Katie Lane: Creative Business Advisor for Creative People

May 29, 2013

The Freelance Life spotlights members who are pursuing their passions through independent work. Meet Katie Lane, a Portland-based lawyer and negotiation coach who helps freelancers through her website, Work Made For Hire.

**Tell us about yourself and Work Made For Hire. **

I’m an attorney with a background in theatre and a deep affection for all things nerdy. I’ve been writing my blog, Work Made For Hire, for a little over four years and opened my legal and consulting practice last year. I focus on helping freelancers and independent artists protect their rights and get paid fairly for the work they do. That means I read, revise, and write a lot of contracts, advise people on protecting their copyrights and trademarks, and consult on challenging business scenarios. I’m fairly evangelical about practicing good negotiation skills and teach negotiation workshops at every opportunity. Oh, and I still have a pay-the-bills day job outside of the legal field.

What are a few legal tips that every freelancer should take to heart?

Having a written contract is essential. It doesn’t have to have magic words in it or be super fancy but it needs to answer the basic questions: Who is involved in the deal? What are they doing together? Why are they doing it? How do they envision it working out and how would they deal with it if it didn’t work out? When and where will they settle disagreements or conflicts?

Your contracts should make sense. You should understand what they mean, and more importantly a stranger should understand what they mean, because if things get rocky, guess who’s interpreting the contract? A whole bunch of strangers: lawyers, judges, and juries.

I see a lot of contracts where people try to sound “fancy” and use phrases they think have legal meaning. Don’t. Use plain language; the clearer the better.

If intellectual property is involved in your work, understand the basics of how it works and how it can be transferred. There are some great resources on the internet for understanding copyright and trademark law. The Copyright Office and the US Patent and Trademark Office have some good introductory info to get you started. Know enough that you can hold a five minute conversation at a cocktail party about how intellectual property impacts your business.

And if you personally own something of value, something you wouldn’t want to lose if a client sued you, consider registering as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Corporation. Your Secretary of State’s Office website will have details about what you need in order to register. Having your business assets separate from your personal assets can be valuable when a legal issue comes up.

Why did you decide to start your own consulting business? Why is the focus on artists and freelancers?

When I went to law school I knew I wanted to work with artists. When I was younger I worked at a nonprofit theater and realized that if you “follow your passion” you’re often faced with some fairly complex business and legal issues. I wanted to make that part easier so people could invest their energy where it matters most: their art.

When I’d say to my fellow law students that I specifically wanted to work with independent artists and freelancers, they’d tell me there wasn’t any money in it, so I should get a “real” job and do pro bono work on the side. And while pro bono work is important, that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to do community theatre; I wanted to give Broadway a shot!

I’m really excited about the careers that people are creating for themselves with freelancing. People are taking a crappy economy and an even crappier employment environment and creating their own challenging and rewarding careers. They aren’t limiting themselves with some false sense of what work “should” look like; they’re building what they want and inventing new opportunities when traditional work doesn’t suit them.

I like working with people who are creative, fearless, innovative, smart, and curious. Freelancers and artists are pretty much my perfect kind of client.

Has running a business come with any obstacles or challenges? How have you overcome them?

Heck yeah, there are challenges! For the longest time I didn’t know if I could even start my business. As an attorney I had to make sure I could meet all of my ethical responsibilities and pay the annual insurance premium. It was all so intimidating that I put off starting the business for at least a year or two. But then I started talking to people I respected and asked them how they’d handled similar challenges. I got a lot of good advice. I realized I could make this work.

As freelancers there’s no default water cooler to hang around and get your daily dose of good advice. So you have to reach out to your peers and ask questions. It can feel awkward at first, but it’s helped me out tremendously. Not asking for advice or help is one of the biggest mistakes I see freelancers make.

What has been your most interesting project?

I’ve got great clients, so almost every project is interesting. One of my recent favorites was negotiating a contract with a well known fantasy-focused gaming company to come up with the perfect language to articulate who had what legal interests in the trolls, wizards, and dungeons that were part of the project. I’ve also helped get video games developed, supported the launch of a cooperative small press publisher, and recently I helped a cartoonist negotiate with his biggest client for the health insurance he needed. I’ve got a cool job.

What tips would you give to a new freelancer or aspiring entrepreneur?

It will not be perfect, you will screw up, clients will be jerks, and you will question why you’re doing this. That’s okay; you’ll be fine. Because there will also be gigs that make you feel amazing, work you’ll be proud of, clients whom you adore, and confirmation that this is the right path for you. There is no model you have to follow, amount you have to earn, or status you have to hit before this is your “real job.” Ignore the trappings of ego and focus on the work.

You’ve kept a day job in addition to consulting, teaching, and running the Work Made For Hire blog. How do you maintain the ever-important work/life balance?

I try to take opportunities to relax when I can, which isn’t always easy. Some days I come home after a full day at the day job and work for another four or five hours; most of my weekends are filled with client meetings and contracts. But I try to not start work before 10am on Saturdays so I get to hang out with my wife, and if I’ve had a particularly busy week I’ll try to take at least a night or two off.

I’m also a bit spoiled though, because my wife, Dylan Meconis, is a freelance cartoonist. So she keeps crazy work hours, too. I’ll go and work in her studio on the weekends sometimes so we can both get work done and spend time together. She says she likes that I’m busier now because she doesn’t have to feel as guilty about keeping her own freelancer hours.

Can you recommend a few of your favorite freelancer resources?

At a bare minimum read “The Power of a Positive No” by William Ury, “Design is a Job” by Mike Monteiro, and “The Freelancer’s Bible” by Sara Horowitz. Those three books will help you with just about any client conundrum.

Docracy.com is a great place to find free contract templates. A contract written by a lawyer who knows you and understands what your business needs are is best, but a basic contract is better than no contract at all. Docracy does a good job of collecting quality samples.

I’m also a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which is basically working in blocks of 25 super-focused minutes followed a 5 minute break after each block of work. I use the timer on mytomatoes.com and I find it particularly helpful for getting through tasks I’m avoiding.

What drives you to keep going?

I get to work with some pretty fantastic people and they’re all doing interesting things. There is nothing quite like getting to help a client solve a problem so they can go back to focusing on what they love to do.