Thursday, February 7, 2013

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Let's back it up a bit! - photo by imagerymajestic

I've been helping a friend who is trying to launch her own freelance business, mostly providing advice, giving examples of what I did, and letting her know what worked and what didn't. She's enthusiastic about it, which is awesome, but sometimes maybe just a bit too much so.

She currently has a full-time day job that (mostly) pays the bills, but she's eager to take the plunge into full-time freelancing. In fact, she asked me to help her draft a two-week notice to her her boss! Her thought was that if she put positive energy out there, with the intent to become a full-time freelancer, the universe would be happy to oblige.

At that point, I had to throw on the brakes and (virtually) sit her down for some tough love. This was the email I sent to her...

Whoa! Slow down!!!

Please listen to what I'm about to say and know that I am saying it as a friend and someone who care about you.

You are not ready to quit your job.
When I left my job to freelance full time, I was in a very different situation:

  1. I pretty much had to leave because I was going to lose my job due to repeated absences because of taking care of my son. It was quit or get fired.
  2. My husband had a job that could (sort of) support us. Not well and not comfortably, but we could keep a roof over our heads and the lights on.
  3. I knew that if things got really dire, there was always a content mill. I don't know of any similar sites for graphic designers
Remember that it still took me more than a year to pick up my current steady client, and work was pretty piecemeal up until then. I was busting my butt to build credits.

How do I know you aren't ready? You told me. If you are having trouble paying the rent on your current salary, you are not ready.

Here's my advice: Start saving every penny you can from your freelance design jobs and sock it away in a savings account. Figure out how much you need for six months of living expenses - rent, food, lights, etc. When you have six months of living expenses socked away, you have enough to quit your job. At that point you will also have more experience and professional credits and be in a better position to get the good-paying jobs.

While I understand the Law of Attraction and the desire to put the energy out there, quitting your job now would be like running onto the freeway and hoping that positive energy would prevent the cars from hitting you. I suppose it might happen, but I'm certainly not going to test it. You absolutely MUST have a safety net. MUST. If you hit a dry spell and don't have a back-up, you'll be screwed and homeless. It's hard to work remotely from home when you don't have one!

Is it going to be tough while you are working to save up? Yeah, probably. But it will be worth it. There's a reason why boxers train with weighted gloves. When you are actually ready to quit, it will be much smoother sailing. Hell, it will probably feel like a vacation!

Please, please, listen to what I'm saying. Don't quit your job unless you score another one. You just aren't ready to freelance full time yet, and that's okay.

What would you have told her?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What I Read: 2012

I have stacks like this throughout the house. -- Photo by adamr

At the beginning of 2012, I challenged myself to track all the books I read throughout the year. Mostly it was out of curiosity -- just how many books do I read in a year, anyway? I also thought it might make a cool blog post: What I read, how I felt about each one, and the impact the books had on my life.

There's some really good stuff on here, along with some puerile crap that I can't believe I managed to force into my eyeballs. I also noted which books were read in book club. Some of these were rereads, and I've noted these as well. I'd love it if you noted your own stand-out books of the year in the comments!

The List:

1.       We the Living – Ayn Rand (book club)

This was a pretty heavy choice to start the year. I had never read an Ayn Rand book before, but I know people who both love her and hate her, so I was definitely intrigued. Can't say I agree with her viewpoints, but it was an interesting book.

2.       Full-Filled – Renee Stephens
Just what the world needs... another diet book, right? This one was pretty good, actually. I lost some weight with it. I think it's a good program. I also really like the podcast series that accompanies it. Ultimately, I wasn't able to stick with it, though.
3.       Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads – Rosaline Wiseman (book club)
The concept here was interesting, but ultimately felt really stereotyped. I also felt it didn't apply to anyone whose child isn't "typical."
4.       1984 – George Orwell (book club)
Boy, were we on a roll, huh? (Don't worry, we worked out way out of it later.) This was my selection. I had never read it before and apparently needed an excuse. It made me think a lot about the fact that most news is now printed online, where history can be changed with a click.

5.   Organized Simplicity – Tsh Oxenfried
Loved this one! I need to reread it. She really lit a fire under my butt. I've since subscribed to her blog, and I look forward to her updates.

6.    The Gunslinger – Stephen King
These were rereads.  

7.   Drawing of the Three – Stephen King
8.   The Wastelands – Stephen King
9.   Wizard and Glass – Stephen King
10.   Wolves of the Calla – Stephen King
11.   Don Juan in Hankey, PA – Gail Martin (book club)
This was a fun farce set in a opera house. Light reading and pretty funny. Also, it was edited by a good friend of mine and member of the book club.

12.   S.T.A.R.S. – Susan M. Heighway & Susan Kidd Webster
This was sent to me by the editor of Autism Aspergers Digest. She thought I might find it helpful for an article I was working on. She was right.

13.   Is Everyone Getting Together Without Me? – Mindy Kaling (book club)
Another light and silly read from the star of "The Mindy Project" (among other things).
14.  The Life of Pi – Yann Martel (book club)
This one inspired what I'm quite sure is the best book club discussion we have ever had. Over piles of excellent Indian food, we discussed our own personal spiritual beliefs and learned a great deal about each other.
15.   The Digital Writer’s Guide to Highly Effective Work Habits – Sean M. Platt
Good advice in here. I've put a lot of it to use.
16.   The Digital Writer’s Guide to Twitter – Sean M. Platt
More good advice, but I'm a major Twitter slacker.
17.   Song of Susannah – Stephen King
Finally got back to Roland and the gang.
18.   The Dark Tower – Stephen King
19.   Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
I read Hunger Games last year with the book club. Finally thought it was about time I finished the series!

20.  Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

21.   The Lucky One – Nicholas Sparks (book club)
Not something I would pick on my own, that's for sure.
22.   Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
I started this last year and the book went missing at some point. Finally found it and was able to finish it! Loved it!
23.   Big Trouble – Dave Barry
A reread. I just needed something light and hilarious, and this fit the bill perfectly.
24.   Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
Of course, this was a reread. I reread these at least once a year.
25.   Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
26.   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
27.   The Primal Blueprint – Mark Sisson
My sister went primal and convinced me to do so for quite some time. I lost a bunch of weight, but then I fell off the bandwagon.
28.   50 Shades of Grey – E.L. James
Read it to see what the fuss was about. Still can't believe I made it through this mess. Ugh.

29.   The Wind Through the Keyhole – Stephen King
When I reread The Dark Tower earlier this year, I had no idea this one was coming out. Great timing! It was nice to get back to these guys.
30.   The Well-Fed Writer – Peter Bowerman
Sooooo glad I read this one! It made a MAJOR change in the way I do business, and things have really taken off! (One of the reasons that blog posts have been... sparse... later in the year.)
31.   American Gods – Neil Gaiman (book club)
I put this on the book club list after reading Neverwhere. Another one I've been meaning to read for ages. I loved this book. So much. So so much.
32.   Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Wanted to see what the fuss was about. This one was definitely worth my while!
33.   A Hunger Like No Other – Kresley Cole (book club)
The beginning of my book club's "porn phase." I gotta admit -- it was pretty good!
34.   Practical Paleo – Diane SanFilippo
I tried to get back into primal/paleo eating. Good information and a healthy way to live, but ultimately, not for me.
35.   A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin
Toward the end of this book, it pretty much went sailing through the air. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be continuing the series. Luckily, a friend convinced me to persevere. So glad I did!
36.   Sex and Death in the American Novel – Sarah Martinez (book club)
The continuation of the porn phase -- and written by a friend and former book club member!
37.   Tides of War – Christie Golden
Mists of Pandaria was coming out! I had to know what was going on behind the scenes, right?
38.   Eat Like a Dinosaur – Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry
Trying to make a family transition to paleo, hoping that going gluten-free would be beneficial for Elias.
39.   A Storm of Swords – George R.R. Martin

40.   A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin

41.   The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling (book club)
This is technically a book club selection, but I read it months in advance because I adore Ms. Rowling (she's kind of my hero). This book was excellent, but I felt like it had "I am not a children's book!!!" scrawled across each page in Sharpie pen.
42.   A Dance With Dragons – George R.R. Martin
 This should really have an asterisk behind it since I just started it in December. Have you seen the size of this thing?? I'm taking a vacation this weekend, so hopefully I'll finish it then. I guess it will technically be the first book on my list in 2013, too.

So there you have it. I read 42 books in 2012. There were more that I started and didn't finish for one reason or another, but I didn't count those. I was actually expecting it to be more, but I did get really busy toward the end of the year.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Weekend Dilemma

Are you working for the weekend?
Photo by phanlop88

I can never decide whether weekends are good for working or if I should try to stick to the five-day work week and give myself some time off.  During the week, I see the weekends as a pool of available hours that can be used to catch up on projects.  Those weekend hours look especially appealing to me on days like to today when I have to help out in my daughter's preschool, take my son to an occupational therapy appointment in Seattle (which winds up being about a four-hour round trip), and there's a sink full of dirty dishes waiting for me too (note: this post was actually started on Monday morning and finished on Wednesday, which is probably indicative of the problem!).

But then the weekend comes, and the last thing I want to do is actually sit down and work.  I got some stuff done this weekend.  I got some reference information to the magazine publisher who needed it for some statistics I quoted in an article, and I have the newsletter almost completely done for the preschool (just waiting on some photos... if they don't get the info to me by today, I'm publishing it anyway though).  Unfortunately, I only got about two hours of real pay-the-bills work in throughout the entire weekend though.

The excuses are, of course, numerous:

  • I need to catch up on housework.
  • I want a break from the hectic week.
  • I want to spend time with the family.
  • I want to catch up on my reading.
  • We rented a movie that I really want to see.
And so on and so forth.

The problem is that if I don't dedicate at least part of my weekend to work, I feel like a total slacker. Part of this is because of days like today when I know I'm only going to log two or three hours of work at most (I'm going to take my netbook to the appointment though and hopefully sneak at least another half hour in).  The other part is that I feel a strong commitment to my clients, and when deadlines are tight, the time has to come from somewhere, and I'd rather not stay up until two in the morning trying to get the work done.  

Another option is to plan to work the weekend and make other days throughout the week my days off.  While making Monday my day off sounds ideal, I think it's not very practical and could make clients not-so-happy, since that's the beginning of the work week for so many people.

Decisions, decisions...

Do you work on weekends or do you declare them hands off?  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Long Overdue Update

I'm always kind of astonished that I get paid for this.
Photo by Michal Marcol

I have a terrible confession:  I've been letting this blog languish while I've been off playing with the other kids.  Poor blog. I know how that feels.  I'll try to do better.

I wanted to post an update on my writing world.  I can't help but laugh when I look at my initial goals from "back in the day."  I also can't believe that "back in the day" was really only about a year and a half ago!  Lots of changes since then...

I'm very pleased to report that all my scraping and clawing and writing anywhere I could has really started to pay off.  I just got picked up as a contract copywriter by a company that designs websites for medical professionals. They have a stable full of clients who need content for their websites, and I can work as many hours as I want in a week.  Granted, like all freelance work, the hours aren't guaranteed to always be this steady.  Slowdowns are kind of inevitable in this business.  But so far, things are looking great.  I just turned in my first time sheet, and I made more this week than I typically make in a month!

I've had a lot of questions since posting about my good fortune on Facebook, mostly wanting to know how I found the job and how I started from nothing and pulled myself up. Here are my typical answers:

  • I signed up for every freelance job board I could find.  I learned quickly which ones were worth my time and focused my efforts on those.  
  • I applied for every writing and editing job I could find that I thought I might be even remotely qualified.  
  • I realized that I had an incredibly useful niche -- I am a healthcare content writer.  There's a huge market for this, and it's an area where I have plenty of knowledge.  
  • While I started out writing for any site that would publish my work, I figured out which sites were more "reputable" in the freelance world and stuck with those.
  • I viewed every piece I wrote as a stepping stone to my next job/prospect.  I didn't try to scale the ladder my first time out; instead, I took it one rung at a time with the goal being to get to the next rung on my next project.
  • I asked for feedback on my work so that I can improve.
  • I followed the blogs of other freelance writers and read what was working and what wasn't working for them
  • I read book written by freelancers, especially those who specialized in copywriting, which was quickly becoming my niche.
  • I was willing to try everything to see what I liked and what worked and where I was most successful.
  • I write.  Constantly.  Every single thing that I write, whether it's an email, a Facebook post, a blog post, or an article for a client, allows my to subtly improve. When I compare my writing from last year to my writing this year, the difference is remarkable.  I want to say the same thing next year, too.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Asking the Best Questions

You won't get the answers if you don't ask the question.
Image by hinnamsaisuy

I had a very humbling experience recently.

After completing a project of a type I had never done before and sending it off proudly to the client, I received it back thoroughly marked up in Track Changes.  I was horrified and was sure that I had screwed up completely and would never hear back from this particular client again.  I responded with a timid "I'm sorry that this isn't what you were looking for. What could I have done better?"

She was wonderful.  First off, she assured me that she was in fact happy with what I had sent her.  Some new information had come to her between the time we had spoken and when she had received my work.  No big deal.  However, she did have some advice for me, if I was interested.

I eagerly replied back.  Lay it on me!  I want to get better, and how will I if nobody tells me what I'm doing wrong?

Her response:  "The best writers ask the best questions."  She was absolutely correct.  I was so afraid of looking like I didn't know what I was doing that I completely failed to get all the background and find out the levels of the committees and other crucial pieces of information that would have helped me get a grip on that particular piece.  I was also so determined to make the piece fit the formatting samples that she had given me that I hadn't allowed myself any room for flexibility, which really hampered my efforts.  I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble by getting more detail up front.  She knew that I was coming in late in the project.  I didn't have all the background... heck, she didn't have all the background.

There was no reason to be afraid of not knowing.  She didn't expect me to know.  The best thing about making a mistake is that I'm far less likely to make it again.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death of a Coffeehouse

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom

Last Friday, I met a friend at my favorite local coffeehouse, Caffe Felice.  The place was packed, and I had to move quickly to score us a table.  Practically since it opened, it's been my go-to place for writing and meeting people.  A central, public location that's never too noisy but not so quiet that you feel uncomfortable having a conversation. The coffee was fantastic, the owners were friendly...

Yesterday, following an appointment, I decided to go down there for a couple hours with my netbook to get some writing work done.  As I pulled into the Landing, I noticed that the parking was easier than usual.  Well, that's nice, I thought.  I should have no problem getting a table today.  I was lost in my own thoughts until I approached the door.  A brightly colored bouquet caught my eyes, threaded through the door handles.  A printed sign hung on both doors:  Closed.

I looked at the bouquet.  Had somebody died?  There was a card tucked into the flowers.  I hunkered down a little bit to read it.  I don't remember the exact words, but the writer essentially expressed her regret at the "unnecessary death of a small business and a fine addition to the Landing."  I stood there for a moment as the reality sank in.  It was gone.  My favorite writing and meeting place had vanished, suddenly, somehow, between last Friday and today.

I drove home, hoping to find some answers as to what had happened.  They were gone from Facebook (I had, of course, friended them).  Their website only linked to a domain name directory.  I found no links on Google that even mentioned that they had closed, only articles about their opening two years ago and the usual review sites.

What went wrong?  I'm racking my brain, but I can only think of a few things:

  • Over the past year, their hours had slowly decreased.  At one time, they had been open until 9 pm, making them the perfect place to spend time before a late movie (which I had done), a meeting place for a book club (which I had also done), and getting a little evening work done while the kiddo was at Scouts (guess what?).  Slowly, the time they were open slipped back until they were open until 8 (which eliminated the book club option and the Scouts option), and then 7.  My visits decreased, since that evening availability was no longer there.
  • The place was always packed, but I've been witness to people coming in with food from the 5 Guys up the street, eating their lunch, then leaving without buying anything at all.  Really, could you be more rude?  I always made a point of purchasing something when I went in, a coffee, an iced tea, oatmeal, a bagel... Were others not so considerate?  Was the free wi-fi slowly killing them while giving the appearance of a bustling business?
  • While searching for answers on Google, I noticed that some person had written an utterly scathing review of Caffe Felice and proceeded to place it on practically every review site available.  I read through the review and came to the conclusion that the person writing it was... well, a jerk.  The owner, not one to suffer fools, was apparently quite open in letting him know that.  I can't say I don't blame her.  Isn't that part of the joy of owning your own business though?  Not having to kiss up to anyone you don't want to?  Did she need to do a better job of playing the "customer is always right" game?
I don't know the answer, and all of this is merely speculation.  I am sad, and I wish I could find out what happened.  I'm sure that there's a lesson to be learned here for small businesses or anyone who is their own boss.  

What is the lesson here?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The X-Factor, My Cousin, and Risk Taking

This past weekend, my cousin Kristin auditioned for "The X-Factor."  Although in the end she was not selected, she gave her very best, was allowed to show off her immense talent, and walked away proud of herself.  She knew she had given her all and had earned the right to hold her head high.  She's already looking forward to her next major audition.

I watched as the whole thing unfolded on my Facebook page.  Regular updates from both Kristin and her sister Kassie allowed me to vicariously experience the excitement, the nervousness, the sheer joy of performing in front of an audience.  In the end, I wanted to stand up and give Kristin a standing ovation for having the sheer guts, the  faith in herself to do what so many are never able to do.  She took a huge risk.  Maybe she wasn't selected this time, but the confidence she gained and the desire to push on are priceless rewards.

Kristin with Tommy Tutone, one of the judges.
Photo courtesy of Kassie Moxon

Why am I posting about this on a blog primarily about writing?  Any talent-based venture, be it music, writing, dance, art... each begins by taking a risk.  By standing up and saying, "I can do this.  I want to do this."

The way I see it, success in these ventures can be broken down into just two primary pieces:  talent and perseverance.  Bicker all you want about how big the percentage is of each piece, but without both, there will be no success.

Although a lucky select few are born with a brilliant innate talent, many of us are able to take advantage of a single spark of talent, or the hint of a talent.  Over time, with practice and teaching from others who have gone before us, we are able to hone that talent and make it shine.  Change it into something that others also find valuable.

You can have all the talent in the world, but it is useless without the drive and the perseverance to deliver it.  You must show off this talent.  Let others see it.  Put it in front of their faces if you have to.  If you have something to sing, get up on that stage and sing it.  If you have something to say, post it where everyone can find it.  Artists, paint your hearts out and then show the world.  You will get "no."  It's inevitable.  But eventually, you will get "yes."  Take that first "yes" and make it work for you.  Let it snowball.

Today I applied for a writing position that some might consider above my head.  I have faith that, given the chance, I could rock this position.  And who cares?  I took the risk.  I'll take it again.  You remember what they say about the lottery, right?  You can't win if you don't buy a ticket.