, but in our industry, it’s a rite of passage. I’m one of the “lucky” ones because I got most of my unpaid labor done in college via three unpaid magazine internships. I made fantastic connections at these “jobs,” and one of them turned into a full-time job after college, so lots of people would say, you see? Luck. But what really makes me lucky is that I come from a family who supported my career goals and were financially able to subsidize the huge corporations benefiting from my pro bono photocopying all those semesters by covering my living expenses through college and for a wee bit afterwards. #thanksagainparentalunits!
Alright, alright, it’s finally time for us to finish up these business plans that we started oh so long ago.
The good news is, if you’ve already written up your professional goals and financial goals, you are basically set for the year — especially if this is your first year writing a business plan. Those are the most essential parts because now you know how much money your business will make and what you need to do to make that money. And have a warm and fuzzy feeling about your career, all at the same time.
I’m going to interrupt the Business Plan Writing series real quick here, because I want to show you this. Brace yourself. It’s a lot.
I’m posting that as big as Dashboard will let me — if you’re all squinty and can’t read it, click the image and it should get bigger in a new window. (If that doesn’t work, try zooming in your computer screen’s view.)
This, my friends, is the amazing color-coded spreadsheet that runs your entire Freelance Life. Now that you’ve learned how to set your income goals (or are maybe still digesting all of that), I thought it would be helpful if I showed you exactly what tracking those goals all year long looks like.
This spreadsheet is not a requirement. There are many good systems (Quicken, a big wall calendar, an intricate series of emails to yourself… ) but this is the one that I live and die by and have been refining for the past seven years.
So what the hell are you looking at?
Let’s break it down by looking just at Quarter 1:
Today we’re going to talk about part two of your business plan: Financial Goals. This is where sh*t gets real, people. Break out the calculators! (I am so amused by me talking authoritatively about math, I can’t even tell you. Somewhere, my high school math teacher Mrs. Hayes is having the best day and she doesn’t even know why. It’s because all those hours you spent in after school study help, dragging me through quadratic equations were not a waste, Mrs. Hayes!*)
So let’s break this down.
The Brilliant Business Plan Top in Gold, by Mod Cloth.
Previously on The Freelance Life, we talked about useful resources and what you need to have in place before you quit your day job. But as I said at the end of that post, after you’ve started pitching and making connections and saving a start-up fund, there is still one more entirely critical thing that you need to do: Write a business plan.
I get this question so often. People are miserable with cubicle life, itching for a more flexible schedule and ability to be outdoors in the daylight hours, and they want to up and drop everything and hang out the freelance shingle.
So let me cut right to the chase and give you the short but sad answer: Probably not.
At least, not right now.
This is because pretty much nobody should quit their day job in the current economy without having already lined up their next job. Not if they are responsible for say, rent, or feeding themselves and perhaps other people. It’s too damn dicey out there.