Hoodie, yoga pants, coffee, morning writing. You know the drill. This Tuesday morning, I devoted a couple of hours to revising an academic journal article. It’s hard pouring time into unpaid writing, but it’s important to me to publish the parts of my scholarly work that feel like contributions to the field.
Graduate school, I think, makes you very adaptable—you become accustomed to your schedule changing, to working on multiple projects simultaneously, to maintaining an ever-shifting map of efforts and attention in your mind. Consulting is similar. At Delicious Monster, we worked out of a coffee shop; the day didn’t start until noon, but it often lasted much later than at a traditional company. When I was contracting daily at Medium, I got up, showered, dressed, and took the train to work in the morning like a lot of other people. Now that I’m giving Interfolio much of my time, I’m cognizant of the fact that my colleagues are on the east coast, three hours ahead of me on emails, project updates, and casual discussion of work coming down the pipeline.
It’s probably evident from these posts—yoga pants, no commute—that operating as an independent consultant has its benefits. The romanticized idea of consulting and contract work is that it pays well, you can conform work hours to your life rather than the other way around, and there’s constant stimulation because your work is always changing.
These things are all true, but there are other truths: billing, invoicing, and other administrative tasks take time away from the work itself. There’s always a hustle as you plan ahead to line up the next project. Collaboration can stall when you don’t share space with your colleagues everyday. Splintering your time can be difficult, particularly when all of the work involved is intense and variously challenging. Most importantly, completing work and handing it over is a valuable experience, but sinking your teeth into work that you can really own is far more satisfying.
Consulting, as a segue from freelancing, was the best option for me over the last year and a half. Longer-term contracts at Delicious Monster, Medium, and Interfolio—all of which were 35 employees or smaller at the time—have given me experience that’s rare for a content person: to be the early and only dedicated wordsmith on fresh, dynamic teams that are building fresh, dynamic products. I have touched every part of websites and products, email communications and copy. I’ve formulated voices and laid down style laws. It’s been a tremendous education.
And, certainly, a small part of that education has been in tedious tasks such as billing. I spent about an hour today creating travel expense reports and cataloging billable hours, which always feels like the antithesis of everything that I love about this work. The fact that creative work is creative doesn’t make it any less laborious—it is, as one infamous San Francisco designer says, a job—and I believe that skilled content people should earn competitive wages. I’ve learned to negotiate my hourly rate, but billing is my nemesis. I use Harvest to track invoices, and I’ve accumulated a cache of contract templates thanks to a friend who runs her own design studio.
After the day’s billing debacle, I reviewed the mockups for a new product that Interfolio is developing. I recently joined the product team—my philosophy is that content strategy should happen as part of product development rather than as a final stylistic swirl on top of a completed design. I’m working with the team on content from the mockup and prototype stages through to launch, so I made notes for a call scheduled with Interfolio’s Director of User Experience later in the week.
As a storyteller and content strategist, I’m often brought in when organizations realize that words are a skill discrete from design and engineering and that, in fact, the products being designed and engineered would benefit from early and thorough content attention. Tomorrow, I promise to address some of these words themselves—“product,” “content”—that, I know, make those of us who have spent our lives among books cringe.
Questions? Share your thoughts!