It's been a bit of a tense month here in the ol' offices of Jen A. Miller (i.e. my house). I signed a contract to have some minor but still expensive plumbing work done right before I found out that my dog, Annie Oakley Tater Tot, most likely needs minor but still expensive surgery. When my vet gave me the estimated cost of the procedure, I started to panic. I'm lucky in that I have savings and resources, but the double whammy of both of these things, on top of the $1,000 I'd already spent on Annie's medical care to get to the point of potential surgery, and two checks being late, is going to create a pinch. What, as a self employed person, could I do?
Well, not skip the dog's surgery, because look at her.
Here are four things I did. A bit of disclosure: 17 years into freelancing, I'm in a much different position than when I started. I make more money, am better with my savings habits, and have more contacts in the industry now than I did when I was wearing low rise jeans when they were first in style. My situation might be different from yours, especially if you're just starting out, but I hope some of this helps.
1. Took a breath, and did a review.
It's easy to get caught in the tide of bad news. A few unexpected bills coinciding with a planned expense but also late checks is not great for a single self employed person who doesn't have another income to back her up (unless Annie makes an Only Paws account). So I took a half hour to review where everything stands right now. I'm working on seven different assignments at the moment, which means I'm going to hit my billing goal of $8,000 a month in April and probably surpass it in May – with room still in my May schedule for more work if I can find it/if it comes my way. And while those two checks are late, I still have another $10,000 in receivables scheduled to come in over the next 30 days (and of course I've already followed up on the late checks and am working on getting paid ASAP).
I also reviewed how much I have in my emergency savings, which I've built up by putting a portion of every check into said account, per The Money Book for Freelancers, which I highly recommend – both doing that and the book itself. I had to remind myself the fund is there for emergencies (hence its name) and can use it for emergencies, like this one.
2. Turned down two low paying assignments.
In my younger freelance days, I didn't set a minimum rate or fee because I took anything and everything assigned to me. I wound up resenting assignments, which left me with both a bad per hour rate and bad mood. Not great. But when two assignments well under my rate came in yesterday, I was still tempted to take them. After doing my "breath, review," and seeing that I was going to be OK, I turned them down. I'd rather leave space for better paying stuff and surprise! Right after I said no to the second low offer, I got a response to a letter of introduction (LOI) I sent Monday, saying they wanted to schedule a call about future assignments.
3. Sent marketing emails
As part of my review, I also looked at my client sheet and identified who I hadn't written for in a while, and who might need me right now. I sent a nudge to a client who is in between editors right now (where the previous editor assigned me stuff all the time), and reminded them that I wasn't working on anything for them. That knocked loose two assignments. I sent an email to an editor who I know just lost a staffer to another publication, and said I was available to pick up the slack. She said assignments are on the way. Each email took less than 30 seconds to write and send.
Touching base with clients already in your stable is more likely to result in work since they already know you, but I also sent 23 LOIs over the last three days (mostly to colleges and universities, so finding a list of potential targets is as easy as finding a list of colleges and universities). I got one request for a call (which I mentioned above) and one "we'll keep you on file."
LOIs don't always lead to immediate work, but they seed potential opportunities for yourself down the line. More than a few times, when I've been scrounging around for assignments, I've gotten a response to an LOI I sent three months, six months, even four years ago (four years! A record!) Also, sending LOIs made me feel like I was DOING something rather than fretting about a lot of stuff I couldn't control.
4. Identified other potential monetization opportunities
I found two: I can do a social media marketing push to sell more ebooks, and I can open freelance consults again if I need to. Neither of these things cost me money, payment is quick, and they don't involve selling a car. They do, however, take time, so hold your horses on asking for a consult slot.
The solution doesn't necessarily need to be within writing. When I was younger, I also worked part time as a Coors Light girl and took on more shifts when I needed to, and picked up extra work with a friend's company by staffing their annual golf outing. If I knew how to drive stick then, I'd probably have been valeting cars. There's no shame in doing non-writing work if it helps you smooth out a financial hit, especially if you want to stay freelancing and just need some breathing room while you figure things out. I'm glad I had those options when I was younger because they helped me stay in it to get to where I am now.
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What I'm Reading
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
How to Be a Wallflower by Eloisa James
What I'm Watching
- The Bubble. This is a stupid movie, but it's supposed to be stupid. Pedro Pascal and David Duchovny look like they had the time of their lives. I love that Pascal can go from a stoic role like to Mandalorian to this (and for What It's Worth, I felt the same way about him in Wonder Woman 1984, which I didn't hate!)
- Severance. One the one hand, I'm jealous of everyone who gets to stream all nine episodes without having to wait between cliffhangers. On the other, if you do that, you didn't get to experience the gap between episodes where you could try to pick apart what just happened, and what the f*** was going on. It looks like it's a show about work/life balance, but it quickly gets WAY beyond that. The season finale is one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen.
- The After Party. In my review of Carl Hiaasen's Stormy Weather, I begged Hollywood to start cranking out more "hot people doing mystery stuff" movies and shows – but I had missed this one! A pop star dies at the after party of his high school reunion. Who killed him? Tiffany Haddish plays the detective tasked with finding out. She's on a meteoric career rise, and it's obvious why. Some of the things she does with her face were SO GOOD I had to skip back to watch her again.
- Girls5eva. I bought myself a month of Peacock so I could watch the Boston Marathon on Monday, which means I'm running through other stuff the platform offers. This show is fantastic. It's so good, and getting such rave reviews, that it's baffling NBC doesn't air it on regular broadcast in the summer when their main shows are on hiatus. There's a lot of things to love about this story of a late '90s girl group coming back together, but my favorite is that they cast Paula Pell even though, at 58, she's nowhere near the right age. Because she's perfect, even if they cast another actress to play her in flashbacks when the other women play themselves.