Archive for the ‘My Journey’ Category

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Why business hours matter

October 25, 2009

At the typical company, everyone notices what time someone leaves the office and what time people get in. We’re still stuck in a workplace that was designed around producing widgets on an assembly line. As life moves more and more online, and new technologies are invented that allow traditional offices to be truly optional, the punch clock mentality will slowly disappear. By the time Gen Y is ready to retire, people won’t even know what a punch clock is, and maybe then we will finally be working in the environment that knowledge workers are meant to work in. ~ Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution

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One of the greatest rewards of being a freelancer is getting to determine your own work hours. You have no punch clock or sign-in sheet, no 9 to 5 grind you’re forced to adhere to. You can follow the natural rhythms of your body and work the most productive hours of your day, whether morning or night. You can accommodate your kids and be home for them when they’re sick (or pretending to be), spend more time with your husband, ensure the dog gets enough attention and doesn’t leave you a present on the carpet after being left home alone for over 8 hours. This sounds all fine and dandy on paper. In fact, most day-timers would be pretty jealous to hear we have such a privilege. But with freedom comes responsibility.

Until this month rolled around, I was an ugly mess. After being conditioned to accept and adapt to the 9 to 5 slavery schedule that existed in both my university days and employment days, when I hit the freelance road pavement, I didn’t exactly hit it hard and running. I felt like I just sort of got plopped there without a map or any guiding star to speak of. Talk about utter confusion. I was in completely unfamiliar terrain with no boss telling me what to do and when to do it. So what did I do? I floundered, I treaded muck, I put in too many hours on some days and hardly any on others.  I knew I had to figure out how to schedule my time more efficiently while maximizing my productivity or else I was never going to develop my business the way I wanted to.

Not only that, but to add to the equation I have a night-hawk boyfriend (in other words, he works nights). Trying to find quality time together while I was feeling out this transition stage promised me a one-way ticket to FREAK OUT CITY! Still…I’m not ashamed that it took me almost 3 months just to strategize with time management and get over the mental desire to quit. If you’re new to the game, I can guarantee you’ll experience this too.

As you can see, even if you do own the flexible schedule of a freelancer, keeping business hours is extremely important. In the beginning months, I was horrible at this. I wasn’t putting in enough productive hours, my sleeping schedule was chaotic, and my mental and physical health were suffering. Keeping a schedule is fundamental, but I love having the flexibility to innovate a schedule that works for me rather than have one dictated.

So I started experimenting with a schedule I could keep. This is how it turned out:

4am-Noonish: Sleepy time.

Noonish-5pm: I get up, but my brain isn’t working at its best and I’m easily distracted by MSN conversations with friends and daily going-ons. So I use this time to do non-thinky stuff like admin, invoicing, researching, marketing and interviewing. It also gives my clients a portion of ‘regular business hours’ to contact me. Usually I manage to get a workout in too.

6pm-10pm: Dinner and I usually can spend some quality time with the boyfriend before he has to go to work.

10pm-4am: This is when I do my writing. My concentration is best during this time – nothing good is on TV, the world goes extremely quiet, and everyone is asleep which means my friends aren’t distracting me with YouTube videos of dancing monkeys or juvenile fart machine pranks that I “just have to see”.

Rinse and repeat.

Everyone is different and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a 9 to 5 schedule even as a freelancer if that’s what works for you. Experiment and adapt your schedule to fit your unique circumstances and needs. What kind of schedule do you keep?

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I’m alive…alive!

October 20, 2009

“I’m like a big old hen. I can’t cluck too long about the egg I’ve just laid because I’ve got five more inside me pushing to get out.” ~ Louis L’Amour

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I must apologize for my hibernation. However, I have a good excuse! I’ve been one busy little bee.

My start-up has started to really blossom and take off. After a two-month dry spell at the get-go, I’ve started picking up some regular and steady work. This is a huge relief and revs up my motivation. Not only am I starting to make a profit, but I’m receiving rave reviews. This is the best encouragement any new freelance writer can hope for. I know I’m pleasing my clients, which has promised future work and referrals.

Not only have I managed to secure guaranteed part-time marketing support and copywriting work through a local tutoring company, but I’ve also dug up a few other small corporate writing assignments AND my first magazine article assignment.  I’m genuinely proud of myself and my recent accomplishments.

This is way better than some lousy 9 to 5 office job.

I promise to get my act together with some fresh blog posts very soon!

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I <3 freelancing for rad clients

August 27, 2009

My son is now an “entrepreneur.” That’s what you’re called when you don’t have a job.  ~ Ted Turner

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I got my first official copywriting client. Boo-yah, baby! I’m totally stoked. Were it not for the obvious lame-factor, I’d be jumping around like a squirrel that just consumed an unhealthy amount of Red Bull. Not that any amount would be healthy for a squirrel…

I feel very, very lucky. As a newbie freelancer, having my first experience with a client be a positive one is just as encouraging as it is reassuring. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with a fellow female entrepreneur that faced hard beginnings and now successfully runs her own educational institution. Hello, inspiration! Since she’s local, I also got to come out of my den and partake in a face-to-face consultation with her.  Things couldn’t have gone better. We communicated effectively, she gave me very clear instructions on what she was looking for and I feel absolutely confident with the ideas I’ve been drafting up to this point. Oh yah, and she fed me coffee and homemade banana bread! Seriously, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that (thank you, client of my dreams).

So in celebration, I’ve come up with some ideas for how to appreciate and hold onto those heavenly clients on your list. Even better? I’ve included detailed examples of how I’ve incorporated them into my own practices. Ready, set…go!

  1. Offer a discount, free service or product…sometimes: I know, I uttered “free”. How dare I. But before you turn around and leave, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you write pro bono all the time or undersell yourself. What I am saying is keep your client’s interests at heart and understand that the payoff is oftentimes worth it. It can help you secure a potential client or keep an old client coming back for more. For example, I offer a 15% discount to new clients on their first project. This helps me build credibility and trust. It also means a potential client who might be unsure about investing in my services will be more likely to take the risk. Why? Because they don’t have to shell out as much cash before having proof of my abilities and accountability. I even offer a 5% discount on a future project to clients who land me a successful new referral. This is a win-win situation – your client has incentive and you get new business.
  2. Talent is good. Unbeatable customer service is better: Be honest about your abilities, turn-around time and expectations. No pussy-footing. Clients appreciate a straight-forward attitude. But what’s equally important is that you genuinely care about your client’s needs. Don’t be solely focused on the moolah. If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you must first help your client succeed. It’s called customer service and clients remember their personal experience with a provider – and whether it was a positive or negative one – even more than the quality of the finished product. Listen carefully, suggest positive solutions, share your knowledge and give them the attention they deserve. Once you’ve handed them a totally kickass completed project and they’ve paid you your dues, send them a thank-you. A personalized note to show your gratitude will go a long way and really set you apart from others, but even an email will do. By taking a real interest in my client’s needs and vision, I’ve been able to secure more work. How did I do this? I listened more than I talked, I incorporated her ideas into my own brainstorming and communicated them to her, I made myself available to her at times that were convenient for her since I knew she had a busy school to run, and I was never anything less than professional, friendly and enthusiastic.
  3. Give them what they expect…then give them something they weren’t expecting: This type of business isn’t about exercising your artistic freedom, even if we are creative professionals. Clients have a set of expectations they require you to meet. So deliver on your promises and don’t be the guy who took the horse and ran with it or they’ll just regret hiring you for the job. They may even spread the bad word to others via fire-breathing rage…and you really don’t want your reputation burned (word-of-mouth is a powerful networking tool, after all). Giving them what they want is good, but if you really want to emblazon your Chiclet-smile and impeccable grammar on their memories, give them something they weren’t expecting. Go that extra mile. Throw in a sidebar for free. Finish the project ahead of deadline. Agree to meet them in-person for lunch or coffee to discuss their project rather than communicating solely over phone or email. Make yourself memorable and you’ll become the go-to for future projects.

This industry has some fierce competition. I know because it gives me the heebie-jeebies everyday. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned early on, it’s that how you deal with clients can make or break your freelancing career. And the last thing you want is to lose the golden ones.

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Invoking ‘Buffy-Power’ in the freelance start-up struggle

August 18, 2009

I thought it was gonna be more like in the movies. You know, inspirational music and a montage: me sharpening pencils, reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked because in the montage I have glasses. Real life is so slow and it hurts my occipital lobe. ~ Buffy

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Here’s a little secret. I’m a shameless, obsesso-fan of the T.V. success that was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When teenage life was sucking, the campy horror series was what I turned to–blood-sucking fiends included. It provided comfort when gooey, chocolate-chip cookies were threatening my waistline. Buffy was my hero (sorry Oprah). Not only was she athletic and resourceful, but she could be witty and pretty while kicking demon butt. Talk about girl-power!

Lately, I’ve been attempting to invoke that slayer power to deal with the struggle of starting up a full-time freelance career. I’m going to be honest and tell you that starting up this writing business has been hard work. I didn’t realize the perseverance, patience and motivation that would be required to rise up on two feet. I had visions of sipping on my morning cappucchino, bunny-slippers propped up on my desk, projects rolling into my lap. Well, maybe not rolling…more like dripping from a leaky faucet.

Instead, I’m sporting some lovely black circles under my eyes, using caffeine to combat a constant stream of anxieties–am I good enough, when will the next paycheck come, did my email to that editor fall into a black hole?–wearing 5-day old pajamas. That’s the ugly truth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t regret turning to freelancing full-time after losing my steady office job due to the economy. Especially after reading Ed Gandia’s supportive words today:

So, for Gen Y’ers everywhere, here’s my (blunt) advice: Forget about trying to find a “job.” Forget about politicians’ promises to fix things. Forget about waiting this one out. (Even if you wait it out, you risk having even greater competition when younger rivals start entering the workforce en masse in two or three years.)

Instead, put your faith where it belongs: on your talents, abilities, creative capacity and ability to solve problems. Then, sell those abilities as a freelance professional. You’ll get back to work much faster. And you’ll have the freedom and flexibility you and your generation craves (we all want that freedom, but you guys have taken life-work balance to a new level).

Pretty promising words, don’t you think? And I agree with him. But I’ve also realized that being a freelancer is no easy choice. And even when I’ve been forewarned of the hardships, I always had some niggling doubt. Things will be different for me, I thought. Try again. I got quite the reality check in the past few weeks. Squashing The Sound of Music version of a writer’s life was necessary. But guess what? I’m still just as enthusiastic about pursuing my goals. And you can be too if you’re new to the game, like myself.

Here are some fundamental tasks I’ve completed within the past couple weeks to help launch my personal brand, which I’d recommend all newbie freelancers consider attacking:

  1. Website and business cards designed – Vital marketing tools. I’ve been using the website to start building my own online portfolio and handing out my business cards to family, friends and potential clients.
  2. Revving up the education– I know I’m competing with more seasoned freelancers, so I’ve been doing a bogus amount of reading to further develop and hone my skills. My reading includes blogs and books (check out Paul Lima, Michelle Goodman and the Renegade ladies for some killer resources to add to your shelves). I’ve also been taking a copywriting course so I can get more experience in the field, which is known to be the ‘bread and butter’ of many writers who also contribute to magazine publications.
  3. Setting up a home office– I realized that sitting in front of the T.V. in my living room doesn’t really inspire productivity or concentration. So I found a stylin’ used desk to set up in one corner of my room and purchased some basic office supplies to make it all schnazzy. I’ve got a great work space now that forces me to focus on my work without the typical distractions of home.
  4. Local marketing campaign – I designed a simplistic but professional brochure advertising my services, included a business card and pen (potential clients generally respond well to a small, inexpensive gift related to the services you’re offering), and dropped these marketing packages off at local houses. I’ve only done 50 so far and didn’t expect any response. I got one of my first official clients this way. You never know.
  5. Signed up for Elance – I was avoiding doing this for fear of falling into the rut of low-paying, dead-end gigs. I’ve decided to try it out. If nothing else, it’ll help me flesh out my portfolio and get some diverse samples to show future clients.
  6. Writing and researching queries – I’ve just started to take the query route. I have experience writing for newspapers, but would love to break into magazines. This in itself has been quite the learning curve. I’ve only sent one out and I’m currently in the process of researching and writing two more, so I’ll have to give updates on these as they become available.

This is some of the most challenging work I’ve had to do, I won’t lie. Yet I have faith in my skills and the passion to back it. Giving up isn’t an option. And just like Buffy, I plan on kicking some serious butt…only I’ll be doing it in the real world.

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Why a vacation might be a good idea for Mr. Sanity

July 22, 2009

“She’s turning her life into something sacred: Each breath a new birth. Each moment, a new chance. She bows her head, gathers her dreams from a pure, deep stream and stretches her arms towards the sky. It is here where she must begin to tell her story.” ~ Monique Duval

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One of the hiking trails I adventured.

I’m back from vacation!Given my current funemployment status, escaping the city for a week of hiking, boating, camping and swimming in Georgian Bay was the ultimate treat. Okay, maybe minus the last part. The water is so cold there it’s like a brain freeze in your feet! And when I say camping, what I really mean is staying in a cabin with cable and a real toilet…

But throughout my Indiana Jones adventures, I came to the realization that freelancers really should embrace holidays. Unlike most professions, when you’re working for yourself, it’s easy to hit burnout. Freelancers tend to work longer hours and push themselves beyond their limits. And we’re probably closer to losing our sanity than any teacher I know. I’m sure I won’t be the first or last person to tell you – when you put down the pitches, interviews, writing and re-writings – your world will not end. Your clients will still be there when you get back. And it’s crucial that you recharge your batteries if you want to maintain the quality of your work.

  1. The ‘F’ in freelance should stand for flexibility, not freak-out. One of the reasons many people cite their love of freelancing is because of the flexibility it affords. So why kick it to the curb for the sake of overworking yourself? You might as well return to the cubicle from whence you came, as Shakespeare might put it. Giving yourself a vacation from time-to-time is a healthy habit to get into. Even if you’re not sailing away to some tropical island for a couple weeks, a short-term no-work period or long weekend can do wonders for relieving frustration and revitalizing your spirits.
  2. A change of scenery will perk up your creativity and provide you with a fresh outlook. Sometimes writer’s block can spawn from simply being in the same working environment day-in and day-out. Whether you’re hauling your laptop to Cancun or the local coffee shop, a ‘vacation’ from your familiar writing space can spark inspiration and innovation. Being physically active and outdoors for an entire week instead of doing the zombie slouch in a cramped, musty office space helped me to generate a lot of new ideas.
  3. Sometimes your friends and family could use a little undivided attention. They’re used to your deadpan stare focused on the computer screen, your constant need to surrender to the beeps of your Crackberry, or those late nights you spend frantically typing away when you’ve got a project deadline to meet. Occasionally, they could use a little TLC, without the interruptions of your typical day in the office.

Many freelancers fear taking vacation time because the need for income overshadows the temporary flight from responsibilities. For a busy freelancer, this can take some time management, planning and juggling. But it is possible. Multi-tasking should come easily to you anyways, right?

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One door closes so that another can open

July 2, 2009

Well, my impending lay-off finally happened.  Although you might expect that I’d be crying in my beer about it, I’m not.  I’m actually very happy…elated really.  Sure, financially, it would be better to be fully employed, and the timing isn’t so great (is there ever a good time to get laid off?) but emotionally and career wise, this couldn’t have happened to a better person.  Granted, I loved a lot of things about my job, but I actually love much more what my job did not afford me the opportunity to do.  And now, I finally get the chance to give some of those things a fair shot and spend my time on the things that I really want to focus on. ~ from Brett’s Blog

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If that quote didn’t spill the beans, I’ll be less subtle. I got laid off.

But like Brett, I don’t see this as a negative. I saw it coming (many miles away). Granted, it came a bit earlier than expected. Still, I truly believe that all things happen for a reason.

When my boss pulled me into his office and used those familiar danger zone phrases – not enough work, budget cuts, slow downs – I watched him with a certain level of curiousity. He appeared nervous…regretful, almost. There was sweat breaking across his brow line. His composure faltered, if only a little. He even apologized to me. When I took the news with nothing more than a smile and told him I understood, his confusion became apparent. I’m not sure what he expected. I certainly wasn’t planning on balling my eyes out and marking his final memory of me as some mucous-drenched, sniveling wreck. I was going to go out like an Amazon!

I got a call from my sister after she found out, her voice swampy and warm, like she was completely in touch with a sadness I didn’t feel. And many of my friends who immediately heard the news after I walked out of that office were floored and concerned for my well-being. Touched as I was by their sympathy, I don’t think they understood my elation.

I suppose I’m so calm because I accept this as a new chapter in my life, and a much-needed one at that. I’m no longer afraid to face my career-related fears head-on. Instead, I’m ready for the jump. I’m eager to see what I’m made of. I’m prepared to stop making excuses and go after what I want, rather than allow myself to get comfortable at a dead-end job I abhor. This past year I’ve been in a slump, and only now do I feel like I’m breaking free.

In all honesty, this is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.


I find it especially interesting that this incident came about after I had an eye-opening exchange with freelance journalist Mridu Khullar. This is how it went…

Me:  For the past year since I graduated, I’ve been bored to tears in an office cubicle that makes me want to poke my eyeballs out with a Sharpie. I seriously can’t stand it, my skills aren’t being utilized, and I don’t feel stimulated in the least. I think perhaps my brain cells are dying. You’re pretty much living the life I’d love to have. I really want to pursue a full-time career in freelance writing.

Her:  It’s a tough business, there’s no doubt about that. But really, it’s not as tough as some people make it out to be. There are hundreds, thousands, of people all over the world who are freelancing very successfully and getting work regularly. They’re not all the best writers, but they’re certainly professional businesspeople who treat their work as such. You can absolutely be one of them.

Freelance writer Stephanie Miller also gave me an invaluable tidbit of advice when she said: If it’s one piece of advice I can offer you now: JUST DO IT! You’ve already done a lot of preparation and, besides, you’ll learn along the way. Actually, you never stop learning! Once you SAY you’re a ‘professional writer’, you ARE. You simply have to get comfortable with the idea that you now charge for your expertise. At this point, it’s all about gaining confidence.

Here’s to new opportunities and taking life by the balls.

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The not-so-safe 9-5 office job

June 8, 2009

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There’s about a 95% chance I’ll be losing my steady office job at the end of August.

Don’t worry, I’ve already taken many deep breaths and clamped down on the muttered curses.

This isn’t an elephant-sized surprise.  I was hired on a 1-year contract with the potential for continuing employment.  And although my bosses have said they’d like to keep me on, budget costs are being cut and the company I work for can only afford to upkeep the tech guys.  The general research staff (aka…me) are being considered disposable unless things change between now and then.  They won’t really have the work available to keep me busy nor the money necessary to feed my wallet.

When I was presented with this tidbit of information, I didn’t freak.  Surprise!  Actually…I kind of breathed a sigh of relief.  Okay, well first I laughed about my assumption that my 9-5 grind was such a safe and secure bet.  And that there was no way I was disposable with such a solid education beneath my belt.  Shows me.

I’ll tell you why this wasn’t such a bad revealing though.

  1. I hate the job anyways. I’m getting paid laugh-worthy wages to do stuff I didn’t sign up for.  Most of the time, I have nothing to do.  So I spend my time staring at a blank computer screen.  I even contemplate stabbing my eyeballs out with two straws and blowing them like spitballs at office mates on occasion.  Yes, it really is that boring.  This job fulfills me about as much as that week I tried a coffee diet.  Think I’m joking?  I actually filled out an application to be an elephant groom at African Lion Safari just to escape its clutches.
  2. I have a back-up plan. My previous employer (whom I absolutely adore) has reminded me on more than one occasion that her door is always open.  Sure, it’s still in the research field, not completely in the direction I’d like to be heading.  But it’s something.  Whether I can get part-time or full-time work with her, at least I’m promised some sense of security with a paycheck for the time being.
  3. I have an excuse to aggressively pursue my true dreams and career aspirations. I can finally devote more of my focus and time to getting my freelance business off the ground.  When I gave the news to my dad about my potential job loss, even he said: “It’s probably the best thing that could happen to you.”  And he’s right.  Because I’m not happy where I am or with what I’m doing.  I’m not stimulated, I have no sense of self-progression, and all I’ve gotten out of the deal is a wallop of frustration.

Ed Gandia’s post at The Wealthy Freelancer made a great evaluation of the current economic climate and increasing lay-offs when he said:

That’s why I’m confident that a large percentage of these “funemployed” will come back (when their severance and savings run out!) as freelancers and solo professionals – not as corporate execs. They want the high pay, but they’re not willing to compromise too much to get it. Which means that in many cases they’ll have to settle for less until they build their solo careers.

But I think most of them will be OK with that. The freedom to design the life they want and live by their own rules will be the biggest reward. And it won’t be long before many of them are earning more (and doing more of what they want) than they did in their corporate jobs.

So for the rest of you facing a similar situation, here’s to working twice as hard for twice the rewards!  We’re all going to be just fine.

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