Julie's Web Journal at Stately Barrett Manor

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Writing. Technology. Life.

Speaking Of Credit Lines...
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Why yes, I was just blogging away about businesses and how some credit was a good thing to have when the mail arrived. I got a check!

Not so fast.

It looked like a check. It was on security paper and everything. Except there was no bank name or account number. 

Oh, I knew before I even opened the envelope that the so-called check was a fake. It looks like a check, but the first obvious clue is there is no bank name or account number printed on the face. I bet they tell all the girls they're worth $58,000.

The innertubes are full of complaints about this company. I won't say it's a scam, but it does seem to be one of those deals where the customer had better understand every jot and tittle of that fine print before they even consider signing on the bottom line. 

Here are some tips from the FTC. I'll just say that the copy on the letter that was enclosed with the check filled in several of their bingo squares. 

So thanks, lender, but no thanks.  

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1/15/2015 11:34:57 PM
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Tax Day
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
It's January 15, so therefore I must be getting tax payments out the door.


For once, all the calculations are finished, and I just have to transfer them to the state sales tax paperwork (not due for a few days yet, but as long as I'm at it...) and cut a check to the IRS for quarterly taxes.

I take taxes seriously, which is why I've been so flummoxed over some anonymous poster (not saying where I saw this) that tax liens are a business plan. You read that right. The idea is to hold onto the cash and invest it because the interest will far outweigh what you owe the tax man.Well, I don't know about where the troll lives, but if my property taxes are six months overdue, I get hit with a 33% in interest and penalties. Granted, the interest is only 6%, but it's the penalties that make you sit up and take notice and say, "maybe I ought to pay that sucker or make some kind of payment agreement." 

I don't even want to think about what would happen if I owed the IRS.

(Standard disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer or an accountant, and I don't play one on TV. But I do know not to mess with the tax man.)

Which is why I can't understand the idea of a keeping a tax lien on my company as a solid business plan. Investments are a risky business, and the higher the potential return, the higher the risk. What would get me over 33% in six months? 

Also, a tax lien would get on my credit report, making it difficult for me to get credit should I need it. A line of credit is a good thing, even if you never use it. Emergencies happen. What if one of my clients doesn't pay up and I have bills due? I'm a sole proprietor, but what if I had employees? I can't not pay them because a client didn't pay up. I'd be in a whole heap o' trouble. 

Tell me again how this is a good thing for my business?

As a contractor and an author, here's the other side of the proverbial coin: People like me like to get paid, just like people working for da man like to get their paychecks on time. If a business I'm contracting to or a publisher that owes me royalties goes under, I and my fellow contractors/authors are at the bottom of the pile. Our debts are unsecured, and the court will think about sending us a pittance when the other, secured debts are discharged. Maybe a group of unsecured creditors with clout and good lawyers can negotiate a reduced payment. The tax man is right up there with the secured creditors because he has a lien on property or other assets. I know this because a company I was contracting to filed for bankruptcy and I was owed for a couple of invoices. It was a long and nasty mess, but it could have been worse.

One thing the anonymous poster had right (sort of) is that liens are sometimes part of doing business. Or maybe I should say the threat of liens. If you've bought a house or financed a car or capital equipment for your business, you probably agreed that the lender can place a lien on the property you secured for the loan if you don't pay up. Of course, if you make your payments on time, it can help your credit rating.  If you don't, it hurts your credit rating. it's that simple. 

Again, I'm not a lawyer or an accountant. And if you have reason to show that having a tax lien on your property is a good business plan, then please show me your credentials and tell me exactly how that works. I'm open to novel ways of keeping my money, just not illegal or terribly risky ones.

And now, I'd better go finish my taxes so I can get them off in the mail.

Filed under: Life   Business         
1/15/2015 9:53:36 AM
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35 Years Ago Today...
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Paul and I said "I do." 

I still don't know how he puts up with me. And I'm amazed to wake up beside him each morning because I'm the one who snores and steals the covers (mostly). It's been more my sickness and his health, and he's always been there.

So Happy Anniversary, Paul. I love you more and more every day.

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1/12/2015 2:40:16 PM
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It's Friday. Have A Cat.
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Midnight has been spending a great deal of the day asleep on top of the desk. She's laying on several anti-static cloths we spread out in front of the printer.

Lately she's been in a "pet me" mood, and even moreso since Paul has been working at home for a couple of days. If she's not in his lap, then she's pacing back and forth along the long side of the big "L"-shaped desk here in the home office, begging for attention. For a time she found a great home on top of the materials I was trying to retype into a database. Hey,  that was fun. 

But now she's shagged out after a long bout of begging for attention, I have no doubt she'll stir again when we decamp to the kitchen (which we will do Real Soon Now), for there lay the bags of Treats.

And yeah, I'm going to have to wash those cloths. But cat hair is the perfect accessory for touch screens, especially if shed from from Geek Kitty. That's what she thinks.

Have a good weekend, and stay warm!

Tags: Pictures   Cats

Filed under: Pictures   Cats         
1/9/2015 6:04:47 PM
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Welcome To The New Year - Same As The Old Year
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
So far 2015 is starting about as crappy as 2014 ended - with my car in limbo. Took it in last week to get a few little things done: An inspection, a minor, recall, and fixing the latch on the hatch. Danged if the emissions part of the inspection didn't find some uncleared codes hanging about. 

So the service guy suggested one of his techs drive it home for a couple of nights and the codes should clear. What we discovered instead was the downside of a hybrid. The codes take MUCH longer to clear because the gasoline engine isn't always running. So I have the car back for a couple of days in hopes that the codes will clear. I drove around like crazy yesterday, catching up on errands. None of the codes had cleared. 

Then I did some digging into what it takes to clear some of those codes. Ideally, the gas tank should be at 3/4 full. And I need to cruise around for a while at a speed between 40-65 MPH while the outside temperature is between 40-100F, which explains why the codes didn't clear yesterday. Given the weather forecast (highs of 40 F or below until NEXT Tuesday), this will be my last shot to get out and drive. I don't know what I'll do if the codes don't clear. 

Today's big errand will be a trip out to the fabric warehouses down in Perth St. Yeah, twist my arm. I need some fabric that I can't source via the usual retail suspects, so at least there's an object to my trip. I'd planned to do that yesterday, but it was just too damned cold. Some of those warehouses are either unheated or barely heated, and with my sinuses still going crazy, going out there just didn't seem like a good idea.

Still, the plusses of a hybrid outweigh the minuses for us. And I'll probably get my next inspection in November or early December while the weather here is a little warmer, just in case. I also have another reason to move the inspection date. A new state law requires a car to be inspected within 90 days of registration. The state is going to a single sticker. This year is a transition year, but since my registration is up in December it makes sense to go ahead and get the car inspected early so I can get potential problems cleared up before registration. 

The good news in all this is that the car is only two years old, so the emissions stuff is still under warranty. When all is said and done I should only have to pay for the inspection plus a little gas they put in the car. Given the way things have been going lately, I'm not holding my breath.

Tags: Life

Filed under: Life            
1/6/2015 10:06:03 AM
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No, Facebook. It Was A Lousy Year
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Facebook keeps asking me to share my year with my friends. I'm supposed to tell them it's been a great year, and thank them for being part of it.

Yes, I'll thank my friends. You guys stuck with me through this lousy year. 

But it was still a lousy year, and not due to macro forces like the economy or any political party. Stuff happened, and the only saving grace is that I can honestly look at the bad things that happened and say that most of them were out of my control. And even then, I was starting to get the things under my control back in line by the end of the year, so there is that.

This is the first year I've had no writing income, and that may be the one thing that was (mostly) under my control. My writing time this year has been spent mostly in research. I was expecting a contract and publication of a short  this year, but the publisher and editor seem to have vanished off the face of the planet. That part is out of my control, though I'm trying to decide if I should withdraw the story and find another home for it. 

I've also been putzing around with getting some of my backlist published. Every time I'm ready to do so, Amazon drops another turd on self-published authors and I curl up in a virtual corner. That's wrong, and it something I have control over. Well, the other thing holding me up is cover art. Just haven't had the time or inclination to sit down and do cover art.

I hate making resolutions, but I do have one major life goal, which is to quit being the one to take up unfinished tasks. When I get involved with a project, I want to see it be a success, and that does mean taking up the slack when someone has to back out. Well, over the years it's gone from stepping in to help when someone has an emergency to the situation I'm in now. People know Julie will step in and take the slack, so why bother? And apparently it's a lot more fun to string her along until the last minute so she's juggling six critical tasks at once. One of the things that's happened over the past few years is that I've gotten so underwater in dealing with things that other people should have been doing that I've had no time to deal with the things I need to do to earn a living, much less taking time to relax once in a while. This will stop, and I've taken the first steps in that direction. 

Now that the year-end books are as finished as they can be (hey, there's still one more day in the year!), my plan is to do a whole lot of nothing for a few days, provided the other thing out of my control takes care of itself. Ah, yes. The car is in the shop. There were a couple of recalls, an inspection, a check engine light that comes and goes, and my trunk latch is a bit on the wonky side. All but the inspection are covered under warranty. They've had a heck of a time tracking down the error, and finally got it replicated this afternoon. We should have the car back tomorrow. But I took it in this week precisely because we were planning to do a whole lot of nothing and could do without a car. I love it when a plan comes together.

Tags: Life

Filed under: Life            
12/30/2014 6:33:22 PM
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What It's Like To Be An Independent Creative Worker These Days
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
As I wrap the year up (and no, I still haven't the heart to look at my books and do year-end accounting), I thought I'd try to share with you what it's like financially to do the sort of thing I do. 

You may have a good job with an employer that's covered under wage and hour laws. You may even have benefits as part of your job. You may have your own business in another field and are doing well. How can creatives be in such deep poo do? It's their fault, right? Some independent creative workers are doing great. They're talented. They've worked their tails off for years and deserve every bit of success. What about people like me? I used to write white hat SEO web copy and design sites (along with .Net programming) for a decent amount per hour. I used to write copy for ad agencies for a decent amount per hour. What happened? 

In short: market shifts took out many professionals in these fields. Like many, I'm scrambling to find other streams of income. I'm very fortunate that my husband makes decent money and we can pay the bills and have a home to call our own. My money took care of some of the extras, and was supposed to help pay college tuition. (Don't get me started on bills that practically tripled on us thanks to "deregulation.")

So, allow me to turn the tables a bit. Let's say you're a construction contractor. You have a small business pouring concrete. You do sidewalks and patios and a few other projects, and you do a good job. You do a decent business. One day a prospective client approaches you.

"We have a new way of doing business," he says. "It's big." Your "spidey sense" tingles. This isn't gonna be good. "I'm going to put a sidewalk up in a high traffic area. The sidewalk will be lined with ads. I get paid by the advertising company and you get 10% of the revenue, just for putting in the sidewalk. I'll even put up a sign saying you built the magnificent sidewalk and people will call you with more business."

"Wait a minute," you say. "I charge 50% up front and 50% on completion."

The prospective client shakes his head. "You stand to make much more than that, and the revenue keeps coming in! Look at this." He shows you some figures from similar projects. The look good, but something's still tingling in the back of your head.

The prospective client informs you that there are ten contracting startups willing to take this job just to get their name "out there." You turn the job down and indeed, one of the startups steps in and takes the job. You wonder how much money they're losing on the deal and go about your merry way doing business as usual.

Then another prospective client contacts you. The deal with this is that you do the work and you get a cut of the rent on the property once the money starts rolling in. You politely decline. And sure enough, there's a start-up contractor willing to take a risk on this job.

Suddenly, this is the deal virtually every prospective client offers you. It's either that or get a low fee up front that may barely cover your materials costs with no prospect of money later.

Finally, you decide to bite on a deal for an ad-based sidewalk. You look at the contract. 10% of the revenue, payable every 30 days. Sounds good. You take the contract to your attorney and your accountant, who think it's a good deal, if you can stand to wait 30 days after the project is completed. You sign the contract and build the sidewalk.

30 days later, no check.

You go to the client and ask what's going on. "Oh," he explains." The ad company pays us for the revenues for the first 30 days 30 days after THAT when they've finalized their accounting. Then it takes us another 30 days to issue checks. You're not the only contractor we deal with, you know." You do the math. 90 days. Well, some large clients pay on a 90 day cycle, and that's part of doing business. In the meantime, you go watch the sidewalk. Man, there's a LOT of traffic, at least during certain times of the day. This could be good. 

You wait 60 more days. Your first check arrives a week later, and it's enough to cover a ream of paper for the office. Whisky Tango Foxtrot? You call the client and discover that your definition of "revenue" is gross receipts. In that industry, the definition of "revenue" is net receipts, and they've been charging all sorts of things to your account, like three-martini lunches where your company may get mentioned in passing. You have a great attorney and accountant, but they're not experts in the middleman industry, and now you're screwed. *

The next check arrives. It's a little better, but you're still not sure you're getting paid correctly. You grab the contract. It allows for an audit, at your expense at the company headquarters halfway across the country. With a 30 day notice. 

One day a letter from the client arrives in the mail. The ad agency has changed the formula for calculating payment, and will pay less for peak hours. 

Boy, have you been screwed. But the client just bought a new boat.

And guess what? More and more companies are going to this payment model. And lots of scrappy startups are hoping to cash in on laying concrete for ad-based sidewalks. They're willing to pay illegal aliens next to nothing for their work while you pay a living wage and benefits. 

Be glad the construction industry doesn't work this way. But what if it did? How would you survive? 

This is exactly what many creatives are facing. Instead of getting paid up front (or on completion of the job), it's a cut of revenue. And that revenue is almost always defined as the net rather than the gross. Or take a copywriting job that used to pay me a few hundred bucks. There's a line of people willing to take it on for five bucks just to get their names "out there." And more and more people approach me with the "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday" line. But Tuesday never comes.

Now I'm going to go finish my books for the year so I can drown my sorrows in the profits. Don't worry about my liver. At the rate I expect to make money this year I might be able to afford a bottle of light beer that's past it's sell by date.

*ETA: Yes, I vet offers, check contracts, do online searches, the whole bit. But that doesn't help when a publisher or client goes broke or suddenly decides to stop paying. Sue? Over a few hundred or less? 

Tags: Life

Filed under: Life            
12/30/2014 11:37:26 AM
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Meowy Catmas
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
At last, the Catmas Card!

Thanks to Chris for his assistance in getting the card put together. Physical cards will get dropped in the mail this weekend.

Tags: Cats

Filed under: Cats   Catmas         
12/19/2014 10:38:13 PM
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Dear Spammers...
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Have a cat. She is real. She gets your spam, too.

I do not need plans for a shed, thank you. Don't call me Julie "Two Sheds" Barrett.

I may qualify for student loan forgiveness! Thanks, but I got my degree back when tuition rates were reasonable.

Your email says your name is Kevin, yet you introduce yourself as Christy. You want to give my web site a makeover, but you don't know the difference between "a" and "an." And then you sign your name as Kevin and include a huge footnote about penalties for spammers. Yeah, I see what you did there. Try again after you've resolved your identity crisis and had a few classes in English and American law.

Please tell me more about how I can save six times the amount left on my home loan by refinancing. 

No, Tim, I am receiving your email because you spammed me. Not because I wish to use our marketing services. 

Burglary is real. So is spam. 

The delete button is my friend today.

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11/5/2014 9:25:46 AM
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My Day
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Since I'd already voted early, and since it was raining, I stayed in and got busy. My day so far:

Cut out several hats and washed the fabric for more.

Worked on one commission job.

Put together a new backdrop for photographing hats. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it ain't a bad start:


Photographed another hat for a teardown post over at Steam Cat. (Nothing to see on the teardown, yet. But there's a nifty new article on the care and feeding of steam irons.)

Ordered more embroidery thread.

Priced more fabric.

Now I get to go pull the fabric out of the dryer, cut up some squares, and start embroidering for call box deerstalkers. While that's going on, I'll be nearby at the sewing machine at work on the commission.

So  how has your day been?

Tags: Pictures  Life

Filed under: Pictures   Life         
11/4/2014 4:35:00 PM
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