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Babes in Geekland

Madame IT, your profile of the female programmer, inspired me. I, too, am a female independent consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. I have been self-employed for almost four years and have been somewhat successful. Unfortunately, I have experienced mixed reactions.

I am 31, but I look very young. I am blonde and petite; I dress well and wear makeup, so people assume I cannot be technical. When I walk into a client site for the first time, the employees think I am a new temp. If I sit at a computer to work on the system, they hand me a memo to type, thinking that I must be a secretary. I respond, "Sorry, I only type commands fast." Clients often quiz me on my technical knowledge to see if I actually am intelligent. They explain, "You don't look like a dweeb."

Once a client actually told me to look as unattractive as possible when I went to his firm, so his wife would let me work there. The day after I worked on her computer for the first time, I was called and told that the firm no longer needed my services. Coincidence? Maybe. One client told his systems administrator that I was really smart for someone who looked like she was 12 years old.

I get negative responses from both women and men. It almost makes me want to change my career. I have worked very hard to get where I am, and I have always provided excellent service. I am very good at what I do. I used to think that, in this day and age, anyone could do anything without experiencing constant prejudice and stereotyping. Now I understand why there are so few female IT consultants.

Your article gave me hope -- maybe I shouldn't become a receptionist at a nail salon just yet.

Gina Tepper

I love your site and especially loved your piece about the independent IT professional woman. That's me, too! We are a rare breed, I know, but we're starting to pop up in the darndest places. Keep up the good work.

Linda Marie Wetzel
Shaker Heights, Ohio

The Root of All Evil

Bravo! I enjoyed your article Charge Your Clients More. I've given much of the same advice to many students and peers -- even would-be competitors. I employ a rate card, a sort of menu of services that breaks down costs for different types of work. This works best and sets me apart from the crowd. I also hand out a production cost estimate for every production job, which the client signs off on to begin work. For the few prospects that think my costs are too high, I count my blessings, for they usually turn out to be the type of client that makes multiple changes and inevitably are s-l-o-w payers. I have referred others to your article. Great job!

Sir Jay Yarabek
Venice, Florida

Soap Opera

We, the editorial board of Washing Machine Monthly, were outraged at the unfair depiction of our magazine's editorial content as lacking adrenaline. In the future, the subjects of your profiles should think before they speak poorly of the large-appliance industry. Exciting new innovations in spin cycle and combination washer/drier units are making this the most exciting time in washing machine history since cave-women started pounding their pelts by the riverside!

Our legal counsel will be contacting you.

Otis Maytag
S. P. Incicle
D. Walsh Bored
Sloan Suds
< JFMAKRP@aol.com>

Marketing through Mom

Your profile of freelance illustrator Tim O'Brien does him great justice! I worked with Tim's mother, Patricia O'Brien, and she spoke about him frequently. When I finally saw his work, I was in absolute awe. He is a rather remarkable man!

Erlen Stebbings

Getting in Touch with Your Inner Child

Your profile of communications consultant Gary Hirsch was excellent! I've attended team-building workshops, and I found myself reliving those funny experiences while reading the article. It's great watching all the stiffness melt away, revealing the inner child underneath. People have to break down the walls around them to begin communicating and creating an enjoyable workplace.


Aw, Shucks...

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for providing such a refreshing site. I love how clean and user-friendly it is. Keep up the good work!

Lori Dunfee

It's In The Cards

Great article on business cards! I agree with Rita Webster that "business cards bring credibility," but I don't agree that a $10 Kinko's repro will bring the same credibility as a $10,000 designed identity. I started with the Kinko's version and quickly shifted to a designed (by another IP!) identity. The result was added legitimacy in my mind, and more importantly, in the minds of my prospective clients. Future clients need to know you're serious, and a well-designed business card helps them believe you will deliver a quality product.

Jeff Robertson
Business Climate Specialist
Fishers, Indiana

Unbefuddle Me

My curiosity is piqued by the tenacity, the ingenuity, the creativity displayed by the IPs you write about. It seems like quite an interesting life. Your articles shed some light on people who are already working at it, but how do they get started? How would this work for someone who is befuddled while in between jobs?

Shashi Vasan

We can relate to the befuddled mode -- all of us feel that way sometimes -- but frankly it's not an ideal state of mind for going into business. If by "in between jobs" you mean that your real goal is to find another regular job, then we suggest you devote yourself full-time to that. Alternatively, if you decide you're serious about becoming a career IP, here are some things you should think about first:

1. Choosing a field: Many IPs start by doing freelance work similar to what they've already done in a regular job. True, there are fields in which it's hard to freelance (for example, firefighting or mail delivery), but most regular jobs have some close analog in the IP world. The advantage to freelancing in a field you already know is that you only have to master one new set of skills (the art of self-employment) rather than two (self-employment, plus the field itself).

2. Marketing yourself: By far the biggest problem for most IPs, especially those just starting out, is finding clients. The most common solution is work and word-of-mouth referrals from former colleagues -- in fact, that's another advantage to staying in the field you were already in. There are, however, other sources of work too. Talk about your freelance plans to everybody you know -- and we mean everybody. You can never guess how informal networking will work out. Do this even if you don't have a single client and have never actually done a freelance assignment. If you're embarrassed about this or bashful about marketing yourself in general, get over it. Also, you might want to register with an online directory so more clients can find you. (Registration is usually free.)

3. Your skill level: Your professional skills in your chosen field need to be really solid. If they're not, you may be better off learning on someone else's time, or perhaps apprenticing. At the very least, if you're still in learning mode, you should have a cushion of cash in the bank (or a financially supportive relative) because you're unlikely to earn much while you're educating yourself.

4. Learn more: Read a good book on the basics of freelancing; our books page lists some. Also, search in an online directory for other IPs in the same field as yourself, just as though you were a client looking for help; you can learn some interesting things this way.

5. Taxes: You'll probably need to file estimated quarterly taxes and then fill out a Schedule C the April following your start as an IP. Check out June Walker's tax column, and then check out the IRS Web pages about the self-employment tax. Eventually (well before the following April) you'll need to decide whether to get professional tax help or do it yourself.

6. Network with your peers: If you can find a professional association in your chosen field, join it. But just joining it isn't enough. Read our article about how to make your membership work for you.

This short list should help you get started for now. Good luck!

Not a Tech Monster, Needs to Eat

Almost all the jobs that I see in the paper and on the Web demand high-tech qualifications. I went to a two-year tech-school program where I learned basic Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark. Later, in my last job at a newspaper, I learned Multi-Ad. My traditional art skills allow me to do incredible and superior artistic things within these programs without being a master of any of them. But it seems that the world demands tech-heads with Web skills rather than artists with computer skills. Should I focus on learning these tech things (Web design, etc.), which seem to be constantly changing by the day? I learned the computer programs to be a commercially marketable artist and to be creative, not to become a tech monster with my head in manuals and buying the latest software every ten minutes. Is there a market anymore for artists whose primary skills are artistic?

I am willing to work and work hard. Can you suggest a direction? I am not a quitter, just a bit frustrated... and I need to eat soon!

Parsippany, NJ

When people are just starting out as IPs, it often does seem overwhelming. It can be especially difficult for artists, because their career paths are often less structured, and the skills less standardized, than in other professions.

You seem upset that the economy values techies more highly than graphic artists. That's been true ever since the mid-nineteenth century, when the invention of photography and modern printing devalued the economic value of the visual arts. Although this devaluation may be true in some general sense, however, it isn't true for many individual artists.

There are a lot of artists with a weak level of computer skills, many of whom routinely exaggerate those skills; but there are actually very few artists who are highly skilled technically. It sounds like you have a good technical head start. Build on that, but don't let it dominate your thinking. Specifically, you asked whether you need to focus primarily on the tech stuff because that's what you see in the want ads, or, conversely, whether you should stay focused primarily on the artistic side, which is your main interest. The answer is simple: if you want to be successful, do what you love. Given your interests, you're already on the right path -- primarily artist, secondarily techie. You just need to stay the course and be patient. As the cliche says, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Presumably you didn't become an artist to maximize your income -- if that's your goal, go back to school and become a plumber -- and you may never make as much money as the hard-core geeks. But if you're seriously committed to working as a computer artist, you certainly can make a good living. All you need is talent, skill, hard work, and patience. You may have to pay some dues now, but it can be a great life in the long run.

Researching Us

So I'm doing research on Aquent (for employment purposes), what kind of company is it... would I fit in... when I began to read a few of the articles, I couldn't stop with one, I wanted more. You brightened my outlook for the day. This is a company that I wish would have been around in the early 90's during my IP days of producing teen television.

I have bookmarked the site and intend to visit often. Many thanks!

Valerie Purser

Actually, we've been around since the late 1980's, but we've changed our name and refocused our mission since then.

Dnt Wrry, We Cn Undrstnd U

Hi! my name is Khurrum J, and i was wondering if cld help me be a successful IP. i live in the UAE and am looking 2 b'com an IP, but as u 'no problms exist. so i turn to U fr help and guidance... pls let me know if i'm eligible fr all yr services.


Khurrum J.
United Arab Emirates

IPs Are Nice To Tourists, Too

In 1990, during my first trip to the US, I took a train ride on "The Southwest Chief." While having dinner with three ladies I met on the train, I ran out of traveller's cheques. One of them, Zette Emmons, showed me how to use a credit card. She was involved with the New York Film Festival then, and I was curious to see what she's doing now, so I searched for her name in AltaVista. That's how I found your article about her work as an IP museum curator. If you meet Zette, please say Hi, that I thank her for everything (she was so kind to let me stay in her place in '91 while she was very busy), and that I'm doing fine, though I live in the Black Forest now. Bye.

Claude Kuhnen
Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Germany

Feel the Pain

I enjoyed Hilory Wagner's article, Don't Be Bashful. Being self-employed myself as a software trainer, I really understood the comments of the people she wrote about and 'I felt their pain.'

Thank you very much - I love your web site!

Joni Lamber
Comfortable Computing
Windsor, CT

You also said you'd like to get in touch with the writer, so we've forwarded your request to her.

Not In Enough Faces

I'm an artist/graphic designer extremely frustrated with trying endlessly to get my name out there and my work in people's faces!

Can you give me pointers with help on this subject matter? I am losing my patience!

Greatly appreciative,
Erin Maday

For visual artists, the challenge of connecting to potential clients is in some respects easier than it is for other IPs, because artists' work can be evaluated and categorized by a skilled client almost at a glance. For that reason, once you locate a potential client, it's not much of a burden on them to evaluate your work. Another advantage you have as an artist is that you can build a portfolio Web site for yourself -- and your site will show your actual work, rather than just talking about it as most IP sites do.

Of course, having a quality portfolio and Web site won't in themselves put your work in front of the right people; they're just a second step that can simplify the logistics and intensify the impact. The first step, of course, is finding the right people in the first place, and getting them to look at your work. This is hard work and (for most IPs) isn't fun, but you have to do it to succeed. Here are some steps to take, some of them artist-specific and some more general:

1. Make sure your work is really good. You need criticism from a few different professional art directors -- people who are actually out there hiring artists, not art-school teachers or your pals. This crit will be hard to obtain, for the following reasons:

  • Most ADs don't have time to give free consultations.

  • They might consider you a potential competitor; why should they help you?

  • Many artists say they want honest crit and then get defensive or even nasty when they get it. The ADs might be concerned about your adverse reaction should they "let you have it."

You can counter these objections to some extent by persistence and by making your non-defensiveness really, really clear.

2. Mention to every business person you know, including friends and relatives, what it is that you do. Almost all businesses need graphic art help sometimes, and the usual first step to hiring almost anyone (IP or wage slave) is to ask the people around you, "do you know anyone who..." That's why you want everyone to know what you're looking for, even if they have no apparent connection to such work.

3. If you know someone who might be an especially good connection, but they're friendly with other graphic artists as well as yourself, offer them a commission for the first job from any new client that you land as a result of their leads or introductions.

4. Join groups such as professional associations, religious or social organizations, and become an activist in them. (Just joining and going to meetings isn't enough.) You find potential clients by having a large network of people you know, and you build the network by doing things with people you don't already know.

Good luck!

Fellow Travelers in the Junkyard

I loved the inSANity column where San mused about his father and the junkyard... it took me out of the 'this is work' feeling I have when faced with lists, lists, lists, of things to dooooo... and reminded me that I chose this life, and facing Sunday night with all this stuff still to do is fine...

It's good to laugh with you. Thank you,


I enjoyed the inSANity Junkyard column, which was not too meaty, not too spicy, just right! I will reflect on this delightful combination of reminiscence and common sense. It shines a new light on "creativity" as a practical skill, and that's a good thing.

Carol Daniels
<cad@melbpc.org.au> or <Caz_d@hotmail.com>
Freelance writer and editor, specialising in science, computers, computing, technology, business, health, sexuality, food and agriculture.

The Junkyard Creativity column by San gave me lots of food for thought -- as if I need any more.

I think creativity relies fairly heavily on the 'accidental' aspect. You can't just sit down and decide 'now I'll be creative'. It seems to me people are most creative when they respond to what life throws at them rather than when everything goes according to plan -- that is, when they are 'open' to new solutions. A 'letting go' of some kind is involved.

And creativity can 'hit' you when you least expect it. Recently, I deliberately took a solo day-trip to a small town which I have always regarded as deadly boring. My intent was to see if I could find anything interesting there. I carried a digital camera and a notepad. The place was boring but my day wasn't -- and the writing, to my amazement, flowed.

I THINK this is all relevant to San's column... but maybe I'm just rambling.


Carmel Glover

Ditch the Meter

LOVED the Lawrence San column Putting Your Stamp On It. No kidding-- I had ordered a personal postage meter in a moment of weakness, but I sent it back after only one week. Bravo!

Julie Jackson

Did We Mention That He Also Likes Broccoli?

Thank you for including the article by Sarah Dry (He Pulls Together Health Care) in the online magazine. It was informative, creative, and very well written. The most impressive aspect of the article is not the fact that McCain is a successful, out gay man, but rather the way that Dry includes that fact as just another detail of McCain's life. I applaud the tone of the article and the progressive attitude of Aquent. As a brand new recruit, that refreshing attitude makes me very glad that I'm involved with this company.

Karen Horton
Atlanta, Georgia

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Illustration by Lawrence San
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