AI innovation and education: how to navigate learning and teaching

This article on AI and what it means for education is written by Becky Zimmer, a freelance writer based in Humboldt, Saskatchewan with experience in farm, community, small business and sports reporting.

AI innovation and education how to navigate learning and teaching

Historically, technological shifts have always disturbed the familiar and usual.

According to educational insiders, the technological development in AI is posing the biggest threat to the world of post-secondary education.

When Darren Hicks stumbled onto his first case of an AI written essay in the fall semester of 2022, there wasn’t much he could have done to prove with 100 per cent certainty the student had not written the two essays themselves.

The 500-word essay on Hume and the paradox of horror looked well written, but reading deeper into the structure and arguments, it made very little sense to someone who actually knew about the writings of Hume. If the assistant professor of philosophy at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina hadn’t caught a whiff of AI generation, Hicks said he would have passed the student, but he and the institution still counted it as a form of academic dishonesty. This was different from a traditionally plagiarized essay, said Hicks, but without the student actually admitting to using AI generation, he wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on reporting the student to the academic board.

“A plagiarized essay just screams its nature. It says, I am a piece of crap. This one didn’t. This one was confidently written, it was cleanly written, it really believed it knew what it knew.”

Plagiarism has always been a concern in the realm of education and professors know what to look for. Hicks doesn’t see AI increasing the number of plagiarists in the world of academia, but plagiarism is not the conversation we should be having. It’s about more than just academic dishonesty, said Hicks, and he likes to think that most students are in university to learn and get an education. An essay gets at what it means to be fundamentally human, but it is getting harder and harder to prove that lack of human creation. Besides the practical argument that AI just gets things wrong, the bigger question for students should be why they are getting an education in the first place.

“It does raise just fundamental questions about what education is,” said Hicks. “Why are we doing it? What does it mean to be human? The huge questions…if you are (at university) to learn, if you’re in this class, because you’re interested in the material, then it defeats that purpose to use AI to do this stuff.”

As AI development continues, we won’t be signing any global contracts to stop it anytime soon. With that in mind, we shouldn’t be afraid of using it, said Hicks.

“Let’s find a way to work this thing into the classroom. I give the student credit, she already knew about this technology, which is pretty good. It’s her bad luck that I knew about it, too, and was a step ahead.”

Given his area of research is also in educational technology media, Alec Couros, director for the Centre for Teaching and Learning, is heavily invested in the use of AI in the classroom. He develops programming to teach University of Regina professors how to use technology within the classrooms, but also speaks with his grad students about what works for them and what doesn’t from a teaching perspective. Much to the dismay of high school teachers, Couros also shows high school students how to use AI. Couros is OK with forcing that conversation, he said, since this technology will just continue to advance, not disappearing if people simply ignore it.

“We need to better communicate what it is, what we think is appropriate, and also make it quite clear, this is not just about academic misconduct, it’s about your own learning. If you don’t learn to do certain things, it’s not going to benefit you in the long run.”

Just like we mentioned in the first story, there are limitations to what AI can do. It takes skill to clearly write the AI inquiry. That itself is a learning experience, said Couros. Asking for proper citations can be done, but again, only if the inquiry is clear. It won’t be perfect, but students need to understand that AI is a good place to start but is not the be all and end all. If they’re using AI as the final result, they are going to have some problems.

From a utopian lens, more and more AI is replacing those menial, unimportant cognitive tasks within academia and many see it opening doors for academics to shift their focus to critical thinking, collaboration, comprehension, and creativity.

However, with this utopianism also comes a sense of foreboding for the future of education, Couros said, and we can’t continue down the path we are currently on without addressing concerns in AI development.

This is the second in a three-part series on AI in the world of writing, including the first part on AI in journalism. Our last one will look into the impending future as AI continues to develop with some notable people starting to note their distrust.

Posted on May 23, 2023 at 6:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT

Stay-at-home retreat: a freelancer’s guide to crafting the perfect staycation

This article is written by Vanessa Chiasson, a freelance writer based in Ottawa who specializes in travel and human interest stories.

As a travel writer, I often say that I need a vacation. People think I’m kidding around (“Didn’t you just get back from somewhere?”), but I’m not looking for another flight. I simply want a break to benefit my health and happiness. That’s why I design a frugal, flexible summer staycation and I want more freelancers to do the same.

freelancer staycation enjoying some fun in the sun with a popsicle

7 ways freelancers can plan a staycation

What should a freelancer do during their staycation for maximum rejuvenation? In her book Solo, Rebecca Seal says:, “The best evidence suggests we need a mixture of things. Quiet time, in which our minds can wander (and wonder). Some physical relaxation and some physical engagement. Exercise and rest. And the same for our brains—exercise and engagement, but in ways which are nothing to do with work.”

With her words in mind, here are some easy, accessible, enjoyable ways to embrace staycation life.

Resort-i-fy your bedroom

Every freelancer deserves a luxurious retreat that’s all their own. Making your bedroom feel more like a hotel is a beautiful way to launch your vacation. Clear some clutter and embark on a deep clean. Rearrange your furniture or artwork, add fresh flowers, and treat yourself to a fancy candle.

Enjoy a day of opposites

There’s nothing like a vacation to get yourself out of a rut. Plan a day of opposites to embrace this sense that anything is possible. If you never have breakfast, it’s time to go full English. Instead of coffee, choose tea. Grab a different bus, walk a new route, and select alternative brand names when you’re at the market.

Recreate a childhood memory

What did you love doing more than anything else as a kid? Growing up in Nova Scotia, my idea of summer bliss was a trip to the “ice cream barn,” followed by a late night of reading with the flashlight. And I still love this! Many childhood activities, like browsing a toy store, eating giant donuts, and binging cartoons offer easy staycation fun.

Embrace a day of guilty pleasures

The demands of deadlines often make the most innocent indulgences feel verboten for freelancers. During vacation, why not make a day of it? Sleep late, stay in pyjamas all day, watch movies in the bathtub, eat the fettuccine alfredo AND the chocolate cake, and go to bed at 9 p.m.:00 PM or 3:00 a.m. AM.

Have some fun in the sun

Every year, I sustain myself through the brutal winter with thoughts of sun-kissed summer afternoons, conveniently forgetting what July humidity does to my hair. Still, I never regret trying to have some fun in the sun. Go to the beach. Get dressed up and enjoy swanky cocktails on a rooftop bar. Take in a ball game.

Clear your to-do list

For better or worse, vacation has become the non-work time where you get domestic work done. While it’s annoying to spend a precious free day tackling odds and ends, chances are you’ll be tremendously satisfied after devoting some time to your home and yourself. Assemble that bookshelf, trim your hair, and dig in the garden.

Record your vacation for posterity

It is one hell of an achievement to be a working freelancer and even more so to prioritize yourself and your well-being. Your staycation isn’t just a thrifty vacation. It’s a celebration of everything you’ve accomplished this year. So take photos, buy a small souvenir, and decorate your office with postcards to remind yourself how much you’ll love doing this again next year (or sooner!)

More from Story Board

Posted on May 17, 2023 at 5:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

The Born Freelancer on Imposter Syndrome

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

the born freelancer

Freelance writers and imposter syndrome

I’ve read a lot recently about the many different types of people who experience “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that they don’t truly deserve or have the right to the success they have achieved. It might be fleeting and occasional or consistent and ever-present.

Freelancers, as a group, might be particularly susceptible to it.

Almost every freelancer I know has confided in me that they have felt like a complete imposter at some time or another.

I have too.

Why would we feel this way?

How can we alleviate it?

My worst experience of “imposter syndrome”

I was, once upon a time, working for a popular television outlet albeit as a lowly junior freelance writer. I heard that there was to be a big party to launch a brand new show with a young rising star. More importantly there would be lots of free food and drinks. Trust me, to a young struggling freelancer, it was the availability of free food and drinks that made me decide to attend.

So I went along to a fancy hotel ballroom and was granted admission. As I surveyed the crowded room I was immediately panicked. Everyone seemed at ease and comfortably chatting, laughing and boasting loudly about their work. I didn’t know anyone and I felt a complete fraud. What right did I have to be there?

It was, looking back on it, my worst experience in which I felt the extreme depths of depression and despair caused by “imposter syndrome.”

That is, until I spotted a nervous-looking woman standing all by herself near the food table. A kindred soul? I hesitatingly started up a conversation and much to my relief she seemed happy to chat. We quickly agreed it was an awful party, that neither of us knew anyone, that everyone else seemed to be happy and confident and that we both felt like fakes and imposters.

It felt wonderful to know I wasn’t the only one there who felt out of their depth and like a complete fraud. Belatedly I asked her name and what she did.

She looked at me quizzically and then smiled.

It turned out…the party was for her and her new show. She was, in fact, the “young rising star” who was to go on to much critical acclaim and success.

But all that was in her future. At that exact moment, she Inexplicably felt the same way I did.

The takeaway

Looking back, all these years later, I realize probably almost everybody at that party felt like a fraud. It’s just that they were better at hiding it and pretending they didn’t feel it. Perhaps that is another way to combat it.

As for me, I felt unexpectedly empowered that day. If a “young rising star” could feel the same way I did, then somehow I instinctively realized “imposter syndrome” (as we now call it) was something so irrational, so absurd and so ridiculous I could no longer allow it to have any sway over me.

To this day, if I ever catch myself starting to feel like an imposter at any time under any circumstances I just remember that party and the perspective it ultimately gave me. The feeling soon subsides.

If you too occasionally feel it, I hope you now know you are not alone. And that it can be overcome and/or successfully managed.

Although not an officially recognized psychiatric disorder, “imposter syndrome” can also become debilitating for some sufferers. Should you find it continuously undermining your work—or any other aspects of your life—you may want to seek professional counselling.

What about you? Ever felt like an imposter, professionally? Why? What did you do to alleviate your feelings? Let us know using the comments feature below.

Posted on May 8, 2023 at 6:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

What does AI development mean for journalists?

This article on AI and what it means for journalists is written by Becky Zimmer, a freelance writer based in Humboldt, Saskatchewan with experience in farm, community, small business and sports reporting.

What does AI development mean for journalists?

“As I watched the AI program furiously typing away on my computer screen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the future of writing. The once tedious task of crafting an essay had been handed over to a machine, and as I read the words appearing on my screen, I couldn’t believe how eloquently the AI was able to convey its thoughts. But as the program continued to write, I began to question the authenticity of its words, and I found myself facing a moral dilemma that I never thought possible.”

The “moral dilemma” described above is one I have been struggling with lately.

Not because of the self-congratulatory praise the artificial intelligence gives itself, the AI’s definition of writing as a “tedious task,” or the speed of which my ChatGPT inquiry: “Write a hook paragraph to a story about an AI program writing an essay,” was answered.

Despite a lot of positive assessments of AI authorship, what else does this new technology imply?

Artificial intelligence is popping up more and more in the news and on social media feeds as people use it in photo composition, political commentary, and what appears to be either wishful thinking or potential propaganda generation.

Talking with Owen Brierley following his Unleash the Power of AI workshop, which was more a hands-on learning experience rather than the philosophical discussion that I had been expecting, we discussed the inevitability of written AI generation and embracing it as a tool, even though my initial feeling was that it would “take my job from me.”

I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. Maybe those were lofty ambitions at the age of four but it has stuck with me, my laptop background a sea of inspirational messages and illustrations that encourage me to keep pursuing the decades old passion.

However, just because there is an AI generating program willing to put the words down for me doesn’t negate the importance of human writers and reporters. As Brierly said, “there’s no reason why you should stop.”

“If we want a very accurate capture of a person, we’ll use a camera, but if we want to capture the person’s personality, interpreted by a gifted artist for whatever the qualities we look for in that portrait, we might turn to a portrait painter and say, I would really like you to paint me a portrait of this individual.”

We have embraced and debated other beneficial technologies throughout the centuries, going all the way back from the printing press to the calculator, said Brierly, and now tools steeped in AI are part of that discussion. I didn’t bat an eye when I signed up for, a transcription program that had me sold in a matter of 10 minutes after it completely transcribed three 45-minute interviews. Writers, academics, and editors have been constantly singing the praises and failures of the spellcheck features of word processors for decades. And these examples don’t even touch on the ways AI tools have made digital communication easier for people with disabilities.

Are my interview transcriptions perfect? No. Has spellcheck found every mistake and perfectly suggested every change to correct them? No. But both have still saved me energy and countless hours in front of my computer.

New technological advances have always meant a shift in conversation, but why has that discussion changed now that the AI is holding the pen and forming the paragraphs? Because it does challenge the way we are currently doing things, said Brierly.

“How important is it that we sit down and manually write a cover letter? Is it more important that we can read a cover letter and know whether it’s a worthwhile cover letter or not?”

Therein lies the difference, said Brierly. It is a poor workman that blames his tools as the old saying goes, and the work of the AI generation cannot go unchecked.

“Do we know that that cover letter is doing a good job of representing us? It doesn’t really matter how it was generated, what matters: is this good content? Is it content worth sharing, and content that you will stand by?”

While it may save us time in writing that first draft, whether that be for a new Facebook post, informational blog article, or news feature, there still needs to be careful checking and putting our own touch on it.

Even as just a consumer of news, Brierly understands the journalistic difficulties of staying ahead of the tweets, social media posting, and misinformation of the digital news age. If a journalist can introduce a tool that will help them generate content and quickly verify it before clicking send, they’re in a good place, he said.

Becky Zimmer grew up on a farm on the Saskatchewan prairies. From the age of four, Becky remembers wanting to do nothing else but reading and writing. Now as a journalist, Becky enjoys photography, volunteering, covering local events in the rural community not far from where she grew up, and writing about writing. Becky has covered agriculture for the last eight years, but has also written about municipal politics and was a news editor before concentrating on a freelance career. Becky has written about provincial and national government policy changes, mental health, international commodity markets, and agricultural innovations, as well as local sports, civic politics, and town councils. She has traveled extensively throughout Canada and took her first trip to Europe in the summer of 2022.

As a freelancer, she is always looking for new opportunities to work behind the scenes within the writing community and wants to continue traveling the world with her laptop and camera, doing nothing else but exploring and writing about the world. She has been published in The Globe and Mail, Prairies North Magazine, GrainsWest, CBC Saskatchewan, Pattison Media, and Glacier Farm Media but is always open to new opportunities, whether in the news or corporate communications and PR worlds.

Posted on May 1, 2023 at 5:30 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT

Why Should Freelancers Have a Blog?

by Robyn Roste

Should freelancers have a blog? Is there any value in blogging these days? These are the questions. We’ve all heard we should blog, but there isn’t a lot of talk about why we should or what we should blog about.

Since revamping my blog a year ago I’ve had a lot of discussions with other freelancers about the merits of blogging. Here are a few reasons people say you shouldn’t bother with a blog.

1. Blogging isn’t well regarded

True, it’s not. The term “blogger” doesn’t inspire thoughts of professionalism and prestige. And if all you do is blog then it doesn’t mean much. But what if a blog was a piece of your well-crafted strategy? Just a thought.

2. Nobody reads blogs anymore

No, they don’t. At least not like they used to. Sure, some sites have a tribe of loyal readers who can’t wait for the next post, but the landscape of blogging has changed and getting eyeballs on the page takes a different skillset. You have to provide value, cover topics people want to learn about, and present articles in a binge-worthy way.

3. Blogging is a waste of time
Read the rest of this post »

Posted on April 17, 2023 at 9:00 am by editor · 2 Comments · Tagged with: , ,

The Born Freelancer On Filing Self-Employed Taxes

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

the born freelancer

Death…and taxes.

Both are said to be inevitable but only one requires you to file an update every year.

Well, so far as we know.

Tips on filing self-employed taxes

I’ve been filing my own self-employed business taxes all of my working freelance life. With the tax season rapidly approaching I thought I’d offer you a few of my personal favourite tips and associated thoughts on filing your taxes as a self-employed professional freelancer. I hope they will be of particular interest if you are new to the whole process and might act as an introductory springboard from which you will further investigate how best to prepare your own taxes.

Read the CRA’s business and professional income guide

A good place to start!

You can download it from the CRA website or read it online or even phone them to get the CRA to mail a hard copy to you for free. This is their complete guide for filing business income tax and it contains most—if not all—answers to your questions about filling out the requisite business income forms (which you can also find the same way).

Its information is very densely packed and sometimes very technically worded so don’t be intimidated by it. Read and reread it slowly at first, section by section and take frequent breaks as you do so! You will eventually be able to make some kind of sense out of it…hopefully.

Call the CRA with questions

On the other hand, sometimes the tax guide and the business income forms they ask you to fill out seem so densely worded they cause the words to fly around the room as you go cross-eyed. What do they mean? What am I supposed to do? How can I possibly be expected to understand this foreign language?

Often a phone call to the CRA can straighten out any basic misunderstanding of their tax forms or tax guide. Make sure to call a business inquiry line (listed on their website).

Be prepared for frequently long waits on hold (especially as tax time approaches) but eventually you will get the answers you need from a helpful agent, completely free of charge.

Hard to beat the price.

File on time

This seems so obvious but sometimes it is the obvious that is most easily overlooked. You can always correct or amend a submission but if you fail to file on time—and owe them money—you may be subject to fines that you could have so simply avoided.

Also, filing on time means being potentially eligible for various tax breaks and refunds for, which you would not qualify otherwise.

We self-employed freelancers don’t have to file until June 15th here in Canada, but I always file at the end of April like everyone else. Most HST/GST reports are due then as well so it makes sense to me to get it all done and sent off together.

Get an HST/GST business number

This is a very useful thing for the working self-employed freelancer to have. (If your annual income is under $30,000 it is optional. Above that amount it is a legal requirement. See the CRA website for up-to-date details).

Come tax time it can help you get another refund (if you qualify). It also helps characterize you as a professional as you will charge your clients HST/GST and have the necessary business ID number with which to do so.

If you don’t have one you should look into it even if you don’t yet legally require it. Registration will cost you nothing. The only downside is a bit of extra paperwork.

Filing/keeping receipts

This is vital for any working freelancer filing business income tax. Any expenses directly related to making an income are potentially deductible but receipts must be scrupulously kept.

I find it best to ask for a receipt for everything I buy. When I get home I can discern if it has any business application and is therefore potentially deductible, either wholly or in part. Then all usable receipts must be categorized and carefully sorted, ready to incorporate into your annual tax filing.

All receipts must be kept at least seven years in case the CRA wants to audit you. A durable method of keeping your receipts safe and organized must be created (such as obtaining a filing cabinet or plastic storage “tubs” etc.). It too should be deductible. Digital or digitized receipts should be securely backed up.

Segregate the work area in your home

One of the most useful tax deductions for the working freelancer is, in part, a result of work space in the home being dedicated entirely to operating your business.

An example: If you have a room in which you do all your writing and it occupies a tenth of your entire home floor space, you could potentially be able to deduct 10% of certain “home as business” expenses.

See the CRA business income tax guide for details.

There are different ways to calculate this but the designated space must be used for work only. You can’t claim the space occupied by the kitchen table even if you do use it to write on (after breakfast).

And anyway, having a dedicated work space should only improve your work and increase your productivity as you will face fewer distractions.

Well, that’s the theory.

Join a professional organization

Joining a professional organization like the Canadian Freelance Guild has numerous advantages (including more in-depth tax guidance, see CFG membership details). It may also help to further recognize and designate you as a genuine working freelancer and not just as a “hobby” freelancer.

The CRA frowns upon the latter and may disallow certain self-employed tax advantages if they feel you are not genuinely trying to make a living in your freelancing capacity.

Membership in such a relevant professional guild or organization should also be tax deductible.

Consider incorporating

There are numerous advantages to this if you are making enough to warrant the expense of filing incorporation papers. It’s also useful in the event you are working with partners as it legally binds you together. It can reduce your taxes and offer you protection from creditors amongst other advantages.

Whether you need to do it or not is best advised by a professional accountant.

Very few freelancers I know have incorporated. Those few exceptions that did are in partnerships doing extremely well, financially speaking.

Get an accountant

Does it all seem too much? Would you rather drill holes in your eyes with a rusty spoon than look at another income tax form? Perhaps you should consider getting a professional accountant who specializes in our unique tax status to file your taxes. (CFG members should contact the CFG for more specific advice.)

Something like half of the working freelancers I know use one. They will give you solid expert advice and relieve you of the headache of actually filing your taxes.

You will, however, still be responsible for keeping all your receipts and supplying your accountant with all the paperwork they will need in order to do the onerous work on your behalf.

It will cost you for their expertise but, since you are employing their services in aid of your work life, you should be able to deduct their fees.

Alternatively, going to a commercial tax filing franchise or free public pop-up tax clinic might or might not prove helpful. Most of these services are not necessarily trained to specialize in our specific self-employed tax problems. If you go to one, ask first before you commit to them helping you.

The takeaway

Filing your annual taxes is just another aspect of being a professional working freelancer.

It might not be the most glamorous part of our careers but it is one of the most important. It must be taken seriously and treated with the utmost care and attention. The real secret is to be as prepared and organized as possible and to leave yourself plenty of time in which to do the required calculations without panicking.

Unlike conventional nine-to-fivers we are favoured with many tax advantages they do not get.

The most obvious is our ability to deduct certain expenses that can be proven to be necessary in order to conduct our business and make an income.

I would like to add a final word of caution not to abuse this aspect of our tax circumstances. Reject any well-meaning but ill-founded suggestions to be more aggressively indiscriminate in your choice of expenses to deduct. Include only those deductions you feel 100% confident are legitimate and would withstand the scrutiny of any possible future CRA audit.

Not only will you be doing the right thing (legally) but you will be able to sleep better at night too.

Priceless beyond any deduction.

What tax tips do you favour? Have you had any memorable experiences filing your self-employed taxes? Please share them with us using the comments feature below.

Posted on April 5, 2023 at 5:00 am by editor · One Comment · Tagged with: ,

4 Tips for Setting Corporate Writing Rates for Freelancers

Have you ever wondered how to break into the world of corporate writing? Sheila Pinder reviews our latest Canadian Freelance Guild webinar series on The Business of Freelancing and answers this exact qusetion.

We’ve heard the rumours and we want in. We want to enjoy higher pay for our work and be treated with the same level of respect that we show to our clients. We want to know just how much corporate work can pay, and whether the rumours are true.

Can you make more money from freelance writing for corporate clients?

We asked these questions of our CFG Expert Panel on Corporate Work: What’s out there and how to find it (you can find the full discussion on the Webinars page of our CFG website).

Advice on Setting Corporate Writing Rates as a Freelancer

Our corporate experts

Here's how to break into corporate writing as a freelancer

Here’s what our experts told us

  1. Corporate rates for freelancers are market—and experience—dependent. Rates can range from $50 to $200 per hour. Whatever you’re offered, our experts advise that you not be afraid to ask for more
  2. Magazine rates for freelance copy editing typically run between $35 and $45 per hour. This same work for a corporate client will pay more. If you’re working for a sole proprietor, you can expect to earn approximately $65 per hour, while a medium-sized business might pay closer to $75 per hour. Rates will be higher if your services include more than copy editing. In the latter case, rates can range from $50 to $85 per hour. If you are also expected to provide some strategic planning support, for example, this will add to the rate you set
  3. Our experts advise that many freelancers start out by quoting a flat rate per project. If you’re working on an editing project for example, consider the number of words (and pages) that you’re being asked to read. Think about how quickly you can complete the work. Ensure that your hourly rate and subsequent flat rate are realistic and competitive. You may want to switch from a flat rate to an hourly rate after providing an agreed-upon number of drafts. Be sure to include these details in your contract terms
  4. Track your time. This will help you to set appropriate rates for the next assignment. Remember that there is a difference between billable and non-billable work and that both are necessary. There is always another email to send, marketing to do, and invoicing to take care of. Many corporate communicators work on retainer for their regular clients. They calculate the number of hours they are prepared to set aside for their client each week or each month and set a flat fee to cover that amount of time

Ultimately, the rumours are true. Corporate work is both lucrative and satisfying. The trick is to ask for enough money to allow you to enjoy the work you do.

Posted on March 28, 2023 at 10:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT

The Born Freelancer on the Five Phases of Freelancing

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

the born freelancer

The Five Phases of Freelancing

In this post I thought it might prove useful to look at the multiple phases of freelancing and what one might realistically expect from each.

I’ve arbitrarily designated five distinct phases but you could infinitely subdivide that number to achieve greater specificity. By necessity I will present generalizations and composites of each career phase. I’ve described them in terms of occurring in order from youth to maturity but each phase could begin or end at any time.

Phase One: The Wannabe Years

They bring a wry smile to my now slightly world-weary face. They’re full of frustration and yearning to just get into the business! At times such a leap seems impossible. Doors are firmly closed, and you are repeatedly told to come back only when you have experience—but how can you get experience if nobody will let you get it?

In reality, this is a wonderful time in which to study, to learn, to play around with your skill sets and develop as wide a range of interests as possible. There are no deadlines to meet, no editors to placate, no bank accounts to keep filled. Your only limitations are your imagination and your willingness to learn.

At this point you may not even contemplate freelancing as a lifestyle (although many of us, already prejudiced against a more conventional choice of careers, did so at an early age). You may view it merely as a method of getting a foot in the back door of your chosen profession (such as writing or broadcasting).

Phase Two: The Rookie Years

These years combine the “best” and the “worst” aspects of freelancing.

First, the best. It is exciting! You will never forget the hustling, the endless interviews, auditions, spec submissions and resume-padding. If lucky you may find a helpful mentor. Your first real freelancing job will forever burn brightly in your memory as the crossing-through-the-looking-glass moment from Wannabe to Rookie that you’d always dreamed about. Oh sure, it may be negligible (in truth) but it will be a triumphant occasion for most.

And now, the worst. Progress will be unsteady. You’ll get one freelancing gig and then weeks or months may go by before another turns up. (Better get used to it!) You may have self-doubts and your mental health may take a beating. Some may decide that taking up dentistry wasn’t such a bad idea after all (like their parents said). Others will double down—having once inhaled the sweet smell of success—and will forever be hooked.

A few clients may take advantage of your need to get experience and will give you the worst jobs at the worst pay. The trick is not to be so proud that you refuse them but to do it all with an integrity and budding-professionalism that will get you noticed. You will eventually begin to get more work, more recognition and (we hope) more money. (Of course, if money is your primary goal, you will quickly learn that there are better ways of making it.)

Phase Three: The Journeyman Years

(The term “Journeyman” is used here in a non-gender-specific way.)

In this phase, you will find freelancing work on a regular basis but it won’t always be the exact thing you want to do. And when you do get it you won’t know for sure when the next freelancing job will come along. (It’s sort of like that old joke, it’s lousy food and such small portions too!) Many will need to supplement their freelancing with regular or temporary part-time work.

Your reputation will grow and employers will get to know you are trustworthy and reliable. You will no longer choose to work “on spec.” You will continue to promote yourself using whatever platforms you find appropriate. You will continue to upgrade your skill sets whenever the opportunity arises. You will join professional guilds and learn how to negotiate successfully and also how to turn down unfair clients.

This is usually the point of no return: Do you continue freelancing or do you go part-time or even give it up? You may get offers to jump to a more conventional but related nine to five job such as PR. Many will jump. It’s not easy to live with the ups and downs of a freelancing income especially if by now you have a family and other commitments.

Those who persevere and carry on freelancing may do so for longer than they expect during this phase.

Phase Four: The Silver and/or Golden Years

The dream is that eventually you will gain full control over what you do and when and where you do it. In reality, all freelancers know that most of their career will be decided by a combination of good luck, rigorous networking and hard work.

A chosen few will enter their Golden Years. You will have control, your reputation or brand of choice will become well known and secure, and continuous work will allow your income to be stable and enable a comfortable if not spectacular life. You will save like crazy for the “rainy days” that are sure to come…one day.

Most who enter this phase will have found fufilment and a real sense of connection with their work. Freelancing will provide not just an income but the very type of lifestyle, free from the constraints of a nine to five job, that will define and characterize who you are and how you wish to live.

A slightly diluted version of this may be deemed The Silver Years in which everything is as it is for those experiencing The Golden Years but there will always be less of it and more constant scrambling and hustling. These are the years most of us will encounter and find no less enjoyable or worthwhile.

The worst aspect of this phase is that you will never really appreciate you are in it until it ends.

Phase Five: The Emeritus Years

It’s hard to say when this phase will begin.

It is easier to say it will begin when you least expect it.

You’ll be going along, working, networking, happily complaining and then one day…the work requests and the returned phone calls, one by one, will stop.

Hopefully you have saved up enough to cushion the blow.

Your regular clients may be retiring or moving on (often becoming freelance consultants themselves). The venues you worked on may be sold or changed and new owners may not perceive your continuing value.

Younger, less expensive, less experienced freelancers will now be competing for your gigs—and often successfully too.

And so you now need to reposition your brand to take advantage of your experience and promote it as a positive—and not a negative.

If you are so inclined you may also choose to teach or at least to mentor a rookie or two, giving back some of that which you have gained.

See my earlier posts on Ageism and on Teaching for more ideas.

I’m not sure the true freelancer ever actually fully retires. There always remains (to some degree or another) the hope of one more assignment, one more kick at the can, one more chance to share what we’ve learned in a lifetime of learning and sharing.

The Takeaway

This may have read like a rather negative assessment of freelancing—when in reality it is the ideal choice of career and lifestyle for many of us. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose freelancing again without hesitation. But there is nothing wrong with doing so with eyes wide open, and making yourself aware of the pitfalls and shortcomings (past, present and future) as well as the more obvious advantages and benefits. That has been the purpose of this post.

Freelancing requires a certain toughness and duality of mind. You can dream dreams and make them come true but you also must live with your feet firmly on the ground and be well versed in the necessary life skill sets in order to survive let alone thrive. Most folk lean heavily towards only one of these seemingly contradictory paradigms. It is the rare individual who can successfully embrace both with equal ease and ability. They are a breed apart.

They are called freelancers.

Posted on March 6, 2023 at 6:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT · Tagged with: ,

Build your freelance business with these five easy social media tweaks

by Robyn Roste

In October 2010 I joined Twitter. I had heard it was a good place to get freelance work so I put up a profile, followed a few people and tweeted when the mood struck. In general this was while I watched sports or when something interesting happened.

While I was having a great time, I wasn’t getting any work and wondered what I was doing wrong. So I took a social media course for freelancers. The strategies weren’t rocket science but they were a fundamental mindset shift, which took me some time to wrap my head around. As I implemented the tactics, much to my amazement, I began getting freelance work. It changed my entire freelance business and social media is now an integral part of my marketing strategy.

Freelancers emerging from longstanding in-house corporate gigs, or who are new to the freelance world, may be blinking in the bright lights of social media wondering how on earth they’re meant to use this tool to connect with potential clients or employers. I get it. How does posting photos on Instagram result in paying clients? How does linking an article on Facebook grab potential employers’ attention and encourage them to reach out? On the surface it makes no sense.

The digital landscape is confusing and overwhelming to say the least. When I got into social media marketing there were three networks with straightforward strategies. Today, there are many more platforms and the rules seem to be ever-changing. Tactics that worked a few years ago don’t seem as effective anymore. So what is a freelancer to do?
Read the rest of this post »

Posted on February 21, 2023 at 9:00 pm by editor · One Comment · Tagged with: , ,

Is it possible for freelance writers to beat the rap of “starving artists”?

This article is written by Vanessa Chiasson, a freelance writer based in Ottawa who specializes in travel and human interest stories.

Freelance writer Julian Hoffmann got a lot of laughs recently when he Tweeted the following:

julian hoffmann tweet december 13 2022

This evening, at a routine traffic stop to check papers, the Greek police were surprisingly well-versed on the issue of declining incomes for authors.
Officer: What work do you do?
Me: I’m a writer.
Officer: Okay, but what do you do for money?

Hoffmann’s encounter was funny but worrisome. Is it possible for freelance writers to beat the rap of “starving artists”?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot in the last few months. In 2022, I made a vow to negotiate every assignment. It was a worthwhile project and 68 per cent of my work benefited from my willingness to ask: “Is there any wiggle room in the budget?” But when I added up my earnings I found that I increased my income by less than $2,000.

How could I have been so successful yet fruitless at the same time? It all comes down to the base rates upon which I was negotiating. In many cases, they were so paltry that no amount of bargaining would have netted a reasonable income. How could I determine fair value—and my value—going forward?

Is it possible for freelance writers to beat the rap of starving artists

For financial literacy councillor Pamela George, freelance success starts with knowing your worth—but to get there, you need a bit of education. She points out that even a lucrative assignment might not be as good as it seems, adding that you’d be lucky to keep 50 per cent of what you make. You have to pay taxes on your income and that means setting aside a good chunk of money from each client. It also means accounting for expenses, from pens and pencils to conference fees. She advises people to ditch the starving artist mentality and instead to brush up on their financial literacy skills to know in very concrete terms what kind of rates it will take to support their lifestyle.

Entrepreneurship coach Lara Wellmen points out that identifying big financial goals brings additional benefits, even when it’s difficult to step outside your comfort zone. She says,

“Asking for more, no matter how reasonable it is, can feel bold and pushy—and we’ve taught not to be those things (especially women!) Stepping through the discomfort to advocate for yourself not only might mean a bit more money in your pocket, but it’s the first step in showing you that things that feel difficult can be easier than you thought, and that they’re worth the effort. It’s empowering and builds confidence, and those two things are what it’s all about when it comes to having built a business and life that feels good.”

George and Wellman’s combined wisdom is going to drive my financial planning for the coming year. I will still negotiate every freelance assignment but I’m going to start with publications that pay higher base rates. It’s daunting, to say the least. But I also know that I’m building a life of empowerment, not just a bank account. A year of negotiating has taught me that I’ve got the nerve to ask for more. Now it’s time to go get it.

Posted on January 30, 2023 at 5:00 am by editor · LEAVE A COMMENT