Greetings from ScienceWriters 2010

There’s lots of great workshops here at ScienceWriters 2010, with topics ranging from being an effective Public Information Officer, to the social web and online commenting, and how to write great science books. My first workshop today was Profitable freelancing: Starting a business and keeping it productive. I found it very practical and informative, with some interesting data tidbits.

First off, who are freelancers? According to a ScienceWriters pre-meeting survey, most freelancers are women between the ages of 31-41 who make an average of $40,000. There was a surprising spread on that pay point – some freelancers reported making more the $100,000 a year! There was also an interesting lack of correlation between hours worked per day and money earned. It seemed like freelancers’ salaries weren’t much different whether they worked 4 or 8 hours a day. I guess some people are just more efficient with their time, or perhaps have better gigs than most!

Some of the best practical tips for freelancers focused on time management and money management. Amber Dance had good recommendations of setting both yearly and monthly goals for how much income you want/need and how many pitches you’ll send each month. She emphasized the importance of tracking your time, not just your words.

Use a thermometer goal graphic to track your monthly income goals, says Dance. If it's not high enough, you need more stories! Image credit: bourgeoisbee at flickr.com

Time spent brainstorming, writing emails, researching, traveling, interviewing, writing, editing, invoicing… all should count toward your total work hours.

It’s also important to protect yourself – get written (email will suffice) on exactly what assignment you have accepted. If things go sour in the future, you will have proof that there was an agreement in place.

I also liked her tip about saying no: sometimes you are just too busy to accept an assignment. In this case, you should try to recommend a friend. You will show the editor that even if you can’t take an assignment, you are worth calling because of your connections, and your friend may return the favor in the future.

Jeffrey Perkel had lots of cool tech tools to recommend. He recommended Dropbox for storing information in the cloud and for sharing large files like images with clients. Harvest, a time tracker, and Mac Freelance, a cheaper version of Quickbooks, are some easy tools for monitoring business expenses. He also said that getting your own domain (firstnamelastname.com) and a corresponding vanity email address (firstname@lastname.com) can enhance your professional appearance.

John Pavlus shared his “mind hacks” – tips to get out of the way of yourself. Own your attention, punch in and punch out (he recommended Harvest here as well), and be a good boss (give yourself what you need, be it a fancy chair or a whiteboard).

Christopher Mims presented the survey data I touched on above. He recommended another e-tool: Freedom, software that blocks you from the internet. Sometimes you just have to get away from social media! 😛 . He also recommended getting a USB-connective headset for important Skype calls with international researchers. A cheap investment for keeping down phone bills!

Two more thoughts that came up in the Q&A section – 1) always negotiate your pay (never take the first offer, at least at first, and 2) wait 1-2 weeks after sending a pitch by email to an editor, then start sending reminder emails once a week. If you don’t give them at least a week to look it over, you might annoy that important editor!

There’s a lot more to this workshop and its presenters than I’ve presented here. Check out the presenters’ blog for more info: http://freelancerhacks.wordpress.com/

And for more coverage ScienceWriters 2010, including the freelancing workshop, check out the ScienceWriters 2010 blog: http://sciencewriters2010.blogspot.com

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