Having heard Sara Horowitz interviewed on KQED Radio I immediately ordered her book The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Terms.
An excellent reference for all freelance workers
The primary value of this well-designed 462-page book is as a one-stop reference for new freelancers — or anyone considering alternatives to full-time W-2 work. Every practical detail is covered: from client contracts to daily calendars; insurance to incorporation; marketing to mentoring; taxes to technology. These practical details, checklists and planning tools are enlivened with stories from freelancers Sara has met in her 15 years as the founder of the Freelancer’s Union.
A wake-up call for America
The real value of the book is where is goes beyond the basic reference it does so well. A series of “Advocacy Alerts” encourage freelancer’s to “stand up together to be counted” when it comes to demanding a more freelancer-friendly set of laws. Sara recognizes that we live in society that is still structured for the work-world of the 1950’s: a lifetime of “secure” employment where healthcare and unemployment compensation is geared to support an economy of full-time workers. This just won’t cut it when, Sara claims, a third of all work is being done by freelancers. Unless they band together, freelancers are at a disadvantage in terms of the tax code, misclassification by corporations and unpaid wages:
“In the new economy, our best chance of securing what freelancers need is to provide as much of it as we can ourselves through the groups freelancers are connected to–organizations like Freelancers Union, professional associations, faith-based communities and other nonprofits…and then approaching lawmakers as a collective unit and let them know it’s really getting to be ridiculous that freelancers continue to grow in number, continue to pay all these taxes … yet continue to get no consideration in the safety net discussions where change has to happen at the policy level.”
In very practical ways the Freelancer’s Union provides members a way to share stories on how to avoid being held hostage by deadbeat clients, provides alternatives to employer healthcare (in a few states only) and encourages members to provide each others with discounts.
Nevertheless, in the world of elance and fiverr there’s a real danger of freelancer’s being caught in a race to the bottom with price-sensitive clients. Chapter three is filled with solid advice on building a freelance portfolio where low-price work is only a small element of “a client mix that delivers maximum value for your time and effort.”
Setting a fair fee
A trap many new to freelancing fall into is not knowing the market rate for your services. The Sherman Antitrust Act prevents associations from openly discussing fees. However, there’s nothing to stop freelancers from informally sharing information about pricing with others, which helps all freelancers get paid what they deserve. If for no other reason than this, freelancers should join a mastermind group and buy a couple of more experienced people in your field a coffee in exchange for an honest discussion about their fees.
All together now
Time and again, the book points to the value of freelancers building community: for robust networking in person and online; mentoring others; avoiding isolation and keeping a sense of perspective.
As with all advice books, there’s plenty here that you can adapt to your own needs. To take one example, Sara lists the advantages of having a blog as a great way to market yourself online. I couldn’t agree more. But she says to keep blog postings to no more than 500 words. Works for some, just not for me.