Category Archives: commentary

The Freelance Series: Taking the “Home” out of “Home Office”

I recently asked on Twitter if anyone had any opinions on my next blog entry concerning freelance life and Joel Stransky wrote “I’d be interested to hear about disturbance agreements you have with your family.”. Therefore, Joel, this post’s for you.

Make a space
My situation is one where I staked out one room in my home for my office.

If you are able to remove yourself from the regular hustle and bustle of your home, much better for you.

I leave my door open because I want to accessible but in the end my space is my own*. In every sense of the phrase I have a “home office”. So what do I mean when I say “Take the home out of home office”? Think of it like this;

When you work at a company you get, at the very least, a desk. When you don’t see your family for the duration of a work day, most people have photos of said family. You know, to remind them of “better times.” Sorry.

When you work from home and you have a 4 month-old baby girl, a 5 and a 1/2 year-old boy and a wife on maternity leave, all you have are reminders of your family’s presence. Keep family photos out of your workspace. Keep all mementos of non-work out of your work space. That’s the function of the rest of your home.

So that’s Home Office. Let’s get into interruptions. You know when you’re sitting at your desk, diligently working away and a coworker comes up to you and asks a question, completely throwing off your flow/chi/balance/progress? Now imagine these are your coworkers:

That’s right, cuteness overload. However, when your wife is taking care of a fussy baby and your son yells upstairs “Daddy! I need help!” and he’s referring to some video game (which you know you’d rather be playing anyway) you have to restrain yourself from jumping up. Instead yell back, “Sorry buddy, Daddy’s working.” To be fair, that’s super hard to do. (See above picture). I have listened to my wife explain to my son that “You need to pretend that Daddy isn’t home.” This is not an easy concept for a 5 year-old to grasp. He is starting to come ’round, though. Slowly but surely.

The other thing my wife mentioned that would make the separation of home and office easier would be to close my door. I am considering it, but I do like being available in some instances.

So, I don’t know, Joel, if that answered your comment, but that’s the best I have at the moment.

* I need to point out that we are currently in the middle of moving rooms so my lovely little office is completely overrun. Such is life and I do my best to ignore it.

The Freelance Series: Work For the Job You Want

Up ’til now, I’ve written about practical matters; cost, taxes and time off.

I did a lot of Flash work in 2011 as I have done, historically, since I started in this industry. So I got to thinking of the kind of work I want for 2012 and beyond. Last year I collaborated with Displacer and made some live visualizations written in Processing. While my coder buddies look at it and think “I could do that.” when I run the app in front of a crowd itching to hear Displacer play, typically the reaction is less disaffected and more boisterous. And honestly, when doesn’t a coder look at code running and say “I could do that.”?

As 2012 hits its second month, I start charting my path and it got me thinking about the old adage Dress for the job you want. As a developer, that’s just not particularly applicable. And so I paraphrase to Work for the job you want. If it isn’t obvious what I mean, let’s take a quick look at how this might work.

End of last year, Adobe announced a bunch of crap that, frankly, freaked out some, made others go “woot, I was right! in your face!” and made people spending money go “oh wow, the holy grail?! you found it?!” *btw. no. they didn’t. Anyway, at that time, I was too busy working to spend any time worrying about it. Then I took December off. As January rolled on by without work, I started thinking “Shoot. Maybe I need to pay attention.” And that’s when I realized how woefully behind I was. Still, I need applicability and interest to learn something new. Most of the stuff I’m seeing is eye-candy. Eye-candy is fine, but I’m a practical guy for the most part. With that in mind, I started rejigging Moviesinhaiku. It’s a personal project and anything I want to do with it, I can. I figure I’ll mess with the base concept and information of it in whatever native format I choose. So look forward to some new developments on the Moviesinhaiku front. *and some new watches! If you want to take part in the new Moviesinhaiku, write a haiku. I have a beta version going.

To further my goals, I started seeking out new collaborations. The people at Meta-Tema caught my eye with all their super cool work and I contacted them about coming to their space for a visit. Drasko and Goran are top-notch guys and I hope we get something going together. I have a feeling I have a lot to learn from them. I met with my good friend, Ron Gervais, out of Township & Co. and spoke briefly about wanting to make a short film with him. We’ll see about that as well. I also have a buddy in animation and I really want to have a go at voice acting. “Why not?” I say. Then there’s this documentary I’ve been chipping away at.

One of the things Ron said to me this week, as I kvetched over the fact that I never think of things of which I am capable of executing on my own “Thinking outside your abilities is a good thing. Some people don’t have any ideas.” I gave that a lot of thought and agree. However, I think it’s important to execute ideas, too. Who knows?

With all that said, 2012 has the potential for a very cool year. Mind you, I have said I wanted to do things in the past that never came to fruition (anyone remember a certain tattoo site?) So if I set my sites on four collaborative and/or personal projects and I accomplish one, I will feel successful.

How does this apply to Work for the job you want? Every person I know doing cool work started out banging away on their keyboard working on stuff they were curious about and/or interested in. As they succeeded in their distractions, so too did offers to apply their research to paying gigs come. Another way to put it is to quote Field of Dreams If you build it, they will come.

The Freelance Series: Praycation

Today I begin a month-long Praycation. What’s that? You’ve never heard of a Praycation? Maybe in some religious circles, a Praycation refers to something else entirely, but in freelance terms, a Praycation is what happens when you intentionally take time off. You spend that entire time worrying no work will follow it.

I have been freelance for just over two years now. I take pretty much anything that crosses my desk. The first year was tough as I had extended periods of no work. As a freelancer, the term feast or famine is bandied about a lot. It refers to being extremely busy with a lot of work and then not being busy at all with no work whatsoever. My first year of freelancing was a lot like that. This year, however, I took a slightly different tack and prepared for famine better by saving more and budgeting more efficiently.

I digress. I have been pummelled by work since May and have reached a breaking point psychologically. In that time, I also renovated my kitchen (with much help) and my wife had a baby! I took one day off (the birth of my daughter) and went right back to work. Needless to say, I am ready for time off. I even took my laptop to the cottage so I could work for the second year in a row.

So I began not accepting any new work that extended into December. “I’m not available.” became my mantra. Lingering in the back of my head, every time I turned down a project is “Was that the last offer I get?”

Now I am off, intentionally clearing my horizon. I can recharge, I can invest in my skills by learning some new stuff. I can work on a personal project or two and I can spend time with my family.

Now I pray. I pray that after the countdown on New Year’s and I start extending the feelers for work that work can be found.

Wish me luck.

The Freelance Series: Do Your Work. Pay Your Taxes.

Whenever I speak to someone with a full-time job and they get that wistful look on their face and say “I might try working from home”, I kind of smile.

If they notice, I’m generally asked “What’s so funny?” I’ll respond with “Do your work. Pay your taxes.” Mostly they’ll wave their hand and give me a “pfffft.”

Here are the two big problems* with working from home as opposed to being employed full-time:

1. No-one tells you to go to work. Sure you get emails or phone calls from your client and their team, but you can successfully ignore them for days on end. I know this for a fact. When you’re in a crap mood and just want to play video games, watch movies, eat ice cream out of the container, there is literally no way anybody can cause you to do otherwise. However, this doesn’t get your job done and is remarkably harmful to your career. You become the unreliable guy.

What’s the answer? Freelancing is your job. You find a location where you will work and that’s your office. Your work day needs to be just like when you go to an office. Wake up, make coffee, eat breakfast, wash up, go to work. Sit down at your desk and get your work day started. That’s what you do in an office. That’s what you do in your office. Do that all day. Stop for however many breaks you would take in an office environment. Smoker? Take your smoke break. Take a lunch break. Stand up, walk away, have lunch. But spend your work day as you would spend your work day in the presence of your coworkers. Do your job.

2. Pay your taxes. When you work for a company full-time, they do your deductions for you. You get paid and that money is yours. You never have to think “Hmmm, I need to take one third of this money and set it aside for income tax. I need to take the HST off this and set it aside for my quarterly payout.”

When you’re freelance, you look at a cheque and start immediately doing mental deductions. If you don’t, I’ll tell you what happens; You’ll do your taxes at the end of the year with your accountant, he’ll raise an eyebrow when you say, “Yeah, I didn’t pay any taxes yet.” Then he’ll (or she’ll) say “Ok, so you owe *insert amount anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000*” Now when that happened to me the first time, it was the last time. I had to work with the government and took a long time paying it off. In one of the conversations I had with a Revenue Canada employee, I asked “Can’t I set you up as a payee in online banking?” And he got quiet and said “Yes, possibly.” I was looking at my account online at the time and found Revenue Canada, added them and said “Can I just pay my income tax as it comes in?” and he replied, “I wish all self-employed individuals would.”

Now, when I get paid, I deposit the cheque and immediately transfer my income tax payment. Maybe at the end of the year, I’ll owe a little money, possibly even get some back, but I know for a fact I have been paying my taxes.

*There are plenty of problems and advantages to working from home, but these two? HUGE.

The Freelance Series: Yeah, I know. I’m expensive.

That does sound like a great project, for sure I’m interested. What’s the timeline? I can work with that. What your budget? What’s that? My hourly rate? It’s $90 an hour. Yeah, I know. I’m expensive. You can find developers in, like, 10 minutes that cost 30 or 40 bucks an hour? Hey, that’s awesome. I’ll talk with you later. What? No, sorry, I don’t negotiate my hourly rate. Why not? It’s complicated.

No, you know what? It’s not complicated. I’ve been honing my craft for 11 years. I sat through the judgements of real developers who called me a flash weasel and flash in the pan because I used software to make objects dance around. Those same developers found their own skills slowly sliding into the background as more and more Flash was used. I clawed my way up the ranks on my own merits. I started as an animator in Flash. Exporting Flash 2 animations for streaming within a framework in Director. Flash couldn’t handle audio well enough at the time, you see.

My last full time job was as Director of New Media. Sure it’s a trite title, but what’s yours? My title before that was Manager of Integrated Media. I was involved in new business pitches and helped win them for my employers. I managed teams of Flash developers. Making sure that they were treated fairly and that the expectations of my employers were met. The projects I worked on won awards. I liked my coworkers and they liked me. I’ve been successfully freelancing for over two years. That must mean something, no?

I come up with ideas your current employees may not have on their own. Those ideas are free, by the way, they come with the developer, aka me. However, thanks to my extensive experience, those ideas are also well-vetted through looking and working in this medium. Seeing what works and what doesn’t.

I have a sense for motion and code that, while they may not fit the norm for a top-notch coder, are pretty damn awesome. Again, 11 years. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

I don’t ask questions if your creative comes back again and again with pixel-pushing minutiae. You know why? I’ve been in Creative. I know their pain. I don’t ask questions when the tech team wants me to recode to add their framework call into my piece. You know why? I’ve been in Technology, too.

I don’t haggle for money on extra time after we’ve agreed to a deadline. I don’t add to my estimate even after you’ve extended your own deadline by a week. I work weekends, I work late, I work when your entire team doesn’t. I am committed to your project.

I don’t point fingers arbitrarily. I will defend myself if someone tells me I’m at fault on something I’m not. But I am the first to acknowledge my mistakes. Again, 11 years.

I am an award-winning developer with an extensive network of colleagues in the advertising world in Toronto. I have worked for nearly every major agency repeatedly. I have made errors in judgements with some and will never work for them again. However, I continue to get work and get requests for work. I have burned very few bridges for all my plain speech in 11 years. As far as I can tell, I’m well-liked.

I’ve taught coworkers to open their eyes to new concepts. I’ve taught students how to code more efficiently. I’ve spoken at conferences on networking, coding, procrastination, video implementation and sound. Crowds don’t frighten me. I’ve spoken at schools on the very same things. On how to be a freelancer or how to be an employee.

I don’t share my hourly rate because it’s a hindrance. It’s how I estimate my time and costs. What you think is an acceptable estimate from me is based on my hourly rate and how much time you want from me, by the way. I just didn’t say that I used my hourly rate and gave you a flat fee. Don’t get hung up on one number. It’s not important. What is important? I get your job done, I don’t generally get confused and I’m smart as hell.

Yeah, I know. I’m expensive.