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The Freelancing Fallacy: You Believe a Freelancing Career Means You’re Your Own Boss

Enraptured by the idea of running your own business so you’re your own boss? Sick and tired of answering to a tyrannical boss at work? Love the idea of getting up whenever you want to without having to apologize to your manager and team at work?

Please, please listen to me when I say this: When you run your own business, you have lots of bosses. They’re your clients, vendors, and, yes, even the government.

So don’t quit your day job to start your own business just because you can’t stand the manager you have right now.

Freelancing is Like School

One of the best things our education system teaches us is how to adjust what we produce to meet the needs of the person in power. In school, college, and university, that’s your teacher, instructor, professor. At work, it’s your boss, and likely even your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s boss, and so on.

You had to look at the course requirements, you likely listened for hints from other students on how to succeed in a teacher’s class, and you may even have visited rating sites to find tips for profs you were stuck with.

School was the perfect training ground for running your own business. Some clients will be happy with almost anything you produce, and some will have exacting standards you need to meet. If you want to find success, you’ll have to learn to adjust to each client’s preferences.

Running by Your Own Rules

There are also consequences if you ignore your clients’ wishes and requirements. Yes, you can set your hours without asking anyone for permission. That’s true. But if a good client calls you up and says they have $1,000 worth of work for you to do the week of your vacation, what will your answer be?

There are ways to mitigate such situations, and I thankfully haven’t lost any business yet because of family time away from home. But I have taken on last-minute work that needed weekend time to get done, because otherwise I would’ve lost out on $700.

Choosing Your Clients

The plus side to needing a variety of clients is choice: you can choose whom you want to work with. For some, that is the ultimate freedom. If a potential client is already very demanding on the phone before you’ve even agreed to a contract, you can politely decline, saying you’re busy. Or you can refer them to someone who may be willing to work with them. (Just because you don’t jive with that person doesn’t mean someone else will have that same feeling.)

If your client roster is full of people you enjoy working with, then almost every assignment is fun and fulfilling. Unlike in an employment situation, where you have the same boss, no matter your feelings about them, you have some leeway with your clients.

 

Employment Laws

I love freelancing, and I don’t want to turn you off running your own business if that’s what you really want to do. But if you’re doing it to escape the nightmare boss you’re working for right now, you may be better off just getting another job.

Running your own business can cause a lot of financial insecurity, and you have no employment laws to protect you. Client not paying on time? Can’t call the labour board. Client shouting at you over the phone? Can’t talk to their boss about harassment. Did someone choose not to work with you because of your sexual orientation? I’m certain you won’t have much of an argument at the human rights tribunal.

If you need to force a client to do something, it’s up to you to get a lawyer involved. And it’s up to you to pay for it.

Do This Self-Test

If you’re planning to freelance, write up your business plan. In it, include your ideal type(s) of client AND where you think you could find them. Then gear your marketing plan towards that. Estimate time and cost, and add 15% (because it’ll often take longer and cost more than you think).

You still run the risk of finding less-than-ideal clients, but once you sit down and think this through, it should help clarify if running your own business is really what you want.

Why?

Because you will hopefully find out how hard marketing is and think twice before you strike out on your own. Freelancing is extremely fulfilling, but some aspects of it are extremely hard, and finding the right clients can be one of those aspects. But don’t go into freelancing because you get to be your own boss.

Because you don’t.

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Getting Back on Top of Your Goals

It’s Not too Late

The first quarter of 2018 is almost over. So, I’m going to ask that ominous question, the one that sounds like the monster that’s been hiding in your closet all these years, whose presence you keep denying to yourself.

How are your New Years’ goals coming along?

Ouch. Did that hurt? Did you feel an arrow fly into your stomach? Or maybe into your head as you suddenly remembered you even had New Years’ goals?

I’m certain you’re not alone, and I’ve got news for you: it’s not too late to start the pursuit again.

Review the Last 3 Months

This might be painful, but quarterly reviews clarify for you what’s going on. What’s really going on. They break the safety bubble you live in, because you’re faced with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly when you review your progress of the past three months. But keep this in mind: In my experience, the more honest I am with myself and my progress, the easier pursuing my goals becomes. Why? Because I fear less.

When you review your last few months, ask yourself these questions:

Am I where I want to be?

If so, what did I do that got me there? (And continue doing it.)

If not, what did I do that didn’t work? (And find a new way of doing it.)

Get Support to Reach Your Goals

If you’re on track with your goals, you probably don’t want to mess with things. But if you’re off track, then it may be time to get help.

Here’s what happened to me last year: For the first time during my annual review, I calculated how much the time I’d spent on marketing efforts, multiplied it by the hourly rate of what I’d earned for the year, and used the total as a measure of how much money I’d “spent” on marketing last year. I then reviewed how much new business I’d won over the year. The final figures weren’t pretty. In fact, they were pretty devastating. So, I contacted a marketing consultant to do an audit on my efforts and set me on the right path.

But that’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, haven’t reached your word goal, or still have the same number of customers as last year, get help! Either join a group, see your doctor, find a good therapist or coach…Whatever your means allow, now’s the time to get a little assistance.

Do You Need to Re-Align?

The beauty with checking in on your goals every quarter like this is that it gives you a chance to re-align them with where you are now. Remember, you created your New Years’ goals in a certain frame of mind, at a certain time in your life, under a certain set of circumstances. If your situation has changed, you may need to adjust how you achieve your goals.

That’s okay!

What if you planned to write 1,000 words a week but the serious diagnosis of a loved one rammed you off course? It doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.

What if you wanted to quit smoking but in the meantime lost your job, leaving you with more stress than your non-smoking self can handle? That  doesn’t mean you can’t regain your footing. You adjust. (And, of course, get help so you can make it through.) Remember, every little bit helps, so don’t discount small, regular steps towards your goals. Not everything has to be achieved by leaps and bounds.

Don’t be Afraid

Looking at progress is a powerful motivator to help you move forward. It’ll help you figure out what’s gone wrong and hopefully inspire you to plan your next steps to get back on track.

They say every journey begins with a step. Take that next step now to get back on the path you dreamed for yourself this year.

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Being Interviewed for an Article? A Few Tips

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Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

Whether you’ve just launched your book, are announcing a new tour, or celebrating your next opening night, you’ll likely find yourself talking to media at some point or other. I interview people from many industries for the magazine articles I write, and some interview better than others.

Why does this matter? Because it’ll affect what information I can use for the article.

I’ve got a few tips here for you so you, too, can become a better interviewee.

Watch Your Pronouns

If you’re talking about two guys and a gal and you keep saying “he,” the writer may go back to her notes and suddenly realize she’s not entirely sure which “he” you’re referring to. Although the writer may try to reach you for clarification, if she can’t, then she’ll likely go for one of the following solutions:

  • Strike the quote, no matter how good it is.
  • Assume which person it refers to and change the quote.

In my opinion, the first one is the only option unless context is very clear. If I’m not 100% certain whom the pronoun is referring to, I will definitely cut the quote. Because I do much of my writing evenings and weekends when those I interview aren’t always reachable, this means the information doesn’t make it in to the article.

Don’t Use the Writer as a Subject

It’s annoying when I get used as an example. Not because I’m insulted at all, but because I can’t use the quote. Using the writer as a subject looks like this: “Let’s say Lori is trying to improve her pirouette, so she focuses on her teacher’s old advice of pulling up straight. But this causes Lori to pull up her shoulders…”

I’ve had phenomenal illustrations given to me this way, quotable material. But I can’t quote it because my name’s in it. (And no, I won’t change the name. I have no issues changing a pronoun if I’m 100% certain of the antecedent, but I won’t change the name.)

Yes, the writer can call you up to clarify or ask your permission to change the name, but again, this is an extra step that may not happen.

Let the Writer Jump in Once in a While

Although limiting your answers to two sentences can make it difficult for the writer to get any quotable material, if the writer hasn’t asked you anything in five minutes, wrap up your thought and then pause. Some writers are too polite to interrupt, some need a moment for formulate the next question (and that’s hard to do when someone’s talking), and to be honest, it can get really boring listening to someone talk for 45 minutes straight.

Treat the interview like a conversation, and just ease into it. Yes, you should be talking the most, but let the writer participate.

Understand Time and Space Allotment

Unless you’re told otherwise, assume that others will also be interviewed for the article. I consider it impolite to ask who, but I think there’s nothing wrong with asking how long the article is.

Knowing the assigned length of the article will give you an idea of how much information the writer is looking for. For example, if the article is 1200 words, even if you’re the focus, the interview will likely last only 30 minutes or so. You’ll have certain information you want to share, so prepare with that time limit in mind.

And if the writers says they’ll only need five minutes of your time, plan accordingly.

Have Respect for the Writer’s Time

I generally like interviewing, because I get to meet some really interesting people. I expect the person I’m talking to to share information, anecdotes, personal reflections, and the like. However, even for a 1,200-word article, I don’t want someone’s list of their personal 10 Commandments.

(I once interviewed someone who kept me on the phone for two hours, even though they were one of three people I was interviewing for a 1,200-word article and knew that. Needless to say, I was livid, and I certainly wasn’t going to transcribe the entire two hours. If that subject had wanted something important in the article, there was a good chance I missed it.)

Although erring on  the side of more information is generally a good idea, you can go too far.

Just Think of Your Own Projects

In the end, it comes down to the same guidelines that likely apply your own art: stay on topic, keep the overall framework in mind, and respect everyone’s time. It’ll help you get the information you need into the media and hopefully bring you more leads down the road.

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A Few Pointers About Virtual Presentations

IMG_0811I recently watched a webinar about how a company implemented a new software solution. The presenter had a good deal of information to share with us, but after 40 minutes, I had to exit: I could barely make heads or tails of it.

Here’s why:

Each slide was loaded with information, including diagrams and bullet points. Trying to read all that and listen to the speaker required more of my brain power than I had available for a lunchtime presentation. Moreover, I don’t think what he was saying always matched what he was showing. However, I couldn’t tell 100% because it really was a lot of information at once.

The speaker also ended each sentence as a question? It made it hard for me to follow his logic? Because he didn’t modulate his voice? (Sorry for the bad demonstration here? But I have to show you visually how annoying this is?)

Giving a presentation online is different from giving one in person: like a radio announcer at 3:00 a.m., you have to trust that someone is listening to you and speak accordingly. Whether you’re giving a webinar on the latest trends in your sector, or running a virtual meeting, I’ve got a few tips here that should make your presentation more effective.

Your Presentation

TV holds our attention in part because it flashes 29 pictures at us per second. If you’re doing a virtual presentation, you’re not going to be able to click the mouse that fast, but changing slides ever five minutes because each slide is loaded with information is not the way to go.

When you’re talking in front of people, my preference is to keep slides to a bare minimum: only use them if you need to show something that can’t be easily described or to highlight a really important point. Why? Because it lets people focus on you. You’re a human, they’re humans: we’re wired to engage with each other, and if you know how to keep your audience’s attention, you’ll be much more successful than a bunch of poorly designed slides.

But when you’re on the phone or at your computer, and there’s no visual feed for your face, you need to maintain visual interest. Keep slides simple, simple, simple, and err on the side of having too many. The slides also need to fit to the point you’re making at that moment. Once you’ve made your point, click, next slide.

A Word About Templates

I’m not graphically gifted, so I rely on templates. If you’re in the same boat, I’d at least suggest taking a few basic courses online, even webinar-style ones like those offered at lynda.com (my own support for them – I’m not getting paid for that). I of course didn’t turn into a graphics artist, but I at least learned how graphics artists tackle their work and that I should not mess with templates.

So keep things simple: don’t go overboard on all the special effects. A few can certainly add some flare, but too many can look gaudy and amateur.

Your Presentation Script

It’s totally fine to read from a script. When you’re giving a webinar, you have a certain amount of time to share all the information you need to share. However, don’t read it like you’re back in grade school and avoid any “official” tone; you’ll only alienate your audience.

In fact, as you work on your script, write it like you would talk to your boss or client or colleague (choose which ever is closest to your audience). Skip the ticks like “ya know?” and “eh?” but and don’t be afraid to be a little casual. Your script should seem friendly to you, but authentically so, not sitcom so.

Your Voice

I just participated in a conversation on social media earlier this week about not liking the sound of your voice when you hear it outside of your head. Remember, no one – absolutely no one – knows what your voice sounds like to you; they’ve always only known you as the voice they hear. I’m certain you don’t sound like Lina Lamont, so leave that worry at the door.

Second, talk normally but slow down a little. I have no scientific claim behind this, but my guess as to why we think we’re talking like Eeyore when everyone tells us we’re talking like Tigger is because we know what we’re going to say. So, by the time it comes out of our mouths, our brains have already heard it.

Final Notes

It’s normal to get nervous before a presentation of any kind. The nice thing about giving webinars is that you can physically do whatever you need to let those nerves out, so long as the activity doesn’t impact what your audience hears. But talk into your phone or headset mic like you’re speaking to another human being, and don’t be afraid of using too many slides: you’ll never reach 29 frames per second, but a new slide every minute or two will help keep your audience visually engaged, as well, when a visual of you isn’t possible.

Remember – even if you’re using technology to reach your audience, you’re still a human, and they’re still humans. Act accordingly.

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Keep Your Online Presence Simple

A laptop on a white surface with a glass and a single lily leaf in it.
Photo by Sarah Dorweiler, via unsplash.

The downside to being creative is that your creativity can show up when it’s perhaps not as beneficial to your day-to-day running. In my case, it happened with my online presence: two websites, a blog, and five domains (those three plus two more). Thankfully, I stopped getting creative at the social media stage: I only have four accounts there, and one I’ve almost laid dormant.

However you spend your creative life, whether it’s for fun or as a career, managing your online presence shouldn’t be time-consuming: After all, you want to spend time on your writing, dancing, music, art, etc., right? If you’re freelancing, you’d rather be earning money than frequently managing your online presence.

I’m now unifying everything into one website, and I’m trying out a new theory.

People Want to Know Me

Two months ago, I wrote about how artist and freelancing websites need to differ: an artist website needs to focus on portfolio and expertise, whereas a freelancing website needs to emphasize the services you offer (and also include your portfolio and expertise).

I still stand by those differences. But over the past six months or so, I’ve been working through some marketing advice from Kristen Lamb, a freelance and indie editor, and a book by Michael Port, a business consultant for service providers (which freelancers are).

Lamb focuses on indie authors. In her blogging workshop (excellent, by the way), she emphasized how important it is to market myself as a person, because people who share my interests are more likely to read my books. If someone is looking for a horror, then a blog about dance, life, and marketing will signal that I’m not that author.

In Book Yourself Solid, Port describes how to make your marketing fit you and how to find customers who jive with you, which is why I love his book. As a service provider, and one who does all the writing herself, I’m not interested in getting millions of hits to my websites, hundreds of calls a week, etc.; there’s only so much in my workload I can handle. Port’s promise is to help me find the right customers for me, and in his opinion, I can help that process along by being me. (I add one caveat, though: Professionalism is still important. Putting up drunken party photos of yourself is not what he means.)

Simplifying My Online Presence

Returning to my new website, that means shining a brighter (but still professional) light on who I am. That doesn’t mean I’m going to have my bio on my homepage: that won’t be effective in my case. But having my homepage reflect who I am will let me unify both sides of my writing.

But what prompted all of this? It wasn’t just the time I was spending on my websites and blog, it was feedback, and likely not the kind of feedback you’d expect for such a change.

My current copywriting website got compliments from several writers I respect, but I received almost no inquiries through it. Those who hung around the website long enough to read up on my pricing also didn’t jump off at pricing; they jumped off elsewhere. So if my website was so good, and pricing wasn’t scaring people off, why wasn’t I getting much business through it?

Design for Your Audience, Not Your Colleagues

That’s when I realized that everyone who had complimented me on my website was a writer. Save for content strategists and some marketing managers, most people looking for my services won’t be writers themselves.

In addition, I had learned through several sources (including Lamb) that Google likes websites that are frequently updated. I update my copywriting/translating website every month or two, my website dedicated to writing about dance every year or two, and yet I update my blog – which does not advertise my services directly – every week.

To add to my troubles, the two main websites overlapped when it came to my expertise in dance. Why on Earth was I maintaining two sites with similar content?

So, I’m returning to a simpler strategy, one that will let me focus more on my writing while hopefully strengthening my presence with Google and allowing me to present a full picture of myself to potential clients and readers.

Have you found ways to save time in your marketing? Share them below.

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A Freelancer’s Website vs. an Artist’s Website: The Basic Difference

camerasWhen an artist – almost any artist, actually – wants to freelance to bring in some money, one mistake they may make is to create a website about themselves. It seems pretty obvious to do that, doesn’t it? After all, they figure people will want to know right away what schools they studied at, where their art has appeared or been performed, and how good they are at it.

But here’s the thing: there’s a difference between selling your art and selling your services, and the two require different marketing approaches.

This is where the difference is between marketing yourself as an artist, dancer, writer, musician, photographer, etc. and marketing yourself as a graphics designer, dance instructor, corporate writer, music teacher, wedding photographer, etc. If you’re marketing your art, you focus on you and your art. If you’re marketing your service, you focus on your service. Sometimes you may have a hard time differentiating between the two, but that’s generally how it works. Why?

It’s about how audiences interact with you. As an artist, they want to know more about you, what drives your art, what inspires you, and, of course, your art. In other words, they’re generally trying to find a match between your personality and expression and theirs.

If you want to freelance, you’ve now become a service provider. This type of clientele needs a different focus. These people want to know what you’ve accomplished for other clients so they can judge if you’ll be able to accomplish the same for them.

Do I have hard, fast data on my hypothesis? No. This is based on what I’ve observed as a copywriter for the arts and technology. (Sorry, some shameless self-promotion there.)

Let me illustrate from my perspective:

As a writer who’s breaking into fiction, I took freelance editor Kristen Lamb’s workshops, Branding for Authors and Blogging for Authors. Her argument is that readers want to get to know me because they’ll assume that my fiction will somehow match my personality. For example, anyone who reads my blog won’t be expecting slasher horror novels anytime soon. But a short piece of creative non-fiction about an ancestor? More likely.

But as a copywriter, it’s not about me: it’s about my client. Yes, my website needs to reflect who I am, and yes, I firmly believe it needs a bio page. However, the majority of the site has to focus on what I can do for potential clients. They obviously don’t want to work with a self-aggrandizing idiot, but at the outset, at least, they’re more concerned about what I’ve accomplished, because it’ll show to them if I can handle what they want me to do.

In the end, you’re important, no matter what, and your website should reflect you. So whether you’re selling your art or your services, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re human, and that people ultimately want to interact with a human. Just remember that your website, depending in its purpose, will need the right emphasis.

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Passion vs. Real Life

Hands of person holding road mapThere’s nothing more enjoyable about writing than finding out something new about yourself as you’re writing. In this case, I’m starting to question the validity behind the “follow your passion” philosophy of life.

I enjoy reading Wayne Dyer, Cheryl Richardson, Jack Canfield, and a host of other inspirational authors. The general message that I hear is that success comes by setting your goals and (in most cases) working hard to achieve them. There’s a good dose of “you can do anything you set your mind to” in there. Throw God (or whatever you believe in) into the mix as your backup, your support, and the being/energy that will help you through, and you’ll be successful.

I do believe there’s truth in that. Human history is full of people who’ve lived by those principles and achieved greatness.

Then there’s Cal Newport, who believes that the passion argument is flawed and even misleading. Newport argues that you should “start by getting good at something valuable; the passion will follow” and that the belief of following your passion “can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping.” His most recent book, according to his website, is called “So Good, They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Work You Love.”

I also believe there’s some truth in that. Human history is also full of people who show pride in their everyday work, at least based on my impression of the last two million years. When I speak to some of those people (obviously those alive – I have no special gifts), I hear their pride constantly as they talk about their jobs. My grandmother, for example, used to work in a luxury hotel in Austria in the 50s, and she frequently told me about her skill at egg-boiling: she had to remember how long each guest wanted their eggs boiled, and I don’t believe she had an egg timer. She was truly proud of that fifty years later.

Some in the passion camp argue that I should look to my childhood for what my true passions are, or at least, were. For me, I loved creating: writing, crafting, drawing, and occasional family-only performances were all on the plate. If I had followed my passion 100% as some of these inspirational speakers say I should, I’d be broke. Why? Because back then I believed in only one road to success in the arts: audition->work for cheap/get rejected->repeat. And I sucked at it. A mix of low self-confidence (“I’m not going to make it, so why try?”) and dealing poorly with rejection (“See? They didn’t like me, anyways.”) guaranteed that I got nowhere professionally really quickly. I needed to find something I believed I was good at.

In those days, my mom was a secretary and my dad ran the family business with my grandfather and uncle. At home, mom taught me how to answer the phone with a smile (no matter how stupid you felt), type with ten fingers, and use a word processor, including advanced functions like macros and merges. Around roughly the same time, I worked summers at the family business filing work orders from the service department. I still talk about my filing system from back then.

In my adult life, I kept getting administrative jobs. For a while, I thought this was some kind of woman thing, based on the lack of male administrative assistants. Am I truly reaching my full potential? Do I not have the ovaries to reach higher? (I’d use the usual expression, but the obvious answer would be no.) All it took to answer those questions was a reflection back on my previous jobs. I frequently stepped in to new systems or very inefficient ones. In order to turn them around, though, I had to communicate with my boss and other team members clearly. Sometimes I had to write a proposal, maybe give a small presentation. I learned to focus less on me and more on the customer (crucial in almost any job). I also eventually learned how to write effective copy. Over time, I grew to believe that I’m damn good at those skills (and have the performance evaluations to prove it).

What I could not foresee as a child was how the role of secretary/administrative assistant would grow to encompass a slew of new responsibilities, including copious amounts of writing. The thing about childhood dreams is that you don’t understand the entire scope of adult life. A “writer” to my younger self was Robert Munsch, or Jean Little, or Carolyn Keene (before I knew she didn’t exist), or even Lois Lane (even though I knew she didn’t exist). It didn’t occur to me that writers can write marketing copy, reports, essays, or grants. In addition, the Internet was nowhere to be seen back then. Basically, if I’d “followed my dream,” I may have actually passed up amazing opportunities along the road that brought me to where I am now.

Maybe the best advice, then, is to follow what you love to do, but leave the how open for discussion.