Category Archives: Freelance Advice

Advice on how to be a freelancer in the RPG and video game industries.

Gettin’ Paid

At the start of the year, I posted some advice on how I use Trello to track my project work. Since then, those posts have been referenced several times by other freelancers and contractors, and they’re some of the most-read on my site. As such, I’ve added a Freelancer Advice category to help me share more information I’ve found useful as I continue my education as a full-time freelancer, contractor, and business owner.

And one of the key aspects of owning a business is making sure you get paid for your work, which comes in three steps.

Know Your Value

There are two different ways you can approach this: by determining how much you want to make and learning how much you can make.

The first is pretty straightforward: start with your desired yearly salary, add in all your expenses as a freelancer (including self-employment taxes!), divide it by the number of hours you plan to work in a year (1,800 to 2,000 is a good estimate), and divide. Simple!

Of course, you might end up charging too much or (perhaps more often) too little for your services. Doing some searches for “living wage” with your field and state or country of residence can give you some numbers to consider. Then you can use that number as if it were your desired salary above.

For writers in particular, there’s an extra step, as many clients charge by the word, not by the hour. You’ll need to sort out how many words you can write in an hour. Comparing that to the amount of words targeted will tell you how long a draft will take. Multiply that by 1.3 to 1.5 to account for planning, research, and revision, and that gives you how many hours you’ll likely work on the project. From there, you can calculate a rough “hourly rate.”

Negotiate

Now you have an idea of how much you’re worth, and you’re talking with a potential client about work. Pay discussions are a part of being a freelancer, even if that “discussion” isn’t necessarily with the client directly.

Wait, what? How can you discuss something without… you know, talking about it?

Well, sometimes, the client isn’t open to discussion of the rate — for example, there may be a fixed payment (common in writing assignments), or you have applied for a job with an hourly rate up-front (common on freelance sites like Upwork). If the job is more than your usual rate, there’s obviously nothing to say except “Where do I sign?”, but more likely it’ll be lower. In that case, you’ll have to decide for yourself if the opportunity offers you added benefits. These can be things like access to more clients, free publicity or marketing by the client, or learning a new skill that will help you in other areas.

If the client is open to negotiation, though, you’ll need to explain why the rate you’re suggesting is important. Focus on why it’s better for them, how your work will improve their business or have a positive benefit on their bottom line. Ask them what their budget constraints are. And always aim high — you’ll likely be surprised at what they’re willing to pay. However, if the conversation results in the project being offered at a lower rate, use the paragraph above to decide if that lower rate is acceptable to you.

Finally, if you can’t come to a fair compromise, it’s okay to walk away. Not all opportunities are a good fit, and it’s better for you (and for your would-be client’s perception of you) if you politely decline. It’s entirely possible that a later opportunity with that potential client will work out better, and clients do talk among themselves.

Handle Your Invoice

Now the job is done, and you have to send out an invoice in order to get paid. I highly suggest Wave — it’s an automated invoice system that’s free and allows you to easily track a number of invoices. It also allows for clients to pay by credit cards (for a percentage), and it can send automated reminders over email when the client is running late. I even have one client that I charge the same amount every month, and Wave handles it without me having to do a thing.

On the invoice, you need to know if you agreed to full or prorated hours. In my experience, it’s typical for hours to be prorated in fifteen minute increments, but some clients are fine with full hours. It’s the difference between working ten hours and five minutes, and knowing if you should charge for 10.25 or 11 on the invoice.

Many clients offer to pay via services like PayPal. If you go this route, clarify ahead of time who will handle PayPal charges. Others choose to use physical checks, direct bank deposits, and even credit cards. You can handle all of these with a personal account, but if you get a lot of bank deposits or checks, you might want to look into a business account.

When (hopefully not if) your client pays, make sure to send them a receipt. A simple email confirming that you received payment and attaching a copy of the paid invoice in question helps immensely down the road, particularly if this is a client you have a lot of invoices with. Both sides being able to confirm that you were paid for May and July but not June is a huge help, and gives your client assurance that you’ll only ask for payment for work you actually did.

Now, enjoy the benefit of your labors before you start on the next project!

Your Own Personal Kanban: The Backlog

Since I went full-time freelance as a writer, designer, and consultant, a number of people have asked me how I manage my workload. It’s a fair question, since I juggle three consulting contracts and usually two to five projects at any one time. I thought I would write a few blog posts to detail my personal management process as it looks now. Maybe it will help other creative professionals as they get ready for the new year.

Yesterday I looked at how I use my board to track my task momentum. Today I’ll finish by talking about how I plan my tasks.

Continue reading Your Own Personal Kanban: The Backlog

Your Own Personal Kanban: The Board

Since I went full-time freelance as a writer, designer, and consultant, a number of people have asked me how I manage my workload. It’s a fair question, since I juggle three consulting contracts and usually two to five projects at any one time. I thought I would write a few blog posts to detail my personal management process as it looks now. Maybe it will help other creative professionals as they get ready for the new year.

Yesterday I looked at how I handle my daily tasks. Today I’ll go into how I use those tasks and track them.

Continue reading Your Own Personal Kanban: The Board

Your Own Personal Kanban: The Tomato

Since I went full-time freelance as a writer, designer, and consultant, a number of people have asked me how I manage my workload. It’s a fair question, since I juggle three consulting contracts and usually two to five projects at any one time. I thought I would write a few blog posts to detail my personal management process as it looks now. Maybe it will help other creative professionals as they get ready for the new year.

Let’s start small and work our way up.

Continue reading Your Own Personal Kanban: The Tomato

You Don’t Always Need An NDA

Many creative professionals, like myself, are familiar with the concept of a non-disclosure agreement (or NDA). It’s a legal document that employees and contractors sign with companies to protect their products while they are in development. You see them all the time, and I’ve certainly signed my fair share.

Recently, however, I’ve seen a few companies that are pushing against the need for NDAs on every project they do. The most visible is Evil Hat’s “Disclosure Pledge,” but I’ve seen other creative professionals (usually indies) argue that exposure is more important than protecting information. Which brings up the question “When do you need to ask people to sign an NDA?”

I’m not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc. etc., but I did listen to an IGDA webcast about intellectual property last week, which answered a few interesting points for me. In it, I learned that NDAs are primarily used for one area of IP rights: trade secrets. In the U.S., a trade secret is basically defined as any information which derives independent economic value from not being publicly known.

What does that mean? As an example, let’s say you’re working on a new paper and dice roleplaying game, and you have some new mechanics. If one of your freelancers took that information to another company, would you lose potential sales as a result? Conversely, if your freelancer took that information to the Internet, would you lose sales? Or would you gain sales from buzz and hype?

There isn’t any easy answer to this — each company and individual will draw that line a little differently. People who feel they have sincerely novel material should always consult a lawyer. But at a higher, strategic level, it is worth consideration. It’s possible that your project may be hindered, not protected, by heavy NDA use.

How To (Maybe) Get Work As A Freelance RPG Writer

For those that don’t know, Onyx Path Publishing is holding an open call for new freelancer writers (and they clarified a few things). While I’m not involved in the process, I spent years going through the “slush pile” of unsolicited submissions. I saw just about every mistake it is possible to make in attempting to get hired. Here are a few of them, so you can avoid making the same mistakes if you’re interested in being a freelancer in the RPG industry (although much of this applies to any kind of writing submission).

As a note: I refer to “client” here. Usually, this is the company you are applying for, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s the same thing, in the case of very small companies. For clarity, I just went with “client,” and I use female pronouns because I can.

Make sure all examples of your writing are polished. I was surprised to learn how many people asking for writing work would send in badly-written emails. Misspellings, bad use of punctuation, and “text speak” don’t inspire confidence in someone trying to hire you for your ability to clearly and evocatively communicate a world or complex rules, and it just makes your well-polished submission look suspicious.

Don’t talk shit. Don’t talk shit about yourself and say how much you suck, because your client may agree with you. Don’t talk shit about the client’s products and how you’ll make things better, because she might decide she’s just fine without you. Don’t talk shit about other writers, because you might find yourself working with that writer. There is not one situation I can think of where talking shit helped.

Follow the fucking guidelines. You are not special. Processes are in place to help incredibly busy people get through a lot of material. If you break the process, you’re making more work for your potential client, which is a terrible way to start off a business relationship. If you’re good, your creativity will come out in the submission, not in how you submit it.

Don’t name-drop (sometimes). The client doesn’t care if you once knew Neil Gaiman. The client doesn’t care if you’re friends with Stephen King on Facebook. She cares about what you can do for her, and that’s it.

There’s an exception here: references. If you’ve worked with someone in the past that you know your client has worked with, there’s value in mentioning the connection. It gives your client a chance to talk things over with your mutual work connection to assess what you’re like working with as a writer.

It’s a job, not a lark. The client is (likely) treating this as a business. Writing to her to tell her that you thought it would be fun to try to do some writing between your real hobbies isn’t going to help you get any contracts. Even if you’re freelancing now and then as you have availability, treat it like a job.

Learn as much as you can about being freelance. With extremely rare exceptions (which are just about always spelled out), you’re going to be working on a project-to-project basis as a contractor. This is not a full-time job. You will not be relocated. You will not get benefits. You will need to handle your own taxes (although some clients will send you tax information). You are not an employee of the client. While asking questions like these won’t usually tank a freelance gig, it does betray a distinct lack of knowledge, and that can be hard to overcome if you’re wanting to negotiate for a pay increase after a few contracts.

Satisfaction is not guaranteed. None of this will guarantee you work. You will hear stories of people who broke some of these rules and got work. Every situation is different, and everyone brings different things to the table. But if you avoid these mistakes, your odds of getting noticed, and thus getting hired, go up considerably.

Befriend Your Peers, But Don’t Hire Your Friends

Friends forever!

A while ago, I read an interesting blog post by Monica Valentinelli. It was primarily interesting because it’s something I’ve known instinctually for a while, but I never actually thought about it in specific terms.

In case you’re like-adverse, the basic gist of her post is that Matt Forbeck told her the best way to “build a network” in this industry (or, really, any industry) isn’t to think of it as a business network at all, but a collection of friends. And I think that’s really true. While I certainly have a large number of acquaintances and people that I could theoretically pick out of a lineup as part of my social network, the people that I tend to think of when I do business are those that I could probably sit down with and not talk about business at all. I have been blessed to make a number of friends in the fields of fiction, video game development, and RPG design (and there’s a lot of overlap between the three of them).

Continue reading Befriend Your Peers, But Don’t Hire Your Friends