Voxate Writing & Editing

South African Writer, Copywriter and Editor
Browsing Freelancing

The True Story of How My Client Refused To Pay My Invoice and I Agreed

July18

The work had taken the better part of a week and was as boring as that time my library teacher taught us how to use the card indexing system. Repetitive, uninspiring, completely the opposite of creative. Still, it wasn’t hard to do. So, on the crisp, bright Friday morning, I happily sent the invoice through to my client, glad to get that project off my shoulders. But then came her reply. Strange, it was unlike her to comment on an invoice. She usually paid it immediately (she’s a gem, she really is).

But, this time she had a problem with the invoice. I hadn’t charged enough, she said. Eh? Not enough? Nope. She refused to pay me what I invoiced her because, she said, it wasn’t what the work was worth. At this point, the bad voices started – You didn’t work that hard. It was so boring and repetitive, a chimp could probably have managed it. You even stalled a bit, taking longer coffee breaks and indulging in that afternoon snooze. How could you justify charging any more?

MONEY

More along the lines of what I’d hoped for in those early years. Credit: Pocketpress

But, she was right. It had taken me almost a whole week. In that time, I had to put other projects on the back-burner, I had to invest less time and energy into my online presence and marketing, and I had to spend longer hunched over a keyboard. Even if I’m being a little dramatic (and obviously I’m not), it occupied the better part of my mind and time during the course of five days. And why wouldn’t that be worth something?

Knowing my worth is something I’ve struggled with right from the beginning. Starting as a freelancer, I was desperate for the business, terrified of a rejected quote, and determined to undercut anyone (even the chimp).

Today, though, almost a decade down the line, things are different. I know what my time and expertise are worth, I know the value that they add to my clients, and I know that what I charge is fair and reasonable for what they get out of it. And, now that I’m charging real rates, I’m enjoying real jobs with real clients, as opposed to those who don’t care how little they pay you because they never put much value to your work anyway. Because, if you didn’t, why should they?

 

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My Cheat Sheet to Being a Successful Freelancer

July10

I guess the definition of success remains a matter of perspective, but it doesn’t hurt to share some of the tips I’ve gleaned, Googled, and learnt the hard way.

Freelancing is the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love the flexibility, independence and control that I have over the effort I put in and the outcome. But, there are tricky areas, booby traps and landmines. And, when you’re working for yourself, you bear the brunt of any bad decision or mistake. So, here are just a few things that I’ve learnt during my almost-10 years of freelancing:

  1. Don’t undercharge

Yes, you want to get work and you want to undercut others to do it. But, and I learnt this the hard way, it only undermines your abilities and means that you’re working your hind-quarters off but struggling to pay the lights. Do your research, connect with other freelancers and recognize the value of your work. You’ll soon get a feel if your rates really are too high. There’s a helpful infographic on how to decide on rates here.

  1. Do it right

If you’re going on your own and you’re going to charge accordingly, you need to make sure you’re offering something of quality. This will mean getting experience (perhaps in a company under the mentorship of someone) and getting your hands dirty before venturing out on your own. This applies to any industry, but I can only speak as a writer. I’ve met so many people that fancy themselves as really hot writers and want to go for it on their own. They contact me (usually trying to get an idea of what their rates should be) with a painful email that is littered with bad grammar and spelling. I’m all for enabling others, but I can’t, with a clear conscience, tell them to shoot for the stars when the product they’re offering is better aimed at the ceiling. Of a basement.

  1. Routine rules

It’s so tempting to stay in your PJs and work from the comfort of bed with series blaring in the background. And I even indulge myself sometimes and do it. But, you need a daily routine that starts with normal clothing, clean teeth, tidy hair and a formal workspace. This gets your mind in the zone and lights a little firecracker under you to promote efficiency.

Work space, desk with laptop

My work space is uncluttered and neat with gorgeous views of the canals to keep me inspired.

  1. Be ready to work

Freelancing isn’t an easy alternative to a ‘real job’. It often takes more effort and commitment because there’s no salary if there’s no work. There’s pressure to perform within your home realm, which means that there’s no formal off-time. You’ll probably find yourself venturing back to the computer when the kids have gone to bed or waking up early and sneaking in an hour or two before the usual daily humdrum starts.

  1. Clients are not your boss

So often, I’ve heard freelancers talking about their boss. Your-what-now? You are your boss. The people that pay for your work are your clients. Don’t blur these lines, or you’ll be putting yourself in the firing line for being exploited.

And here are some quick tips when planning to leave your formal job and go on your own:

  • Send an email to all of your appropriate contacts 30 days in advance of your resignation and tell them of your intention to start freelancing. Be polite and professional, thanking them for their support. Mention that you will take on new projects as a freelancer immediately. This may create some leads.
  • Keep networking. Join groups and forums, reach out to new contacts, and re-establish contact with old ones. Just keep working at it.
  • Ensure that all of your communication and stationery is professional – this includes design and content. Call in favours from friends or invest in a pro, but don’t try to convince prospective clients with sub-par material that looks home-made.
  • Use social media to build your brand. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic tools. Don’t link them to your personal page or any references of drinking too much / fighting with partners / bad-mouthing others. This arena needs to be absolutely professional. Under your professional page, engage with others to build your own audience – comment, like, join, contribute.
  • Have a personal plan of action as well as a business plan to keep you focussed.
  • Keep up with who your competitors are and what they’re offering. This means connecting with them somehow. Network, share and trade with them to keep in the loop. And then keep a step ahead.
  • Treat everyone well. Never give into the temptation to be sarcastic, condescending, flippant or rude. Not even when you’re doing well and don’t need the business. Always treat people kindly. This is not only for your reputation, but also to ensure that, down the line, when business may not be doing so well, you haven’t made a host of enemies that are unwilling to support you.
  • Take time out and do the things you really want to do. Indulge in a morning at the spa or take a day off to watch Formula One. Do something that feeds your soul so that you do not begin to run on empty, because nothing will kill your passion faster.

But, at the end of this long blog post with all my sage wisdom, there’s nothing that’ll top this: Just do your best. Feel your way around the adventure that is freelancing, learn from your mistakes, learn from your successes, and grow.

Blogging – Why, How and What

June22

There’s a romantic illusion about writing. It starts with phrases like, “everyone has a book inside them” or “you’ve got so many funny/crazy/sad/amazing stories; you should write about them”. But, the fact is that it is borderline-impossibly hard to get published or recognised unless you have something extremely special and unique to offer, coupled with a LOT of hard work (read: actual sweat, tears and maybe even some blood, depending on how hard you hammer away at those keys).

Blogging is a fabulous outlet for writers or aspiring writers who have something to share that doesn’t necessarily fall under the writing-and-publishing-a-book umbrella. And, thanks to the 21st century and the explosion of information available to us, it has become even more do-able for the everyday person.

WHY?

  • Blogging creates a fantastic platform for those who enjoy writing to get plenty of experience and to establish an audience. Once you have a group of people that know you, understand your topic and enjoy reading your blog, you have a considerably bigger chance of being published and read as an author.
  • A blog is a fantastic complement for your existing business. Whether you’re a hairdresser, chef, or engineer, having a blog gives you the opportunity to reach more people with current comments and topics.
  • Once you’ve nailed blogging, you can use it to make money, without spending much (or any) money in the process. Still, this isn’t easy money. It takes lots of work.
  • Blogs are important parts of any online subject or community. You can use yours to help parents that have lost a child, couples going through a divorce, or young ones in need of advice. Or, you can use it to post tutorials on how to cut hair or decorate a party venue. You can even use it to reach out to others for advice and to share insights you wished you’d known before. There’s no telling how far-reaching and beneficial your blog could be.

HOW?

  • Pick a topic – choose something that you’re invested in and have some opinions about, something you’ll research over the long term, and something that affects others. You’ll have to understand your market and have a keen insight into how your blog will add value to them. It has to be about more than your opinion. Your blog needs to be useful, relevant and current.
  • Decide on a platform and host – I use WordPress because it’s easy, quick and has attractive templates.
  • Plan ahead – ensure that you have a page that explains who you are and what your blog is about, as well as a contact page. Then, start planning your tabs and categories before you start writing. This will give your blog shape and will guide you in your writing.
  • Before you launch your blog, ensure that it is populated. Write a few blogs as well as all the static content (e.g. Home Page). It’s a good idea to have a Twitter account and Facebook page for your blog too so that each new post can be shared on social media. Do all of these before officially launching your blog to the public.
  • Once it’s ready, share your blog on social media (the blog’s accounts and, especially in the beginning, on your personal social media accounts). Find blogging groups and share it on those too.
  • Keep it up to date – I fall short here. Life gets in the way, work keeps me busy and, before I know it, it’s been months since my last post. It’s important to stay current and active – both for the blog and for your own enthusiasm.

WHAT?

Deciding on what to blog about is 80% of the battle. Well, probably. It can’t just be me.

A good guide to deciding on a blog (the whole concept or each blog post) is to ask:

  1. Does it solve a problem?
  2. Can it help someone to get through something? (this can refer to a fear, a loss, a trauma, or a hurdle)
  3. Does it teach something?
  4. Will it help my readers to reach a goal?
  5. Is it entertaining?

It needs to be at least one of these things.

EARNING MONEY FROM YOUR BLOG

Earning money from your blog is an organic process. Yes, there are ways and means of getting there more efficiently and proactively, but there’s no magic button that will get the bank balance soaring. The most important way that you can earn money from your blog is to focus on getting accurate, interesting information and writing it well.

Another of the best and easiest ways to start earning is to endorse other people’s products on your blog and to charge a set rate or a commission. This is called Affiliate Marketing. However, if your blog is about a service that you offer, then stick to offering that right from the get-go.

I enjoyed this excerpt from SmartBlogger on the subject:

Affiliate marketing is a good way to start for several reasons:

  • It’s faster. Instead of investing months or even years creating a product, all you have to do is publish a link on your site. Assuming your audience is engaged, you could be earning commissions within hours or even minutes.
  • The income from affiliate marketing is almost entirely passive. You don’t have to worry about creating products, supporting customers, or any of the technical complexity of selling your own products or services. You can also invest the time you save into growing your traffic, leading to more revenue later.
  • It can guide future product creation. If one affiliate product sells 10X better than all the others you promote, you might want to think about developing your own version of the product, because you have proof your audience wants it.

In addition, ensure that your blog is getting some exposure on relevant Facebook pages; such as this one. This sets up a public platform on which to post new pieces that you’ve written, engage with other bloggers, and get feedback from your target market.

Other than this, the success of a blog comes down to its being well written and on topic. There’s just no getting around it. So, invest the time into research, interviews, participating in forums and honing your writing skills to present something of value. When your blog is valuable, your market is more likely to follow.

How Cape Town Inspires Work-From-Homers

June14

What is it about Cape Town? There’s a kind of magic that infuses every part of her. From the moment I peek over Sir Lowry’s Pass or at the first site of MY Table Mountain, its ethereal allure grabs me in a way that I just can’t get enough of. The Mother City is the perfect place for writers and other creatives to stay inspired, even when inspiration is sorely lacking and motivation follows closely behind it. As a work-from-home writer, Cape Town gives me my creativity boost.

I’ve put together a list of Cape Town-based places I’ve gone and things I’ve done, as well as those I haven’t, that may just give others the kind of inspiration kick-start they need:

The Drawing Room Café and Gallery

I can’t wait to try this quirky spot out. As a self-described ‘social space’, this coffee shop and meeting spot sounds ideal for those wanting to break the mould and enjoy something new. The gallery showcases stunning design work by locals and the coffee shop and restaurant encourages creativity in every way. There are even colouring-in books. For adults. Adults that can pay for their own coffee get to colour in. #LoveIt

SUP on the Waterfront Canals

I learnt to SUP in Mauritius, motivated to stay on my board by the 30cm spines of the urchins that lay in wait for my untouched tootsies. That was not inspiring. That was scary. Exploring the canals on a SUP at the V & A Waterfront, though, will be something memorable for all the right reasons. A short lesson and all of the necessary equipment are provided. After spending time on the water with views of Table Mountain and the warm South African sunshine on your back, your mind will be cleared, ready to dive right back into work.

Township tours

Experiencing other cultures can be incredibly special. Their customs, music, language and hospitality can reboot the mind and spirit, casting old thoughts and feelings aside and opening your eyes to new possibilities. What more could a stagnant creative project need? There are many tour operators in Cape Town that offer trips into the massive informal settlements and townships around the city. Many of these include a visit to a shebeen, restaurant, and school; and traditional song and dance performances.

 Yoga and Hike Combo

Views from Table Mountain - perfect after a long hike and a relaxing yoga session

Views from Table Mountain – perfect after a long hike and a relaxing yoga session

Yes, yes, yes. This is the perfect combination of exercise and relaxation to get the juices flowing and the sparks flying. Inmotion offers a combo package that involves a hike (the length depends on the package you choose), finished off with a yoga sesh atop the mountain and, if you’d like, a glass of wine while watching the sunset. Good for your mind and body. Bliss.

 

 

Enrich yourself

One of the best ways to clean the cobwebs and awaken new pathways is to try something new. Take a class for something unrelated to your work; like cooking, kitesurfing, beading, or writing. Cape Town is brimming with courses and classes. These are also great places to network with corporate folk and to meet other work-from-homers.

Time Wasters

December5

Time is precious and every second counts. Heard these worn-out cliches before? Never have they been truer than for a freelancer. Although I am great at wasting time, wastage of any other kind is a pet hate of mine. I’m writing this article in an effort to harness my own weaknesses and to help us all to identify the weak spots.

Here are some of the time-wasters that occupy our time, minds and energy:

Unnecessary meetings – clients may have time to sip languorously at frothy cappuccinos, but you need to reign them in and take control of your time. Email is a wonderful resource. Use it. What can be achieved in a 90-minute meeting can, usually, be accomplished in an email that takes less than 10 minutes to type.

Social media – Facebook and Twitter are no longer just ‘social’. They actually accomplish a lot in the spheres of business and advertising. However, logging into your accounts to check your business pages or profiles will likely distract you to check your personal messages, contacts and updates. It takes an enormous amount of discipline, but it is absolutely non-negotiable to stay away from social media during times in which you should be concentratng and churning out reams of inspired work.

Saying yes – just don’t. Learn to decline jobs that are not worth it for you and learn to delegate.

Untidiness – *guilty* The truth is that piles of paperwork and jumbled notes is just plain wasteful. It wastes our time and mental ‘space’. Nothing irritates me as much as not being able to find a quote or a brief, and it happens on almost a daily basis. It hasn’t quite reached ridiculous proportions yet, and I’m hoping that this article is the antidote to my untidiness. Can you spot the magic wand yet?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you do to use your time as efficiently as possible. I need all the help I can get.

When to Say “No” To a Client

November16

Freelancers find it incredibly difficult to refuse a client or a project. This is no surprise, as we depend very much on each job to pay the bills. Still, there are times that we are going to have to say “no” – whether it is for our sanity, our morals or our reputation.

One of the most important things to remember (certainly for me) is that agreeing to do every job that arises actually diminishes your ability to do each of them as well as if you had less on your plate. Quantity overrides quality. So, to maintain a trusted, positive reputation, you‘d be better off learning to prioritise and to refuse certain jobs.

Secondly, some clients just aren’t worth the stress that they cause. Whether they are micro-managers or late-payers, these types of clients can induce irrational bouts of mania (foaming and the mouth, nervous tics…) in you. No amount of money is worth that. Of course, everyone has their quirks and there is simply no such thing as the perfect client (or freelancer, for that matter). So, I am really referring to those clients that are bad. Really bad.

I have also said “no” to clients when I do not ethically agree with their product or service. For example, a clinic that offers abortions or a game lodge that invites tourists for the purposes of hunting animals. While I know that these are matters of choice, I personally do not want to be involved. Also, I know that I can’t give it the respect that the client requires. They are better off hiring someone that understands their products / services and can give them the attention that they deserve.

Saying “no” doesn’t have to be rude. In fact, you should always be polite, no matter how strongly you feel about something. Keep it simple by saying something like:

  • I’d love to help, but I’m currently swamped with XYZ.
  • Unfortunately, I won’t be able to work on it until 12 XYZ 2012. Can it wait until then?
  • I will not be able to assist, but perhaps you could contact XYZ.

Like all things, saying “no” gets easier with practice. It is also made a little less stressful when you know that you are doing it for the right reasons. Happy writing!

The Perils of Freelance

October28

You won’t catch me admitting to too many downsides of being a freelancer. However, even the happiest of the self-employed will probably agree that there are some hurdles; fleeting moments that have us gnawing our nails down to bloody stumps. If you can anticipate and deal with these effectively, you’ll probably be a happy freelancer. If not, you’re likely going to find the entire experience far more stressful than it’s worth. Here are some of the challenges that I experience:

Cabin Fever
As I sit typing this article, I am in a local coffee shop, Cobblestone, sipping on a cappuccino and trying to decide between the smoked salmon flat bread and the Portuguese omelette with Chorizo. No matter how inspiring and inviting your office, or how much you love wearing slippers all day, you are bound to get sick of being in the same place all day every day. I even slipped on a pair of heels for my breakfast venture – just for the sheer thrill of a change! Of course, this problem is fairly easy to resolve. Get a laptop or an iPad and make a concerted effort to vary your work environment. Also, make sure that your office is comfortable, but always organised, so that you’re not confusing the frustration of chaos with cabin fever.

The Treadmill Syndrome
When I started to plan for my freelancing days, I was sure that I would be spending my mornings walking on the beach, lunching with friends, enjoying sundowners, and whipping up some fascinating reads in-between. Nope. I stumble through to the office with my first cup of coffee, barely having stretched before flopping into my chair to reply to emails sent by clients (who apparently have no need to sleep). On a Sunday after lunch, I slip into my office and start outing some ideas down. In the evening, when my husband starts lying back in the recliner, I’m sitting with the laptop open, typing away about sharks, eco-friendly kids’ projects or the responsibilities of the maid of honour. It’s easy to fall into the trap of never stopping. Eventually, any time spent sitting in the garden becomes guilt-ridden. This has to stop and I’ll start applying my own advice. Set strict work hours and stick to them as closely as possible.

Freaking Over Finances
While the appeal of making your own money, determining your own salary is undeniable, there is a definite downside to your income being solely dependent on the amount of work you do in any given month. Your permanent employer may have a bad month without you batting an eyelash. However, when you are freelancing or self-employed, this shortfall has an entirely different effect. What I’ve found effective is to give myself a salary – an amount that I absolutely need every month. I save the surplus for the months in which clients are closed or work is slow. Another great way of ensuring a steady income is to work on a retainer basis with one or two regular clients.

Having mentioned these factors, it’s so important for me to stress how very happy I am since I started freelancing. For every negative aspect, there are 3500 positive points. If you are thinking about starting on your own and need some tips or encouragement, feel free to send me a mail – amelia{at}voxate{dot}co{dot}za.


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