Name: Annie Gaus
Freelance Profession: Journalist & Content Consultant
Q: What do you do?
I do a mix of journalism and consulting work, and the consulting work that I do is mainly around content strategy, which is kind of an umbrella term for many different things. In my practice, that’s been everything from running people’s social media accounts to developing content plans to actually writing blog posts and things like that and running email marketing campaigns. It’s really anything related to content production and content management. So that’s a piece of what I do, and the other piece is my own journalism work where I just independently pitch and write my own stories. Those are the two main categories of what I do.
Q: How did you get started as your own boss?
Well, I was a full time journalist for quite a few years. On the side, when I was still working full time, I did my own little social media management project so I kind of started developing what was the beginning of my consulting practice when I was still working full time. And then I left that job partly with the specific goal of building out my consulting work. So, I gave myself a little bit of time to develop that out more and worked for several months on defining my own value proposition and figuring out how to package my skill set and sell that out to agencies and publishing companies and anyone who really needs to offload their content tasks. That was about a year ago, and here I am. It’s been ok so far. [Laughing] But, there’s always a lot of paperwork and bullshit involved in being your own boss which is kind of what led me here.
Q: What has been your biggest triumph since you started freelancing?
I think one of the biggest hurdles for me – which is a triumph, but it’s not going to sound that exciting – one of the biggest personal hurdles that I felt was a block for me was the idea of contracts. You get to a point where you’re talking to someone about helping them out with work and then there’s a point where it’s like, ok, I don’t really want to help you anymore without getting paid, so what’s my system for writing and developing my own contracts. I’m not a lawyer, obviously, so just overcoming that and figuring out a base contract that I can use for certain types of things and then the process of being comfortable with your rate and confident in your rate and sending that out to people. So I don’t know if that’s a really specific AHA moment, but it was, for me, a hurdle that I had to overcome.
Q: Have you had any nightmare projects or clients?
There was one client (a would be client, I guess) who never ended up hiring me for anything. You meet a lot of people who expect you to do a lot of things, ‘oh let’s do this trial project that I’m not going to pay you for and then if you do well on that we can talk about’… I’ve encountered a fair amount of that, and the big line, especially around here, is: ‘oh well we’re a startup so we can’t pay you.’ Just because you’re a start up doesn’t mean you get free work. One specific instance, not really a nightmare, but a huge amount of back and forth to the extent where I spent hours and hours of my life on this developing contracts, revising contracts, giving them a seed of a plan that would ordinarily in another situation be enough to hire me and then they demand lots of changes and then just go completely dark. That’s a version of what you encounter in a lot of ways when you’re your own boss.
Q: Is that something you wish someone had told you before you got started? If they keep going back and forth, it’s just not going to happen, let it go?
Yeah, I think that’s just something you learn as you go along and you learn how to manage those kinds of situations. But yeah, definitely.
Q: Was it the negotiations and not the actual work itselft but getting the work set up what you wished someone had advised you on before you went out on your own?
I think it was that and the things I already mentioned about contracts and how to handle contract negotiations, that kind of stuff and also general advice on how to manage or mitigate people’s expectations. Especially when you’re someone like me and you’re working in this field content strategy which is fairly nebulous sometimes people’s expectations of you are completely unreasonable and expectations of what you can do in any given amount of time. And those of course those are all factors in the contract that you’ll end up putting together. And it’s just something you learn as you do more and more of them. I had very little advice when I went out to do this and that would’ve been certainly beneficial. [Laughing] So communicate with other freelancers about how they deal with stuff like that.
Q: What are the tools (software, whatever) that are indispensable for your freelance business that might not be obvious to other people?
[Laughing] Actually, it sounds lame, but I use Facebook a lot. I get a lot of work on Facebook. It’s a pretty lame answer, but it’s a huge communication tool for me and I’m in various sort of mini-professional groups and I end up getting tons of work from there. So that’s a communication tool for me. As far as organization, Skype, any communication tool you can think of, Google Docs – the whole Google suite generally, I’m kind of a junkie. Every project that I work on starts with a Google doc, I would say. As far as expense management and stuff like that… I really have no system, I just throw everything into a drawer and forget about it until tax time. [More laughing]
Q: Are there things you’re still trying to get better at?
Areas where I can always use help are the expense management side, taxes, anything where you could help me predict my taxes which I just kind of kick money away and hope that it all works out. Which is kind of my current system. [Laughing]
Annie Gaus was interviewed by Jacob Brody on July 7th, 2015