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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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Returning to Grad School After 13 Years: What I’ve Learned So Far

Considering grad school? I did. For over 10 years, actually, after I’d completed a Masters and two years of a PhD. Now I have a husband, two kids, a freelancing business, and my sanity. So I added a part-time PhD to the mix. You know, just to liven things up a bit.

Many things improve with age, and grad school is one of them. What strengthens my story a little is that I returned to the same department and program I had left over 10 years ago. Even my prof this semester is one I had back then. So the changes I’ve experienced at least can’t be attributed to a change in subject matter or school.

The Importance of Purpose

In my 20s…

I was too scared to step out into the real world. Teaching at the university level looked like fun, so I figured I might as well do it, since I had no idea what else to do with my life. (By now, I had become a professional student, though I didn’t realize it at the time.)

In my 40s…

My goals are crystal clear: to improve my German, my translation skills, and add literary translation to my freelancing business. Now, every book I read, every paper I write, every project I do is fuelled by this reason.

A Willingness to Learn

In my 20s…

This goes back to my Masters. My prof in my research methods course strongly advised us to take off one day a week. It was the only way to handle the workload, he said.

And you know what went through my head? He’s a prof. What does he know?

I also followed instructions literally. If our assignment for that week was to read a range of pages, I read them. And then I stopped. I’d love to blame the absence of the Internet to explain why I didn’t spend time looking up supplementary reading sources, but alas, I cannot: we had the Internet back then, too. The honest answer is that I just couldn’t be bothered to put in more effort than was necessary.

(I think I was actually angry that so much work was regularly assigned in grad school. And I was the one who’d chosen to be there…)

In my 40s…

Some of what we read is really difficult. My writer self can now see that it’s a case of bad writing and can try and decipher it. But more important than that, if I don’t understand something, I look up supplemental information, sometimes spending up to two hours if needed. (If I still don’t get it, I stop there. Yes, I’m in grad school, and independent learning is the cornerstone of that level of education. But I’m also here to be taught.)

As with any grad class, we have major assignments to complete: for this course, it’s a group project on a not-so-well-known author, and a 15-20-page paper. I’m no longer scared of spending time going down a few rabbit holes to find information that may or may not be useful. Why? Because I’m here to learn, and those rabbit holes often leave some interesting crumbs behind for later investigation and exploration. Moreover, I know from past experience that spending time reading and exploring is actually a lot of fun, and once I have the exact topic I’m looking for, researching, writing, and editing flow much easier.

Planning is My Friend

In my 20s…

I had no plan for anything I did in grad school. I just knew that I had to keep working so I could be ready for class the following week. I invariably left essays until the last minute, too. I just dove in, because, hey, who wants to waste time planning when you can just get the stuff done?

The result was a lot of stress because, without clear plans, work never ended.

In my 40s…

I plan each upcoming week over Friday and Saturday evening. It takes me an hour, sometimes two, and I’ll expand the plan into the following weeks if needed. The bonus: I often have Sundays free, despite all my commitments. However, if I need to work on a  Sunday, I make sure my time is carefully planned so I only do what’s necessary to stay on schedule.

These plans aren’t carved in stone, and the moment a kid gets sick, or a client suddenly needs more work down now, I have to shift my plans around. But because they’re already set, it’s easy to see what I have to give up and, more importantly, decide if that activity or plan is worth giving up for the new one that’s taking its place.

The Meaning of Boundaries

In my 20s…

Boundaries affect many areas of your life, including schedule, social, and work.

Without a clear schedule to my entire day (teaching and seminars excluded), work just bled and bled and bled. I couldn’t shut off. I was starting to analyze people’s speech patterns during casual conversation, because I hadn’t told my mind to stop working. It’s hard to enjoy a conversation when you’ve got theories running through your head to help you analyze it.

At first, I chalked it up to excitement at having discovered an area of study I loved. However, this excitement built and built and turned into full immersion: I studied and socialized within the department, and even dated within it. (And if I wasn’t dating within it, I was dating another PhD student within the faculty.) My studies, friendships, and relationships all deeply affected on another: Class was more exciting sitting next to my boyfriend, my friendships were more exciting because we could lament about not enjoying class all the time, and my relationship acted as a crutch to help me get through some of the tougher areas of class.

My studies had become my life, and if one thing went wrong, my whole world fell apart. Trust me. It’s not fun.

In my 40s…

The bus won’t drop my kids off when it’s convenient for me, and I can’t cook supper when I feel like it. So, when I calculate the time I have left over after my familial duties are taken care of, suddenly my available time for my studies becomes that much more valuable.

And guess what? I get a lot done in that time, more than I did in my 20s.

(Now, before you criticize me and ask how I know this, let me answer that for you: Once in a while, I fall back into old habits, for example, checking how many more pages I have left to read after every single page I read, or letting my mind wander far too many times. It makes a difference.)

How Did All This Change?

What happened, I believe, is that I spent about 15 years in the working world, where you risk getting fired if you don’t perform up to par. And unlike in the academic world, work keeps piling up and you’re left to your own devices to learn how to deal with it.

As a writer, that means meeting deadlines. A family member had an operation at the end of last month, and I had a short assignment due two days later. I handed it in before the operation. There was no way I was going to ask for an extension: that would embarrass me far too much now, because I see my prof as my boss.

I’m not saying that grad school is easy. The material we have to read can get really heady and often leaves me wanting to scream at the researcher for writing in such dense language. But I have processes to help me deal with the workload, and the maturity to once in awhile shrug my shoulders and go to class not fully prepared. In addition, I know roughly how long assignments will take, so I start working backwards to see when I need to start a project.

But it all comes down to what I just said: I know what I’m looking for, I’m open to learning, I take time to plan, and I live in a world of boundaries and commitments.

So, yes, returning to grad school can be done with work and familial commitments. But in my experience, you need discipline, project management skills, and a dose of humility: there will be times when you just can’t do it all.

And that’s okay.

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Guilt Getting in the Way of Your Creativity? These Suggestions Might Help

Guilt is never a nice feeling. At its worst, it reminds us we’ve hurt someone (which is what I think its original purpose was for), and many live with that feeling for the rest of their lives.

But, like many negative emotions, guilt can also interfere with other aspects of your life. Like worry, it can hijack your mind and keep you from creating, because your mind is occupied by all the other things you should be doing.

To be clear, I’m not going to rant about how important it is to feed your creativity to the point where it looks like I’m asking you to ignore your responsibilities. What I’m talking about here is the guilt that comes after those basic – and hugely important – duties have been completed.

But a Parent’s Duty Never Ends

I know. Even when I’m in my office, with both doors closed, my ears are open, listening to my kids. As much as I dream of spending a week away at a writers’ residency, I think the silence would be too distracting.

But let’s look at the context: Do you feel guilty about spending time on your creative work because you could be chopping up vegetables for tomorrow? Or because you forgot to dust the baseboards again? Oh – a few doors have fingerprints that have been driving you crazy, right?

I’m not teasing you here – those are things going on my head, too. (Garage door from the laundry room and office door from the kitchen – fingerprints galore!) But my point is you’re not feeling guilty because your kids are hungry and you insist on continuing your art.

Look at the Full Context

You need to step back first and examine the big picture (the trees vs. forest thinking I was talking about last week). Let’s look at an after-work situation. You finish at 5:00, want dinner on the table by 6:00, and feel guilty for not having a full, standard supper ready for your family. When it comes time to work on your own personal project, you’re chewing yourself up at having made tacos with last night’s leftover ground beef instead of finding some ingenious way of turning cooked ground beef into steak, baking huge potatoes, and julienning carrots for the wok.

The thing is, you’re almost never in the door until 5:30. What options do you have? Well, you can

  1. Continue berating yourself for not living up to your high standards, but we’ve seen this hasn’t been working for you.
  2. Move supper to 6:30.
  3. Put supper in a slow cooker in the morning.
  4. Prepare the meat in the morning so you can throw it in the oven the moment you get home.
  5. If your kids are old enough and are home before you are, start getting them to help.
  6. Lower your expectation.

Your feelings of guilt that you can’t have a full meat-potatoes-vegetables meal on the table every evening will only sap your creative energy. They’re not worth it.

Use Your Creativity and a Little Self-Compassion to Solve Your Problem

Years ago, I dated a guy whose mom always made us meat, potatoes, and a vegetable for supper when we came to visit. He wondered why she didn’t try pasta on occasion, or other dishes. Her response was that, as students, we likely ate pasta all the time, and she thought this would be a nice change (she was right). But I think part of it, too, was that she knew exactly when to start, how long each step would take her, and she could quickly switch up meats and vegetables as needed. It was easiest for her and let her focus her energy on other things.

A word about lowering your expectations: Keep in mind your overall goals and the least amount of work needed to accomplish them. For example, I want my kids to have healthy, home-cooked meals. For me, this means one substantial protein, at least one vegetable (usually two), and a grain. Possible options include

  • tacos (minus the high-sodium spice mix that comes in the package)
  • pasta and a good meat sauce
  • oven-baked chicken, roasted vegetables, and quinoa
  • turkey and carrot casserole, with brown rice, tomato sauce, and cheese

And if things are so harried sometimes that all I have time to cook is frozen, breaded meat, frozen peas, and toast, then that’s okay. (But not all the time – a few times a months is my limit.)

You deserve time to be creative. I would even say that you need it. If you’re finding yourself feeling guilty while you’re creating, examine the source of that guilt and what can be done to get rid of it. Guilt does have its purpose, but killing your own personal creativity is not one of them.

 

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Have a Vice? Maybe a Little “Flip” is All You Need

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Photo from unsplash

Each of us has a vice, most of us have several, some have many. These vices vary in their strength from annoying habits to full-blown addictions. I have no experience with full-blown addictions, so I’m not even going to venture there. However, like many others, I have some minor, unhealthy food addictions. And, like most of those many others, those addictions surround anything chocolate.

You Know What I’m Talking About

This will likely sound familiar to you: You’ve had a really rough week, it’s Friday night, and you drop into your couch, turn on the TV, and declare, “Lord, it’s been a shitty week. I deserve some chocolate.”

Then you drag yourself off the couch, get something to drink (could be water, could be tea, could be something stronger), and dump a horde of chocolate in whatever form suits your fancy onto your plate or into your bowl. As you’re watching your show, you’re delighting in the fact that you’ve “earned” this forbidden feast of fanciful sweetness that tickles your taste buds into serotonal submission.

And, when it’s all over, you realize you’ve just ingested 25% of your daily caloric intake right before bed. And after you’d ingested your entire caloric intake for the day. (I did that back in February. I started with a tiny handful of cashews and within minutes had added four Lindor chocolates. Oops.)

Deserving a Vice

About a month ago, something dawned on me about this bizarre ritual. Why do we tell ourselves we deserve something bad when we’re particularly stressed and could, to be honest, really use something good?

Think about that for a moment: You’ve had a difficult week, you can hardly move, maybe you’re even livid at someone or some event, your cortisol is up, your heart is pounding, you can feel that shroud of exhaustion all around your body…and you’re rewarding yourself with something that doesn’t help any of that, and at worst, exacerbates it all.

(For me, it’s the blood sugar ups and downs I get from too much sugar – which displays itself in a range of issues.)

So, that sentence up above actually says, “Lord, it’s been a shitty week. I deserve to eat something harmful.”

It’s Insanity!

Does that make any sense? It didn’t to me, so I’m trying something different. I don’t only find beautiful, decadent chocolate desserts inspiring and enticing; I feel the same about a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit.

Fresh fruit, especially berries, does more for my tongue than most desserts, and the bright colours against a backdrop of beiges and creams (the muesli and your choice of milk or substitute) is my favourite colour combination. I like how the calming, neutral colours support the distinctive, vibrant ones. The image reminds me of people who are at peace with themselves and therefore have a clear, distinct, unwavering voice.

What else makes me feel good? A good workout, an hour at my novel during “awake” hours (i.e., when my brain isn’t trying to shut down), a beautiful salad, and a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder in it. (Okay, depends on the taste of the protein powder. Some are just brutal.)

So, why on earth would I not say, “Lord, it’s been a shitty week. I deserve something healthy”?

Flipping the Vice

I’ve tried this new way of thinking for a few weeks now, which isn’t enough to write a book on, but it’s enough to plant the idea on your mind, too.

Here’s what seems to be happening: Not only am I turning around this idea of “deserving,” i.e., that I deserve something good for me as opposed to deserving something harmful, but I’m also removing the special status sweets have for me. I actually rarely touch chocolate now. However, I do eat a small dessert once or twice each day after a meal or a healthy snack, when it does less harm to my blood sugar. I also use an herbal supplement* my naturopath prescribed me to help with cravings.

The result? My sweet tooth is just a part of my everyday life. I do have to exercise a little self-discipline, but generally speaking, changing how I view my chocolate vice as made a huge difference.

What About Eating Out?

I’ve also done the same for ordering at a restaurant. Previously, my main criterion was to look for something I wouldn’t normally eat at home. That makes sense, given the senselessness of paying for food you can easily cook yourself.

However, because fries are included on the list of things I don’t usually eat at home, I almost always went for something with fries. Recently, new legislation came into effect that requires chain restaurants to display the caloric value of all the meals on their menus. When I saw the value for my usual order at one chain restaurant, I learned I was ingesting my entire day’s worth of calories in just one meal! I’ll do that for a beautiful, hand-crafted dessert but certainly not for chicken and fries.

If you’re struggling with a minor vice, consider turning your thinking around on it. Raise what’s good for you to the status of “special” and reduce what’s bad for you to “normal” by incorporating a healthy dose of it into your day. Sometimes, we only need to change how we feel about something to change how we deal with it.

*I won’t say what the supplement is. All medicines, whether herbal, over-the-counter, or prescribed, only work in the right circumstances, and at their worst can be very, very harmful. I don’t want to encourage anyone to take anything medicinal without a professional’s help.

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Sore Shoulders, Motivation, and Writing

ocean_mountainsPhysiotherapy consists of usually gentle but difficult exercises to help heal a physical injury. Weightlifting consists of generally harsh but usually easy exercises to help build muscle.

And they should be combined carefully.

The Pain of Writing

I’ve been undergoing physiotherapy for the past two months because of pain in my right shoulder that travelled invisibly through my arm and showed up in my hand: it hurt to lift my arm even to the mouse from the armrest, and eventually a sharp pain that felt like an earwig pinching my bone appeared in my finger. Overuse of my right arm at the computer was likely part of the problem.

Weighty Issues

In early February, I’d also picked up weightlifting again, something I’d sworn off of last year. I’d reflected some more on my love/hate relationship with it and am now certain my approach was guaranteeing my failure. I switched routines, the time of day I did it at, and even the days of the week, and voila! I love it again.

A Little Too Motivated

Now let’s put the two together:

My physiotherapist never asked me to stop weightlifting, and in fact encouraged me to continue, so long as I was finding it helpful, doing it properly, and wasn’t injuring myself. (I was also seeing a chiropractor for some of the symptoms, and he said the same.)

I was pain-free for weeks.

However, physiotherapy doesn’t speak to the ego: there’s nothing sexy about being on all fours in some tilted, awkward position to strengthen my shoulder. Weightlifting, though, does, and my ego became very motivated last week.

In short, I upped weights before my right arm and shoulder were ready, and the sensations in my hand returned the following day, though they were less severe.

I picked up more than I could lift.

Too Many Projects?

In my 20s, I had a similar problem with my life: I’d take on one project, and even if it wasn’t going so well, I’d add another, and then another, and then another. Somewhere in there, I broke. Why? Because I didn’t force myself to take a break, re-organize, and re-evaluate my situation.

Maybe this has happened to you in your creative endeavours: inspiration hits you for a project (a new song, story, dance, what have you),  you start, you get a little bored, your inspiration weakens, and then a new project comes along and the cycle starts all over again.

After awhile, you’re stuck in a quagmire of half-created creations, all begging for your attention, and all weakening you as you try and bulldoze your way through it all.

Slowing Down

Starting yesterday, I lowered my weights and committed myself to heating and icing my shoulder at least once a day, ideally twice. Starting today, I’ve promised myself to faithfully do the prescribed exercises each morning, even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier. I’ll ice my shoulder afterwards whenever feasible. I also massage a cream into the area. I’d like to think it’s helping.

After a week or so, I’ll add some more exercises to my routine as my therapist recommended. Once those become easy, I’ll try increasing the weights again, but only then and not before.

There’s nothing wrong with putting on the brakes when it comes to your projects. You haven’t failed. If you’re worried about forgetting them, sit down for an hour or more (whatever’s appropriate) for each project, and write down what you still need to accomplish. Set those lists aside, and return to them when you’re able to.

What’s Really Important to You?

Ask yourself, “Which of my projects is the most important right now?” Then focus your attention on completing it. Yes, increasing my weights makes me feel good, but exactly how good will I feel if I have to stop completely for serious physio because I took it too far? My goal is to increase my muscle mass and my strength. Slowing down right now supports that. Increasing the weights doesn’t.

Setting the other projects momentarily aside is like lowering your weights. Focussing on one project and accomplishing something towards it most days is like doing regular exercises to strengthen the injured body part. Once that body part is strong, your entire body can handle the entire load.

Completing one project at a time may even help calm your nerves: you’ll be juggling fewer to-do items. Moreover, whatever you learn from that project can be transferred to the next one. If there’s any overlap, that next project may even be easier than if you’d tried to complete it concurrently with the first one.

Having a million things on the go at once is sometimes necessary, but if you’re finding yourself stressed, maybe you’ve pushed yourself a bit to far. Slow down, back off, regroup, take some time to plan, take a well-deserved break, and then start again.

Starting again may sound scary, but in my experience, it’s been anything but and always beneficial.

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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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The Importance of Saying No

Young woman with exaggerated frown, hands extended forward in a thumbs-down motion.This week’s post is a quick one: It’s about the importance of saying no.

We once had cookbook author Charmian Christie join us at our writers’ meeting (we belong to the same association), and she said something that I, granted, forgot (and therefore didn’t heed) but then saw again when I recently reviewed my notes. It was this: It’s what you say no to that defines your business, not what you accept.

Think of it like a building with a lot of corridors. When you step into the building and see four doors in front of you, each one leading down a different hallway, you have to say no to three of them to embark on your path down one of them. If you don’t make that decision right away, you end up spending time – maybe years – figuring out which one is the best choice. But eventually, you have to make that decision (even if for the simple reason of finding a toilet). Each step you take further and further down that hallway is one more no to going back.

When it comes to your art, the same rule will likely apply to much of what you do: once you choose a genre or medium, there are certain conventions you have to follow, and you’ve now defined that piece of art as belonging to that genre or being produced using that medium. So, writing a romantic comedy with a gruesome killing befitting a horror novel would likely not be in your best interests. Likewise, if you’re going to write a novel like that, you’re doing so knowing that you’re producing something that goes against convention. Either way, you’ve made a choice to go down a specific path.

Why is this important? It helps you to stay on track. I just spent about 90 minutes today, for example, working on a blog post about learning a foreign language. I ended up saying yes to a lot of ideas, and it got so unwieldy, I had to set it aside if I wanted to hit my goal of one blog post a week this year. (My deadline for this week expires in about 105 minutes.)

The same happened to the first draft of my novel: I wanted to say so much with it and achieve so many things that it became one huge, 92,000-word juggling act. I’m not done with the second draft yet, but I can tell you it’s much more focused and is receiving good feedback.

So, whether you’re planning your business or attempting a new work of art (whatever your discipline is), don’t be afraid to say no to ideas that come along: it will likely strengthen your art rather than weaken it.

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Squeezing Creativity Into Your Life: A Few Tips

Thin trail in medium-height grass.Creativity makes us human – our evolutionary ancestors wouldn’t have moved past the African jungles without curiosity and creativity. Yet many people say that they have no time for creativity.

Being creative, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t about waiting for inspiration to hit and then spending hours on your novel (that you’ll finish “some day”) or your painting (that will sit on its easel for months to come) or your new skirt (speaking of which, I should start mine before the season’s over). Creativity is about purposefully fitting time into each day to explore other ideas.

Here are a few tips you can use to fit creativity in to your daily life:

Write Out Your Weekly Schedule

You don’t have to track your week, but write out your general schedule for each day of the week. You should see pockets of time where you can squeeze in an activity. For example, I spend 15 minutes on the bus and 25 minutes over lunch reading a book that inspires me to write. That’s already 40 minutes x 4 days/week = 2 hours and 40 minutes of reading about my craft, which brings me to the next topic.

Study Your Craft

Keep some key websites bookmarked, or visit your library for a book or two on your craft or project. The more you learn about how others do what you’re trying to do, the faster your own skill will develop, because you’re not spending time making beginner mistakes. Instead, you’re playing in the intermediate or advanced area, which is where you’re more likely to find your voice.

Keep a Short List of Your Creative Aims With You

I tuck a very thin 2.5” x 4” Moleskine booklet into my pocket all the time. It helps filter my commitments: If something doesn’t fit those goals, then I usually don’t commit to it. (I say usually, because, well, I’m not perfect, and I like to help people where I can. But I also do say no.)

Figure out What You Can Do When

My husband and I often work opposing schedules. So when he’s at work, I look after the kids. I’ve learned through trial and error and lots of frustration that I can’t sit at the computer whiling looking after my kids. Even if they’re playing peacefully on a different floor in the house, they have computer antennae that inform them the moment I sit down at the computer to write. I can nap on the living room couch while they’re playing in front of me, but I can’t work at the computer.

However, I can brainstorm, read, garden, and sew while in charge of the kids. If they’re in a really strong “let’s keep talking to Mommy” mood, then I’ll do something that leaves my mind free to talk to them. I could, for example, bake an easy recipe.

Split Your Project Into Small Tasks

This needn’t be formal: it can be in your head or on paper. However, if you have an idea of the various tasks you can do as part of your creative exploration, then when you suddenly have a spare 15 minutes, you can actively do something instead of spending time deciding what to do.

Cut out TV and Your Devices

I’m not suggesting living like a luddite. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, scorned “technology” in his day when he and a friend tried to harvest several acres of farmland by hand instead of using oxen. But be mindful of your technology use. If your tv show is in a rerun phase during the season, turn off the tube and do something creative. Likewise, if your phone is constantly ringing, turn it off if it’s feasible. Turn off your email program, turn off your notifications, or use a program like Scrivener that can take over your screen and force you to focus. If you’re not convinced, read Cal Newport’s website. He gives excellent advice (and often research and his own experiences) on how to focus.

Is This Really Possible?

Everyone’s day is different from the next person’s. My typical day includes work (6-8 hours a day), looking after the kids, cooking many (but not all) meals, getting the kids to a few lessons, and spending time with my husband. And yet I manage to squeeze in an hour or two a day of creative time, because I always have a book on me, I do write later at night on the “for fun” projects, and I’ve learned what activities I can do for me but still be available for my kids.

It takes some experimenting, so take it a step at a time. Remember, though, to be flexible: as your family grows, your children will change. You want to do your best to find creative time no matter your daily grind, but stay open-minded about when that time is.

Do you have any tips on how to find creative for yourself despite family and life obligations?

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How are Those Resolutions Coming Along?

Evergreens in shadow in the foreground, a low mountain range in the background, with clouds and low-lying mist.We’re about a quarter of the way in to 2015. Did you make any New Years’ resolutions? If so, are you still working on them? Did you completely ignore them? Or did this post just remind you that you’d made some?

Goals may be far-reaching and really challenge your personality, your self, and your soul, e.g., “I’m going to write my first novel by the end of the year.” They may be smaller but just as important, e.g., “I’ll eat breakfast every morning.”

It’s normal to get frustrated when striving for your goals. Roadblocks show up, and you may even find yourself questioning the commitments and sacrifices needed to achieve your goal. This is normal, and in the end, only you can make that decision.

However, before you see each roadblock as potentially stopping you dead in your tracks, ask yourself this: Is the road block like the ones in The Road Runner, where Wile E. Coyote would crash through and fall over the edge of the cliff and have to admit defeat once again? Or is it more like a red light, just asking you to stop while a few other things happen first?

Not achieving goals can be due to circumstances beyond your control. But remember, you’re human: we humans can often change the circumstances to suit our needs. Let’s say you’d been saving up for a new set of high-quality paintbrushes, but once you were ready to buy them, they’d gone up in price? You have a few options:

  1. Continue saving until you have the right amount set a side.
  2. Sacrifice enough other expenses so that you can buy those paintbrushes now.
  3. Find a way to earn the extra money needed to buy them sooner than in #1.
  4. Borrow money to buy them.
  5. Quit your goal.

Clearly, not all of those options are optimal. But do you see my point? When your goals aren’t working out the way you were hoping they would, take a step back and figure out what your options are. There are very few goals that are not achievable: it’s simply up to you to decide how you handle your challenges.