What do we want? Where can we find it?
INTERACTIVITY was the theme of the February London Freelance Branch meeting - an opportunity for members to air concerns around work, and to seek solutions to our gripes. The meeting was MCed by Humphrey Evans, who invited us to name "things that pissed you off in the last week, or the last month".
A thinking session produced "40 plus hastily scribbled sticky notelets" affixed to the Wall of Aspirations - four pages untimely ripped from a flipchart. Some issues flagged up were "instantly dealt with live", like the question "how much do I put aside for tax?" - 20 per cent, or 25 per cent to be really safe and to include National Insurance. NUJ Training offers courses on tax, and extensive advice will soon appear at www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/.
"This is where we descend into chaos," announced our facilitator, as we divided into groups tasked with giving the sticky notelets some kind of thematic organization, and ranking them in importance.
Many members do not know how to find the wealth of information on the Branch's website www.londonfreelance.org on the topics that came up. So we are providing links here - and as a result of the meeting we're developing a Frequently Asked Questions page at www.londonfreelance.org/FAQ And there's a full transcription of the Wall of Aspirations at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0604wall.html.
It's always worth members contacting the NUJ Freelance Office for advice. If enough of us keep coming at them with sensible questions, the office gets a better sense of our needs.
Electronic delivery of copy led to many hassles for members, especially when the subs change it to make it wrong. "Freelances are emailing in copy only to find it goes to print with errors subbed in, with rates and rights not yet finalised, or with the author not being even told it's happening. You could ask when negotiating terms for a job that subbed work be emailed back to you to check, and this should also apply to captions and the cropping of photos.
Freelances should be proactive in setting conditions with clients: "Don't get it in writing," said Humphrey, "put it in writing! You control the process." And "always ask for more".
Closely linked to "having your stuff rewritten" was "having ideas nicked", although veteran features writer Andrew Mueller admitted there's "not much you can do" except "badmouthing the editor responsible" and "obviously, don't write for them again." The practice is more prevalent in broadcasting, where there is agreed industry policy on submitting ideas - www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/tv/business/code.shtml and www.pact.co.uk/uploads/file_bank/1213.pdf. Proposals can be prefaced with the words "this idea is submitted in commercial confidence."
One tip was to invest in Adobe Acrobat Professional software and deliver copy in locked-down read-only PDF files (or OpenOffice - see letter), or as "a JPEG image with a background of daffodils". You can find the simple advice on copyright that went out with the March Freelance at www.londonfreelance.org/c-basics.html.
Member Miranda Gavin reported that clients are going to ever more extraordinary lengths to avoid long-term freelances becoming staffers. The latest trend is "permalancing" - forcing freelances to start working for regular clients as a limited company. The Fees Guide covers your employment rights as a long-term worker: see www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/advice.html.
Late payments and stagnating rates were identified as a frequent problem, especially from "snooty people who don't talk to you anymore... Good riddance!" Advice on chasing late payments, calculating interest and invoicing is at www.londonfreelance.org/collect.html and previous late payers are named and shamed in the monthly Freelance Gong Award column, archived on www.londonfreelance.org/gong.html and the archive of publishers that have been drawn to our attention at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/attn.html
You can also ring the Freelance Office for advice before pursuing late payers through the Small Claims Court.
You should also demand more money if the deadline is suddenly brought forward. MC Humphrey recalled a freelance who was contacted by the Daily Mail You Magazine on a Friday, when they needed a feature for Monday. As she had planned to go out that weekend, she negotiated the following expenses: dinner at a restaurant for her and her husband, a limo to get her there, and a babysitter while they went out.