Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is *Now* a Good Time to (Wisely) Use Credit?

I've mentioned that I have a few more months worth of cash in my savings accounts. But after that? I'd be broke.

I don't own a car, or a house, and I'm single. Unless I tapped my old 401k or emaciated IRA, I'd have no money.

I'm starting to get some preliminary responses to my resume, but as of yet no contracts are signed and no projects initiated. In addition, it's a brutal job market.

My mother is very close to retirement age, and having issues with her job (she thinks they might be pussyfooting around trying to manage her out of her job). In addition to some other reasons for her, I don't feel I could count on her for much financial support.

So...I've been thinking about using my zero-balance credit card for some of my basic expenses: groceries, my storage unit, cell phone bill -- just the things I absolutely need each month. It would be a way to extend my cash a bit, and given that my credit card balance is at zero, I wouldn't be accruing much in interest, and I would have a tiny minimum payment.

I want to be clear that I would not use the credit card for things like going out to dinner, or buying anything non-essential.

I'm just trying to cover my butt, since I don't have a boyfriend/husband/family who could help me out.

What do you think?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just How Brutal the Job Market Is Right Now

I send out my resume, generally, 3-5 times each day. Sometimes double that.

Rarely do I receive responses...and I know this is not because I have a poor resume or insufficient experience. This is just because there are that many people responding for these jobs.

How many people? You might ask.

Consider this: early last Thursday morning, I sent a cover letter and resume for a freelance article writing gig. The ad had been posted around 7pm the night before. Last night I received an email asking for a writing sample on a specific topic. The email also mentioned that they received over 500 responses to their ad. They want to hire 4-5 writers, so that means 1% of the respondees will actually land the client.

This is what the freelance job market is like right now, and why I get ecstatic when I receive a response. It's rare to receive even a 'thank you for your response' or 'thanks for your interest but we chose someone else' email when you respond to online ads, unless it's an agency or FTE ad. In three months, I've received two of these emails, and both of those were in the last two weeks.

So, I wrote my mini-article last night and sent it off. I didn't want to wait until today, because I wanted it to be one of the earlier pieces they read so that it would have a higher chance of being read and remembered.

Today, I received an email asking for a formal online application, since I've passed the preliminary screening for another potential client. This, too, makes me ecstatic. It means that someone read my cover letter and read my resume. This is notable because I highly suspect that when a lot of resumes are received, the reviewer will find the first one that looks like it matches their needs and go with them. In fact, I sometimes suspect this is what happened with my first major client.

I was meant to have an interview with a potential client today (who during our phone chat said several times how "very impressed" he was with my resume), but he's ill and our meeting has to be postponed.

Freelancing is like this. You can send resumes so often that it seems like putting coins in a slot machine that never pays out, and then you become confused when you actually do receive a response (that has happened to me). Then, seemingly out of the blue people will start sending preliminary responses and then it really does appear that there is a glimmer of light and hope in the distance.

I'm not counting anything before it's happened, but I am starting to feel reassured that I can actually find quality freelancing work.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Self-Employment Choices (for me)

One of the things I've wondered, since I've been unemployed, is this: am I really doing all I can to find more freelancing gigs?

The answer, simply, is: no.

I'm not a sales person. The thought of cold calling is anathema to me.

I've also thought about pursuing more of the hobby-like income streams I've done this past year, namely basic website design and development and jewelry making. There's also pet-sitting. In addition, there are sites I could write articles for that would pay either small amounts or residual amounts based on article views. So sure, I could probably eke out a living spreading myself across small, low-paying, unreliable side jobs. Yet, I don't want to merely eke out a living.

None of these things will quickly earn me as much money as I'm accustomed to receiving each week. Certainly not without a lot of aggressive selling of myself (shudder) and legwork.

Now I know full well that jobs and clients aren't just going to magically appear and fall in my lap. If only! However, I know that building a new business(es) for things I have less formal training...well, let's just say that this economic climate would not make these things great ideas. In addition, the jewelry option requires a certain investment in materials, and I'd rather not get further into the financial hole [with jewelry making] than I already am.

Part of me wonders "if I just had more hustle..." would that make a difference. Sure, it probably would. But if I write articles for low or pay-per-view rates, and if I dabble in a little of this and a little of that, would I be compromising myself? I've started to think that I would.

Finally, I also won't work for significantly sub-market rates. I've seen ads that from companies that want a technical writer for $10/hour -- on contract, or people that want article writers for .02/word. Both of those are ridiculously, offensively low pay rates. I will write for basically free for this blog because I enjoy it, but I won't write for someone who won't recognize and pay for the value my writing.

As I've written, I really, truly would prefer to continue freelancing. However, I will likely end up doing agency work, or I may even end up signing on as a FTE somewhere. I don't want to live hand to mouth. Also, agency or FTE work will help me to quickly rebuild my savings coffers, and then cushion me when I go back to freelancing (because my freelancing days are by no means at an end...just looking at a temporary suspension).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Potential Help for Unemployed Freelancers

On a whim today, I called up the unemployment office to see if there was any special aid being given to unemployed freelancers. I've read several articles about the financial stimulus plans, and the $800+bln plan Obama has, and I've never seen anything about the self-employed. A cut in my payroll tax isn't going to help me a lot -- one, I'm not making any money; two, I'm not paying anyone.

Imagine my surprise when the lady at the UE office told me there is talk of aid for unemployed freelancers. Hurrah!! There isn't any kind of timeline or details available yet, and she had no idea when those might be available. She recommended checking back on their website. She also said those who've declared themselves on their taxes as self-employed would get letters if and when this aid is available.

So, while it's not great news (e.g. aid is available now), it's good news to know that us sole proprietors haven't been overlooked in financial aid packages.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I'm Back...

Wow. I hadn't realized my last post was all the way back in November, and just how sporadic my posting was the couple months prior to that.

I can tell you that just prior to losing my primary client, I'd been exceptionally busy with them, and that consumed a great deal of time and energy. Post-losing my primary client, I fell in to a very dark hole. It was very depressing to lose that client, and I've not really worked since then. I did finish a website for one client, and build a small website for a roommate, but that's it.

In essence, I've not worked in over three months.

These three months have been mixed for me -- I thought something in my personal life was going to be something nice, and it was horrible instead. I'm not a fan of Christmas, and combining that with the personal horrible thing and being unemployed made for a lousy December. I had no interest in writing for this blog (though I have thought about this blog often), and I didn't want to write about any of the negative things I was feeling. Now that January is here, I'm feeling a bit more optimistic, though the freelance job market is currently quite grim. (I've decided that I need an agent/sales person to find work for me, since sales and cold calling just is not my forte.)

Now, I'm still looking for work, and am dealing with the prospect of having to take a full time job for a company, or work through an agency. This may not seem like such a big deal to some, but it is a HUGE deal for me. I've been thinking about how to explain this, and that will likely be its own blog post...so stay tuned.

The one good thing I can report, is that financially I'm ok for at least a little while longer. My emergency fund has gotten me far, and my other savings accounts (home, travel, IRA) are helping me through this, too. I'm also happy that a client who I billed on 2 December is finally paying me, and another occasional client will have a few days work for me later this month.

It's odd, because after fighting some insomnia a couple nights ago, I got up and looked at all my bank accounts and added up my available cash. Even after three months of not working, I could still pay off all my remaining credit card and student loan debt (mid-4 figures), and I would still have enough money for about two months. I was very surprised at that. I'm thankful for my current low (very low) living expenses.

So, I'm back. I think. I really have missed blogging, but like I said, I wasn't in a good frame of mind and I didn't want this blog to become a place reflecting the darkness I was feeling.

Oh, and did I mention I wrote a novel in November? I did. Seriously. I also started a writing group with other novelists, and that's been going very well and we're all editing our novels. So things are looking up. ;-)

Now, if I could just find some work!