Tag Archives: job

Balancing Freelance Losses Due to Economy

My stable $400 a month gig has been reduced to… well, I’m not sure yet, but $250 or $300 a month. I’ve come to rely on that extra cash (it covers almost all of my rent, which is, by the way, going up from $612 to $670 in January) – so I’m exploring new cash-making opportunities and side projects.

The latest is a blogging gig that pays $25 a post. I’m starting out at twice a week with 200 word posts, and that’s pretty easy to do. Even if it takes 45 minutes a post, that’s $50 for less than 2 hours of work. I can write more too, if I have time. I like that, I just don’t want them to come to expect 5 or more posts a week from me. That’s why I left my blogging gig, and that paid a lot better.

Still, if I could make an extra $200 a month in blogging that would at least balance my losses. Supposedly I could make up to $500 a month – which would be good to strive for if I can do that and still maintain my 40-hour a week gig.

Plus, I need to keep writing things that I can share professionally (like, stuff other than this blog.) It’s good to stay in the writing habit. The analytical section of my brain needs to be worked out again. It’s getting flabby.

Economy Woes

Some people, some people who have a family to support, have lost their jobs. By those standards, I’m doing fine. I’m doing great! But it still sucks to see business opportunities, especially fairly stable ones, in the middle of the fiscal crossfire.

For the last two years or so, I’ve been providing copy to my uncle’s one-man marketing firm. It started out as a gig writing some article summaries, and I made $50 a month. Over time, we upped it to more writing assignments and a $400 retainer. That was when times were good. Now, some companies are cutting back on their e-marketing budgets, which means they’re cutting back on him. And he has to cut back on me.

The good news is that I still have my day job. Well, it’s a day job on a contract that expires Jan 22. And my company is also, howdoyousay, skimming the fat from the company. Contractors are the first to go. We still have a good runway of VC bucks behind us, but they’re now concerned that even with that, we won’t make the revenue we need through advertising and other means because the economy is vacationing in the gutter. I’ve only been working there a year and a month, but in that year the world has changed. I may not have a job come Jan 22, and that’s freaking me out.

Chances are, if I do my job well – and i need to do my job well – they’ll keep me on as a contractor. I’ve been pushing for a full-time gig (which basically means I’ll get some employee-pays-a-little health benefits and won’t have to pay self-employement tax) but they’re pushing back, saying that they need to be really careful about new hires. Of course, I’m supposed to work from the office 4 days a week and 40 hours a week, which seems legally to be an “employee.” But what do I know?

I recently took advantage of my contractor status by traveling and working remotely for about 2.5 weeks. It’s a double-edged sword, because they could very easily use that against me when deciding whether or not to hire me full time. I probably should be in 5 days a week if I really want to get hired on. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m not sure I’m thrilled with the idea of trading in my one-day-a-week work-from-home gig for health benefits. Sounds stupid, but with my anxiety disorder I need a day to just be away from people and focus on my work.

So… my uncle hasn’t gotten back to me on how much I’ll be making a month now that one company cut their monthly newsletter to quarterly. But it won’t be $400. That $400 really put me in a comfortable salary point given my cost of living. Plus, if I ever want to actually save up for year one of grad school before I go, then I need the money. That doesn’t seem possible either, though.

Sequoia says RIP, How Worried Should I Be?

I’m trying really hard not to worry about this whole financial “crisis.” I’m young(ish) and resilient, as are my stocks, as is my career, and I’m in a much better place than all the baby boomers who are currently watching their 401k’s break even after years of saving… or worse.

Me? I have a job. It’s more stable than not, though after the latest Sequoia report came out it’s looking more and more like if I don’t have the skills to hack it at a web startup, I’m going to be toast. Or dust. Or dust-buttered toast. I’m nervous.

More than anything, I wish I had some serious skills – like computer programming. Then I’d be able to do something useful. But I know that I have to do a lot to prove that I’m useful over the coming months, or it will be my head on the chopping block.

Working for a startup, I’ve always assumed any day could be my last. That’s the joy of working for a startup… even if the markets are doing great, you could be unemployed tomorrow! 🙂

I really wonder what the Silicon Valley shakeout will look like in the coming years. During my brief stint in business journalism, one thing I saw was how many silly companies were getting millions of dollars just because they happened to have a persuasive CEO. It’s totally a bubble, and with the latest turn in the economy, it’s certain to burst. I’m trying to just hold my breath and hope for the best. Again, I’m young, and this won’t last forever. I just hate that I’m trying my darndest to save and I’m still losing money. Bah.

The 60 Hour Freelance Work Week

While working 60 hours at a salaried job each week seems beyond boring, diversifying one’s time and one’s ongoing work portfolio can lead to professional fulfillment on many levels, including by not limited to one’s bank account.

I recently found out that in order to be a full-time salaried employee at my current company, I need to sign on for 50-60 hours a week. While I love my job AND the company, that’s still not enough to have me sign every possible work hour away to one job.

Besides boredom, the reason to keep my ‘after 40’ job hours open is because some of my other opportunities pay much better than what I’m spending most of my week on. At my 40 hour per week job I make about $27 an hour right now. But I’m also taking my late evenings to work as a freelance marketing writer, with projects I’m getting paid $50 per hour for.

I’m not sure what my value is as a full-time employee versus freelance, but for some reason I feel like my $50 per hour charge as a freelancer is justified, while I could never imagine asking my freelance full-time employer for such a raise.

When it comes down to it, I’d rather make slightly less at my “day job” and use the opportunity to pitch my writing skills for extra income that ultimately covers health insurance and other things I need.

That brings about the question… how much can I actually make in one month without not sleeping and going completely insane…

Monthly Potential Income
1. $4800 — Gig 1. 40 hours per week (on contract)
2. $400 — Gig 2. Approx 8 hours, or 4 projects per month at $50/hr
3. $250 — Gig 3. 10 hours of administrative Work at $25/hr
4. $400 — Gig 4. 8 hours of research & article writing at $50/hr
—————————————————————————–
$5850 per month

Which is a lot of money. Sort of.

Minus $2340 ((40% taxes (25 % tax bracket + 15 % self-employment tax))) that comes out to a grande total of…

$3510 per month after taxes, or a net income of $42,120 per year.

That’s still pretty good, I think.

What a Sweet Promotion!

As many of you know, I’ve been working a contract gig for the past few months that I really love. I feel like I’ve finally found a job that keeps me excited most minutes of the day and that can use my talents and ideas.

My contract is expiring in a few weeks, so my boss and I sat down to renegotiate the next part of my working with the company. It turns out that in addition to my liking the job, the people there, somehow, seem to like me too! Wow. Ok, so the only crappy part of the whole deal is that I’ve upped my hours to 40 a week, but I’m not considered “full time” because, as I’ve mentioned before, “full time” at my company is 50-60 hours a week. I’m not in the mood to work 60 hours a week (I’ll burn out fast) so I said give me 40 and an offer I can’t refuse. Well, I just said give me 40 on contract for another three months and make me an offer.

So I was making $3300 a month plus some small amount of stock options for 30 hours a week. That was fine, but in order to really make a living I needed to start working 40 hours a week. I figured I’d get offered $4400, without a raise at all. I’d ask for $200-$500 more, depending on what I was offered. So my boss decided to get rid of my stock options and instead give me more cash. That’s ok with me… I love my company, but I know the odds of it succeeding to the point where my stock options would be worth more than the paper they one day will be written on is slim. So he offered $4600 a month for 40 hours a week. That was a good offer, indeed. Still, it doesn’t include benefits, and I plan on my health insurance costing about $400 a month, with basic monthly payments and HSA savings (plus dental and vision). So I figured I’d ask for $200 more a month. The worst he could do was say no.

But he said yes. I probably could have gotten away with asking for even more than that, but I think I’ll try to raise my pay slowly over the time I work with the company. In three months, I might end up signing on for a full-time salaried position. It’s exciting to think what sort of offer would come out of that, given they’d be expecting me to work 60 hours a week! Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever want that, but it would surely be a nice way to save up some money for grad school and my potential house.

For the Love of Theatre

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, guys. I’ve been extremely busy casting a play that I’m directing at a local community theater. Rehearsals start next week, so every moment I’m not working on one of my freelance projects, I’m figuring out things like blocking, character intention, etc.

The good news is that I’m getting paid $500 to direct this play. Most fo that will go to gas money and gifts for the actors and such, but I might even end up with a small profit I can pocket in the end.

Theater has an interesting relationship with my life. Admittedly, it holds me back from my career at times. Most jobs require that you have a flexible schedule, with evenings free for occasional long hours or overnight trips. Even my current job, which if it were full time, would be 60 hours per week, would require me to give up theater.

Every time I have to make my passion versus job decision, I cannot. Given my inability to make such a compromise, things have turned out quite well – at least for the time being. As a freelance writer with a fairly-stable part-time writing gig, I have the flexibility to direct a show in the evenings and work… during the day and in the even later evenings.

I’ve often thought about returning to graduate school for theater directing. But those $100k three-year programs seems like a terrible idea, at least financially. I was hoping my mutual fund and stocks would somehow add some of those funds to my account, but given the dismal performance of the stock market I’m actually losing money right now. Lots of it. Well, about $1035 of it to date, and most of that’s from my mutual fund.

My goal in the back of my mind is still to save up $100k by the time I turn 30 (which is in only 5.5 years, omg) and then apply to grad school for directing *OR* buy a house. If I can even save that much, that will be a tough decision to make. And as you’ve already learned from this entry, I’m no good at making decisions!

How to Become and Be a Mystery Shopper in 10 Steps

GG requested a post explaining how to get started as a mystery shopper a few weeks back, and with some time off over Christmas week I finally have a few minutes to write up this Mystery Shopping Primer.

First off, decide if you want to be a mystery shopper.
The idea of shopping for “free” and getting “free” meals and other goods seems like a no brainer, but bare in mind that just because money (likely) won’t exchange hands in this deal, it still requires a great deal of work. Mystery shoppers are hired by companies to spy on their workers and make sure that while the big boss isn’t looking, employees are following the rules and doing a good job. This means that you’ll have to interact with people, and if they’re not following the rules, you’ll have to be a paid tattletale. How do you feel about being a spy? Don’t mind it? Think it sounds exciting? Ok, here’s what you need to get started:

1. Find mystery shopping companies that offer shops in your area.
If you live in a big city, chances are there will be a firm with local shops. Don’t be discouraged if you live in the boonies, though. There are plenty of mystery shopping firms that hire mystery shoppers to check on shops far removed from major metropolitan areas. They might be a bit harder to find, but they do exist.

2. Don’t Get Scammed!!!
Don’t sign up for any sites that require you to pay a fee in order to get information on these companies. If you do a Google search for mystery shopping, you’ll likely find yourself on one of these pages that promises to reveal the secrets of mystery shopping if you pay a few bucks. Don’t fall for that. MyMommyBiz has a list of over 200 supposed mystery shopping firms. When you find a few that seem reputable, do a search for them on the Better Business Bureau website to make sure there isn’t anything obviously wrong with your choices. ***beware, there are lots of mystery shopping scams on the Internet. If the company asks you to cash a check and then wire them the money, DO NOT DO THIS. The check will bounce and you will be responsible to pay for the missing funds.

3. Apply.
Each company has its own specific sign-up process. Most require you to fill out some short test to prove that you have a brain and that you’ll be able to do the job. My experience as a mystery shopper is limited to working for one company called Coyle Hospitality. I don’t remember the specifics of the Coyle Hospitality sign-up since I completed it a long time ago (and it’s likely changed since I applied), but I do remember it being quite thorough. A lot of times, the company will ask you why you want to be a mystery shopper. I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Just be honest, and make sure to answer the questions that have right or wrong answers correctly. SecretShopper.com‘s application has all of the answers to the questions on the top of the page, and then the quiz posted lower down. It’s easy to get the answers right, but you can also see how someone who is incompetent for the job would easily just guess at the answers and not get picked.

4. Wait.
Unfortunately, the few legit mystery shopping companies get a lot of applications and it takes a while to hear back regarding whether you’ve been accepted into one of the coveted mystery shopper slots.

5. You’re In. Congrats!
If you’re “lucky” enough to get chosen, you’ll likely be greeted with more information to study before you are allowed out on a shop. I recommend reading this information thoroughly, as you’ll seriously regret not paying attention to it after you’ve completed a shop and you’ve failed to do it properly.

6. Apply for a Shop.
Most of the companies either post available shops on their sites (behind password-protected doors, of course) or send out an e-mail about shops in your area. Some, like Coyle, post all the shops once per month and send out an e-mail letting shoppers know that the assignments are up. Sign up for your choices are soon as possible, because the shops worth doing won’t last long.

7. Wait, again.
Depending on the company and how popular the assignment is, you might get the shop the next day, the next week, or you might never hear back regarding the specific shop. Tough luck, try again. That’s how these companies roll. You just have to keep trying and eventually you’ll land your very first mystery shopping experience.

8. Shop.
For the first time in your life, the thought of shopping or dining at a fine restaurant will cause you great anxiety. You will have a long list of things you have to do, say, ask and remember. If you mess up, what’s the worst that can happen? It depends on the company. Coyle ranks your submissions on a point system up to 20. If you score below 16, you’re pretty much fired. With Coyle, you have to foot the bill up front for your meals, spa experiences or hotel stays. They say they reimburse just about everyone as long as you turn in your completed report, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking to think that if you mess up, you might have to be responsible for that $300 hotel stay. Thus far, I’ve only done fine dining shops, and I’ve been paid back for each assignment on the 25th of the month, as promised.

9. Fill Out the Paperwork
Here comes the hard part. After you’ve stressed out about following the instructions and remembering your communications with employees, you get to return home and spend the next couple of hours slaving over your computer, trying to put together an accurate report for the company. Trust me, it’s not that easy. I spent over five hours working on my last report about a horrible dining experience I had, and in the end I scored a 16. What did I do wrong? Well, you have to note the times everything happened, and put the same times on a few different pages in your report. It’s easy to accidentally write a slightly different time on one page of the report and, even after thorough fact checking, still make a mistake.

10. Submit Your Work, and Wait.
Usually you’ll hear back within the next few days to a week about your report. Either they’ll ask for more information, or you will be told that your report is complete. This means you’ll be reimbursed for your shop. Hallelujah!

That’s it.

If you’ve shopped with any other companies, I’m curious to hear about your experience with them. What kind of shops did you do?

The only other company that accepted me kept trying to get me to do a gas station shop in Oregon for about $15. Being that I live in the Bay Area, I kindly declined (well, actually ignored) that opportunity.

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Lacking Charisma: Social Anxiety and Work

I’m bad at small talk and, despite my desire to be well-liked, I lack adequate amounts of charm and grace. Looking back on my job positions over the past five years, I see a disheartening trend: my failures are more or less due to my desire to limit human interaction as much as possible in any given period of time.

Silicon Valley is all about the small talk. The inside jokes, the laughter. I probably seem like I’m stuck up because I don’t know how to just chat. Either I feel like I’m talking too much, or I feel like I’m boring the person I’m talking to with questions.

I feel like I do well on my job interviews. I seem personable enough. Then it comes to the actual ‘work’ part of a job… and I just want to work and be done with it. Well, that’s not entirely true, I love collaboration… working in small teams… when my ideas seem to be worth something and I can help contribute to a final product. That’s when I like talking to other people. But otherwise… I just crawl back into my shell.

It really, really sucks. I just want to be that girl that’s always smiling who everyone likes. Maybe I’d annoy some people because I’m just so perky, but when they figured out that the perk was genuine they’d have to like me, at least a little bit, right?

But instead I have trouble making eye contact and forming sentences that seem to resemble phrases that might generate some sort of interest.

I don’t know if there is something ‘wrong’ with me or if I’ve turned myself into this anti-social monster. Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of autism. I’ve never been good at socializing. When I was a kid, I’d only want to talk to adults, and that wasn’t because I liked talking to adults more, it’s just they’d forgive me for being awkward in exchange for accepting that I hadn’t reached puberty.

How much of growing up ‘the cootie girl’ influences ones ability to succeed down the road? There are so many voices in my head telling me that I’m a failure, and it’s hard to shove them all out and achieve some sort of clarity.

At my job, I go into the office, I basically run to my desk, and then I work all day, and then I go home. I’m too afraid to even say goodbye to people. I just appear and disappear. That’s no good for making employers want to keep you on as a worker. And don’t even get me started about why I should have never attempted to pursue a career in journalism with social anxiety…

Do you all think that charisma and charm are traits I can take on, or should I just try really hard to learn some super-specific geeky skill that pretty much requires me to be a recluse?

The Unfortunate Quest to be Anything Other than Average

Blaming Attention Deficit Disorder is easy, but the fact of the matter is that I have a serious problem with my inability to complete projects. Of course, I’m working hard to combat this problem and I’ve been doing a good job of it at my current contract gig.

But, even though I think I’m working hard, I still feel like my employer views me negatively. Maybe that’s my problem — as I always convince myself that people dislike me until proven otherwise. There are a few other projects on my plate that I’m behind on, or that are basically gone for good because, well, I took on more than I can chew. I don’t really know enough about interactive design yet to build multimedia sites, yet I tried once and it didn’t work. I’d like to take some classes in these things so it won’t take me hours browsing through tutorials to make a relatively simple site that has more than just graphics and text, but unfortunately, I don’t have time or the money to do that right now.

With my writing work… I feel like such a fake. I don’t think I’m a good writer. I think I’m a much better designer, without the technical skills to profit from my somewhat decent talent in that area. Meanwhile, writing is easy… to fake. Anyone can pretend to be a writer. But what matters is the content.

Maybe I just lost my love for writing. Once I wanted to be a journalist. But now all I do is dream about a day when I can design for a living. I feel like I get color and line and composition. What I don’t get is the composition of paragraphs or sentences.

I’m just tired of being a F&#& up. How did I get so far this fast and yet at every turn I run straight into a wall of my own creation? I’m over and done with it. I want to be successful, but my motivation levels… my non-temporary motivation levels… dwindle faster than George Bush’s ratings since going to war with Iraq.

Am I the only person who practices somewhat subconscious self sabotage? I’m so afraid of proving to myself that I’m actually a failure that all I can do is fail before I have the chance to do it unintentionally.

I need to stop feeling like I need to do something GREAT in order to succeed. I know it’s the little things that are meaningful, yet I don’t believe it. I want to be famous, or brilliant, or… anything other than average.

It’s Been a While, Time for an Update

I was just interviewed for an article about personal finance sites, and the brief early-morning chat reminded me that I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I’d like to start writing regularly again, it’s just tough to keep up with my blogs and my life. I don’t know how some personal finance bloggers find the time to write, like, three posts a day.

That said, I know I left you all with that wonderful long health insurance rant cliffhanger. Cue the cheesy suspense music please… “Duhn, duhn, duhn”….

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. I still don’t have health insurance. The good news is that’s mostly because I’m lazy and less because I’ve been denied. Well, I haven’t been denied because I haven’t applied yet. I’ve been speaking with a health insurance agent who seems to think my best option is to lie on my applications, although he won’t go on record as advising that. Meanwhile he’s also helped me put together a quote for Pacific Healthcare where I don’t have to lie, and that seems pretty reasonable (something like $140 a month for catastrophic insurance).

COBRA turns out to be a whopping $405 a month, so unless it turns out I actually get denied from every other option, it’s looking like COBRA, an aptly named snake, is a type of insurance one ought to stay away from even though it’s enticing from afar.

Money matters are looking up. I’m actually getting more work than I know what to do with right now. And old colleague who is the editor of a journalism-y startup just asked me to work a few hours for her a week helping with admin stuff, doing site maintenance and at some point writing some short and fun features for the site. I have a feeling she’s going to try to encourage me to get back into writing longer-format features and news stories at some point, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to head in. I’m kind of happy with the freedom (and better pay) that comes with controlling my career as a freelance writer out in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, my journalism expertise is in technology writing, and if I’m going to work for any startup in the area, it’s too conflict-of-interesty to try to swing a career half-time in journalism and half-time in writing marketing copy for these sites. This gig for my old colleague is kosher because it’s covering a specific area of technology that I will not be doing writing work for. So, that seems alright.

My biggest concern at the moment is the upcoming tax season. I just hope I get my W2 and 109 forms my way early so I can start figuring out how many zillions of dollars I owe, or don’t owe. I honestly have no idea what taxes will look like this year, and it scares me a bit. See, from Jan-June of 07 I was making “35k a year” and having taxes taken out of that. Then From June 15-Nov 15, I was making “50k a year” and taxes were swiped from my bi-monthly checks. That’s good. But after that, my tax situation turns into a bit of a mess. I’ve done a bunch of freelancing here and there. Some of it was for $50, some for $600, some for $1000. Obviously I’ll report all of the larger gigs, and try my best to remember the tally of my smaller gigs. Smart me, I haven’t been keeping track of my checks as I cashed them at the bank because I just assumed I’d have access to the scan of them later. I could have sworn at one point I saw these scans on my BankofAmerica.com account. No such luck. Apparently they charge some fee to pull up the scans of old checks. I don’t really want to find out how much that fee is. I guess I’ll just wait for my tax mail to come, and take it from there. And hopefully, at least for this year, it will turn out that my average pay was so low (due to periods of unemployment, without being on unemployment) that I’ll somehow break even on the whole tax situation. If not, there’s a chance I could owe a lot.

This is also the first year I’m going to see what having some cash in a mutual fund does to my taxes. Apparently I have to pay tax on my dividends. But right now it looks like my mutual fund, despite being ‘in the bank’ for over seven months, has returned to its original buying price. So I’m not sure how that all works out come tax time. Can someone explain this to me?