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Freelance Life: Different Shit, Different Day


I seriously hope this week will end better than it started. Feeling seriously under the emotional weather at the moment, and it sucks ass. I have gazillions of deadlines waiting to be slain, but I can’t seem to get myself to do the job. Fuck.

First of all, I am having some serious difficulties adjusting to the fact that Significant Other and I are on separate continents again. I thought I had gotten to this scenario by now, but hey – I guess I was wrong. So much gets lost in translation when you are miles apart, despite all the forms of technolog, and you (well, me) face the risk of misinterpreting each other’s messages. Which leads to arguments / feeling of insecurity /  rubbing each up other the wrong way / etc.

Not cool. I know he is stressed with / at work, and sometimes this results in him not being able to be present as much as I would like to. It is just difficult not to have all the pieces of information, because even with Skype and BBM lots gets lost in translation. Then, sometimes, a little voice wonders whether he has actually given up, and wants to stay in Australia without wanting to tell me. Why? Because something has changed in the air, and I can’t pinpoint what.

Then I am not sure how long I can do this freelancing business. Chasing news, chasing stories, chasing payment, chasing clients … waiting for payment, waiting for clients to respond, waiting for feedback …. It is really getting to me today.

And then there is the omnipresent fear of clients ditching your ass or not paying you for the work you’ve done. Last year, I did a job for a large South African NGO. It involved co-writing a book. They have postponed first half of the payment until Feb 3 while their writers (me included) were supposed to get the first payment in December last year. It is the last thing I need at the moment, as my Australia trip pretty much chewed up my budget for this month … Australia is expensive, especially if you live off rands. The average glass of wine in a bar or restaurant (and we are talking the cheapest shit on the list) sets you back R70 easily.

So yeah, I need that money and I need it now – especially because other clients have “forgotten” to pay me last month.

I seriously hate this part of freelancing. I know there are many advantages, but Jeepers …. At least with a fulltime job you know when the paycheck comes usually).

Of course the fact my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer has been a bit of a bitch too. And that is an understatement. Luckily it seems all could have been much worse: they have removed the entire tumour, the cancer has not spread and she won’t be needing  chemo / hormone treatment (“just” 21 radiation sessions). Nevertheless this whole cancer thing has put a lot of things in but also out of perspective.

Anyway – just on the moment supreme a dear friend (Thanks Dirk) called me and another invited me for a glass of wine (Thanks Lesley-Ann). This means I am calling it a day.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Tales of a Freelance Journo, The World of Mir

 

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The ANC giveth, the ANC taketh it away


I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my stomach this morning. On November 22 1995, South Africa was celebrating the first draft of South Africa’s new constitution. A constitution incorporating rights like media freedom. Sixteen years later, it is Black Tuesday. This afternoon the South African Parliament will cast their votes for the Protection of Information Bill (POIB).

An “all thumbs up verdict” would mean a first step towards the dismantling of the precious democracy so many people fought and died for.

What a way to celebrate such memorable occasion.

The more I think about it, the more angry I get. In the process, a couple of tears have bitten the dust since my alarm clock went off at voetsek o’clock (I tend to do that when angry).

I have not done any work today. I just can’t put my head to it. The thought that these so-called freedom fighters of the ANC intend to bulldozer one of the four pillars of democracy – media freedom and access to information – makes me sick to my stomach.

What did not help, was a story in Beeld. The report stated that MPs will be forced to vote along party lines and that their votes will be checked. In other words, it is not only media freedom that will be given a firm kick in the groin.

The freedom to choose is facing a similar destiny. May I note that this practice is very common in dictatorships like Zimbabwe and ex-dictatorships such as Libya?

“Why should I bother, as I am not a journalist?” you ask. If you by now do not know how the Protection of Information Bill will affect you as a member of society, you must have been hibernating for the past two years.

Read this while you are at it. Steven Friedman sums it up rather well.

 

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Life of a freelancer: When it rains, it pours!


The life of most freelance journalists, writers, and photographers (or any freelancer, really) is dominated by a couple of tricky issues. First and foremost there is the challenge of getting paid when you want to get paid, not when the client thinks it is time to come to the table.

While we humble freelance service providers are expected to meet deadlines at all time in order not to be shown the finger, many clients seem to be far more relaxed when it comes to their part of the deal – namely ‘paying out’. A Portuguese newspaper (Publico) took over ONE YEAR to pay me, despite the hundreds of emails I sent!  (Last year, I dedicated a blog post to Freelancers’ pet hates).

I have solved this bloody annoying issue without mercy: I simply refuse to work for greedy bastards who take weeks, months and sometimes years to make their promised money transfer. I have indeed culled some clients who clearly do not give a rat’s testicle about whether I am able to pay my rent, electricity bill and groceries. I fired them. Water under the bridge. Weakest link. Blah.

Then there is the issue of managing the number assignments. I am the type of person who starts stressing when there is nothing to do. As a result, I begin to pitch stories like there is no tomorrow. Yes, to ALL my clients. There is however one problem: my story pitches are usually very solid and as a result, my steady clients seldom reject them. I tend to forget that sometimes.

Two weeks ago, after filing all my stories for Business Live (One of my preferred clients, by the way) I found myself staring at the ceiling. Instead of relaxing and taking a breather – I had just done four 14-hour days of reporting on the 2011 Mining Indaba in Cape Town (which was quite hectic) – I allowed the  stress  to hit me with the impact of a jack hammer on steroids.

You have to understand that a freelancer’s main worry is whether we have enough cash at the end of the month to pay our rent, bills, glass of wine, petrol, and other necessities. In addition, we have been preprogrammed to harvest while we can. Why? When you run your own show, you never know when another good month or assignment comes around.

So two weeks ago I started pitching stories like a headless chicken – forgetting that 90% of my clients would probably say ‘yes’. And so they did. Over the past ten days I wrote:

* A 12-page UNICEF report on the situation Haiti

* A 1200-word story for Leadership Magazine on the necessity of stimulating entrepreneurship in South Africa to fight unemployment

* 700-word story for Radio Netherlands Worldwide on South Africa’s economy (linked to the 2011 Budget speech)

* A 800-word story on South Africa’s budget and a 900-word story on sustainable tourism in South Africa for Het Financieele Dagblad

* A 1700-word story on drinking and driving / road safety for Mobility Magazine.

Currently I am still working on a 1000-word story on Acid Mine Drainage and water management for Energy Forecast. That story needs to be finished today (another 500 words to go) because tomorrow I have to write a report on the Transformation Audit by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for Business Live. This particular client also wants a story  on the Design Indaba.

Raining? RAINING? Pouring? It is more like a bloody monsoon!

I know I should not be complaining, and actually I am not. I love being a freelance writer and love being busy. I just wish I could manage the flow of work a bit better in order not to be grossly overworked like I am at this very moment. Yawn!

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Tales of a Freelance Journo

 

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A freelancer’s pet hates


Confession of the day

“Dear Miriam. We have received your invoice, but we noticed a couple of discrepancies and wondered if you could re-issue it for payment ASAP.”

This is how an email by one of my clients – a South African financial agency – started. It was a reply to my email asking when they’d pay me.

YOu have to understand that chasing payments and clients is one of the things freelance writers – or any freelancer, I suppose – loathe.

It is stressful, it is time consuming, and it is annoying as hell. Most of us have 100 other things we’d rather do and chasing invoices is not one of them. Besides, it is frustrating that clients expect you to meet deadlines at all cost (if you miss them, you risk losing that particular client, thus par of your income), while most of them do not particularly seem to care a great deal about meeting their deadline: paying what they owe their  freelance writers and photographers!

A leading construction company for instance (yes, the one that was in charge of Cape Town Stadium) told me again last week “You will be paid at the end of this week, promise”. I checked my bank account 5 minutes ago: Nothing, nada, niks.

The Portuguese newspaper Publico is another fantastic example of how clients mistreat their freelancers.  Publico owes me money from last year November.  That is right: last year November (2009!!). It is October 2010 now. I have sent about a gazillion emails and every time they come up with some kind of a lousy excuse that makes my skin crawl. I am fed up and am not even bothered being nice to them any longer. My patience and sense of humor flew out the window a very long time ago, I guess. I can therefore say that Publico is the worst publication to work for as a freelancer. Do not work for them! Ever! Stay away, regardless ofthe fact they pay in Euros. I repeat: If you are a freelance writer or photographer and Publico asks you to do work for them: REFUSE and run for the hills! It is *NOT* worth it, trust me.

Back to my South African financial client and their email. Clients have complained about invoices before, despite the fact they okayed my rates, quote, and time spent on the project. I therefore feared the worst.

Last year for instance, I did some PR work for a Dutch developer who needed exposure for his eco-estate to-be. As promised, my monthly invoices always were provided with a detailed break down of the hours spent on his project – including a breakdown of the media exposure he received.

All went well until the third month.

“You did not do this or that, we did this and that,” he blatantly told me. While I was able to show him that I was the person responsible for the said activity (and positive outcome, namely an interview in a national South African newspaper) he kept his foot down. Very annoying and shitty situation, as what do you do in this situation? Do you keep your foot down, piss off the client and risk a) not getting paid all and b) losing your precious retainer? I bowed and rewrote my invoice, and then I fired him myself.

Last year another company – an add agency in Cape Town this time – hired me to do some copy writing. Beforehand, they asked me how long I thought I needed for then job. “Between ten and fifteen hours, but more towards ten”, I told them. I was given the go ahead, under the condition I’d let them know by hour number ten how far I was and how much time I needed to complete the project.

And so I did, and they gave me the go-ahead. The total number of hours came down to thirteen. Well, fourteen, but I gave them a discount. This was met by moaning and complaining. So again: what do you do? Keep your foot down? Risk not being paid at all? Risk not working for them ever again?

Back to my South African financial client and their email.

“Here we go again,” I thought to myself, rolling my eyes before reading a bit further.

“According to my calculations, the daily stories should be: Wednesday – XXX words @ RX p/w & 1 picture should be RXXXXX  (you have RXXX). Also the overall total, according to my calculations is RXXXXX (you have RXXX).”

In other words: It was me who made a mistake and was about to sell myself short. The client noticed this. Instead of keeping it to herself, she notified me.

It has been a first, really. And I am grateful. If only more clients would treat their freelancers with the same respect, they’d be getting even more for what they bargained.

 

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