The other day I took a pulse and asked if (in general) the following were true:
A very challenging thing to manage as a freelancer is other people’s perceptions. You’re either working too hard or not enough. Occasionally, you feel like extra demands are made of your time because you work from home or you’re always online.
The Godfreelancefather Matt Forbeck was quick to point out that sometimes those perceptions are true. E Foley mentioned that she wasn’t aware of many freelancers who struck a positive work/life balance, especially when paying for benefits. L.A. Gilman and Stephen Blackmoore both had some excellent points about how freelancing is more popular in a crappy economy and how high rates translate to not working hard enough. The conversation went on from there when Phil Brucato and Elissa Rich pointed out that ”But you do it because you LOVE it. That’s not WORK! You’d do it anyway, so why should you expect to get paid for it? Lots of people do it for free on the internet!”
Sometimes, I find managing perceptions is very difficult; even though I do my best I feel like I can never win. You post about what you’re working on (paid or not) and some people think you’re too busy to take on other projects. You don’t post about what you’re writing or playing and sometimes people think you’re not doing anything. Or, you have a bunch of releases all at once (even though you wrote them over the course of two years) and you need to slow down.
I have a white board (ominously taped to an Independence Day poster) with four buckets: paid, non-paid, spec and promo/PR. I also have a wishlist of projects/companies I’d kill to work for. Every week I have a list to help myself prioritize what I need to be doing. Then? I do it. Sometimes, assignments/meetings take me more time than expected. Other days they go down really quick and easy. Either way, I know what has to be done regardless of my mood, blood sugar levels, and obligations.
The thing is: my schedule isn’t based on hours, it’s based on what I need to earn so I fulfill my obligations professionally, financially and personally. (Which is why I’ve been freelancing as a consultant/marketer for a set number of hours per week to give me the flexibility to write.) I take a lot of pride in my reputation. Every freelancer has one. If I screw up on an assignment? It’s my responsibility to fix it. If there’s a scheduling change on that company’s end? Gotta plow right on through. When the assignment goes down easy, I reset my schedule. I’ve made mistakes in the past because I believed that promo/PR comes first. Boy, was I wrong.
One of the worst demands I’ve ever seen originates from the idea that “Hey, I know an artist/writer/etc. I can just ask them to…” Sure, one or two requests may not seem that big of a deal. Trail John Kovalic around for a while. The sheer volume of requests for free art/time from him is overwhelming and was what spurred this train of thought. I don’t make demands on his time for two reasons. One? I respect him as a professional. Two? I’ve seen how those requests greatly reduce his ability to fulfill his obligations for paid work and new publications. (Which is why last week’s Dork Tower on Speak Out was a total shock on my end.)
It’s hard to say “No” or explain the reality of a situation without sounding like an asshole. Even if it’s prefaced by an apology, it sounds like that person is overwhelmed because they can’t just do that one, little thing or they don’t appreciate their readers/listeners/fans. That’s why I’m working with E Sophia to get an Army of Dorkness fan club going. For John? He has enough fans where that makes sense.
Add to that personal lives/feelings, etc. to the whole perceptions business and you have a recipe for complexity. The other reason why perceptions are tricky, in my mind, is because the industry as a whole is always changing, too. There is no such thing as a stable job anymore. While I don’t feel/want to nitpick and micromanage every comment/blog post/approach I have, I do feel these perceptions are important in a general sense.
If you have tips or stories to share? Please feel free to add your thoughts below.