Destiny Connect published a handy article on working with freelancers last month, which gives sensible advice like agreeing to deadlines before work commences, getting everything in writing and giving proper briefs. Can I hear an ‘Amen!’ from all the freelancers out there?
From my own experience as a freelancer, here are some further thoughts on how to work with freelancers so that the experience is pleasant and pain-free for both client and freelancer:
Are there any lessons you’ve learned as a freelancer or someone who has hired a freelancer that could make the process easier? Feel free to share in the comments section!
On Tuesday my hard drive crashed. It gave very little warning. One minute it was working, the next it was throwing up obscure error messages and refusing to communicate with me. After a morning of trying to sort things out myself, trying safe modes, last known good configurations and myriad other solutions suggested by the many web forums I browsed (using my old desktop), I came to the conclusion that I was in deep trouble.
My IT guy confirmed that my hard drive was very sick and needed to be admitted to computer ICU. As he whisked the machine away to try to save its life, I took stock. It struck me once again how dependant on technology we have become, particularly in the media industry. Without a computer, internet and my trusty digital voice recorder, there is pretty much nothing I can do in terms of work.
Thankfully, having had two laptops stolen and experiencing the pain of data loss before, I have become much better at backing up my data. Between my external hard drives and the various online tools I use, I have about 90% of the data that was on my laptop’s hard drive. The 10% I haven’t backed up includes my recent Namibia photos and my Photoshop edits of some of my older images, which took me hours to create. The IT guy is trying to recover these.
As I was sighing over the possibility of losing my precious images and cursing technology for letting me down, I realised that technology is also what has saved my skin in this situation. The main problem is not the technology – it’s the humans behind it. We know that there’s a possibility that our computers, flash drives and gadgets will fail at some point, but we each tend to think we’re somehow immune. We listen to people’s stories of data loss, whether through catastrophic hard drive failure, stolen equipment or sheer stupidity (like dropping your laptop in the bath, which has happened to someone I know), and we nod sympathetically, pity them and vaguely resolve to be better at backing up, but most of us are not at good at backing up our data as we should be. And while it will cost a few hundred Rands to replace a hard drive, you may never be able to recover your data. I experienced this when my first laptop was stolen with all my honeymoon photos on it, which I had not backed up.
I thought I’d learnt my lesson. After replacing the laptop, I started saving my important work to flash drives. When the second laptop was stolen, I found out that this method was not fool proof – the thieves stole the flash drives too, which were in the same room as the computer.
In the years since, the tools available have improved greatly. I use Dropbox, a free file hosting service that allows me to store data “in the cloud”. Dropbox allows me to access my data from any computer, anywhere, and also provides a handy means of sharing data with others. Google Docs is another useful tool that allows me to work online, save my documents and access them from wherever I want to. It’s linked to my Gmail account, which acts as another back-up mechanism. I run all my email through Gmail, even my email account registered under my company domain, which has an auto-forward function set on it. This means that I can keep every important email I send or receive, along with the attachments, and access them from any computer, or my cell phone. It has a search function similar to the Google search engine so that I can easily locate what I’m looking for among the thousands of emails.
External hard drives have also come a long way. My first one was 125GB and required an external power source. It was four times the size of the newer 2TB hard drives, which are USB-powered, quieter, faster and pocket-sized. I have two external hard drives to back up my data and I keep them separately from my laptop and each other.
Maybe I sound paranoid, but as a writer, many of my clients entrust their data to me. I have the various versions of their press releases, brochures, web text and even book chapters. I need to keep that data safe. Of course, I want to keep my personal photos and creative writing safe too. And as always, losing my data this time, even if it was only 10%, has reminded me of the importance of backing up. And it’s proved to me again that all the gadgets in the world are useless if the human operating them is not doing his or her bit.
So when my new hard drive is installed, I will become even more paranoid. And hopefully next time something happens to my technology – and there will be a next time – I will have 100% of my data backed up.