Friday, September 12, 2008

Tim Huddleston on Making the Leap to a Freelance Career

Tim Huddleston is another of my publishing heroes from way back. After a successful career in publishing management, he became a freelance editor in 1995 and has been equally successful at that. He is now the owner of docugistics, inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina.

So if you're thinking of starting your freelance career, Tim's got some great advice for you. Take it away, Tim!

  • On timing and the economy: I’m not sure there’s a perfect time to make the leap from in-house editing to freelancing. You just have to prepare yourself as best you can, then jump. Strangely enough, in my area of specialty (college textbooks, apprenticeship training manuals, software documentation, and self-training manuals), a bad economy means more work for me. When things take a downturn, more people go to school or look to improve their skills; this creates a greater demand for the products I develop.
  • On how much money you need to make: The big question is whether you can find enough work to generate the income you need. So, your first step is to figure out what that income has to be. You might want to discuss this with an accountant, because whether you become self-employed or incorporate your business in some manner, your tax situation will change. And it’s much more painful to pay your taxes yourself, especially 100% of your Social Security tax, than to let an employer do it for you.
  • On setting rates: Once you determine what your income (including enough to cover all your taxes) has to be, you can figure out how much you need to charge your clients. I suggest determining what your average hourly income should be and then using this as the basis for negotiating your contracts. If a client wants to pay by the project, you can estimate the number of hours required and multiply that by your desired hourly rate. Rates, by the way, are all over the map. Some clients are happy to pay $65/hr and up for a top-notch developmental editor, writer, or revisionist. Others can’t see spending more than $30/hr for the same set of skills. You have to decide what you’re comfortable with and be open to negotiating. I have found that some clients don’t bother negotiating; they ask what your standard rate is, then they pay it.
  • On demonstrating your value to clients: I try to position myself as a “utility player” with my best clients. They know I can edit, develop, write, author online help, do acquisitions or project management, capture screen shots, walk their dog, or clean toilets. I try to remind them frequently of the value I can create for them, so they tend to think of me first no matter what they need. This is helpful because it means a variety of projects without having to juggle a large list of clients. In situations like these, where a client needs you to do a lot of different tasks, you may be able to land a retainer-style contract that guarantees you a specific amount of work over a set period of time. Such contracts can help you manage your time and provide an excellent sense of security.
  • On emergency employment situations: If you think your employment is about to end, start lining up clients as quickly as possible. Don’t walk out the door without at least one contract in your back pocket. Having a freelance arrangement with your current employer can cushion the blow if you have to exit. However, don’t look for other clients on company time/phone/network; do it at home, at lunch time, or on a day off.

2 comments:

GJ said...

Unfortunately, the task of "setting rates" is often more like "settling for rates." Many companies tell you how much they pay per page or per hour, and you can take it or leave it. No negotiation is possible, because they pay everyone the same, regardless of their skill level or years of experience.

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