I've had an especially productive 2018, and when I look back a mere year ago at where I was and what I was struggling through, I'm (tentatively, hesitatingly, almost... sincerely) proud of my progress.
I started this whole journey back in 2016 when I helped a friend finish editing their PhD thesis while working the odd short-term IT job. Since, I've slowly but surely put together something of a living doing copywriting mostly in English, proofreading and editing in both English and French, translating English into French (and more rarely the reverse on a few very carefully chosen projects), and some website work and Wordpress maintenance on the side to help round everything out.
My goals for 2018 were pretty simple: make enough every month to cover basic expenses, prove to myself that this might be sustainable long-term, and test out how working from home like this would work with my mental and physical health. For once, I actually managed to exceed expectations in most respects. There are definitely still kinks to be worked out. But I'm getting somewhere.
And the experiment continues! Here are some goals that I have for the next year. Next October, in 2019, I am going to look at this blog post and I am interested to see what my progress will have been on each goal.
Goals for the rest of 2018 going into 2019:
- Better Boundaries
- Heed the Red Flags
- Improve My Project Juggling
1. Better Boundaries
One of the best things has been talking to fellow freelancers about how much they charge and what kinds of boundaries they lay down. Figuring out what to charge is often so confusing because I have to not only make enough to, you know, stay alive, but I also don't want to alienate clients either. Referencing guides like this for editing (merci Lili!) or checking in with various local freelancer Facebook groups to see what's reasonable has been really, really helpful.
I seriously need to stop undercharging, especially for people and businesses I know can afford it. At the root of it, undervaluing my own time hurts me and compromises my health, the one thing I cannot compromise on.
I have to stop saying to myself: "I don't want to undercharge or put up with bad boundaries, but I also really need this project."
No. I don't.
There are amazing people out there who are worth working with. They understand my time and my rates, they don't try to argue with me, they answer emails and requests promptly, they pay my invoices immediately, and are upfront about their own limits. And when there is an unplanned issue that gets in the way of the things I just listed, they communicate clearly and quickly so that we can figure out some fair compromise or solution as we go.
So when I run into businesses and nonprofits (many with huge budgets) who keep arguing with me about my rates, or just act really difficult? Cue goal #2 below...
2. Heed the Red Flags
In what is pretty common, I've had some really bad work experiences with people who turned out to be serial abusers in their respective fields. While those experiences sucked, they have been valuable lessons of the danger of ignoring those early red flags.
This year, I had a handful of negative experiences I should have been able to see coming, but dismissed out of optimism or a misplaced sense of FOMO.
So, here are some things I really need to start caring about the first time I see something happen:
Red Flag: Disrespect
Whether it's as extreme as someone screaming at me to look them in the eyes during a meeting or as "mild" as someone who belittles my inexperience or my gender, I don't want to work for disrespectful people.
The first time something disrespectful happens, it's not going to be the last time. I need to stop telling myself: "this person is just awkward and socially inept." I need to start telling myself: "you've been here, you've seen how this ends, get out now."
I also need to learn to recognize the signs of disrespect towards other people early. Even if I'm not the recipient of the toxic behaviour at first, it's only a matter of time before I become the next available target of difficult and even straight up abusive behaviour.
We all need to stop fetishizing leaders, bosses and people who behave badly but "get the job done." No. These people are actively sucking good things out of the world and turning it into crap. We shouldn't tolerate it.
Red Flag: Inability to Follow Timelines
This one's a toughie, because it's a flaw that I am currently working on. Growing up, I had a complete irreverence for deadlines and tended to procrastinate a lot. The Douglas Adams quote: "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." was a favourite of mine as a teenager.
So as a result, because of my own ineptitude, I try to be very generous when scheduling screw-ups happen. But let's zero in on a specific kind of scheduling that none of us should tolerate: crunch.
Say that I have a client, and we agree that I need a minimum of two weeks to translate a certain text. The deadline is on a certain Monday, so the client has to send me the text two weeks in advance of that Monday. However, the client misses the delivery and keeps telling me they'll send me everything as soon as it's ready so I can, you know, work. Then, on the Friday afternoon before the deadline, I finally get access to the text, and the client will not budge on when they need everything back. And now I have to work through the weekend, compressing two weeks of work into two days!
If this happens once in a while, it doesn't have to be a big deal, especially if the client is communicative and willing to adequately compensate for the inconvenience (and understands the quality of the work may be inferior). But when it keeps happening despite reassurances that this is the last time this will ever happen, what I've discovered is really happening is that the client is outsourcing/offloading their crunch onto me at my expense. And as Tanya Short says: CRUNCH IS A FORM OF FAILURE.
Red Flag: Payment Fuck-Ups
This is a reminder to myself that I need to tattoo onto my brain. If a client doesn't pay — or takes months/years to pay and ghosts you in the meantime: never work for that client again.
(Admittedly, this isn't so much a red flag as it is a flaming dumpster.)
3. Improve My Project Juggling
This goal is really two goals: improve my process of getting through individual projects, as well as get better at finding and balancing working on a few projects at a time in a non self-destruct-y kind of way. Overall, I'd like to stop feeling like I'm drowning when I open my email inbox on Monday morning.
Essentially, I need to change from working in a really reactive way (putting out fires as they pop up) and actually make plans, schedules, and timelines that don't get shot to hell 5 seconds after I make them. Added benefit, it would be nice to be able to actually know where I'll be work-wise in 2, 3, 6 months. As I wrote in a previous blog post this past summer:
My work situation can change wildly week-to-week based on what kind of emails I get and what kinds of responses I get to my job ads on FB and elsewhere.
And to be honest, sometimes I feel very discouraged. I feel as though there is no coherent progression — as if I don't really have a career, or that my career is botched.
So, uh, I'd like to not feel this way anymore!
Unlike goals 1 and 2, I don't really have concrete steps or guidelines to follow here. I'm in research mode, reading blog posts about juggling projects and freelancing strategies. (Got any suggestions? Feel free to drop them in the comments!) I'm wrapping up a big contract with a client at the end of October and I'm keeping my schedule relatively light in November and December to give me some time to actually think about how to get better at this, and take some time to try to reboot a non-blog writing practice. (No, I will not do NaNoWriMo because that's a recipe for burnout, as everyone keeps reminding me...)
So, because lists are great, let's make another one of all the nebulous stuff that broadly fits into this goal:
- If I could prioritise one thing above all else in this goal... Scheduling needs to be something I get really good at. I need to get as honest with myself as I can about my limits and what I can get done in a day. This has been difficult and frustrating because my energy levels fluctuate wildly — what I get done between one day to the next can vary a lot, and it's not always logical.
- Networking... I should probably keep working on this? Facebook and Twitter help, for sure, but it would be good to keep working on local, in-person stuff. For a while I was a member of a worker cooperative in my neighbourhood and that was actually really nice, but I can't afford the membership at the moment. I'll eventually get back to it.
- Related to the previous point, how do you find mentors and colleagues you can trust when you're an independent worker and spend so much of your time alone?
- So, uh, where's my union? Does anybody know anything about https://www.canadianfreelanceunion.ca/? Is it cool?
Those are my overall 3 big goals for the next 12 months. I'm turning 28 at the end of October. Birthdays are a great time for general self-reflection and critical navel-gazing, right?
Thanks for reading, everyone, and if you have any suggestions how I can better work towards these 3 goals, I'm all ears.