How to Deal

It's Wise to Keep a Job While Building Freelance Business

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, April 23, 2008; 5:24 PM

I have been un(der)employed for three years. I am looking for a full-time job. I last worked full-time as a legislative assistant for a local government agency. This job was enjoyable and exciting, but not financially sufficient. As with all other jobs that I have held, I accepted it because, while I was going on interviews, my money ran out before I was able to meet any employers who would offer me a fair wage because I was qualified, instead of a low wage because I was not yet a college graduate.

I completed two years of college (the first at an Ivy League school), and am currently enrolled at a local university. My professional skills are editing and technical writing. I have a group of high-profile, freelance clients whose books, Web pages, speeches and textbooks I have worked on to supplement my income. All of my clients have freely offered to give positive references and have approved my use of excerpts of their work in my portfolio. I charge clients at an hourly rate that is equivalent to the salary that I look for when I interview for traditional employment.

When I do get job offers, prospective employers routinely disregard my freelance work and my portfolio; they offer me wages that are usually about half what I earn on my own. Negotiation has not worked for me. I don't have the financial luxury of living solely on what I earn by myself, not yet. I am building a business carefully and gradually. For now, I have exhausted my savings and I must make a living. I need to secure a job, with some medical/health/dental/life insurance benefits, that will pay at least the hourly wage that I earn on my own.

Unless you are famous or in the upper echelons of a highly profitable publication, you will never make an impressive wage writing and editing. These types of jobs just don't pay very well. What's more, almost without exception, those who hold the few highly compensated writing and editing positions have amply paid their dues. They have worked unglamorous and jobs at meager pay for years to slowly earn the experience and reputation that led to their big break.

I don't know how much, exactly, you are hoping to earn as a writer/editor employee, but I am willing to bet that you will not find an employer willing to pay you the equivalent of your hourly freelance rate. The reason for this is that employees are expensive. When an organization pays you your freelance rate, they pay you only for the work that they need without any fiduciary obligation to you and minimal administrative costs. If you are an employee, on the other hand, the organization offers you such benefits as health insurance, they support your work with desk space (including computer equipment, Internet, heat, electric, furniture, regular maintenance) and administrative services (human resources, payroll, secretarial), and they pay a portion of your federal taxes. An employee's hourly wage, as you can see, represents only a portion of the real cost of keeping that person on staff.

Building a viable consulting business is tough work. Like you, many people find that it makes most sense to hang on to traditional employment for as long as possible before cutting the cord. For a while, you will just need to work extra hard, keeping you day job for income stability and insurance purposes while supplementing your earnings with freelance assignments.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, April 29 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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