This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.
The book hasn’t sold. I haven’t tried to sell it. I haven’t even written it yet. In fact, the book hasn’t been much more than a glimmer in my eye for a decade. But now’s the time to do this project.
The global economic crisis has put tens of thousands of people out of work. Some will regain their old jobs. Some will train for new jobs. And some will attempt to freelance—whether it’s as a consultant or an E-Bay Power Seller or as a writer.
Most people never intend to freelance. They fall into it, usually to make some extra money while looking for work. Other people quit their day jobs in the hope of becoming their own boss. They all find that working for yourself is much harder than it sounds.
I’ve been planning to write a book about the business of freelancing for more than a decade now. The normal way to write such books is to write a proposal (maybe some sample chapters), then query publishers to see if they’re interested. If they are, they’ll draft a contract, pay an advance, and set a deadline for the book. A year after the book gets turned in, it’ll see print.
The entire process can take as much as two years. By then, I hope, this crisis will be a thing of the past. Yes, some people will still be out of work. But most of the people who have lost their jobs in this recession will have new employ, and most first-time freelancers will have run screaming back to the nine-to-five world.
The moment for this project will have passed long before the book ever gets finished, let alone before it sees print.
So what I’m going to do is write a guide for freelancers and I’m going to post it, section by section, on my website. The comments will remain open for questions and topic suggestions. Please forward this link to anyone you know who has lost a job or plans to start their own small business. This project will not apply just to writers and artists. I’m going to keep it as general as possible and have it apply to people who want to (or have to) work for themselves.
I will cover topics like how to structure your time, how to handle your money, how to structure your bills, and how to set up an office. These series of posts will not be in order. I’d rather work with the blog’s readers and answer pressing questions. When I decide to put this project into book form, I will impose an order on the sections, but not until then.
Most of you know me as a fiction writer, but I made my living as a non-fiction writer for nearly ten years. I have been an active freelancer for thirty-one years (and counting), ever since I was eighteen years old. I made my first freelance check at age sixteen, but that small pittance certainly wasn’t enough to live on.
With the exception of one job at a publishing company in the summer of 1984, I have never worked for someone else full time. I did have part time jobs in the past thirty-one years, some because I needed a stable income to underpin my freelance income (a topic I will deal with) and some because they sounded too good to refuse (both of my editing jobs as well as my radio work). I rarely stayed at the same job for more than a year. My freelancing always brought in more income than the “stable” jobs. But freelancing feels riskier. More than once, I got a day job because I didn’t believe my good fortune as a freelancer would last.
Twelve years ago, I realized my attitudes hurt my freelance career. If I put as much time into freelancing as I put into worrying about freelancing, I would get more done and bring in bigger paychecks. I became serious about remaining my own boss. I stopped taking day jobs away from people who really wanted or needed them, and vowed to never work for anyone else again –on their schedule, at their business.
If I told you that decision made my life easier, I would be lying to you. It just made my life less confusing. I no longer had the option to take the editing jobs that people (still) offer me, or run down the street to the local radio station. I deliberately let my real world skills lapse.
In those twelve years, I have tripled my income, despite two serious illnesses (one that would have required me to go on disability if I had kept a day job) and a two-year-long dry spell in sales in a major part of my business. I learned how to survive through all of those things, how to maintain a proper attitude, and how to keep myself motivated.
Those three things are among the many I plan to share in the coming weeks. But here’s where the rest of the experiment comes in.
Normally, I get paid for what I write. Because I have chosen to do something timely—and because I feel it is important to start this dialogue now, when people need the help, not two years from now when it’s less crucial—I am posting these sections on my blog for free.
However, I will add a donation button at the bottom of each post with the heading The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, starting with this one. (And only on those posts; all the others will continue as usual.) If these posts help you or help a friend, please contribute what you can. Most of you who read this will be unemployed or just starting out. You won’t be able to contribute anything. That’s fine. These posts are for you.
But do me a favor. Bring someone else to the website. Ask questions. Donate if you can. Let me use my knowledge to help you.
That way, we might all get something out of this project. Thanks in advance—and see you in the weeks ahead.
Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Introduction copyright 2009 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch