When your job calls you far away from home.
At some point in your freelance writing career, you’ll have the opportunity to take your show on the road. What I mean is that a client will contact you about visiting their facility or a business might pay your way to attend a conference or other event of significance.
I write about a number of subjects, but my speciality is automotive. I’m so involved with this industry that I maintain an online publication, Auto Trends Magazine to showcase my work and to keep tabs on an industry I thoroughly enjoy. Auto Trends is typically updated twice daily, much more so than this site or any other website or blog that I manage. My traffic numbers are good and I have a loyal following of readers including a number of influential industry people.
Beyond online writing, I contribute to print publications, which raises my profile further. Collectively, my visibility has gotten me noticed, so much so that I’m regularly invited to check out a new car, am flown out at the business’ expense to drive one or more vehicles, I get to interview engineers and marketing professionals, and will rub shoulders with my colleagues. Last year I made five such trips; this year I’ve already taken two and expect to take at least six more.
I wouldn’t take these trips if there wasn’t some side benefit. Typically, I do not get paid to travel. But, my expenses are covered including airfare, lodging and show access. My lone expense usually is the fees for leaving my car at the airport. If it is for one or two days I expense it. For longer trips I have someone drop me off at the airport or I pass this cost on to the client.
I’ve been taking client-sponsored trips for more than four years, but have taken business trips for more years than I can count. Soon after I launched my freelance business in November 2002, I began to travel, but I must say that it has been in the past five years that my traveling has stepped up, particularly since 2011 as the economy recovers.
All this coincides with a few steps I made on my end to take advantage of my more frequent travels, changes that pay off in rewards sooner and later:
Sign up for airline miles — Most of my trips involve one airline, Delta, therefore I have a Skymiles account. I soon realized the importance of having one when my clients asked for my frequent flier information. Previously I had airline miles accounts with American and Southwest, but Delta is big at Raleigh-Durham where my trips originate. So, Delta is my choice and whenever I fly those points are assigned to my account.
Choose an airline credit card — Naturally, I need a credit card when I fly and I chose an American Express card that added 20,000 or more Skymiles to my account the moment I used it. I have more than double that amount right now, enough to take a round-trip flight within the continental U.S. for free. I use that card for my other business expenses, but I pay it off each month. An annual fee kicks in after one year, but I have determined that the fee is worth it. Besides, I can deduct it on my income taxes too.
Select a hotel credit card — Most consumers have two or more credit cards, therefore if you are working with more cards, then you may want to get one that is tied in with where you usually stay. For my family it is Marriott so we have a related card for stays there. When I say “us” I mean my wife and I — this card is in both our names and is what we use when we make major purchases. Again, we pay the card off each month and the annual fee is nominal. A trip we’re planning to take later this year will give us three free nights, with only one night for us to cover. We’ll charge that night on the Marriott card to earn double points. Yes, we’ll pay our card balance off to avoid charges.
Discounts on car rentals — Rarely do I need a rental car when I take my trips. I’m met at the airport and then whisked to the test location. I really do not like dealing with rental car companies, but I know that if I need to either one of my credit cards will give me a discount, usually one that is better than AAA provides. Moreover, with my cards I can waive the insurance charge, as both my auto insurer and credit card issuer provide coverage. This summer I’ll need to rent a car for personal use and expect to save up to 40 percent through various options I have at my disposal.
Keeping track of miles — On occasion, I take a trip that involves using my car to get there. If you play it right, your client should cover this expense. Sometimes, however, I pay for the gas to get me to the event especially if there are other benefits available such as the opportunity to interview an influential person or gain access to a show that is hard to get in to. In this case, I carefully track my miles and when tax time comes that trip is listed on my taxes. For 2012, the standard mileage rate allowed by the IRS is 55.5 cents per mile. That means the 300-mile round-trip adventure I took this spring is a $166.50 deduction.
Keep in Mind
One thing to be very careful about is how you handle your trips. What I mean is if you are writing a story and will be posting it to a website or blog, then you need to disclose that the trip was paid for by your client. The way I handle this is by making mention of that at the end of the article by including the following: “My trip to ABC convention was paid for by XYZ automotive.” Or something to that effect. I want to do two things here: 1), abide by FTC disclosure rules; and 2), maintain trust with my readers. My hosts don’t expect a glowing review of a product in exchange for their bankrolling my trip as they know the FTC and journalistic rules too. My reports are objective and hopefully just as interesting to my readers had I paid for the trip myself.
Do I take every trip offered? No, not a chance. If it doesn’t fit into my schedule or isn’t a fit for what I do, then I don’t go. Sometimes, a family obligation or the need to make money trumps going on a trip. If I have plenty of notice, then I plan accordingly, completing my work in advance and taking advantage of all of the goodies while I am away.