Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maintaining Professionalism While Working from Home

You're not going to get your best work done in your slippers.
Photo by:  winnond

For those of us who work from our homes, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep up our professional demeanor.  After all, it's hard to feel like you are at work when you have Dora the Explorer yapping at you in the background!  But if you don't put yourself in a working mindset, you are unlikely to actually get anything done.  Feeling professional can help you stay on track during the day and increase your productivity, ultimately leading to higher paychecks.

1. For Pete's sake, get dressed.

You are not going to feel professional sitting at your desk in your robe and bunny slippers.  Nobody is asking you to wear a dress suit or a tie -- although I wouldn't fault you for doing so -- but at least get out of the sweats and put some shoes on.  Fixing your hair and putting on a little makeup will help you feel more professional as well, if that's your thing.  Basically, dress as if you were planning to meet people today or were planning to go to work at a casual office.  

2.  Schedule your day.

Remember that calendar I told you to keep here?  It's about to be useful again.  Every evening before you close up shop for the day, check your calendar for the next day and the upcoming week.  Use a spreadsheet or even just a piece of paper to draft out a schedule for the following day.  Take note of which projects should have priority.  While making your schedule, include personal things that need to get done during the day.  Household maintenance activities can be done while you work from home, but put them in your schedule so that you know when they are to be done and when you can forget about them for awhile.  Include breaks and other predictable activities in the schedule as well.  Don't be overly rigid, but try to stick to your plan as much as possible.

3.  Keep your work area clean.

Having papers covering your desk is a surefire way to guarantee you will be distracted.  Keep papers filed away except for the immediate project you are working on.  Don't mix "work stuff" with "home stuff."  If this means separate filing cabinets, so be it.

4.  Get off the Internet!

Okay, so you probably need a search engine open to look up information or research your project, but that's it!  Fine, and maybe one for music too, if it helps you work better.  I personally can't write or edit well with music playing, but some do.  But for the love of all that is holy step away from the Facebook!  Every time you click over to find out what your friend thinks of your dog or play the Sims you are stealing valuable time from yourself.  Not cool.  Think of it this way:  Don't do something that you would fire an employee you were paying for doing.

5.  Be professional on the phone.

You should have a phone that is dedicated to work when you work from home.  Don't make it your home phone, since other people are likely to answer it.  Make your cell phone your work phone or, if you can, have a completely separate cell just for work.  Answer it professionally and judiciously.  If your son or daughter is home with you and the phone rings while they are having a meltdown, let it go to voice mail.  It is better to return the client's call later when things have calmed down then to try to have a work conversation over the sounds of a screaming child.  It's probably old hat to you, but imagine what that sounds like from the client's end.  Are you likely to hire someone who appears to be working in such a chaotic environment?  Come up with fun activities to keep your kids quiet and self-entertained while you work.  If you can, hire a sitter.  It might seem strange to have someone else watching your kids while you are at home, but if your kids are especially rambunctious it might be the best option.

Women, Writing and Money

Not a measure of self-worth, but you should charge what you are worth.
Photo by: worradmu

An excellent conversation is taking place over at  After an article discussing the ways to get paid what you are worth and the value of directness in pricing, I had a question.  "Are men more likely to be direct about getting paid then women?"  Writer Anne Wayman took the time to explore the question, believing it to be tied in to self-worth, rather than gender.  As she points out though, isn't that a bit of a gender issue as well?  If you can, by the way, take the survey to express your opinion.  I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

I think this is a really important subject to address.  It's well-known that women are still earning less than men working in the same position.  In 2010, TIME Magazine reported that women only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

What on earth is going on here?  While on the surface it appears to be a bias issue, the bias wouldn't be allowed if women weren't willingly settling for less.  Granted, wages aren't usually something that is talked about -- I know people who would happily report all about their sex lives but would never tell me what they made last year -- so it's hard to compare.

Are women as a whole more willing to accept a first offer?  Do some of them feel grateful to be hired at all?  Do they not feel worth more?

I'm the first person to confess to feeling a sense of gratitude when someone wants to hire me.  Sometimes the validation that I'm not a crappy writer gets in the way and almost becomes part of the payment.  I'm also still rather new to the game.

I've been working jobs that paid crummy wages for the past 20 years.  The idea of making $50 an hour frightens me.  Could I possibly be worth that much?  I have no college degree.  Enough credits for two separate degrees, but not in the right combination and not at the right schools.  According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, the average yearly pay for a woman who has only a high school diploma is $25,000 per year ($32,900 for men -- couldn't you just cry?).  At the job I left earlier this year I was making about $40,000 annually.  So, statistically speaking, I was doing really well for someone with no associate's degree.

Am I crazy to want more?  Am I crazy to think that I am worth more?  I have a skill.  I can write and edit.  I can research.  I can put thoughts together in a logical stream.  I can do these things well.  I had an inkling this was something I might be good at, but until I jumped in and began getting feedback from those who had no reason to coddle me, I could only suspect.

And here we are again.  I thought I was good at writing but I wasn't sure until other people told me so.  As a writer you won't succeed unless other people think your writing is good enough to buy, so there's certainly a point where other people have to think you're good.  So how do you deal with this issue when your creative process must have a dollar amount assigned to it and that dollar amount is determined by whether someone will purchase it at that price?

I know this is a point that has been bandied about for several decades and one blog post isn't going to solve the problem.  It's probably also a good question for my therapist!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When Life Gets in the Way of the Writing

Coping with the rainy days.
Photo by:  Vlado

Life happens.  This is a fact.  And sometimes events transpire to take us away from our careers as writers -- maybe for a couple of days, maybe for a month or more.  As self-employed professionals, we don't have options like FMLA to fall back on, so what can we do to make sure we still have a career to return to?

Before a crisis ever happens, it's important to establish good record-keeping habits. You should always know which clients you are working for and when their deadlines are.  Don't try to trust this to your memory.  When the you-know-what hits the fan, the memory is the first thing to go and you are bound to forget names, dates and topics.  Do yourself a favor now and create a calendar of deadlines you can easily refer to and keep it updated.

When the Crisis Happens

1.  Check your calendar.  Do you have deadlines in the next few days?  Can you realistically get any of this work done?  If you are going to be away from your desk to deal with the situation, it is unlikely. It is also unlikely that any work you produce in the midst of the crisis is going to be your best, which means you would be shortchanging your client who is paying for your best work.  Additionally, having a looming deadline while you are coping with chaos is also likely to ratchet up your stress level and that's the last thing you need.  Work is important, but so are you, and you need to take time to manage your own needs.

2.  Contact those clients.  Send out an email to each client whose deadlines fall during this period.  It doesn't have to be long, but you absolutely must contact them as soon as you possibly can.  Let them know that you will not be able to make deadline.  You don't have to give them the gory details -- these are clients after all, not your closest friends.  If you give them all the details you are apt to scare them off.  However, it is okay to let them know that a personal situation has come up -- as long as this isn't something that happens every week.  If crises are happening day after day, you will get a reputation for being flaky, and you do not want that.  Clients are human beings, though, and will likely be understanding when you ask for an extended deadline because of an emergency.  Why send an email instead of a phone call?  A client on the phone may try to convince you to "just do that one piece."  In a vulnerable state, you may feel guilty and accept, adding to the stress of the situation.  It's harder to lay a guilt-trip by email.

3.  Enlist help.  Your clients may have their own deadlines, and you don't want to put them in a bind.  If any of the deadlines cannot be moved forward, the work must get done.  Contact any freelance writer friends you have and pay them to do the work.  Yes, you may lose out on some cash, but you will retain the client.  Services like Textbroker may help out in a pinch, but don't go too cheap.  Hire the best.  Your client deserves it.

4.  Stick to the new deadlines.  You've bought yourself some time to deal with the immediate crisis.  If you and the client have agreed on new deadlines, you absolutely must make those deadlines.  Try to push them back again and you will lose the client.  Get help if you need it, but do whatever you need to do to get the work done.

5.  Write.  This may sound contradictory to all the previous advice, and perhaps a little callous, but a crisis can provide incredible fodder for a writer.  Writing, after all, is what we do.  It's who we are.  If you have learned something from a crisis, pass it on.  Others will, eventually, cope with the same thing.  Even if all you write down is titles for future pieces, get them in your notebook.  You may even find it therapeutic to write out your feelings about what is happening, and sometimes detaching enough to write a "how to" article can give you perspective to cope with the unfolding chaos.  Plus, writing a little every day, even just a paragraph, will keep the gears well-lubricated and ready for when you get back to work.