Hey everyone. I’m not sure how many readers this is going to get, or if it needs to have any at all. But here we are.
I’m been working in design since 1999; at least, that’s when my first internships and teaching assistantships were. Perhaps more importantly for this discussion: I’ve been working and paying taxes in Germany since 2004. My first two German working years were also filled with internships, but I had “real jobs” here from 2006 through 2016, and then from May 2018 through June 2020. Since late 2011, I’ve always had side projects that I could invoice on a freelance basis, but from January 2017 through April 2018, I worked entirely as a freelancer. Now I am a freelancer once again. Back in 2017–18, I did not record any of my experiences, which I regret.
What follows is the first in what I hope will be a weekly series of posts about the challenges of working as a freelancer, particularly within the system I am in here. I have completely stolen the idea for these posts from Anthony Noel’s Weekly Stand-Up Notes. I worked with Anthony back when I was part of the MyFonts Foundry Review Team (an old freelance job). He made all the MyFonts.com newsletters, and probably a lot more besides. If you need any e-mail newsletter development help, you should look him up! He’s based in Berlin, too.
In my last job, I had a temporary contract. The German health insurance and social security systems more or less operate on the presumption that most people have full-time jobs for one employer. Employers deduct some funds from their employees’ paychecks and pass those along to the respective public services. That way, income tax is already collected, as are employee’s contributions to the retirement insurance fund, nursing-care insurance fund and the unemployment insurance fund. An employee’s health insurance fees are split between the employee and their employer. In essence, about half of the money your health insurance company gets for you each month is taken from your salary as a payroll deduction, and your employer is billed for the other half.
There is a German artistic social security fund (the Künstlersozialklasse) that, in part, assumes the role of the employer for freelance artists. However, it does not collect funds for unemployment insurance. The last time I was a sole freelancer, I did not apply for membership in the Künstlersozialklasse (KSK), as a lot of my income still came from type design, which I feared would be deemed too technical for admission. Since 2018, however, my freelance work has primarily meant writing texts. So this time around, I’m planning on applying for KSK membership as an author and publicist.
Until a few days ago, I thought that I would have no choice but to register for unemployment on July 1st. However, in the past few weeks, discussions with some peers have led to a small freelance project that will happen, as well as more substantial projects in the medium term that could work out. This gave me all the feels, and I realized that I am quite privileged and lucky. Crunching the numbers, I estimate that I could pull off being a freelancer again, as long as I get into the KSK and separate voluntary unemployment insurance benefits program. That should lower my health insurance payments and enable me to still register for unemployment benefits at a latter time if I fail. My future as a freelancer is not secure. I’m also applying for some full-time jobs.
What did I do this week
- Technically, I wasn’t a freelancer yet. This was June 29th, or the second-to-last day of my employment contract. But I had been using up my remaining vacation days since June 16th.
- Spoke with an Apple-authorized repair person. The keyboard on my 2018 MacBook Air is a mess. I may try to have it replaced, but not today.
- Last day of “vacation.”
- Updated my bio page text.
- Was going to submit an ATypI proposal, but the deadline got pushed back two weeks, so I decided to procrastinate.
- Began my KSK application. Need to write to my accountant to determine how high my Betriebsausgaben are. Am also waiting for my most-recent invoice to be paid, as it would probably help justify my application (only invoices that have been paid can be used as evidence of artistic or publicist practice).
- Began my voluntary unemployment insurance application. Realized that the unemployment payments in the voluntary unemployment insurance for freelancers scheme are calculated based on education/training levels, instead of on income! In fact, if I join this fund, and then fail as a freelancer at a later time, the unemployment benefits I could collect would be higher than what I would get if I would claim them now. I guess this is because my last salary was lower than what the German tax office assumes university graduates in regular jobs will earn, on average.
- Wrote to my website’s host to ask why my website has gotten so slow. WordPress tells me that my PHP version is too old; maybe that’s the problem.
- Started this blog post.
- There’s a job a friend and I both applied for; he wrote to say that neither of us had made it into the round of people being considered. Bummer.
- Spent a few minutes editing the text for a forthcoming project (this is a passion project, rather than a paid one).
- Edited a draft text for a website. The assignment is long overdue (this is client work).
- Realized that the shirt I put on this morning is, undoubtedly, a dad shirt. I was never cool, but now there will be no fooling anybody.
- Travelled to Leipzig to look at ten type specimens at the German National Library. This is for a thing that might turn into a future project. Today was probably my first opportunity to sit in a library and examine books since February.
- Between about 2007 and 2015, I spent a large chunk of my waking hours each week in Deutsche Bahn ICE trains. At the moment, though, travel feels very novel: this is only my second day outside Berlin since February.
- Today was the last day of my children’s daycare year. Now, their daycare center is closed until the end of July.
- Bit of admin for my online Letter&Co. workshop, which will take place later this month.
- Tonight, my family and I are travelling across the country by train. I have a job interview next week, and we need to scope out the area in case this opportunity becomes a reality.
What’s planned for next week
- I’m out of town for a few days. That includes another visit to Leipzig, after the trip mentioned above is finished.
- I need to mail my KSK application in.
- I’ll also need to send my voluntary unemployment insurance registration form in, too. I think I have to get a person at the employment office on the phone. Under normal circumstances, the application has to be submitted in person, but I think things are still different because of the Corona virus.
- My laptop needs to be sent to Apple for repairs.
- I have two long-overdue online articles to submit. I should have been finished with them months ago!
Is that it?
Anthony’s Weekly Stand-Up Notes include additional sections, and I might adapt those in later diary entries. I’m afraid of failure, and I don’t think that people talk openly about professional set-backs enough. Thank you for reading this far! Future instalments in this series will probably be shorter.