How to Handle ‘Time Creep’ as a Freelance Journalist

Advice for Freelancers, Managing Your Content Business

We’re frequently hired at a per-word rate, but does that mean we must always be on Slack or attend virtual meetings? It depends…

The freelancing world has undeniably changed a lot in the last few years. It’s only been accelerated by the advent of AI, and every individual contractor out there is working hard to string enough gig work together to pay their rent, put their kids through school or ensure their animals are fed. As we face more layoffs in the media space and more highly skilled journalists go freelance, the market becomes more competitive. It’s simple supply and demand economics, right?

As the supply swells and corporate America continues to seek ways to make more money (but refuses to spend more on skilled and talented employees), freelance journalists are starting to feel the pinch. That means that in order to land a job or simply keep a client happy, many of us are taking lower paying gigs (sub $1-per-word rates are astoundingly common these days, even for VERY high profile publications), and get dragged into doing extra work, without additional compensation just to stay afloat–a thing I call “time creep.”

What is Time Creep?

Time creep is when a publication or client decides that now that they have you under contract, you’re obligated to be available to them at all times as if they are your only client. It frequently happens when there’s turmoil at a publication or company and often indicates that the client (i.e., your “boss”) feels insecure about their skills, job, or even the stories they’ve assigned you.

An Editor With a Planning Issue

For example, a friend and fellow freelance journalist recently told me a story about a client paying a flat fee of $400 per story. It’s relatively easy work. The editor at the publication assigns her a story brief, she does the reporting, turns it in on deadline, and makes one round of edits as requested–a standard deal these days

She’s highly skilled, has name recognition, has been in journalism for a long time, and has a bevy of high-profile bylines under her belt. She’s been looking for more steady freelance work for a while as a way to build a consistent base for those bigger stories she regularly lands, and this gig came to her.

On the surface, the deal makes good business sense because it makes the most of her time, allowing her to freely pitch other big swings and still keep a bedrock of consistent work coming in. She gets big bonus points for getting all of this in writing in a signed contract!

Until…

Recently her editor has decided that he wants her on content calls. Everything from story generation to scheduling calls and meetings come into her inbox. Since the client is new, she says she feels pressured to try and make at least a few of the meetings, but it’s cutting into the time she’s allocated for other clients and other pitches.

It’s also significantly cutting into that nominal $400 per story rate. The editor has also requested that she be available on Slack during business hours, even though she’s not getting any additional pay or benefits. She’s increasingly unhappy with the arrangement but reached out because she didn’t know what to do or how to handle it.

What to Do About Time Creep?

Check Your Contract

Notice any wording that includes some of the additional work you’re being asked to put in, whether it’s creating content ideas, or attending meetings that have very little to do with you; it pays to know what you have in writing.

Find Out Why Your Editor is Demanding More

Human beings don’t deal with stress well, no matter who they are or how strong their meditation practice may be (P.S. I teach meditation and yoga every single week on Zoom, so, yeah, I know.) It’s entirely possible that they got heat for assigning you a bad topic, or your story got tied up in internal politics. Take a breath, and remember that your editor (or client) is human and is probably having a momentary stress freak-out about something that is both well beyond your control and utterly unrelated to your work.

It may make sense to drop your editor a note (resist the urge to CC everyone angrily) on the side and ask why the project parameters have changed. Once you have more information, you can move on to the next step and decide how you want to move forward with the project. Remember (as one of my past, most favorite bosses used to constantly remind me); Business is not personal. Keep it professional.

Set Your Boundaries & Put it in Writing

Once you better understand what is going on with your editor/outlet/publication, it’s time to reset your boundaries and get it all in writing. If you’re willing to take on the extra work requirements after speaking with your editor, set those boundaries via email.

If, however, you’ve determined that the additional demands on your time don’t work for you, be clear about your boundaries, and what it will require from the client, should they want more of your time.

As an example, you could send an email like this:


Hi [Editor or Contact Name],

I really appreciate you clarifying why you need additional time from me, and I’m so glad we connected to discuss this. 

As a freelancer, I juggle several clients and deadlines every week. It’s vital that I understand how your needs have changed from when I was onboarded so we can find the best way to work together. 

I enjoy working with you, but because of these other obligations, and the current scope of work (contract), we have, I will only be able to do X (X being whatever you originally agreed to OR being what you discussed in another email or call regarding your work). Do you have any wiggle room in your budget to pay an hourly rate for those times when you want me to attend meetings or otherwise dedicate my time to this project?

Thanks,

[Your Name]


Give your editor some time to respond to you with details and then handle their response accordingly.

One of the joys of being your own boss is the ability to set your own boundaries around work. That means that sometimes you have to have difficult conversations about time creep. It also means that sometimes you must fire a client and find a new one. Either way, remember that business is not personal and (as one of my favorite food YouTubers might say, “You are the boss of your own dross.”


DON’T HAVE TIME TO FIND GREAT PAY FOR FREELANCE WORK?

I HAVE YOU COVERED!

Do you need help navigating the ever-evolving freelance world? Want one-on-one help with pitches, edits, or dealing with a frustrating client? Come to my office hours or a FREE Freelance Workshop! Sign up here!

Need to find a new client, or looking for new freelance work? I send out a newsletter with more than 30 new gigs that pay at least $1 per word every single week. Become a paying subscriber, today, and let me do the work for you!

How to Check the Status of Your Emergency Disaster Injury Loan (EIDL) from the Small Business Association (SBA)

Content Badasses, Managing Your Content Business

If you’re like me in the time of COVID-19,  you’re working to secure capital while we all hunker down and wait this bug out. Many of you may have already lost clients or had others shut off work for the time being, and keeping money flowing is crucial for any small business.

If you’re also like me, you’ve probably already applied for the EIDL or Emergency Disaster Injury Loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration and are wondering how to check the status of your application. Here’s what I found when I called the SBA.

A little about the EIDL Grant and Loan from the SBA

A little over a week ago, I applied for the Emergency Disaster Injury Loan from the U.S. Small Business Association. The loan is designed to help bridge the gap for small businesses, that have taken a hit to income streams as a result of COVID-19. There are a few requirements for eligibility and you apply directly through the SBA (not through your SBA-approved lender). I’d reached out to my accountant to find out more about the program, but he proved to be useless so I did the legwork myself.

As safer-at-home regulations continue to move forward, many of my clients are starting to constrict their freelance and contractor spending. As a full-time freelance journalist, personal and small business finance writer, and digital media consultant, I know to keep up on what’s happening around my business especially in these unprecedented times, and thanks to the newshound in me, I got in on the EIDL program early.

I applied late on the evening of April 1, after reading a Forbes story on federal relief for freelancers by a former Fortune Magazine colleague of mine, Elaine Pofeldt.  I applied when the loan applications first opened up on the SBA site, after double verifying that I was, in fact, using the SBA site and not some scammer site.  Scams are common in times of chaos and need, and the Better Business Bureau has recently offered warnings about a number of scam SBA sites and how to protect yourself.

The application itself was relatively simple. If you keep good financial records and keep up with your invoices and outstanding accounts, it’s as easy as inputting your financials for the previous twelve months. At the very end of the application, there’s a checkbox that allows you to request the $10,000 advance that’s supposed to show up within “three days” of application. In order to get that, though you have to submit your banking information including account number and bank routing number. That, of course, makes everyone nervous given the data breaches that the SBA has had. Regardless, I crossed my fingers, and hit submit, and then waited for an email confirmation, or really anything from the SBA.

Days passed…When I didn’t hear anything back for more than a week, got no email confirmation after submitting the required banking information, and had no contact with the SBA, I finally decided to call them directly (800-659-2955) and check on the status of my EIDL application.

Luckily when I applied, I created a PDF of the application confirmation number that appeared at the end of completing the application. If you’re applying for an EIDL via the SBA, make sure you save that number. They will not email it to you and, as it turns out, the SBA cannot look it up.

Call to Check the Status of an EIDL Application

When you first call the SBA phone number above, about the status of your EIDL application, you are shuttled into the automated system. Keep selecting the option for disaster loans, and eventually, after about three menus you’ll get put into a queue for the next available human representative.

I started at caller number 732, at 8:15 am PT on Friday, April 10. I even tweeted about it, expecting it to be a painful affair.

About 15 minutes later, after some surprisingly ok hold music, the automated system jumped on to tell me that I had moved up in the cue to caller number 438.

Roughly 10 minutes later, I was greeted by a lovely woman who gave her name as Peggy and gave me her ID number (if you’re calling, be sure to write this down and keep it with your other loan application details!).

She asked for my confirmation number and checked her two systems using that unique identifier. It turns out the SBA is keeping track of the incoming calls associated with your application in one system and tracking the status of your account, in another. They don’t talk to one another, but the representatives have to toggle between the two to get the information you request.

Once Peggy located my application she told me that I am currently sitting in a “very, very, very,” (her words) long line of applications that are waiting to be assigned a loan officer. She wasn’t able to give me a timeline on when I might get a loan officer, but told me I should keep an eye on my email (with that confirmation number reference), which will alert me when I am finally assigned a loan officer.

I let her know that my business income had changed in the week since I had applied and she said that when the loan officer is assigned they will double-check and update those numbers you initially put into the application. After asking a couple more questions, I hung up.

Below, I’ve put together a few of the questions I had about checking on the status of an EIDL loan during COVID-19 and I hope they help you as we navigate this new territory together. I’ll be updating this story if and when I hear from the SBA so that it can help other small businesses looking for support.

Can I check the status of my EIDL application online?

Despite what a few of the old PowerPoint PDFs you might find from the SBA online say, as of this time, you cannot check the status of your EIDL application online. You can only call the SBA and wade through the system to speak to a human who will pull the details for you.

You must have your confirmation number. More on that below.

Do you really get the EIDL $10,000 Advance (“Grant”) deposited to your account within 3 days of application?

No. The $10,000 advanced or “grant” that you can get with the EIDL does not show up in your account within three days.

The advance, as the SBA calls it, (which can potentially be turned into a grant if used for the right kinds of business expenses), does not just show up in your account within three days as the SBA reports it does. You won’t see any movement on that front until you are assigned a loan officer.

The advance could show up in your account within three days after you’ve been assigned a loan officer, however, which is something that the SBA site does not mention when you are applying.

Is the EIDL forgivable?

At this point, only $10,000 of the EIDL (the advance, or “grant”) part, is forgivable. That means, (in theory) that you will not have to pay it back.

As the SBA says on its site, “In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories are eligible to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance of up to $10,000. This advance will provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Funds will be made available following a successful application. This loan advance will not have to be repaid.”

What can I use an EIDL loan for?

The EIDL loan is used to help small business owners bridge the gap as we work through this worldwide pandemic. According to the Benefits.gov site (run by the U.S. government), an EIDL loan can be used to help keep businesses afloat at this time.

From their site: “The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) can provide up to $2 million of financial assistance (actual loan amounts are based on amount of economic injury) to small businesses or private, non-profit organizations that suffer substantial economic injury as a result of the declared disaster, regardless of whether the applicant sustained physical damage.

An EIDL can help you meet necessary financial obligations that your business or private, non-profit organization could have met had the disaster not occurred. It provides relief from economic injury caused directly by the disaster and permits you to maintain a reasonable working capital position during the period affected by the disaster. EIDLs do not replace lost sales or revenue.”

What if I don’t know my EIDL Application Confirmation Number?

From what the representative I spoke to, told me, there’s no way for the SBA to look up your loan number, thanks to privacy regulations and rights. You’ll essentially just have to sit tight until you get an email from the SBA once your application has been assigned to a loan officer.

That means, if you are just applying for the EIDL loan for COVID-19 now, you need to make sure you keep that confirmation number that pops up when you submit the application. Don’t assume that it will be emailed to you. The SBA has been struggling with the number of applications they have had and they don’t have an email confirmation system in place. Nor do they have an online platform to check the status of your application in place. The only option is to call.

For more on the SBA EIDL advance and loan, check out the links below.

Get an overview of the SBA EIDL loan from the SBA, here.

Apply for the SBA EIDL and $10,000 advance via the SBA, here.