Finding freelance work while unemployed, Part II

I have been able to write freelance science and technology articles from home for many academic and publishing clients over the years–sometimes I’ve done it as a sideline while I worked a full-time job. This is what I do best and can actually get paid an almost-decent amount for. It’s really the reason I haven’t lost my home yet (knock on wood). When freelance articles are few and far between, I’ve expanded into editing or writing any science-related content: coffee-table books on astronomy, websites, physics and astronomy textbooks, market-research reports, and dictionaries. I am listed in the new American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition as the physics editor–a credit I’m very proud of. How many people can claim their name is in the dictionary credits? I got to rewrite clunky definitions and add brand new terms–how cool is that? Recently, I have been editing a Japanese planetarium show script–work that pays alright for the part-time hours required and is right up my alley. My hope is that it might lead to bigger things.
Market yourself

My website didn’t have much traffic at first, in spite of my efforts to include search-engine optimization techniques like metatags and keywords. The only people that viewed my website, as far as I could tell, were people I sent there. I found that my hits increased when I posted my website on social media sites like Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn.com. I try to come up with a legitimate hook to post my website so that my Facebook Friends and LinkedIn contacts don’t un-Friend and un-Link me. For example, a website overhaul can be a good excuse for posting a link to my website on LinkedIn.

Network! Network! Network!

My second piece of knowledge to impart is this: If you’re looking for work, networking is KEY! You might even say networking is the ONLY thing that matters. I got that Japanese planetarium-show-script editing job (mentioned in my last blog) via my first boss, who I worked for in 1986, and who lives 6000 miles away in Hawaii now. He contacted me because we got back in touch and he knew I was looking for work. 

I’m an outgoing person, which is great for networking. Don’t shy away from a social opportunity to chat someone up, because inevitably the question comes up, “What do you do?” I sometimes joke, “Nothing,” but then I follow up by saying I’m an un*employed writer looking for work, and giving them my card. I end up handing out my card to (almost) everyone I spend more than ten minutes with. They may end up in the trash, but sometimes it results in a lead or a piece of work. If you’re un*employed, you probably have had the experience of someone sending you a job listing that is not a good fit. I’d rather have a friend looking for me and sending me misdirected job announcements than one who isn’t! It’s an opportunity to respond with “Thanks, that’s close, but it looks like this position focuses on ___________ (say, the healthcare field), when I have no experience in that. Something closer to ___________ is more likely to get me hired.”

If you meet someone who is also un*employed, this is a great networking opportunity. Ask them what they do, exactly. If you think you can help, ask them to email you their resume. I often ask people looking for work to send me their resume. Not only does that help me really understand what they do, I can offer to give feedback (since I’m an editor experienced with hiring and getting hired). That way, while I’m looking for jobs, I keep an eye our for that kind of job for them. So many great leads have come from past colleagues who were laid off at the same time who know exactly what my function was at my last company.

If you reconnect with someone you’ve worked with in the past or are conversing with someone you know well, ask them if they’re on LinkedIn.com–and if so, follow up by sending them an invite to connect. LinkedIn is simply the best, most valuable professional networking tool around. Period. If you don’t have an account, you simply MUST get one if you’re looking for work. Register for a free account and starting inviting your professional contacts to “link in” with you. Then join as many industry groups as you can find that relate to your profession. You might also want to join the unemployment groups. I set my account to send me weekly digests to keep in touch with colleagues and my groups without drowning me in email. I create a general post that I’m available for work and send out a link to all my LinkedIn colleagues every now and then. Another great function of LinkedIn is that if you see a job opening you want to apply for, you can use the supreme functionality of LinkedIn to search for someone you know who has a key contact at that company!

When I have job interviews (two in the past month–fingers crossed!), I like to follow up by sending LinkedIn invites to the people I met. I let them know that I’ll send them the invite so they can view my recommendations received from past colleagues and clients.

Sign up for freelance and job search alerts

This is my other secret. I thought everyone knew that you don’t have to actively go through a long list of company job sites and career sites to look for jobs every week–I find that’s a sure and direct route to having your time sucked into a big black hole, not to mention depressing. But lots of people don’t seem to know that you can create job search agents on numerous sites so that job alerts come directly into your inbox with a list of jobs you qualify for. I seem to be able to find new targeted job-search email alerts to sign up for every week on LinkedIn alone.

I receive personalized job search email alerts from CareerBuilder.com, monster.com, and LinkedIn.com, as well as several big employers, including Pearson Higher Education, MIT, Physics Today, and AVS. I receive quite a few leads and ideas for freelancing through LinkedIn groups, including Writeful Share, Science Writers, Publishing and Editing Professionals, and several Optics and Photonics groups. When I sign up for a new email alert with targeted job leads, I add it to my list of job-search activities that my state requires one to keep to receive benefits.

Pay your taxes

One thing that is difficult about being un*employed is that you still have to pay taxes on the benefits you receive. This goes double for freelance work. Besides the fact that after a certain point, freelance income reduces your unemployment benefits, you really have to be careful to set aside about half of your freelance income for taxes. In addition to federal taxes, which can take up to 30% of your income, you must pay a 15% self-employment tax, not to mention state income tax, which in MA is 5.25% for 2012. Self-employment income is determined by the collective forms 1099-G that your clients will send you in January, which you must account for by filing a Schedule C (Profit or Loss from a Business). You can write off your business expenses, but even so, the taxes owed can add up to a lot quickly! Quarterly, you must pay what you owe, or face possible fines and interest on April 15.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet that lists each unemployment check, the work I’ve invoiced and the date it was paid, by quarter, as a predictor of how much money I’ll need to pay each quarter. It’s ridiculously painful when you struggle to pay your mortgage and buy groceries to have to fork over your half your hard-earned cash to your state and federal government, but I have a healthy fear of the consequences.The IRS bills you and charges a whopping 24.99% APR on what you owe. I have seen people lose their homes, vehicles, and belongings when taxes go unpaid. So set aside time and money quarterly to pay your estimated taxes!

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More helpful links:

Keeping busy while unemployed

How to find and land freelance work

Get a freelance job

Tax Tips for the Unemployed

Business Expenses You Can Write Off

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