Are Long-Term, On-Site Gigs (Even in Hawaii!) Worth It? (Guest Post)

by Peter Bowerman on June 26, 2012

I went fulltime with my commercial writing business about three years ago. A scary move, as so many of you know, but within about six months, I was starting to build momentum. I was landing copywriting projects on a fairly regular basis, and some referrals were starting to come my way.

Then in late 2010, I got the dream offer: the opportunity to work on a long-term project for an organization located in Hawaii. I’d always wanted to live in Hawaii, so it was a fairly easy decision. It would be guaranteed income for 7-8 months, and I’d get to escape Colorado winter and walk on the beach every day after work. I mean, come on—it was a no-brainer! So, I packed up and headed to the islands.

My intentions were good at the start of the project. Of course I’d stick to my weekly marketing tasks. Yeah, the time zone difference might pose a bit of a challenge as far as cold calling, but I’d make it work. Right? Wrong.

What actually happened was…I went beachside and the marketing of my commercial freelancing business went by the wayside. And eight months later when the project was complete and my contract ended, the reality set in that I was going to be starting from scratch. And it was worse than I thought—I was literally back to square one.

I don’t regret accepting the opportunity, and not just because I got to spend eight months snorkeling and wearing flip-flops 24/7. It was an interesting project related to subject matter I’m passionate about. But truth be told, there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder where my commercial copywriting business would be today if I hadn’t detoured and put all my eggs in one basket for almost a year. At the end of my contract, I found myself holding an empty basket and yelling, “Hey, where’d everybody go?”

If presented with the same opportunity again, I’d still take it. But I did learn some lessons about the long-term cost of working for just one client, and about the pitfalls of working on-site at the client’s location. For anyone who might be tempted to consider a similar opportunity, I’d offer the following food for thought:

1) Think carefully before accepting the project (yes, even in the case of tropical island locations). Ask yourself honestly how the decision will likely affect your business in the long run. Do you have the discipline needed to stick with your marketing efforts? Will it take a toll on your business, from a long-term perspective? If so, are you willing to start over when the contract ends?

2) If you do take on the project, insist on working from your own office. You can always attend meetings on-site when necessary. But working from your own location will help you look at the job as you would any other project, versus seeing yourself—and having them see you—as an employee.

3) If working on site is a requirement, maintain a professional, independent contractor attitude. Don’t let yourself get pulled into office politics, and beware of staff members who try to recruit you to their camp during in-house power struggles (and believe me, they will try). I’m not saying don’t ever socialize; just be sure and maintain the professional boundaries. If you get cornered in the coffee room by the company gossip king/queen, politely excuse yourself because of “that pressing deadline.”

4) Push for having only one point of contact, as far as submitting the work you do. This goes for any project, of course. We all know where the “road of multiple reviewers” leads. But it’s especially important when working on site. There’s nothing worse than having a steady stream of people stop by your desk to let you know how THEY think the article you’re writing should be revised.

5) Most importantly, maintain contact with your other current and previous clients—through a blog, newsletter, e-zine, etc. And make time each week for some regular marketing tasks (networking, cold calling, etc.). In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the importance of P-PC (Production-Production Capability) Balance. Failing to maintain your production capability in favor of focusing solely on your current production is akin to killing the golden goose (production capability) that’s producing your golden eggs.

Have you ever been offered a long-term, fulltime project with a single client? Did you accept the offer, or did the long-term cost seem too great?

How did you keep up your marketing strategies and maintain ties with your other clients?

Did you work onsite, or did you insist on maintaining your autonomy by working from your own office?

If you worked onsite, what strategies helped you maintain your independent status?

Laurie Schmidt (www.lauriejschmidt.com) is a freelance copywriter who specializes in science. She’s working on launching her new blog called “Science Misconceived.” You can reach her at laurie@lauriejschmidt.com.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Brandon June 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I know exactly what you mean Laurie. The same thing happened me to me last year when I took an extended 11 month trip out of the country. My production didn’t dip, and the quality of my work actually went up. But when you hear the waves breaking just outside of your window it’s hard to convince yourself make the calls instead of throwing on the wet suit. (“Convincing” myself to write was never a problem, though… I had done that for free long before I started getting paid for it.)

And just like you, I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I AM doing it again, later in the year, albeit to a different country. But this time I’m doing it smarter.

Right now, I’m knee deep into The Well Fed Writer, and I’m trying to implement Peter’s advice about systems. My aim is to have a bevy of optimized systems in place by the end of August, so that I won’t have to worry about losing “production capability” again.

Karen Wormald June 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

Several times, I have been offered long-term, on-site gigs for technical writing. If I could persuade them to let me work on-site part-time, I would do it. But if they wanted me there from 9-5 Mon-Fri just to feel warm and fuzzy that I was punching their clock, I turned it down. And this was even before I was earning a decent living freelancing.

I knew it would be the kiss of death to put myself in a position where I’d be unavailable to other clients–even if they didn’t exist yet.

Even if I were offered opportunities to travel to fabulous places, like the 2 writers here, I think I’d make the same decision. The short-term experience wouldn’t be worth flushing the possibility of other business down the drain.

I’ve seen other writers take on-site positions and get written off by their clients, even when they wanted to keep freelancing on the side. Ready availability is a big deal in my neck of the woods.

Melzetta "Mele" Williams June 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I had a similar experience only my “gig” was communications training, not writing. I was building my freelance writing business at the same time.

It took me awhile to admit that I have difficulty staying disciplined under those circumstances. I don’t regret the experience but wonder if another short-term experience would be worth flushing potential business down the drain (as so beautifully written by Karen Wormald).

Not only did I lose momentum, but afterward, I wasted SO much time beating myself up for this “failure” (to the point where I wondered if I had what it took to pull off this FLCW thing).

Which brings me to another point: Don’t dwell on mistakes, just resolve to avoid them in the future and move on, move on, move on!

Laurie Schmidt June 27, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Brandon, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has succumbed to the siren of breaking waves outside my window. :)

Karen, I actually was working on site part-time (well, part-time+). Which means I had even less justification for not keeping up with my business! And you’re right about getting “written off” by other clients if they know you’re working an on-site gig. Before I was freelancing full-time, I once had a project in hand, and when the client found out I had a full-time job he bailed because he was afraid I wouldn’t be available for phone calls, etc.

And Melzetta – great point about moving on and not beating yourself up. I gave myself a few bruises at first, but then I realized what a valuable learning experience it was – like you said.

Karen Wormald June 28, 2012 at 8:41 am

And now for the other side of the coin…

Since I started teaching a few night-time business writing classes at my alma mater and my name appears in their catalog each semester, companies have hired me to present my classes in-house, or to speak out of town, which usually ties me up for an entire day or two on-site.

In that event, I notify my active clients that I’ll be out working with another client and won’t be available, and they’ve always been fine with it.

I believe it actually raises the value of my stock with them because they see that 1) I’m in demand as a writing expert, and 2) I’m willing to work on-site for limited periods if needed, and would probably do the same for them.

Peter Wise June 28, 2012 at 8:49 am

I agree. If you can work off-site and still handle a few other projects, then generally go for it.

However, there is also another factor with very big projects and that’s the pressure and tedium of working on the same narrow subject area, day in, day out. I’ve done a few large (100 – 150 page) website projects, and I reckon that’s about my limit, mentally.

I was offered a very large gig last year (300 plus pages) – could have worked from home, could have subbed some of it out (but would have still been responsible for quality control, of course). I would have ended up working for what would have seemed like forever and a day on the same thing, even with a few other projects as a change of scenery. As we say in the UK, it would have done my head in. There were other factors, but that was one reason why I turned it down, and I have no regrets whatsoever that I did.

Pat Walls June 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I too can relate to your experience. I took a 9 month assignment but went a step further. At the end they offered me a very lucrative full time position. I loved the work and took the job. Needless to say I let most everything go with the exception of a few old clients. No marketing ….no new clients….nothing!

Then, a few months after full time, there were huge cutbacks and guess what…yep…..the position they created for me was the first one cut! Well needless to say I had to start at square one…..and it has been hard. If offered again, I would most likely not look at long term.

Melzetta "Mele" Williams June 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Wow, Pat, that had to hurt. That says it all about the “security” of a full time job.

Laurie Schmidt June 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Yes, I was going to say the same thing, Pat. It makes me think of my friends who ask me why I don’t want the “security” of a full-time job.

And Peter, I totally agree about the tedium factor. I’ve certainly had my share of “do your head in” projects. ;-)

Chad Stamm June 29, 2012 at 10:54 am

Do you search out these longterm jobs, or do they approach you? Any tips for receiving longterm, contract job offers?

Star July 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

I took on basically one client for a set $5,000 a month, described as a retainer, although he asked me to just tell him each month how many hours I worked at $50 per “to give him an idea.” I worked with a 103 fever, I hired people when needed, paid them, filed with the IRS etc. Then it just became too much–and after some yrs, boring. I said let’s end it–he popped right up like a Jack in the Box and said, you owe me $17,000 and this was advance payments. He had his countrymen (he was from Europe) send me threatening legal faxes–the upshot was that I worked almost another yr for free. Horrible experience. No ocean, no flipflops.

Peter Bowerman July 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Is anyone having trouble posting a comment? As in, you go through the steps and hit Submit and it doesn’t show up? Email me at peter@wellfedwriter.com if you are. Had some input from one commenter, who, twice, posted to no avail…

Peter Bowerman July 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm

This from Tom Bentley (the gentleman having trouble getting his comment to show up!)

Laurie, my experience is tangential to yours, but it does share some layers. In the last year, I’ve house-sat for a month in Panama and and two months in the Bahamas. I was able to maintain my existing freelance client work, but I did virtually no marketing outreach during either time. Something about the languid weather, the lure of the waves, and the intermittent Internet connection (which provided a prime excuse to explore the former items) kept my ambitions low.

I found that I am distinctly more active in trying to connect with potential clients while I’m working in my home office, rather than during these house-sitting phases—but I think it’s as much of a mindset as it is the physical environment. Lucky for me, my workload only suffered a bit from my negligence.

But right now, I’m looking into a 4-month stint in Hawaii myself—I’ll have to keep my flip-flops pointed a bit more toward the computer this time.

Thanks Peter!

—————————————
The Write Word Writing and Editing Services
http://www.tombentley.com

Peter Bowerman July 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Great stuff, everyone (and thanks again, Laurie, for the guest post!),

I can SO imagine getting into the Hawaii vibe and letting work go by the wayside. I think I need to reserve such outings for later in my career, where the goal of maximum earnings isn’t quite so important… ;)

As Laurie and I discussed a few months back, I spent 10 days in Kauai in March, and while there (and not terribly surprisingly), the thought did occur to me, “Hmmmm, I could do this…” Of course, this would more than likely mean, swimming, catching the breezes, having my ice-cold coconut in the late afternoon every day, and work taking a distant backseat.

Back in the real world… I’ve had a few on-site gigs locally (never any out of town), and actually, I kind of enjoyed them. It was a nice change of pace, and yes, the money was usually pretty great (a healthy hourly rate for 40-45 hours a week is a beautiful thing).

But, probably, one of the coolest things about it was this (and I know many of you can relate): I’d be looking around at all these people in the office, thinking to myself, “Hmmm…you mean, people actually do this every day, five days a week, week after week? Get up in the morning, have to get scrubbed and dressed, get into rush-hour traffic, play office politics, eat lunch at their desks, etc., etc.? Really?”

I promise I’m NOT trying to be a smarta– if you’re still in that world. Just that it made me appreciate my life all over again, and be thankful all over again. And yes, as several have pointed out here – it underscored yet again, how much security is in self-employment (assuming you’re willing to work for it) vs. the so-called (yet often illusory) security of an actual job.

PB

Laurie Schmidt July 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

I’m enjoying reading about all these different experiences everyone has had! Star, yes – there is definitely the “boredom” factor when doing the same work on a long-term basis. That’s one of the many reasons we all choose to be independent, right?

Now, house-sitting – that’s a great idea, Tom! No rent = lower expenses = more time to lounge on the beach. :) I say go for the Hawaii gig if you have the opportunity – it sounds like you understand the potential pitfalls, and being aware makes a huge difference. If I do it again, I’ll have the benefit of hindsight and will try not to make the same mistakes again.

And Peter, YES – I totally hear you on using these experiences as an opportunity to appreciate not being chained to an office cubicle full-time! Even when I was working on-site, I basically came and went as I pleased (i.e., I didn’t have “set” hours I needed to be there, except in the case of occasional project meetings). And when I’d hear staff members talking about having to be there at 8am and only being “allowed” to take lunch between 12 and 1, I recall thinking, “wow, what a horrible way to have to live!”

Thanks for all the great feedback. I’d love to hear from some folks about how they handled the challenges of working on site (e.g., office politics, etc.).

Nick Yong October 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Some folks have had a real terrible experience working onsite – my condolences!

My take is that the onsite work has to be substantially more than what you’ve made up to that point in your career.

For example, let’s say in total for 5 years you’ve made $400K. Your onsite gig has to pay $400K.

Or even if you’re just starting out, pick an arbitrary number say $150K.

Why?

You’re mitigating risk. And in your contract (BTW – you are writing your own contract?) it will state that their project will have 50% fees upfront, 25% in 60 days and the rest in 120 days.

Giving them options such as, “If you pay me in full, I’ll knock 66K off; you’re paying for 10 months and you get me 2 months for free” well, they can’t resist, and most likely you’ll activate in most companies their ‘procurement rule’ which states they have to seriously consider any discount.

You don’t care about their A/P department, or their rules.

You have a fiduciary responsibility to yourself, your business and any other obligations – as do they.

They are paying you for your ‘smarts’ and not for your time. If you see yourself less than them (ie not as their peer) and instead as an employee, you’ll be treated as such.

Leave a Comment

Optionally add an image

Previous post:

Next post:

Design: Graphically Designing | Development: Gamajo Tech