Archive for the ‘starting out’ 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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5 ways to overcome lack of experience

September 10, 2009

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Welcome to my episode of Confessions of a Little Lost Girl, way less chic than the shopaholic variety. I’m not ashamed to say that despite my age, my parents still teach me valuable lessons on a regular basis or remind me of ones forgotten.

As positive as I’ve been about the slow bloom of my freelance writing business, there are times when I feel like I’m suffering a brain fart of epic proportions chock-full of doubt. I’ll catch my poor dad off guard when he’s watching another re-run of CSI and collapse on the couch with a disheartened grunt, embarking on a never-ending string of complaints and insecurities that probably make the gross  autopsy scenes seem not so bad (I promise he still loves me).

I tell him I’m swimming in a pool of pros. I don’t have a track record that boasts of 20 years of experience. How can I set myself apart? How can I make clients choose me? He’s a dude of few words, but he reminds me of factors within my control. And I wanted to share those with you today. Even if you’re just a rookie, there are actions you can take to land promising gigs and overcome a skimpy track record. Because hey, Abraham Lincoln didn’t start rockin’ the political scene right away either!

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  1. Persistence – Persevering is the lifeblood of your freelance writing career. Develop a thick skin and go after what you want. Gigs won’t fall into your lap (unless you’ve got one killer luck gene). So don’t let rejection letters, or worse – silences – get you down. Persistence is what will eventually promote and nurture your talent.  Simply by being persistent, you can put yourself above the gaggle of freelancers that give up over the long haul. Talent may play a major role in establishing a good reputation, but unwavering determination counts for more than you realize.
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  2. Education – If you want to keep a leg up on the competition, you better get used to the idea of life-long learning. Your education will never end – and it shouldn’t either. Reading reference books, joining professional groups and associations, and going to seminars or classes can give you new skills to market or help you brush up on the ones you already possess. This will make you more valuable to potential clients because they’ll feel confident in your ability to deliver on your promises. While education isn’t a substitute for experience, it’ll definitely boost your chances of landing gigs early on in your career.
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  3. Professionalism – You don’t want to stand out as an amateur. Nobody’s asking you to sign up to look like Donald Trump. Conducting yourself as a professional isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Meet your deadlines, be respectful of your clients, project a businesslike appearance when engaging in face-to-face communications, maintain your integrity, provide excellent customer service, keep in touch with clients, listen to feedback from your clients and take it into consideration (good or bad), and always under-promise and over-deliver.
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  4. Enthusiasm – A little enthusiasm can go a long way. Clients will pick up on your positive attitude and high energy. Let me put it this way…if you were looking to hire a freelancer, which of the following would you choose? The one with more experience but a lackluster approach to your project? Or the less experienced one who showed curiousity by asking questions about the assignment and seemed genuinely gung ho about working with you? Point made.
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  5. Honesty – While the desire to beef up your credentials and embellish your capabilities may seem like a good idea at the time, you’re more likely to irritate a potential client than impress them. It’s kind of like false advertising…think the A-cup chick who wears a padded bra that gives off the impression she’s a C-cup. Be honest about you abilities because honesty and good manners are always remembered. After all, no client wants to be left with that cheated, sour taste in their mouth.

Got something else to add to the list? Suggest away!

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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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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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Develop a business plan, already

June 12, 2009

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim.  When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. ~ Seneca

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Every morning when I crawl out of bed with drool tracks smeared across my cheeks and my hair looking something akin to a sparrow’s nest, there’s only one thing I can imagine being worse than the annoying honk of my alarm clock at 5am. That’s trying to summon the motivation to go into the basement and pop in my kickboxing workout video. On comes some 4-foot-nothing blonde ball of energy, bouncing across my TV screen like those kangaroos on the Discovery Channel. She tells me we’re going to have “a great time sweating”.  I stare at her from the other side of the room, wearing Betty Boop pajamas and a scowl, thinking…I wonder how many Snickers bars it would take for me to get like that.

Still, there’s one thing she says to me every morning that resonates. She tells me you have to write down your goals if you ever hope to achieve them. She tells me I need a plan. And she’s right. When it comes to being a freelance writer, developing a business plan is essential. As someone who prefers the spontaneous side of things, I know many of you are probably thinking you’d rather be forced to listen to the “Ice Ice Baby” song for 5 hours straight (or, er, maybe that’s just me). But writing down your goals doesn’t have to be a daunting or torturous task.

It’s easy, really. I advise you to make a 1-year roadmap detailing your freelance goals (especially important if you’re a newbie, such as myself). Make a list of major goals you have, such as landing your dream client, putting more bacon on the table, or maybe even breaking into a new niche. Give each of these a start date and deadline so you have the end in sight. Next, figure out the sub-steps or mini-goals you’ll have to take to achieve your bigger goals. Write these as bullet points underneath your main goals. Whatever you do, make sure your goals are realistic. In other words, if it’s your first year of freelancing, no duh you aren’t going to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your first published work. Don’t make yourself feel like you’ve already failed by picking impossible goals to attain within the timeframe you’re considering.

You can write your business plan on paper and tack it to your wall or frame it over your office desk. You can record it on your blog. Whatever works for you. Personally, I prefer to keep mine in visible sight somewhere I’ll see it everyday, so I’m constantly reminded of what direction I’m headed in and how I plan to get there. I even like to give them creative names. My business plan for this year is entitled: How NOT to become Johnny from The Shining anytime soon.

Business plans are so valuable to freelancers because:

  1. They keep you motivated and on track.
  2. They give you a way to assess your current progress and evaluate whether or not you’ve put in the necessary effort at the end of the year so you’re always moving ahead and advancing in your career.
  3. They remind you of the reasons you blew off that 9-5 gig after all, just to sit in front of your computer for hours on end in cartoon pajamas and bird-nest hair, scooping mac&cheese into your open piehole.