Cafe Witness

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Culture Gap

Last week, I saw a play that was written by an African-American playwright. It dealt with issues of gender, race and identity. It tackled sensitive subjects like sexual abuse and racism. And it was framed around an iconic myth of nature, hope and redemption.

And I hated it.

Not because the play was heavy-handed, unsurprising or obvious (which it was), but because it was being lauded despite these shortcomings. Lauded, I felt, *because* it was a play about a different cultural experience than what the theatregoers in Pittsburgh are used to. In this particular case, I felt quality (or its absence) was being ignored in favor of political correctness -- of the NEED to champion a work of art that presented a less-omnipresent POV than that of the Straight White Male that governs so much of American society.

My continued evaluation of that play, and of my experience with it, have prompted numerous questions over the past week, including:

* Am I unable to connect with art created by artists from different cultural backgrounds because we lack the same shared experiences?

* Does our cultural background directly impact our ability to emotionally or intellectually evaluate art?

* Is mediocre art from underexposed cultures given a "pass" by the cultural gatekeepers simply because they feel obligated to promote any voice from within those cultures that are willing to step forward?

* Does allowing mediocre art to flourish do a disservice to the potential artists from within a specific culture by lowering the bar of expectations?

* Is it fair to compare art from various cultural backgrounds? Is it racist NOT to?

* How profoundly does a difference in gender impact one's ability to understand another?

* What larger cultural or social implications arise when art created for "shock value" ceases to provoke a "shocked" experience in its audience? Does that mean we've diverged too far from a "norm" of behavior, or does it mean we've simply assimilated that previously "extreme" behavior into our larger frame of reference and nullified its impact?

I don't have answers to any of these questions, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Importance of Getting Paid

When you're a freelancer, NOTHING is more important than getting paid. Not finding new leads, not meeting your deadlines, not exceeding client expectations -- NONE of that compares to making sure there's money in your pocket and your bills are paid on time.

Over the past 3 years, I've learned that the act of physically getting paid by clients is much harder than it should be. Some of this is due to clients moving slowly -- after all, no one wants you to get paid more than YOU do -- but most of the trouble I've had getting paid stems from complications that I can improve on my own... and now, so can you.

5 Ways to Make Sure You, the Freelancer, Get Paid

1) Request half your fee up front.

Depending on the specifics of your freelance gig, a job you begin in February may not pay you until June. After all, it can take weeks to assemble all of the related materials, weeks more to complete the work itself, and then weeks (or months) of reviews until the client decides the work is complete.

And all that time, you're working but not getting paid.

Brand new clients should expect to pay you half up front for new contracts. Longtime clients may be more flexible, and agree to pay in increments as milestones of a project (initial plan, mock-ups, each review round, etc.) are reached. But if a client is reluctant to pay even a portion of your fee up front, you need to decide if you can complete the job while not seeing a penny for 3 or 4 months. (Odds are, unless you have a massive nest egg built up, you can't; rent doesn't give you a 4 month reprieve.)

2) Never presume an invoice has been processed.

Most clients are quick to respond when they receive an invoice. Their confirmation that the invoice will be entering the accounting system helps us sleep at night, knowing we can expect to be paid within the agreed-upon turnaround time.

Recently, one of my clients claimed to have not received an invoice. When I called their accounting department to clarify, the resulting wild goose chase included, among other proposed solutions, faxing a copy of the overdue invoice to a specific accounting employee -- who, it turned out, didn't actually exist(!)...

If a client doesn't confirm receipt of an invoice, call to verify it's been received. Be pleasant but, if you're not getting an affirmative answer, be persistent -- at that stage, nothing is more important than ensuring that your invoice is processed as swiftly as possible. Remember, it's not the client's job to make sure you get paid; it's yours.

3) Make friends within the company, to help when Accounting falls behind.

If you're good at what you do, it's hard not to make friends within your client company. Keep in touch with these people, even when they're not directly involved in your current projects, because you never know when you may need to ask them for help after the impersonal folks in accounting can't find last month's invoice...

4) Be consistent in your invoicing procedures.

Most clients have one specific procedure that they request you follow when submitting invoices. This helps them avoid overlooking an invoice, which could trigger late fees if they don't pay on time. It also protects you in case you need to prove that an invoice was submitted properly, so any dispute can't be blamed on your inability to follow directions.

I recently attached a client's invoice in an email in which I also answered a client's question. Upon receipt, the client replied to follow up on my answer, resulting in a longer email conversation. Unfortunately, the client didn't notice the invoice was also attached, which resulted in that invoice not getting paid until I noticed it was overdue. In this case, simply sending two different emails (one delivering the invoice, one answering the client's question) could have saved me an additional 30 days of waiting to get paid -- since, in this case, the client wasn't wrong for not noticing the invoice because I'd diverged from standard procedure.

5) Deposit your cash immediately.

This might seem obvious, but it's amazing how often checks can languish, awaiting deposit in your account. Maybe you think it's more important to meet today's deadline, or maybe it's more convenient to deposit that check tomorrow when you're running other errands.


NOTHING is more important than getting paid -- and that includes the physcial act of depositing that money in your bank account.

This step is doubly important if your bank (like mine) places additional holds on out-of-state checks. In my case, when a non-Pennsylvania client pays me, it takes an extra week to actually receive that money because my bank holds that check for 5 business days. Add in the time it takes for the check to physically travel from my client's desk to mine -- up to 5 days, depending on when and where it's mailed -- and that's over 10 days between the time a client thinks they're paying me and the time I can actually apply that money to bills. (So when that check comes in, the last thing I can afford to do is "get to it tomorrow"...)

REMEMBER: When it comes to freelance work, NOTHING is more important than getting paid. If you keep your bank account full (or at least "not empty"), you'll survive long enough to acquire more clients, get higher-paying work, and (if you're really good at what you do) build a nest egg that will make each of these "get paid now" steps a little less harrowing.

Do you have any tips for getting paid? Add them to the comments below!

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