Tag Archives: Tyra Seldon

Making It As A Freelancer [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

The Freelancers Union and GCUC report that one reason that people like freelancing is because you get to work on what you want to work on, when you want, how you want.  Gig workers are free to pick their gigs, and coworkers pick their own work environments.

But gigging is hard, and, frankly, even the glass-half-full surveys of freelancers and coworkers show that the pay is short, and the hours may be long (assuming you can get the work).

Looking closely at the surveys over the years, it is clear that many of the respondents were enthusiastic newbies, happy with their first experiences. (We were all rookies once! : – ))

But I have long questioned how viable gig working will be for the long run, for a whole working lifetime.  (I discuss this in my book, “What is Coworking?“)

For this reason, I was interested to see several posts from experienced freelancers, who have rather more sanguine view of gig working.  It’s not all roses and unicorns.

To be sure, these senseis want people to freelance.  But…they have some important things to tell you.

First of all, Hannah Edmonds posts yet another discussion of time management.  (This is a perennial topic for freelancers and coworkers.)

Everyone has trouble managing their time.  One good thing about working for an organization and having a boss is that these things provide structure and other people to help enforce the structure. However, an independent gig worker is on her own [1].  Edmonds points out the need to structure your gig work, and offers tips on how to do it. This takes self-discipline, which I, for one, am not that good at.

Sensei Tyra Seldon has more tough advice:  freelancing isn’t meant to be free  [3].  In particular, gig workers need to know the value of their work, and need to charge appropriately.  Anyone who has worked with Sensei Seldon knows that she is very clear about terms of payment, and demands appropriate professional levels of compensation.

She tells us that this is “what 10 years of freelancing taught” her:  talk about money clearly and demand to be paid.  Say “no” if necessary.

I’ll note that this is another good thing about working for a conventional organization:  someone else sets the terms and compensation, and there is a contract that defines it.  There is no need to negotiate every piece of work separately, so there isn’t a need to explicitly worry about the value of each piece.

Gig workers have to make demands and get paid.  That’s not all that fun, but it is for sure necessary.

What does this mean?

Sensei Naomi Nakashima tells us that she had to learn “that it’s not enough to love what you do” [2]

It no longer felt like I was getting paid to do something I loved, it felt like I was barely scraping by. I felt underpaid and undervalued (because I was).” (From [2])

What she found is that, however much she liked what she was doing, it was necessary to earn enough to actually live.  She recounts how one of her clients refused a patently absurd low bid from her, and told her “no matter how much you love what you do, if you’re not making enough to live on it, you will end up resenting it.”

Think carefully about this.  She is telling you that getting paid isn’t just necessary for survival, it is necessary for your sanity and morale.

Sensei Nakashima’s suggestions are good advice for any job, freelance or other. I can testify that poor pay and lousy work will definitely make you hate any job, no matter how cool it might seem on paper.

She elaborates:

1) It’s not enough to enjoy what you do – you also have to enjoy the project you’re working on.

2) It needs to do more than just pay you – it needs to be worth your time.

3) It’s not enough to simply work on clients’ projects that you love – they need to help further your career in some way. (summarized from  [2])

I would say that #2 is the crux of all of this.  Freelancing might seem like a great thing, but it really must be worth your time or you’ll never survive.  This isn’t even a matter of money (though Sensei Seldon is right that you need to be paid), it’s a matter of life and death.  You only have so much time, you can’t really throw it away doing things you hate.

I would add a further bit of advice.  My own experience has shown me that the most important thing is who you are working with.  Working with good people is generally worth your time, even if it might not be perfect for other reasons.  (For example, I’ve been very happy doing unpleasant (but important) work with people I really care about.  I’ve also been happy working with good people, even when it didn’t particularly advance my career.)

I think this is one of the reasons why coworking is so valuable to many freelancers.  If you find a good coworking community, everything will be so much better because just showing up and doing your work with good people will be worth your time.

Gig working isn’t easy, and it’s not guaranteed to make you happy.  I doubt that you will get rich (at least not from the gigs).

But these experienced freelancers are here to tell you that it can be a good life, if you are disciplined and take care to do work that is worth your time.

What is Coworking?  It can be an opportunity to work with good people all the time.  And that’s a really good thing.

  1. Hannah Edmonds, How to keep freelance work from eating up your life, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/10/23/how-to-keep-freelance-work-from-eating-up-your-life/
  2. Naomi Nakashima, How one freelance writer figured out that it’s not enough to love what you do, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/10/30/why-its-not-enough-to-love-what-you-do/
  3. Tyra Seldon, Pay now or pay later: what 10 years of freelancing taught me, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/10/17/what-10-years-of-freelancing-taught-me-about-payment/


(For much more on the Future of Work, see the book “What is Coworking?”)


What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? It is a way to stay connected [repost]

[This item was posted earlier here.]

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes for the Freelancers Union Blog about the importance of “staying connected” to other people.  “[F]reelancers may be particularly vulnerable to feeling disconnected and lonely.” [2]  As independent workers, they are also responsible for maintaining their own well-being.

Sensei Seldon gives three key things to do to sustain an independent career:

  1. Network with others
  2.  Join virtual communities
  3. Take care of your body

On the third point, she equates well-being with “self-care”, though I view the latter to be mostly cosmetic, while the latter is essential.  Exercise, rest, eat right.  You know it’s important, and Seldon is correct that your work will suffer if you don’t.  Budget time and effort to keep your own physiological and psychological infrastructure in shape.

The second point is, of course, not limited to independent workers. Many, if not most, workers—and basically everybody–are digitally connected in many ways. Independent workers may find valuable connections beyond direct work activities.

However, experience shows that digital communities are not enough.  People need other people, face to face.  So item number one is “network with others”—in person.

Historically, one of the key reasons contemporary coworking emerged is that independent workers can find a community of like-minded workers.  It is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas [1].

This is all good advice, and not just for independent workers.

I thing Sensei Seldon leaves out another critical principle. “Self care” is important, but the road to happiness is caring for others.  (Actually, we know Seldon hereself understands this:  see here and here)

Anyone with kids or elders or a family in general knows this.  Why is work-life balance a problem?  Because work is necessary but takes time away from what really matters, and what really matters and makes us happy.

So–when  looking for community and self care, I say aim to help take care of each other, not just yourself.  And this is certainly something that a coworking community can, and should foster.

  1. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  2. Tyra Seldon, 3 ways to stay connected for emotional and physical well-being, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/04/23/3-ways-to-maintain-your-emotional-and-physical-well-being/


(For much more on what makes coworking tick, see the book “What is Coworking?”)


What is Coworking?

Affordable Freelancing [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

Sensei Tyra Seldon discusses a new report from Commercial Café which surveys the cost of freelancing in various cities.  The basic idea is to calculate the base cost of renting an apartment and an office, and take a national average $38 hour charging, estimate how many hours per week is needed in different cities.  (The logic here is that freelancers can live anywhere, while charging national rates.  Your mileage may differ.)

The results are not particularly surprising, in line with what we already know of relative costs of living.  But the “hours per week” metric is revealing:  the most expensive locations require 100 hours per week or more (at the nominal $38/hour) to just get by [1].  Personally, I don’t think that’s feasible.

Sensei Seldon points out that this kind of calculation is an economic driver for “co-living” arrangements  [2]. Or, I’d say, moving out of the city.

I don’t have precise statistics at hand, but a back of the envelope calculation indicates that even the cheapest major city are more expensive than living in a small town or small city.  Assuming you can really charge NYC or Bay Area rates while living in a small city, my calculations say you can get the best space in town (with a yard for pets, kids, and a garden!) at about 25-30 hours per week.

It may not be as “exciting” as the big city, in all the unnamable ways that people like living in major urbs.  But there is an affordable opportunity.  And if you have connections to family and/or a major University, then this can be a quality lifestyle.

So, to the degree that Freelancing actually lets you actually live out here in the hinterland, and still have a good career, then it is a very interesting New Way of Work indeed.

  1. Diana Sabau, Your Work Week Could Be 10 Hours Shorter in Dallas or Houston – What’s it Like to Live and Work as a Freelancer in These US Cities?, in Commercial Cafe. 2018. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/your-work-week-could-be-10-hours-shorter-in-dallas-or-houston-whats-it-like-to-live-and-work-as-a-freelancer-in-these-us-cities/
  2. Tyra Seldon, The best cities for freelancers who want affordability, in Freelancers Union blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/12/10/the-best-cities-for-freelancers-who-want-affordability/

[For more on this, see the book “What is Coworking?“]

What is Coworking?

“Freelancing can be sustainable”

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes this week about the “Sustainability” of freelancing.  As she says, besides the attractions of freelancing, such as “the ability to work from home and to spend quality time with family” it is still critically important “to support and provide for oneself and one’s family.”[4]

As she says, sustainability is a significant challenge and cause for anxiety for freelancers. There are plenty of exploitative, low paying “opportunities” for freelancers.  Every freelancer has to worry about money.

In a second piece, Sensei Seldon gives some sensible advice about long term thinking, which includes maintaining cushions for lean times and flexibility for the inevitable changes to come [3].  This advice is actually the same for all workers these days.

On the question of whether there is enough money out there, Sensei refers to a recent study that reports fairly rosy statistics [4].  A study by MBO Partners find 20% of workers earning $100,000 or more annually, and the “average” income of the sampled independents slightly higher than the overall “median” income for the US [1].

One explanation for these numbers is that there are an increasing number of highly skilled technical professionals in tech and pharma who work as independent contractors, with concomitant salaries.  So high paid workers can be high paid contract workers if they want.

This kind of survey tends to make me twitchy and hypercritical.

Obviously, warning lights come on with statements about the “average income” of $69,000, especially when compared to “median household income” ($58,000).  We all know about the different kinds of “average”, and with the information above we know that there are quite a few high end earners who will skew a mean income, and shouldn’t be compared to medians.  The fact is, the vast majority of independent workers earn less than the average median income (which is none too high, IMO).

There are other warning flags about this and similar studies.  For some reason, the study defines “full time” freelancing as 15 hours or more per week. (They also confirm the FU survey’s finding that “full time” freelancers average about 35 hours per week—less than a conventional work week.)

There is the question of what that income figure should be compared to.  For a conventional job, the salary is only part of the compensation, which can include insurance, pension, and other benefits, which can be as much as 50% of total compensation.  So comparing the pay must account for the cost of benefits, etc.  And it is not clear how these are accounted in this survey.

(??) “full-time independents in the tech and pharmaceutical industries tend to earn more than their peers.” (from [2])

So, does a freelancer’s $100,000 have to pay pension and insurance?  If so, it’s no where near as much take home.  Again, I can’t tell from the report.

I’ll also note that the study is based on an internet poll, self-reported.  Who knows how representative the sample may be, or how reliable the reporting.

One more critical point in the survey:  all these trends are happening in a tightening job market, at the end of a big run up. Wages are rising, positions are unfilled. Rising pay is to be expected.

At the next downturn, though, these trends will reverse, and freelancers will be the first to feel the hit.  Conventional workers will lose their jobs, but freelancers will lose contracts first, and will have to take less money for the same work.  So whatever this survey shows, it certainly isn’t a guide to the future.

Let’s not be too pessimistic.  There are opportunities, especially for skilled workers with established credentials.

But let’s not fool ourselves with weak statistics.  Freelancing is still risky, especially in many industries, and especially when economic cycles turn down.

On the other hand, conventional employees face similar risks.

  1. MBO Partners, The State of Independence in America: 2018: The New Normal. MBO Partners, 2018. https://www.mbopartners.com/uploads/files/state-of-independence-reports/State_of_Independence_2018.pdf
  2. Elaine Pofeldt, New Data: Six-Figure Freelancing Is On The Rise, in Forbes. 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt/2018/07/12/new-data-six-figure-freelancing-is-on-the-rise/#5a65906c2a94
  3. Tyra Seldon, How to make your freelance business sustainable, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/09/21/how-to-make-your-freelance-business-sustainable/
  4. Tyra Seldon, A new study shows freelancing can be sustainable, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/09/13/freelancing-can-be-sustainable/

Seldon on work life balance for Freelancers

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes this month about the importance of work-life balance for Freelancers [1]. There are a whole lot of issues under the general challenge of “work-life balance”, and they are vital for all workers, not just Freelancers.  If you don’t get it right, there could be a high price to pay for you and people you love.

Her tag line is “Good boundaries make good freelancers.”  She’s right on target.

Sensei Seldon points out that seeking more control over these issues is one of the reasons people choose to Freelance.  The good news is that Freelancers get to set the boundaries and rules.  The bad news is that Freelancers have to do it on their own.

Seldon’s suggestions include three basic strategies:

1.    Set office hours

2.    Say no

3.    Budget for vacation time

These are all pretty good advice, which actually apply to any work.

I would add one more suggestion: you should account for and “charge” for the “life” part of the balance, at least mentally.  Whatever my regular working time is worth, I always set a high price on non-work time.  Work all weekend?  That would be “charged” at ten times normal hourly rates.  It better be important, and the time better be made up later, or it’s an overall loss.

This kind of accounting helps with the “say no” decision, too.  Does the work actually pay enough to justify the time it will take?  That partly depends on what other activities will be displaced.  I.e., not just the amount of time, but the exact periods when it will have to be done.

I would emphasize how critical it is to think carefully about these issues all the time.  If you deeply hate what you are working on or how you are working or who you are working with, that needs to be fixed.  If you miss your family all the time, or they miss you, or you don’t even know if they miss you, then that needs to be fixed.

As Sensei Seldon puts it, “The key is being clear about what work needs to looks like and what life needs to look like for you.”

The other good news is that there doesn’t have to be a conflict, if you can make it happen.  If you can work at things you love, with people you like, doing things that are important, odds are these will mean that “life” is going right, too.  And this is pretty much the point of Freelancing in the first place.

  1. Tyra Seldon, 3 ways to build a work-life balance, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/07/13/3-ways-to-build-a-work-life-balance/
  2. Tyra Seldon, “You good?” The importance of checking up on a fellow freelancer, in Frelnancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/07/03/you-good-the-importance-of-checking-up-on-a-fellow-freelancer/


Seldon on AI and the Future of Work

Sensei Tyra Seldon generally has her head screwed on right.   I hate to disagree with her, especially since she is usually right [here, here, here, here, here, here].

But this month she blogged about AI and the job market [3].  Don’t be afraid, “The future won’t be automated,” she says.

Uh, oh.

Actually, I’m afraid it will be.

Of course, Sensei Seldon is hardly naïve.  She knows that digital technology (AI or otherwise) has and will continue to change life and work.

One point she wants to make is that being afraid of these changes isn’t the right approach.

“There is no need to panic, but there is a need to be prepared.“

She draws lessons from industrial automation.  Panic, denial or resistance isn’t effective.  Embrace and make the best of new technology.

“Many of my friends in the automotive industry have shared with me that the key to their job security isn’t competing with technology, but it is learning how to leverage technology more effectively to accomplish an end goal.”

Seldon herself works with words, and hopes to continue to get paid to work with words. Taking this model of auto workers, the question is, what will AI be able to do, and what will humans be able to do better than–and alongside–AI?

Seldon argues that “there are certain things that AI cannot do and that revolves around uniquely human traits that make us, well, human.”  In short, we puny Carbon-based entities should understand their own strengths, and let our Silicon-based masters do the rest.

What are humans uniquely good at?  Seldon quotes Frida Polli, to say “Creativity. Empathy. Compassion. These are uniquely human traits that no AI guru is claiming are going to be automatable anytime soon.”

Here I have to disagree, at least partly.  Our intuitions about what can and can’t be automated have proved to be wildly inaccurate over and over again. Personally, I still don’t believe that it is possible for computers to generate and understand speech.  But they do.

Depending on the definitions and context, there is no reason why digital systems might not provide adequate “empathy” and “compassion”.  They already are giving puny mortals a run for the money in “creativity”, at least in certain contexts.

Basically, I never bet against AI.

So let’s refine this thought.  I think the thing that AI can’t match is embodied intelligence, and face-to-face interaction.  On the internet, noone can tell if you are a dog, a human, or an AI.  In the flesh, everyone can tell, and everyone cares about the differences.

The implication is, whatever you do, make it personal and, to the degree possible, in person.  Match that, Siri!

So: don’t try to compete with computers for speed or price or even language skills; but do try to challenge them on being there, right now, in person.

Unfortunately, there is another aspect of this issue, and that is the “making a living” part of it. Whatever the competencies of humans, can they be monetized or otherwise turned into food and shelter?  It’s not just what can humans do that computers can’t, it’s what can humans do and get paid for in a decent way?

Here, the challenge is capitalism, not technology.  And here, you should be afraid.  Siri isn’t after your job, but Apple sure is. It’s nothing personal, they’re just interested in the money. All the money.

This is why there needs to be a Freelancers Union and other efforts (such as Platform Cooperativism [1, 2].)

The future will be automated.  The question is, how will we run the future.

  1. Trebor Scholz, Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung: New York Office, New York, 2016. http://www.rosalux-nyc.org/platform-cooperativism-2/
  2. Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, eds. Ours to Hack and Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, A new Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet. OR Books: New York, 2017.
  3. Tyra Seldon, AI and the job market: Why we shouldn’t be afraid, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/05/16/ai-and-the-job-market-why-we-shouldnt-be-afraid/


Disclosure:  I have been a client with Seldon Writing Group in the past year.  Opinions expressed here are my own.

Study of Self Employment and Satisfaction

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes this week that self-employment leads to happiness [1].  From her own experience, she endorses the finding.

She says that the study “captured what so many of us know to be true: Self-employment can also lead to happiness.

She points out that self-employment provides many non-tangible rewards, including the personal satisfaction of doing good work.  She also notes that her standards as an independent worker are higher than when employed.

This study identifies some of these factors, including autonomy and especially “engagement”. Seldon refers to these as the intangible benefits of self-employment, which are at least as important as productivity and income.

Looking at the study itself, it compares the responses of professionals who are employed as managers, non-managers, and self-employed [2].

The researchers indicate that many previous studies show that self-employed workers are more satisfied than conventional workers.  This study goes further, to compare managers and non-managers, and to try to look at different aspects of “well being”.  In particular, they look at engagement, challenge, and workers’ preferences.

The overall findings are that self-employed workers are generally more satisfied than employees, but that the biggest difference is between non-managerial employees and both managers and self-employed workers.  (One interpretation would be that self-employees are their own manager, which carries the satisfaction of that role.)

Another interesting, if perhaps unsurprising, finding is that the misfit between preferences and job demands is lower for self-employed workers than for all but top managers.  In general, self-employed workers are choosing work that suits them, and have the autonomy to make that choice effective.

This study is fairly careful, but there are caveats to bear in mind.

The data is from an on-line questionnaire.  This means that these are verbal self-reports, which may or may not accurately reflect the feelings of the respondents.  The questions were administered carefully, and there are no obvious biasing factors, but there is always question whether respondents are interpreting the questions and answers the same way.  (For instance, just how meaningful are “average happiness” numbers, accumulated across multiple individuals reported “happiness”?)

A related challenge is that the sampling in this online study is rather opaque. It is difficult to know how representative the respondents may be.  It is a pretty big sample, but we really don’t know who was left out. Some workers may be less likely to volunteer information on this survey, which could bias the results.  For example, if discouraged, demoralized, or marginal workers are unrepresented, then the reported levels of satisfaction would be skewed.

This study did include a very large sample of managerial employees, which is important and often missing from studies of worker satisfaction.

The study reports the average age of the respondents to be around 40, though one wonders about the age distribution.  But there is no longitudinal data here.  How do these attitudes evolve over time?

Notably, the engagement and satisfaction increased with advancement in the organization, which surely correlates with longevity.  And are non-managerial employees less engaged because they are new or because they don’t fit or because their ambitions have been disappointed?

In the case of self-employed workers, one wonders what time frame their responses represent.  In the event they work from gig to gig, are they reporting the current or recent gigs, or multiple gigs over a longer period, or what?  I have to wonder if concepts such as engagement or satisfaction mean the same thing to people in a long-term position, compared to short term.  Engagement and satisfaction are probably not the same after several years in the same job as on the first day.

Finally, I’ll note that there are similar findings from the limited research about coworking:  coworking seems to make workers happy. (this  and see Chapter 6 and 7 of the new book “What is Coworking?”)

This study raises the possibility that coworking has nothing to do with happiness.  Given that most coworkers are freelancers, it could be the case that freelancing makes workers happy, and the workspace doesn’t matter.  I don’t know of any study that tests this hypothesis.

In the case of coworking, there is also a very strong selection bias in the studies.  Dissatisfied coworkers stop coworking, and are almost never sampled.  Reports that “coworking makes workers happy” must be taken with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, coworking spaces were invented to support independent workers.  In particular, they offer social support that conventional employees find in their workplace.  Therefore, it is very possible that self-employed workers who belong to a coworking space are even more satisfied than self-employed workers in general.  I don’t know of any study that tests this hypothesis, either.

Self-employment may not suit everyone, all of the time.

Overall, I would say that this study is more evidence that self-employment, freelancing, and coworking make some workers happy, some of the time.

As Sensei Seldon explains, this has a lot to do with things like setting your own standards, that lead to a stronger personal engagement and motivation.  For many freelancers, these psychological benefits even offset the uncertainty and financial struggles they may face.

  1. Tyra Seldon, A new study shows self-employment leads to happiness, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/04/18/a-new-study-shows-self-employment-leads-to-happiness/
  2. Peter Warr and Ilke Inceoglu, Work Orientations, Well-Being and Job Content of Self-Employed and Employed Professionals. Work, Employment and Society, 32 (2):292-311, 2018/04/01 2017. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017017717684