February 26

I am the Crossing Guard (coo coo ca choo)

crossing guard photoOver morning coffee my sister tells me about the crossing guard she passes every morning on her drive to work. Weirdly, she has affection for him although they’ve never shared a word. She looks forward to seeing him. When he’s not there she worries.
 

“Why do you care?” I hope I sound curious rather than judgy.

He smiles and waves every time I turn that corner,” she says, a tad defensively. “And it’s not just me, he does that to everyone – every single person who drives by.”

I ask her what he looks like because deep down I’m shallow.

“He’s an older man. My guess is that he was once very successful. Maybe he was a banker or in insurance or something. Sort of handsome. He probably takes care of himself.”

Whoa – she’s put a lot of thought into this dude. What unearthly powers does he possess? I tell Little Sister that I don’t get it and because psychology is her bailiwick (now there’s a word I don’t use often enough), she ponders. After a long pause during which my mind wanders to my cold coffee, she says this…

“He’s a crossing guard, so he represents safety. There’s more though. He’s totally into his job – he seems to be right there in the moment, not off in the future worrying about how his investments are doing or replaying some argument in his head. He’s just so present and he brings me down to earth and we share this little moment. It’s like we’re connected and it kind of…nourishes me.”

She’s looking at me, waiting. I think she expects a cheap laugh right about now, so I deliver. “He certainly does his little job in a big way.”

But I curse my joke reflex. It’s mean-spirited and Little Sister is in such earnest. She’s telling me something important – something I want to hold onto. Like the time she said, ”You don’t go to a party, you bring the party with you.” She’s got me considering how my behaviour affects others.

And that brings me to freelancing, or as I like to think of it, surviving in the wild among the humans. (I’ll bet you thought I’d never get here.)

What the Crossing Guard understands instinctively – what we should pay heed to as freelancers – is the value of being present. Being tenaciously rooted in the moment is the only way he can protect the children he guides across the street. And really, isn’t that passionate mindfulness the secret to doing any job well?

Because he is intensely aware of the world around him, he pays attention to the humans who drive by. They matter to him because they affect his world. And because he’s a good guy, he acknowledges them and invites them in with a smile and a wave. He makes them feel valued and that’s a feeling worth coming back for.

If you want your clients to come back to your corner, be there. For them and with them.

And now, you may cross.

January 21

Freelance love: You need it

friendsFriends in high places? Who needs ‘em! I’d rather have friends in low places who love me. Because when you spend every weekday alone, you can go a bit cray-cray. You need a friend willing to kick you in the ass, hold your hand, or wipe the spittle off your chin.

The ability to withstand the isolation – it’s the thing about freelancing that separates the big kids from the freelancers in pull ups. Most of the time you don’t notice the lack of actual human company. But when you’re not flying by the seat of your skinny jeans and that lull turns into a dry spell, loneliness can creep in. With no one to talk to, your thoughts and feelings get bottled up until some poor sod asks you how your day is and Bam! You spew nonsensically for a week.

The gift of gab

This is where your Freelancer Friend comes in. You write her/him long dramatic emails about how an agency ghoul swooped in and stole your work or how your biggest client is honeymooning with flashy new talent. You vent and whine. Your Freelancer Friend talks you off the ledge and you make plans to sip fancy coffees.

But most of the time, you just chat. You blather on about your parents and your kids and that embarrassing incident at the drive thru. It’s the daily catharsis of gab that regular people get around the mythical water cooler, and something you miss out on if you don’t have friends who know the crap you put up with.

Good work karma

Sometimes jobs morph into project management or editing gigs and it’s my responsibility to hire freelancers. Or I have too much work on my plate and I have to subcontract. Or clients ask me to recommend freelancers for jobs I can’t do.

For all of the above, I go to my friends first. Not just because I like them, but because I think they’re good and I trust them. My friends have done all of those things for me. (Thank you, Freelancer Friends. I love you!)

But whether it comes back in your direction or not is irrelevant. It’s much more important to have someone to talk to. The work is gravy.

Love hurts, I know

Speaking of trust… A century ago, I recommended a good friend for a freelance design gig at a huge communications firm. We worked together joyously for two years, then she and her husband opened an agency. They wooed my client for the project we were working on and won – meaning that now I had to report to my friend. She took me for coffee and explained that we could no longer be friends because she was my boss. I was belligerent. She fired me.

On very rare occasions you meet someone whose natural survival instinct is out of whack – someone who would throw you under the bus for a minor professional victory. It can make a friend behave in a very unfriendly way, so be careful to whom you introduce your clients.

Unfriended – it happens

You’re getting regular calls from a client who thinks the sun shines out your astute observations, when suddenly his bestie is between gigs. Poof! There goes the work and you never hear from him again. It sucks, but you know you’d probably do the same thing in his position.

Freelancing makes for fickle relationships. The freedom that so benefits you also benefits those who hire you, and that’s very apparent when friendships are involved.

Where to find freelance love?

You’ll meet people like you at on-site jobs or through professional organizations. (Hell, it won’t hurt you to have a shower and get out of the house!) I’ve met most of my Freelancer Friends on projects that required more than one freelancer. Some are past clients and coworkers.

Most often it’s an organic process, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. When you meet someone who gets your crazy jokes, it’s worth it. Say something generous and see what happens.

So nourishing

Good, genuine friends are part of a balanced freelance diet. But like anything, you have to work at them to maintain them. Keep in touch. Go for beer. Ask about the spouse/cat/nasty rash. And don’t do it because you think they might make good contacts – that kind of motivation has a stink that will leave you lonely! – do it because you like them. And because friendship will make you a happier human.

September 16

May I be excused? (The freelancer and jury duty)

shadowIt’s been years since I felt it, but there it was today like an old friend – the “hooky” joy.

When I received my summons for jury duty, it weighed heavily on my mind. Should I try to get out of it? A few years back my partner was a juror on an ugly three-month murder trial. Sounds like it might be interesting, and it did have its Breaking Bad moments, but in the end there was just sorrow.

Still, I wanted to do my civic duty blah-blah-blah. There’s something else, too. When you do jury duty, you’re on an island. It’s an automatic pass from dog walking, school pickups, mom’s doctor appointments and, oh yeah, work. Twenty years ago I served for two days and it was like a vacation from crazy.

But that was 20 years ago and I don’t do crazy anymore. My clients and I worship at the altar of mutual respect. My pace is slower and I am a happier freelancer.

Being called for jury duty presented a problem then. Do I attempt to get excused, or do I embrace the experience?

This morning, sitting in the courthouse with dozens of my fellow citizens, waiting for the day to unfold, I was still undecided.  I was enjoying reading, knowing I couldn’t be anywhere else. Of course, it was costing me – being there meant I wasn’t making money. The reality is that the majority of people who generously fulfill their civic duty as jurors have jobs that pay them to be there. (Whoa, think on that! In order for it to be a jury of “peers” the accused needs a sweet job with lots of benefits – but I digress.) Sitting on a jury could potentially cost me thousands of dollars. And if I’m out of commission even my most loyal of clients will have to go elsewhere.

So when the court attendant told us to raise our summonses if we had a good reason to be excused from jury duty, up went my hand. Not with glee, but with resignation. When I was called to explain, and for some reason I was one of the first, they asked for proof (I provided tax documents), and then they dismissed me kindly, with a smile even.

Out I went into the sunny morning. No responsibilities, no obligations. And there it was: the wicked pleasure of truancy.

And it was time well stolen. I grabbed myself a latte and read for a long time before I told anyone I was available.

You know, I’m sure being a juror would have given me insight and perspective – a front-row seat to the judicial system in action. I’m confident, too, that it would have given my cocktail party chatter a little extra sparkle. Oh, and wouldn’t I be smug with the knowledge of secret details unavailable to the likes of you.

But really, I’d rather be playing hooky.

 

June 27

How to feed your freelancer

 

 

me and plate2Congratulations! You have a new freelancer. With a little care your pal will flourish and in no time at all you two will be quite a pair – perhaps even the life of the party. After all, who doesn’t like to see a freelancer dance, beg or even play dead?
 
Before the fun begins, take some time to learn about the nourishing diet that will keep her healthy and active. Freelancers don’t need much, and they always give back so much in return.
 
Provide nutrients from these four groups and your  freelancer will make you a proud client:

Dish up meat and potatoes

Your freelancer needs lots of fresh information. Minimal preparation is required, although it does take a little time to separate the fat from the lean. It’s worth the effort! When your hungry freelancer gets terrific direction from you it enhances his performance. As Dawn, fellow freelancer enthusiast, warns, “Garbage goes in, garbage comes out.”

A word of caution: Hand-fed freelancers grow quite tame and may even become docile. There’s no harm in getting him to do a little leg work. He may grumble, but pay no mind – research is good for him.

Be ready for seconds

Remember, your freelancer wants to please you, and nothing makes her happier than to see the smile on your face when a job is well done. Be sure to put some thought into the feedback you give her. When you know what you want from her and let her know, she can give it to you. You’ll both be so excited when you have excellent results.

Alas, the mind-reader freelancer is but a myth. Many a client has placed too much store in this unproven ability and has been sadly disappointed. Don’t blame your buddy if she can’t read your mind. Believe me, she wishes she could!

Give him fibre, fibre, fibre!

All living things need to keep things moving, and we have found that the regular payment of invoices does the trick nicely for freelancers. Always try to pay within six weeks or you take the chance that your freelancer will refuse to perform the usual tricks. His coat may even lose its lovely sheen!

You should not be surprised if your freelancer charges you for late payment. It’s your chum’s way of getting you to notice that something isn’t right.

Serve up a little sugar now and then

You may be tempted to give your freelancer a little something sweet. You know how much you enjoy it! The good news is, it’s not only acceptable, it’s highly recommended.

Introduce sugar slowly. Start with, “Thank you” or maybe even “Great job.” On those days when you’re in a rush, even a smiley face emoticon will do! Freelancers who are regularly rewarded will often surprise their clients – we know of one who even performs on weekends.

Everything you’ve heard about the joys of having a freelancer is true…it can relieve your stress and impress your gang. Like all the best things in life, so much depends on the effort you put into it. Provide your loyal friend with the nourishment she needs and she will delight you again and again. You may count the fact that you are a great client among your finest achievements!

 

May 27

Are you cut out for this?

tall blog pic
 
Picture this Hooky Player at an awkward social event making awkward conversation with an awkward stranger.
 
“Me? I’m a freelance writer,” I say. 
 
“You work at home?” asks Awkward Stranger, as if I told him I juggle machetes in urinals. “I could never do that.”

 

It’s a conversation I have a lot. Strangers can’t believe it’s possible to work at home without becoming a TV-addicted housecoat-wearing sloth whose best friends are the women of The View.

What I really want to say to them is this: Working at home is the least of it. Freelancing is much more than getting out of your jim-jams, showering and sitting at your computer by 9am (but that helps!). Freelancing is seeking out clients, keeping clients happy, managing finances, schmoozing, cold calling, panicking when there’s no work, panicking when there’s too much work and being on your game every godforsaken day you work.

As Dawn, my bff (best freelancer friend), wrote me last week in one of our many cathartic exchanges: freelancing is not for wusses. True. But still, not much can compare to the gratification of living by your wits.

Are you cut out for it? Read on to learn whether this life of perpetual angst is right for you: Continue reading

May 7

Want to make good money? Don’t get paid in promises.

 

lori2In the dark ages, when I was growing up, it was not uncommon to hear the expression, “Why buy the cow when you can milk it through the fence?” It was used as a stern warning to young women that premarital sex might lead to (gasp!) spinsterhood.

I know, right? As a perspective on female sexuality, the cow metaphor is pretty degrading. In the world of freelance, however, I consider it gospel.

What I mean is this: if you don’t respect your work – if you give it away too cheaply, or worse, for free – you’ll have difficulty establishing long-term client relationships. And it’s especially true if you’re just starting out and trying to establish a reputation. Continue reading