Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Headwinds

September 30, 2009
Some of you may have noticed that the economy was pretty screwed up this year. This affected me mostly in an inability to bring on new clients. I talked to a friend of mine who runs a media research company and he was having the same problem (only worse, because many of his clients are connected to the auto industry, like GM and Ford, so you can imagine what kind of a fun year he's been having).

Otherwise, I seemed to be doing okay. I had regular clients, I was staying busy, I was working hard to keep them happy. Then I thought it would be both interesting and possibly profitable to start an e-publishing company. I decided on an e-newsletter aimed at the physician office laboratory market, a market with a great need for advice and information that is largely unmet. So I paid good money to form an LLC, set up a website, round up experts, and published an issue, which I gave away for free. Then I started mailing out brochures and postcards. No subscribers. So I wrote another issue, more brochures and postcards.

One subscriber, but the money didn't go through, and when I followed up with a bill, he didn't pay it.

No subscribers. (This was my worst-case scenario. And my understanding of this market also made me aware this was a possibility, because in general I've never worked with a group of people that are cheaper and less likely to pay money for continuing education than medical laboratory technologists--and my wife IS one. One of my clients, ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, has FREE subscriptions, and they're struggling to stay afloat. Go figure. Welcome to the new media).

Now, two issues is not a lot of time to get a publication going. I really should hang in there for another 4 months, at least.

Except, uh, I can't. Because, you know, I mentioned how I wasn't bringing on new clients? Well, work slowed down with most of my regular clients. And I had a big gaping hole in my income stream. Which, unfortunately, coincided with putting a new roof on the house, all the expenses from the publication, etc. In other words, I don't have the money to continue marketing it and I really can't afford the time to spend on a project that doesn't generate income. So, basically, POL Bulletin has ceased publication.

Back in my first year of full-time freelancing we ran into a problem (we forgot to pay quarterly taxes until about a day before a trip to Disney World), and we solved that by putting in place some procedures that would keep constant track of how much money I owed the government every time I got a check. It was easy. But it was also necessary.

This year I had several things happen. A long-planned family trip to Disney World (it was for a school trip, and we spent a year paying for it, so it wasn't a huge financial burden, it was just the confluence of other things), a roof badly in need of replacement, a slowdown in clients, the investment in a new business venture that didn't take off the way I hoped. Timing, I guess, is everything.

Lesson learned? We need to be better capitalized (as a household and a business). We need to have a little more discipline when it comes to maintaining a minimum amount in the bank to cover business slowdowns (because for 5 years I've been lucky and they never lasted very long). So we're cashing out some things and combining some things, and in general, assuring that Terry Household, Inc, and Terry Communications, LLC keeps more money in reserve.

I hope I have no more hard lessons to learn in this business, but I probably do. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who writes SF and mysteries and God knows what else, has been running a lengthy series of blog posts about running a business, whether it's a freelance business or something else. They're all worth reading. Reading those, I know there will be more hard lessons of one type or another. But her last post was on failure. And she commented essentially that you can look at these things as setbacks or failures. You can learn from them and move on or you can quit.

So, where am I now? Well, my best client has me pretty much booked up for 2010. He's also 99.9% likely to throw me work for the rest of the year (I'm waiting for the contract and the go-ahead). One of the people I contacted for work (actually, they were looking for a writer, contacted an editor friend of mine, asked her if she knew any freelancers who might work for them, gave them my name, and voila!) indicated we'll talk at the end of this week about regular projects. A couple of my other clients gave me assignments after I really went after them. Another query I pitched recently got back with me to discuss how much I charge.

They could all fall apart. And that last one, I'm not holding my breath. But the others, I think we're good to go. I'll make it to the beginning of 2010 when I can expect a good solid stream of work. In the meantime, I'm working on making sure we're better capitalized. We're all facing headwinds these days, but I'm convinced if we just, er, trim our sails and keep moving forward the best we can, things will work out.

Cheers,
Mark Terry

11 Comments:

Anonymous Christine said...

Don't forget that the money you sunk in to your new business can be counted as a loss on your taxes. It's not much, but it's a bit of a help.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

OMG, I could have written this.

I had a steady consulting gig I worked hard for . . . but thanks to corporate infighting . . . dried up. I started working for an old publisher . . . their account payable system went off-line for a week (intended to upload a new system). When it came back online? Lost all vendor IDs. A HUGE multinational publisher. I have some thing 6 weeks outstanding, when usually they pay in two weeks.

College tuition is a bear. One kid needs braces. One needs oral surgery. We have crappy insurance. The house needs some repairs. I had a massive leak in my kitchen (thanks to Demon Baby). I have cut everything from my budget I can.

My lessons are mostly to, even if it means going without sleep . . . be hustling for new gigs because if you grow complacent with old ones, you are screwed. I knew this, yet that consulting gig was a Fortune 500 company. And definitely, for me, it's the lesson that if you want to do this f/t and be your own boss, you really have got to be living a lean budget all the time for the just-in-case times. I was doing that, but I can go leaner.

And Murphy's Law.

And the checks never come when you think they will or should.
E

7:59 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Personally, I find myself mentally stuck, as in... I can't conceive of how expensive things are. If I hadn't downsized so much, I would be needing to make twice what I did ten years ago in order to live the same lifestyle. That's a little crazy.

8:19 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

Yeah, like Natasha says, it's crazy how dang much it costs to LIVE. Food prices have gone up like crazy. I realize now how wasteful I used to be. Now I tend to eat everything in the cabinet. So that's a good thing.

But it's a tough time. People, not just writers, are working for less and less, just thrilled they have a job. And insurance sucks, yeah, and a million other things...

Good luck!

9:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Christine,
Already aware of it. That helps later, not now, though.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Erica
Your insurance thing really sucks. Thank God my wife has good insurance (knock wood). As for hustling, yeah, I'm afraid so. In the past I've had a tendency, when busy, to slow down or stop looking for new clients. I'm not sure that's a good idea. I'm beginning to think that staying over-busy and be constantly on the hunt for new gigs might be necessary to my peace of mind. And no, the checks never do come when you want them to.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Natasha,
Well, we're going to have to figure that out. Oldest son turns 16 next month and college isn't that far down the road. We've got maybe 3 years to get that together and then tuition things for 7 or 8 years straight, so I guess this is a good time to figure out how to live lean and save, save, save.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sex Scenes,
Well, I recognize I'm in much better shape than many, many people. I have a relative who's been out of work for about 18 months, a friend's husband for about the same, and a good friend who because of a crisis/scandal/snafu was forced to quit his job and he's scrambling to come up with a way to live. So I'm still grateful. I'm lucky.

That said, what I think about a lot, especially looking at these things, is that any of us can have our life turned upside down by something and it's better to be prepared a bit.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Mark et al . . . .

I, too, can't get over how much it costs to LIVE. To feed my kids, literally. I buy NO chips or crap for them, no sodas. But I want them eating fruit and so on . . . I have tried to figure out a way to feed a family of six (including a growing teen boy) on $100 a week without tossing crap at them. It's not easy.

I will say I now LOVE that my significant other is in the restaurant biz. I love waking up (he gets in around 3:00 a.m. so we never see each other) and checking the fridge and seeing leftover banquet platter stuff. In that sense, we eat well. And for that, I am grateful. And Mark, I too realize my general nature to hustle and my flexibility (fiction and nonfiction, editing and indexing) has me better off than many.


E

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

That's terrible news but at least you still have plenty of work lined up. Sickening for such effort to come to naught but hopefuly you'll be able to use the experience/research/etc for something else.

How do you know if you're doing okay when you're self-employed? I don't think there's any way to know. If you're lucky enough to be able to put some money aside, you can't know how much is enough unless you know how long you might find yourself in a work slow down (impossible to know) so you can be better or worse off than you were but you're never really perfectly okay. But it sure beats going in to an office every morning. That's too damn certain for me.

So now what happens is you suddenly get a big movie option on one of those books you never expected to produce a lot of income.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
Well, your lips to God's ear and all that. I hope I'm grown up enough (and boring enough, I suppose), that if I did get whacked with the lucky stick I'd be conservative with the money. Although I'm reminded of a line from a John Sandford novel, when he's describing the main character, Lucas Davenport, as having sold his computer company for about $10 million and "he pissed most of it away on conservative investments and securities before he came to his senses and bought a Porsche."

1:27 PM  

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