Working For Yourself: Month One (Getting Started)

Well, Ladies and Gentleman,

This is it. I’ve been working for myself for a month (actually a little more than a month, but details). Wheee! And also Ack. Sort of a wheee-ack, actually.

Inspired by And Kathleen (Have you read her month-by-month series about working freelance? You must.) I decided to write about owning your own business, month by month. To be picky about language, I should say, I don’t really consider myself a freelancer. I work on one particular project all the time, and while I have advertisers and readers, I don’t have clients. So, while my life is really similar to my freelance sisters in some ways, it’s also different. Which I’m sure will come up.

Some of you, undoubtedly, don’t care a whit about this new series. Bring on the weddings, you say, and the marriages. To you I say, shush. And also come back later this afternoon, where we’ll discuss pie-pops. That said, APW has focused on independent businesses for a long time, and I’ve always written about my life here, so it makes sense for me to talk about my new self employed life a bit.

So. The first month. Actually, let’s back up.

Before You Go Full Time

First, let me throw this out there… you have a lot of work to do before you quit your day job. Maybe you don’t have quite as much work as I did, because I waited to quit my day job till I could comfortably support two people in (expensive) San Francisco. Also, I worry obsessively about poverty, so I really over prepared. While you might not need to go as crazy as I did, you still have a lot of work to do. So!

Here are some things you should do before you ponder quitting:

Decide that you actually love your project: Once you’re working on your project full time, it will go from being ‘that delightful dream you were distracting yourself with’ to ‘your job.’ If you don’t adore it, you should seriously consider doing something where you are not personally responsible for paying all of the bills and providing all of the benefits. I’ve had a huge variety of work situations, and working for someone else is not the enemy. The enemy is working for yourself, doing something you don’t like very much, and always being broke. Turns out though, I did adore my side project, and I still do. That gets me through the interminable afternoons and the feeling of always being behind.

Get a business license: Yes. You need one. I found out, two and a half years into running APW that I was two and a half years minus one month late for getting my San Francisco business license. That was embarrassing. So get one before you quit, ok?

A business savings account: Ok, you don’t actually have to have one of these, but I suggest it. Cash flow issues suck. Avoid them if you can. Plus, it’s going to be harder to put a business savings account together once you’re paying yourself, so do that now.

A budget. For the year. Yes, you need one. I know it’s hard. You’re still not off the hook.

The Team

Look, there is a delightful sense of independence in the phrase, “working for yourself.” But while you may work for yourself, you’re not going to do it by yourself. If you want to work for yourself and not lose your mind, you’re going to need a support structure of people that you pay. I suggest that you find good people who focus on smaller businesses, and then pay them respectably (even if that feels like a lot of money to you). You will always be able to find people who will help you out…. for super-duper cheap. If you fall into that tempting trap, you’ll often find yourself digging out months later, realizing A) They never delivered what you needed, B) You paid them for a whole lot of hours, and C) Now you have a huge mess to clean up. So, if you can, skip that bit, and hire someone who’s charging a living wage.

This is what my team looks like:

An Agent: Remember when I told you I sold a book? Do you want to do that? Yes? Ok, then, get an agent. I’m not going to lie to you and say that it’s always easy to get an agent, but I still think you need one. (Side note: the way you get an agent is that you have a platform, and then network yourself into knowing other people with agents. I’m  pretty sure there is no other way to do it, but if you know another way, share in the comments!) Not only will agents get you considered seriously by big publishers, but they know the lay of the land, and how things work. They will make your proposal what it needs to be, they will negotiate, they will get you the best advance they can, they will make sure you get a fair shake on your contract, and they will troubleshoot and hold your hand when things are difficult during the process of actually making the book. They will take 15%-20% off the top, and it will be worth it.

A Lawyer: Please, for the love of god, don’t remind me that I put my husband through law school and that I also have a lawyer. That would be a very annoying detail for you to point out. Regardless, when I ended up with a book contract to sign, my lovely agent insisted that I get a lawyer who specialized in publishing and intellectual property issues. It was worth every penny to have someone advocating on my behalf who knew exactly what she was talking about. Also, for those of you without a lawyer in the family, it pays to have someone on your team who can advise you on the law whenever you sign a contract. They tell you when you’re being screwed, and they tell you when you should be asking for more rights. This is a good thing.

An Accountant: Lots of you won’t need an agent. Some of you won’t ever need a lawyer (maybe). But everyone needs an accountant. Do not even question me on this. Back in September, I’d been running APW as a profitable business for two years with absolutely zero in the way of bookkeeping. I knew that for me to go full time, that had to change, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it all. Enter: accountants. They set me up on Quickbooks (a program I was familiar with, but needed help setting up from scratch), got me to set up business accounts at the bank, and got me to write a budget for the year. Also? We talked about my savings goals and retirement accounts. You need to do all of this. This is not a joke.

My Web Team: You may or may not need web designers. But if you ever need to hire web people, remember this: people who say web designers can’t be expected to meet deadlines should be slapped. My web team always delivers their work efficiently and in a timely fashion, and so should yours. If they tell you they can’t, find someone who can. You deserve this.

Staff: I hesitate to include APW staff in this list, just because they are far more integrally involved with keeping APW running then the small crew of freelancers that surround me. That said, you will at some point hit a tipping point with your business where you realize you’re not sleeping, you’re not socializing, and you’re slowly going insane. At that point? Hire people, bring on interns, do something. Your business needs you sane.

The First Month:

So what did I learn the first month of working for myself? Well, that I don’t know very much yet. And that I’m really grateful I went to art school (something I sometimes doubted I would ever say).

I’m coming off a three and a half year corporate gig, that sometimes I don’t understand how I got. But before that I got my BFA in theatre (which means I was in a three day a week conservatory program), and then worked in New York City Theatre professionally. These days, I’m really glad for all that.

I’m glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day (we were only allowed three absences in studio per semester), no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work. You do the work when what you’re doing sucks, you do the work when what you are doing seems brilliant, you do the work when you’d rather be in bed. And thank God, because that takes some serious pressure off.  You just have to show up and work, not show up and do brilliant work. So every day these days, I show up. I write stuff. I send emails. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it’s brilliant. But I’m glad I know that I have to do it every day.

I’m also glad that I’ve worked with irregular work environments. If I’d always worked a 9-5 job, my head would be spinning off of my neck right now. As it is, I just feel a little dizzy. Because every day is different. Some days I get up and go to the office. Some days I have a random appointment. Some days I have conference calls. Some days I stay home and write. And some days are unproductive, and that’s just how it is. I call this Like-Living-In-Brooklyn (because that’s where I lived when I worked crazy jobs and crazy schedules) and that reminds me to enjoy it. I liked life in Brooklyn, usually.

But mostly, I’m content. I went through a month of being terrified back when I was quitting. By New Years week I was in full-on hyperventilation mode. But now? I’m happy. I drive through San Francisco during the day, delighted that I can be out and about when it’s sunny. I take naps in the office when it all gets too much (And wake up to drumming. Oh hippies! Oh San Francisco!). I walk out of work and into some guy playing the trombone, which is magical. I take it slow when I don’t feel well. When I work on Sundays, sometimes I do it lying out in the garden. I work out lots of times a week, and take care of my health. It’s confusing and overwhelming, but it’s mostly amazing. I was made for this. I hope I get to do it for a long, long time.

More next month (and every day on Twitter). Till then, Whee! And also Ack!


Picture: Kathleen and I, how fitting! From the Alt Summit photo stream

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  • Thank you for this! I love seeing “behind the curtain” of people who work for themselves and so many seem to think that no one wants to hear about that. Besides that, I totally agree that this is completely in line with what APW is about since people are always jumping in to say that this site helped inspire them to start working for themself. Can’t wait to hear more!

  • Rose in SA

    Love that we’ll be hearing regularly from you on the working life. I had such a visceral reaction when you announced you were going full time – a complete OMG I want that life moment – so I can’t wait to hear more of the nitty-gritty of how it’s going.

    By the way, some time last year I read a series of posts about how to get yourself published Not being in any way inclined towards writing myself I didn’t really connect that much with the content, but now I can see perfectly about how all the steps would apply to the APW book and what you’ve been doing over the past year.

  • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your process. And I love how your theatre training is helpful in how you work for yourself now, especially what you said about the commitment “that you show up Every Single Day.” Pursuing dreams may be wonderful, but it also takes an unimaginable amount of hard work and follow-through. (Which probably contributes to the amazingness of living out one’s dreams.) The long follow-through part is what I’m struggling with at the moment…thanks for the reminder to show up. Every day.

  • Amazing! Thanks for taking us on this journey – it’s a privilege for us.

  • Interesting post. I am not looking to go into business for myself right now – I like what I do (hr/employee relations/organizational strategy), and what I do is not conducive to being in business for myself, unless I: a. open up a consulting firm (which I may want to do when I have a lot more experience, but not now) or I go to law school and go into private practice in employment law (law school is not off the table, either, but not something we’re prepared for now, and even then I wouldn’t jump into private practice!).

    My husband will be the one more likely to go self-employed in the short term than me, though writing a book is not exactly the same thing. He has to budget his travel, but he doesn’t have to worry about paying staff (for example). He’s currently shopping for an agent, which I agree is tough when starting from scratch. However, neither of us even thought about hiring an attorney. We both have quite a few attorney-friends, so we can start there. I feel stupid for not thinking of this before reading this post.

  • Olivia

    Interesting post. I’m glad you seem to be thriving! My good friend was at Tisch and ETW around the same time as I imagine you were, I wonder if you knew each other. Small world, always :)

  • Michele C.

    Thanks for posting this here, Meg! I for one think it’s really important information though not wedding related. Independent small businesses are crucial to the economy and many people’s sanity! And there are a lot of people who are really intimidated by the idea and might think “I could never do that”, when you’re showing that you actually can.

  • Erin

    So, Meg, after you finish the “A Practical Wedding” book, and then the “Reclaiming Wife” book, can you please, please, pretty please write “A Practical Guide to Working Your @$$ off to Earn the Job You Love, and reaching for it when it doesn’t always feel like a Dream Come True”? Hopefully by the time you get around to it, I’ll be doing it already, but this series is surely a gift to the internet, and I’ve already added it to my list of favorites here at APW. Thanks!

  • Stephanie S

    Thanks for this! I’m actually a freelance writer sitting on my couch in my sweats right now.

    One other thing I would suggest is a support system. I could have never gone out on my own and been successful without other freelance friends, family and social friends to boost me when I was nervous, calm me when I panicked (“the mortagage!”) and cheered me on when I landed a big job.

  • So glad for this series! I quit my job for health reasons, and while I’m on the mend I’m trying to put a plan in place to start working for myself. I’ll take any and all advice I can get!
    Congrats again on this exciting new adventure!

  • pie pops!!

    That being said – wise advice as always, and I am so excited to see more of these. I may not have found the way to work for myself yet, but I hope someday I will, and it would be nice to know how to go about it beforehand!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Leona

    “I’m glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day (we were only allowed three absences in studio per semester), no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work. You do the work when what you’re doing sucks, you do the work when what you are doing seems brilliant, you do the work when you’d rather be in bed.”

    Yay, BFA’s! I have my BFA in Creative Writing and have recently decided that I am a huge slacker. I only write about once a week and it is unacceptable. So to remedy my laziness, I started reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which is fantastic and if you have a problem making art a routine, I highly recommend it.

    Go, Meg, you amazing woman. ;)

    • Raqui

      Hi there! I got a BFA in Creative Writing, too and just revisited a book on writing practice that reopened my eyes – Thunder & Lightning by Natalie Goldberg. She combines her Zen meditation practice with writing. I’m going to look for Twyla’s book now.


  • clampers

    “You just have to show up and work, not show up and do brilliant work.”

    Very practical advice, as usual. Thanks for this post. It’s my dream to work for myself and I’m slowly getting there. Can’t wait until I can live my version of your last paragraph.

  • Carbon Girl

    This is my new mantra “You just have to show up and work, not show up and do brilliant work.” I needed to hear this yesterday as I bawled my eyes out for the first time in a year (2 years?) about my dissertation writing and how crappy I was feeling about my writing style.

    A grad student’s life is very similarly unstructured and I am got a lot out of this post. Looking forward to next month’s!

    • I agree, that is a great mantra. using it!

      I’m not in grad school yet but I plan to next year. I know the lifestyle is going to be hard for me, so I got a lot out of this too. I don’t know that I’ll go into business for myself ever, but I still love hearing the details of how it works.

      • Vmed

        Yeah this was hard for me in the reading phase of grad school (the part where you begin to understand just how little you know)…

        and the research phase (the part where you’ve just got to get the data, and get it done, even though things break and results are baffling)…

        and the writing phase (the part where you begin to understand that you learned a lot, but STILL know very little).

        I wish I’d read this post before grad school :)

        • Kat22

          Excellent summary of grad school, that’s exactly how I felt (having just finished the writing stage and am now waiting for the markers to hurry up and read it!)

  • Thank you. I like what you said about being ready for it. Because while I think I’d like to do this someday, I’m entering my third year of entry-level publishing and I still have a lot to learn. And thank you for the hard stuff, because I’m one of those people who can’t daydream about something unless I know the good and gritty (which coincidently is probably why I love reading APW for wedding/marriage advice).

    Side note, I remember my mom used to say, “I would love to run my own business…if only I knew what kind of business to run.” She never had a passion for any particular small project, but now she’s been hired as a Team member for a husband-wife-owned “green” cleaning supplies company. Right now? It’s just the three of them. Just to show that you can be a part of someone else’s own business if you never found something for your own.

    • I’m hoping to one day be one of those awesome accountants helping small businesses set up and be successful : )

  • Thanks for posting this, Meg. I’ve been freelancing on the side for two years, and I’m now getting into web design (which I really, really, love) and have dreams of one day working for myself entirely. It’s reassuring to see that it’s possible, but also that taking time to make sure it’s the right decision is a good thing to do.
    So happy for you!

  • Alyssa

    I’m super excited about this series. Mostly because people are always like, “Follow your heart! Go for your dreams! Make it happen!” and I read that and I’m like, “Yes, but what about insurance?”
    And they’re like, “Reach for the stars! Every day is a new day!” And I wonder, “Yeah, but do you register yourself as a LLC?”
    And they’re like, “Freelance! Work for yourself! Puppies! Kittens! Unicorns! RAINBOWS!” And I go, “EFF OFF, HOW DO I DO MY TAXES?”
    And then I stop reading.

    So yay for dreams and yay for discussions on practical stuff.

    (And can I say, how SATISFYING it is to use the spell-check feature and have it say no errors were found? I feel like I got a gold star…)

    • Get the kittens to do your taxes! DONE!

      • Dev

        Kittens are notoriously bad at taxes.

        • Seriously. Everyone knows that you assign taxes to a Border Collie. :)

    • meg

      Oh! We pay for Kaiser insurance out of pocket, which is the only really good insurance we could find that we could buy. I’m not an LLC, because my accountants told me that I’m not making enough money yet to make that worth it, so I’m a sole proprietorship (though I have separate busnes accounts). And you always pay someone to do your taxes for you when you work for yourself.

      Any other questions?

      • Alyssa

        SEE?!? This is what we need! You’re awesome.

        And I will most definitely have questions in the future. Especially about that accountant… Major financial planning scares the bejeezus out of me.

      • Luna

        So you have business insurance? Or is it like the LLC issue, not large enough to worry about that yet?

        • meg

          Whether you need business insurance (and how much you need) really depends on evaluating your liability (with your lawyer). Mine is fairly low, so it has less to do with size than with that. I do have workers comp insurance though, you need that the second you have an employee (as opposed to freelancers).

      • Class of 1980

        RE: Health Insurance

        Make sure you connect with an agent who represents LOTS of providers. They can only comparison shop and give quotes for what they actually sell.

        Yeah, it’s a no brainer, but not something most people think about. We cut our premiums almost in half after our agent switched companies and had access to so much more.

        (Of course, once you sign on with a health insurance company, they will constantly jack up the price. It seems like you need to switch companies every few years just to get a bargain again.)

    • Dev

      Alyssa, I love this comment so much. Thank you, thank you!

    • Hahahahaha . . . word. (Plus, I can barely figure out how to do my own taxes anymore, and I’m employed by someone else . . . hooray for accountants!)

  • I’m so thankful to be able to read a wedding blog that doesn’t assume that my goals and aspirations end after the wedding is over. THIS is why this blog is called A Practical Wedding.

    Also, like Alyssa said, it’s so refreshing to hear the nuts and bolts of how to live the life you dreamed.

  • I love the behind the scenes of MegsNewLifeTM.

  • I LOVE that this will be a new series. I have been tremendously inspired by all that you have accomplished with APW. I am looking forward to following your journey and learning as much as I can from it.

  • i love the wedding and marriage talk. i have no intention or strong desire to own my own business. BUT. i still found this post (and all your posts about your work-journey so far) completely fascinating. keep ’em coming!

  • I was freelancing full time for almost 17 months before taking on my current 12-month 9-5 contract (where I’m making 40% more than I was at my last full time gig, by the by) and I look forward to my next stretch of self employment. There is something incredibly satisfying about knowing that you are 100% responsible for generating your livelihood, and grocery shopping or going to the gym in the middle of the day is pretty awesome, too.

  • Class of 1980

    MEG WROTE: “I’m happy. I drive through San Francisco during the day, delighted that I can be out and about when it’s sunny. I take naps in the office when it all gets too much (And wake up to drumming. Oh hippies! Oh San Francisco!). I walk out of work and into some guy playing the trombone, which is magical. I take it slow when I don’t feel well. When I work on Sundays, sometimes I do it lying out in the garden. I work out lots of times a week, and take care of my health.”

    That sums up what I feel about working for yourself. You still have as much work to do, but some parts of the day are flexible. I took a nap yesterday because I was freaking out. Flexibility helps you to maintain stamina.

  • I loved this. Yes, yes yes to having professionals in your life. I am a lawyer and I have my own lawyer: I was once told that only a fool represents herself.

    What I’ve loved about your new employment status is that we get to hear more of your voice. And it was that sassy and wise voice that kept us coming back time after time. While I love that the wedding graduates and guest posts make this blog feel like a compendium of wisdom, it is a real treat to have you write more often and mroe freely.

    (Have just noticed that there is an awful lot of “love-ing” in this comment. Aah, well…)

  • Laura

    “I’m glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day (we were only allowed three absences in studio per semester), no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work. You do the work when what you’re doing sucks, you do the work when what you are doing seems brilliant, you do the work when you’d rather be in bed.”

    As a director/choreographer planning a big show for a month after our May wedding, I needed this more than wedding advice today. My wedding will happen. My career? Well, it remains to be seen.

    Thanks, and congratulations on your new life!

    • I love that comment as well, and it’s nice to be reminded that my theatre training taught me more than how to make theatre.

      I’m a props master and my new fiance is worried about me treating our wedding as another production. I feel like “I have all these skills, and all sorts of friends with skills, why it would be a waste to not use them”

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I’m so excited to follow you on your new adventure and I think it’s awesome that you’re sharing the play by play with all of us. Your comments about showing up and working every day, regardless of if what you create is bad, good, or great is absolutely inspiring & just what I needed to hear!
    So often posts regarding working for yourself make it seem so easy, or just a simple “go for it” attitude. I like that you’re positive in your descriptions but not at all pretending it’s going to be easy :)


    Thanks for the new segment and for reading my mind! Right now I’m in the 2.5 month stretch with the wedding, but my mind is spinning with all the real-life things like my career track and life routine that I want to focus on after the wedding.

    Its good to know that working for yourself can help one manage your own balance of personal responsibilities (such as your health, fitness and happiness) and career goals. I’m struggling with finding time for my own well-being in the 9-5 working hours and being creative (as a graphic designer) during those set hours as opposed to an creative epiphany at midnight. I’ll be following you closely after the wedding because it is definitely a goal of mine to take that creative nap during work hours and I ironically tend to be more relaxed with crazy-all-over-the-place schedules! Best wishes!

    And the wedding side of me says: ‘PIE POPS, can’t wait!’

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  • All very good advice, especially about showing up…

    Isn’t there a quote that goes, “90% of life is just showing up”?

    Congratulations on making it your first month :)

  • Thank you for this post – it’s so helpful (and interesting) to see what goes into running APW. I’m in the throes of launching a photography business, and some days it’s more overwhelming than I could ever have imagined, since I’m still working and taking classes. I need to remember to treat it like a business as well, and get a start on the mundane details.

  • Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing about this. It’s something I’m considering for down the road, so I absolutely need all the advice and insight I can get for how to lay the groundwork. It especially helps coming from someone whose opinions I already trust.

  • Emily

    I love this series – looking forward to hearing more!

  • I love me some wedding and wife talk but keep on the running your own business talk. In fact, any and all grownup talk is greatly appreciated.

  • Anne

    My goodness– thank you for this post! I can’t wait to see more glimpses of your experience working for yourself. I quit my job back in June to run my own practice. It’s terrifying and overwhelming, but it’s also hugely gratifying. I love how you started this series about the supports you need.

  • Ash

    Working for yourself totally and completely is about the bravest and most faithful thing I can imagine. And supporting a family by working for yourself, I have no words for that.

  • As a woman fixing to clock out for the last time in 8 (!) days to focus on her fledgling wedding business full time, I literally squealed with glee when I saw today’s post. Oh Meg, thank you for your honesty & bravery in sharing all of the nitty gritty with us. There are a lot of “Running Your Own Biz” posts online that are entirely puppies and rainbows and moonshine…and we all know it just ain’t so! (Okay, maybe the moonshine part is true.) Love that you’re sharing the reality – both the fantastic days and the “Today, I show up and slog through,” days. HUZZAH for authenticity!!!

  • Wow, I feel like this post came at the perfect time for me. I’m in the process of looking for a new job but all I want to do is work for myself. I want to make reporting and wedding blogging my full time job and I have absolutely no effing clue how to do it. As much as I’d like to do it right now, we’re not in a good financial place for it. I like having food in my stomach and roof over my head. But, I want to know how to get there eventually. I’m really looking forward to this series.

  • I am looking forward to this series, in a cautious way …

    My (now) husband and I started our own law practice together, and I lasted about fifteen months before leaving to work for a small non-profit law firm (last month) (aka a salaried job with a boss). I’m still processing what I liked about working for myself and what I hated about it, why it was good for me to have the business and why it was better for me to stop, and how I feel about all of it. The creative and writing field is very different, but I know that I’ll glean lots of wisdom and that these posts will help me process.

    Meg, sounds like you’ve really thought things through and set up a great system for yourself and your business – now, remember to be patient with yourself as your new life unfolds. I’m out here cheering you on!

  • Great insight. Working for yourself is a perfect fit for some people and completely the opposite for others. But when it does work, its difficult to look back! Just remember to take time out every now and then! I shall look forward to reading more about your ventures!

  • Practical advice. I’m not so sure about the lawyer, just yet, but I’m working on the agent. I’ve been on my own for about six months now, and finally relaxing into the “mayhem” the flexible schedule can bring. I look forward to your next post.

  • Very excited for this new series! I’m six months into freelance grant writing, and one month into being engaged so this blog just gets better and more relevant with every new development!

  • ashley

    “Some of you, undoubtedly, don’t care a whit about this new series. Bring on the weddings, you say, and the marriages. To you I say, shush.”

    This is why I keep coming back here months after my own wedding, when all other wedding blogs became dead to me. Meg, you run a thoughtful, funny, informative, and all inclusive space to visit. It focuses on family and the tough and awesome parts involved with creating or maintaining your own (whether that means your blood relatives, the person you marry, or the friends that surround you). It’s not a one trick wedding pony. Thank you for that. Also, this post speaks specifically to what I’m about to go through myself, so I can’t wait for the monthly update.

  • Heather G

    I do not have my own business (and probably won’t) but I can really relate to the “showing up” part. The things I want to do in life require this attitude and this level of intention. I may have just spent 2 hours calculating a stupid formula, but that’s part of showing up.

    Also, by outlining what goes on behind the scenes, like you did, it helps us realize the amount of planning and details that go into doing what you like to do, whether that’s working for yourself, or someday obtaining a research grant (just for an example).

    Do intend to work for myself? No. Will I ever need an agent? Probably not. Wise advice, though, and it translates and generalizes very well, I think.

    What a gift you have given us!

  • I work as a freelance researcher, writer and marketing consultant, and often random people who are trying to get into freelancing take me out for a beer and pick my brain. I thought I’d throw some of what I’ve told them into the comments here:

    “Hire someone who’s charging a living wage.” – This is awesome, thank you Meg for saying this. I *always* tell freelancers: charge a real-world fee.

    I find women, in particular, feel guilty about charging fees – any fees, not even fair wages but living wages. Maybe it’s because we are socialized to work for free and it feels “wrong” to say “I’m good at this and deserve generous compensation for my time.” We’ve been trained to be martyrs. I say eff that and I charge what I need to live comfortably, pay my bills and have a bit of a cushion. I need to know that if I end up spending hours doing something that I can’t bill for (say wrestling with my printer), I’m not totally screwed when it’s time to pay the rent.

    People often ask me how to figure out how much to charge for freelance work. Other than finding other people in your area who are doing similar work and asking them, you can figure it out like this: Take whatever wage you want to make and then add on the taxes, Government pension (Canadians), and cost of private benefits package (health, dental) that you need. Take that big, scary number and charge that. I often to tell aspiring freelancers to take the dollar amount they want to make and double it, because it’s easy to underestimate how much will come off the top for expenses.

    You’ll find out pretty quickly if you’re pricing yourself out of the market, but my guess is that you’ll be surprised at how much companies will pay freelancers. Employees are far more expensive to attract, recruit and retain.

    Value your own time, and don’t for a second feel guilty about it.

    • Interesting points. I have worked for free a lot over the years doing theatre and the last time I did it, it was for a project that was a “good cause.” I fully support the reason we did the work and believe deeply in the cause, but now I realize that since I worked on that project over a year and a half (part-time, in intervals) that I should have asked for some sort of pay as recognition of professionalism. If that makes sense. You live and learn, I guess.

  • This is one of the most useful posts I have ever come across. I started coming here when I was planning my wedding and needed a sane perspective but I keep coming here because the information is so relevant. It’s the first place I check in during my day and I get so much inspiration. Thank you for tackling all these big scary topics and empowering women all over the world.

  • april

    Up, Up and AWAY! :-)

    So hugely proud of you, lady. Excited for where you and APW are going! XOXO

  • Like many people here, I found this blog when I was planning my wedding (which, incidentally was the same weekend as Meg’s – so not exactly recently) and it is the only wedding blog that I still read.

    I like reading about the wedding planning and wedding graduates, as I find it these voices translate well to life after of the wedding, but I LOVE the reclaiming wife series and now this! I am starting to think it should be required reading in high school – practical advice for LIFE!

    I have been self-employed for about 3 years, but thinking about changing industries which may require going corporate, and yet, I still found this post to be so helpful & informative. So again, thanks Meg for continuing to raise the bar for a practical & GOOD life!

  • Jessie

    All I really have to say is congratulations, Meg. You really deserve this. I hope you continue to touch lives the way you have and inspire people to be everything they can be, even when it’s scary. :)

  • KA

    Because every day is different. Some days I get up and go to the office. Some days I have a random appointment. Some days I have conference calls. Some days I stay home and write. And some days are unproductive, and that’s just how it is. I call this Like-Living-In-Brooklyn…

    Sigh. This is what I want. 2011 is the year I will make this happen–it’s so close, I can practically taste it. Except for me it will be Like-Living-in-LA… 2.0. Looking so forward to the previews of what it’s really like!

  • Love seeing your behind the scenes stuff, Meg. And yes – people need to get business licenses and keep proper records and do taxes even if the business is tiny and they’re not sure they ever want to go full time. Partly because you’re required to do it regardless of how big you are and partly because if you decide to go big it’s less of a headache if you started on the right foot.

  • FK

    Yes! Please keep this series up! I’m an actor/writer, and my husband is a video-maker. We’re both about to make big changes (well, we’re moving from NYC to LA), and this practical yet inspiring info is so great to read!!

  • I’m just sitting here nodding and saying YES. A million times yes. All of it.

    Except I still haven’t made a budget. But hear me out! I’m tracking all of my income and expenses for a year – just to get an idea of my cash flow. THEN from there I think I can set goals and make budgets accordingly.

  • FK

    p.s. Re: getting the agent, when you said “have a platform”, what did you mean exactly? Like, have some exciting work to show for yourself? Thanks!

    • meg

      Nope, like have a lot of readers. The publishing industry is, well, not so flush these days. They need to know that you can do the bulk of marketing and selling your book on your own.

  • hoppy bunny

    Sent this to my fiance, who is in art school, and who is aiming to be his own boss and do art forever. He bookmarked it and basically double underlined ‘business license.’

    Thank you.

  • Paranoid Libra

    I love APW and believe it needs to be renamed A Practical Life! Seriously so much inspiration from here on a daily basis.
    At 25 I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I am not currently enjoying my current job. I am contemplating going out on my own.
    For those thinking about their own business remember to try to talk to someone who does what you want to do.

  • I’m so happy you wrote this. I think you may be the only one I have ever read that doesn’t make this all sound like it just fell in your lap because you were lucky. Honestly, you make me feel hopeful. Again. As always. I’m so happy for you!

    • meg

      Yeah, is it weird to say that I don’t think it has anything to do with luck (other than the luck of being born who you are, I suppose.) It is lucky to find something you love, but doing the work to turn that into a job has almost nothing to do with luck. So go you!

      • What I love about this comment, your post, and your other posts about the Book and running this site, is that you take both responsibility and credit for your accomplishments.

        Too often, women tend to say ‘oh, I was just lucky’ or ‘I was in the right place at the right time’ or ‘I know the right people’ — an attitude that demeans their hard work, insights, creativity and smarts.

        It’s wonderful to have you telling us HOW you’re pulling your star up by yourself, and ALL that goes into it. I hope more of us will take the same responsibility for our accomplishments, and own them in this way. Thanks for being an inspiring role model, as well as a great writer!

      • Margaret M.

        I beg to differ. There are people who work very, very hard on their dreams and fail. There is always a measure of luck. Yes, you worked very very hard for this and deserve every iota of your success, but I think there is still luck involved.

        • meg

          I think people do work very hard at dreams and fail (I sure have), but I’m not sure that makes it luck when things do work. It’s still hard work… sometimes hard work pays off, sometimes it doesn’t work out. But in my world view, it’s not luck that makes the difference, it’s a million other things: circumstance, the way the world lined up in relation to your project, the internal resources you had in place in that moment in time. Luck seems like something magical, life is just a bunch of situations and hard work. Some good, some bad.

          • BW

            I like to see it as a card deck stacked in one’s favor. You have to show up for the game and play well. When you get a series of good cards it’s certainly easier to win.

            While you have no control over the good cards coming your way, you still have to make the right decisions about what to do with the cards.

          • Class of 1980

            YES to what BW said. That’s how it’s been for me personally. I had to show up for the opportunity that showed up.

            In Meg’s case, I think she made her own opportunity.

            Both versions of success happen in this world.

  • I totally appreciate this post and am looking forward to hearing more. I must admit I am jealous too! I know this has been a long journey paved with lots of hard work and tears. Congrats! I would love to be self-employed one day, and really love hearing about what it is really like behind the scenes. Keep these posts coming.

  • sarah

    “I’m glad that I was trained with the idea that you show up Every Single Day (we were only allowed three absences in studio per semester), no matter how sh*tty or uncreative you were feeling, and you do the work.”

    This might be an odd take-away from this post, but thank you for articulating why I’m glad I have a music degree. I don’t use it in my work at all, but I’ve always maintained that I will never, ever regret studying music, although I couldn’t exactly say why. THIS is why!

  • This idea of showing up every day really resonates with me. Growing up, my dad always repeated the phrase “showing up is 90%” (Woody Allen, I think, said it first). It’s about showing up and putting in the work. This has been really key for me, as I’m working on a photo 365 project (one photo a day for a year) and looking to launch a business at the end of the year (though not quitting the safety net of a job).

    Thanks so much for sharing this behind-the-scenes look. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences – the ups, the downs, and whatever advice you can share.

  • Beth

    Meg, let me just say how much serious a$$ you kick! Thank you for this great, honest post. I will keep reading for any and all things practical.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Business account. Yes. I learned this late in independent contractor/freelancer land, but having a banker and accountant explain the word “audit” cleared that right up. I have a lot of business expenses due to the nature of my work and having a business account makes keeping track of those expenses (both for personal and IRS purposes) so much easier. And I don’t like the word “audit” so this helps to keep ducks nicely in a row.

    I love your last paragraph by the way. I’ve been self-employed for a year now (wow!) and you know what the very very best part of it is? The power to say NO. I don’t say no very often (bills to pay) but there is something so liberating and so empowering in being able to say “no, don’t want to do that” and I’m the only person I have to answer to for that. That’s worth it’s weight in gold.

    • Class of 1980

      Once in a blue moon, we get a deranged customer who is not worth having. Oh the joy of telling them to “Go away”.

      And when they ask to speak to the owner, oh the satisfaction of answering “That would be me”.

      Hee. ;)

  • I read this yesterday at my Dad’s so I didn’t comment immediately.

    I love this series. Love it.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of this.

  • Kayakgirl73

    I think I’ll send this post to my mom. She’s starting a part-time consulting business after recently retiring. I don’t think she ever thought she’d go into business for herself. I don’t think I will but you just never know when you might so thanks for the inciteful information.

  • kc

    I know don’t comment very often, though I’ve been a regular reader for over a year now, but this and what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished really speaks to me. You’re an inspiration, Meg! I hope to be as fortunate one day (still working at it).

  • Leaving a corporate job to strike it out on your own? Sounds like you’re living the dream. I’ll definitely be staying tuned! Other than your agent, which I understand is definitely a networking thing, how did you find other members of your team like the lawyer and accountant? Recommendations from friends? Google?

    • meg

      I found my lawyer through my agent, and my accountant through twitter. Ask people you trust, and they’ll give you referrals.

  • BW

    Oh and another thing about working for yourself: suddenly you have like 30 different bosses. Except this time, if you do well enough, you can fire the bosses you don’t like!

  • Thank you!

    I’ve been thinking over the past couple months about getting my blog to the “full-time-job” point, and your posts both inspire me and keep me grounded. I have a lot of work to do before I get to that point, but I can’t wait to be there! I’ll be saving your updates to look back on as I get closer to my goal.

  • Marchelle

    I’m up for this new feature, seeing as how I might be the boss of me one fine day.

    Still so proud of you. And so inspired by you.

  • Wow! I haven’t checked in a bit, but now I understand all those tweets better.

    You do not have to shush me, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I quit my job in October, and even though I’m getting subsidized for awhile by the insane euro social safety net (and my husband still has his job), I too have irrational fears of poverty – my husband calls it ‘the hamster reflex’. It’s going to be great following along with you.

  • Aurélie

    Great post, many thanks for letting us into your office… I’m impatiently waiting for your next column! And the book!

  • kyley

    I love this new feature!!!!

  • Emery

    Love your site, you scored a new fan today! Keep up the good work!

  • mija

    Amazing post!!

  • Thanks for sharing all of this. I am planning to start a part-time (but hopefully full-time eventually) photography business this fall. Right now, I’m a lawyer (graduated last year just like David) but have my undergrad degree in Theatre Studies (BFA like yours!). I love the law, though I don’t always love being a lawyer. My lifelong passion that I keep going back to – even during my theatre, law school, law firm life, etc. – is photography. I feel like I absolutely have to start my own business or I will regret it for the rest of my life but that thought is so intimidating!! Thank you for sharing your experience. Reading about what you’ve gone through, and that you’ve managed it gracefully and successfully, is giving me the confidence I need to embark on a new journey.