Monday, February 23, 2009

The Power of Changing Things Up

So, here is the result of (mostly) taking a week off my job search:

1. I'm a bit re-charged and raring to go;
2. I have plans for how I want to proceed (e.g. I need to start proactively contacting potential clients, instead of only reactively responding to ads).

Also, I have leads on:

1. A short project;
2. A 3-6/week contract job through an agency;
3. An ongoing relationship with a potential client.

Note that all three leads were the result of me responding to potential clients/the agency last week. One is a project with the guy whose backing fell through (though apparently he was able to get approval for a small starting project); the agency job I discovered through the daily email I get from Indeed; and the third is because I couldn't help myself responding to an ad on craigslist that would be small projects on an ongoing basis.

I also did actually do a little bit of work last week. I've been doing some work for a lady, and I edited and proofread a couple things last week. It doesn't pay much, but there is a lot to be said for receiving an email stating "I have this document for you to do" and then getting paid -- even if it is just a little amount. Also, the work is pretty easy and straightforward, and each project takes an hour or less.

I think the week "off" was quite successful. I feel like taking the week off attracted these things to me. Sort of like they always say when you're looking for someone to date, you'll find someone when you stop looking. I also feel like I've applied for work more selectively, instead of just blanketing my resume to postings which match my skills. Though, I'm not entirely confident that selectively applying for work in this economy is the best strategy...

So, I feel like I made headway in the work search, and I definitely made progress with my novel.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking the Week Off (Mostly) from Job Searching

So, after the particularly frustrating incident with the potential client, I vowed to take this week off from job searching. Too, I was already thinking about doing this. Four months of searching (yes, it's really been that long) is taking its toll on my energy and optimistism levels.

Mostly.

I receive an email every morning with job listings scraped from different sites, and today I saw one that isn't writing or editing related, but which is very similar to what I did back in the hi-tech days, so I'm thinking of applying. I know I could rock the job. It's also an FTE job...

Yesterday evening, I just couldn't help myself from briefly looking at the craigslist posts for my area (there were none that fit my skills).

Also, this morning I received a query from someone I queried, about writing an article for them. I said yes, asked them to clarify the content, and gave them an estimated delivery date (it's only 500 words, but it's a subject I have to research). I've also started doing a little bit of academic editing (it pays particularly low, but it's easy and it's a work self-esteem boost to see "I have a project, can you do it?" email in my inbox, and yesterday was the second project in a week).

It's been refreshing, though it's a weird change. I have to actively work on ignoring my drive to be constantly looking around the web for jobs and potential clients. Though, I am thinking about ways to expand my searching and how I want to move forward. I'm learning that even though I'm loathe to do sales, I need to step things up and start proactively contacting potential clients, instead of just responding to ads with the 100s of other writers and editors.

I've been spending time working on my novel, and that makes me happy. I've read of a lot of the genre I'm writing in, and I can see that my novel could make it, once all the rough spots are worked out -- and there are a lot of them -- and if I can find and agent and publisher (these are no easy feats, let me tell you). I participate in a couple of writing groups (one of which I lead) and they are invaluable in help keeping me on track and working.

So, it's weird to not be actively searching this week, though it's very refreshing and just what I needed after the new client falling through so spectacularly. We'd been having phone conversations and he'd been postponing meetings for upwards of three weeks, so that made it even more frustrating since I'd been led to believe the project was mine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why I Love Government Agencies

Remember how I said maybe there would be unemployment benefits for unemployed people?

HAH!

I just called, and the woman on the other end of the phone went into stunned silence when I asked her about this. When she put me on hold and asked others about this, noone in the office knew anything about this. She was pretty stunned when I said yes, someone from your office *did* tell me this, a few weeks ago.

One hand not knowing what the other is doing? Someone trying to give me false hope? Who knows.

One thing that may be useful for other people though: if you last filed an unemployment claim as late as May 2006, you could be eligible for extended unemployment benefits. My last claim was January 2006 (this was right after my last stint working for someone else, and right before I went freelance), so I've missed it by a mere four months. Though, maybe it can help someone else out.

It's weird, not to mention extremely frustrating, when you get such varied information from government agencies, but there you go.

Monday, February 16, 2009

And Now...Back to the Drawing Board

So, I was excited to wake up this morning. Not because it's a holiday, but I had an interview scheduled, where I knew the client already wanted to hire me. When I'd mentioned a fee range during our last phone conversation, he didn't blanch or counter-offer. After a couple weeks of scheduling conflicts, it was looking good and ready to go.

Not so.

Friday, he met with his backers for the project, and they are postponing money for two months. Now, he won't have money to pay me until then. Though, he's said to get back in touch with him in a month (which I will -- I like his project and what I'd be doing).

[insert variety of colorful expletives in English and Spanish]

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Do You Transition to Working for Someone Else?

One thing that has caused me a great deal of grief and introspection recently, is this: what does it mean that I now have to seriously consider and pursue working for someone else, after working for myself for nearly three years?

Honestly, I've felt like admitting that I have to do this, and then pursue these types of job options, signifies a certain level of failure on my part. Several people I know have told me this isn't the case, though I take that with big grains of salt as most of them have not been self-employed. It's a huge psychological shift to have to even consider working for someone else when you don't want to. I know the people who've told me this isn't a sign of failure mean well, but since those people aren't self-employed, it doesn't feel like they really grasp the gravity of what I'm trying to convey.

At a base level, I do not want to work for a corporation again. I do not want to work for most companies. I certainly do not want to work 40 hours per week. Though, given the economy and the fierce competition for freelance jobs right now, I have to face this and do it. While I know that any FTE work I may take now isn't a lifetime contract, it still hurts and feels like a major psychological blow to be in this position.

As a business owner, I know that you have to do what needs to be done for your business. At the core of it, my business is me and I need to do what needs to be done so that I don't end up sleeping on my mom's couch. This means that while I am still pursuing freelance work, I am also starting to apply for agency and FTE work.

While I have enough cash on hand to last me a few more months, I don't want to go that far without working, because it would mean all my savings accounts would be decimated. In addition to my emergency fund, it would mean my travel, condo downpayment, and IRA funds would be nil. That isn't acceptable to me, both theoretically and psychologically.

Now, I'm sending off resumes for everything I feel my qualifications match, or almost match. I have five different versions of my resume, and multiple basic cover letters that I customize. I give good interviews and I have an impressive work history, so I feel confident in the possibility of persuading someone to give me something that is just beyond my skills or experience. Then again, I'm up against scores of people with the exact skills and experience and great resumes, so...

I feel a certain amount of optimism that I will be able to find work like what I've been doing the past few years. I certainly hope, with every fiber of my being, that I don't have to go back to administrative assistant work, if for no other reason that earning $12-15/hour feels like a major step backwards for me both professionally and monetarily. And those jobs are probably hard to come by, too...

In all, dealing with the psychological ramifications of being adrift as a freelancers are large and is difficult. It takes time to get past what you want to be doing, and accept what you have to do to survive and stay out of the soup kitchens or your mother's couch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lifewise is not so Budget Wise

So, up until last month, I had Lifewise health insurance. It was inexpensive, and it suited my needs.

Last year, I was willing to accept a $30ish/month premium increase.

This year, I am not.

When I signed up for the insurance, it was $129/month. Now, they want ~$185/month. That's beyond my budget (especially considering my current lack of income), so I've let it lapse. I'm not thrilled to be without medical insurance, but I'm not prepared to pay that much for basic medical insurance (I don't have prescriptions, children, or plans for children, and I only go to the doctor when I'm sick with more than a basic cold).

However, I'm also skeptical when an insurance company blames the premium increase on people doing things like having MRIs instead of a basic x-ray, which the letter intimated worked just as well. Hello? I couldn't believe they seriously said that, but they did.

I've heard that there are some other inexpensive, basic plans out there. If you know of them (especially firsthand), please let me know. Last night, a friend told me about a couple places to check out [in the Seattle area], though I don't know of any national programs.

Carnivals and Fame

Last week, I participated in the Carnival of Money Stories over at Dividend Tree, and this week I have an article in the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Dollar Frugal.

In addition, yesterday I had a brief brush of fame as having Where Do You Draw the Line selected as one of the PF blog articles curated on the Wall Street Journal website.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Where Do You Draw the Line?

We all know it: the job market sucks right now. It doesn't matter if you're a freelancer like me, or if you're looking for full-time work.

Yet, in this bad job market, where do you draw the line? A few days ago, I responded to a craigslist ad from a woman looking for someone to redesign her [business] website. I responded, she responded back because she liked the samples I showed her, I sent her a quote, and she said it was more than she could afford. My quote was $800. She said she could only spend $300. I offered to cut my fee by 50% (!!), because it was a pretty straightforward job, and I could do it within 1-2 days. She never responded.

This has spawned a couple conversations with friends. Even at offering to do the job for $400, I was undervaluing my services and the skills needed to do this. However, part of me is still thinking "well, now I haven't earned anything, and I could have had that easy gig."

In general, it's a very bad practice to perform services for rates below what the average market rate. I know from talking to another of my website clients, and a professional web designer would've charged probably $2-3k. My skills aren't quite as developed as that, and like I told the woman: I don't design bells and whistles sites, and I don't charge those prices. Given what the job entailed, I feel my quote was fair. Also, I was prepared to negotiate a bit, just because that's how these things sometimes go.

Yet I can't stop thinking that she probably found someone to do the job for $300. Granted, that means she's getting a $300 website, and it's likely to severely reflect that.

Or is this just a sign of how competitive the market is for jobs, that people are willing to take pauper wages for highly skilled jobs?

Next week, I'm scheduled to meet with a potential client, who seems to have already hired me in his mind. We haven't discussed money yet, but now I'm wondering just how much I am willing to be flexible on my rate, given the competition that's out there. The job is not for writing, which means my hourly rate would be lower than what I normally bill. In addition, the client runs a pretty small operation, so I'm not sure what his budget allows for an editor/webmaster. Is it fair to myself to take a job at a sub-par rate, just as a placeholder until a better-paying client comes along? Part of me says no, and that doing this could lead to burned bridges. Part of me says yes, and believes that in this economy and job market, you do what you have to do, period.

I should remind you, that as a freelancer, I'm not eligible for unemployment benefits. I'm living off my emergency fund, and the fund is not everlasting.

This whole question applies to everyone looking for a job right now. Employers know they are in control and they have tons of qualified applicants. (Someone told me today about a story of a woman applying for a job as a receptionist, only to find out 1,000 people applied for the same job. Scary.) Because of all this, employers can offer lower wages and get away with it, because hey, if it's not enough for you, it's enough for someone else. The woman took down her website ad within a day, so presumably she did find someone willing to do it for $300.

I also wonder what I will do if I can't find (enough) freelance work in the next month or two. If I can't find writing or editing clients, what's left? I really don't want to end up doing adminstrative work through an agency, but if it really comes to that, then it comes to that.

So, where do you draw the line? Is there an hourly wage/salary you won't work for? Or are you starting to feel like me, in that any income is better than no income?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Carnivals and Such

Last week, I was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted over at The Credit Card blog; and the Carnival of Money Stories at The Sun Financial Diary.

Go check them out for roundups of great articles!