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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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Mixing Work and Kids = Inspiring Your Creativity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time balancing work and kids. Next week, we celebrate Family Day in Ontario, and I realized I’ve book the day full of work duties! But the upcoming holiday has also reminded me that your family can feed your creativity and reinvigorate your brain for work.

If you’re more on the cerebral side of the spectrum, like I am, you may find communicating with kids a little hard, because you have difficulty breaking down your thought process to their level. Heck, you may even find what they do boring, because it doesn’t challenge you intellectually. I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still trying to work on it.

(Granted, as hard as I try to find interest in my kids’ hobbies, I can’t develop any amount of enthusiasm for watching YouTubers play video games.)

Over the years, though, I’ve pushed myself to spend creative time with my kids, not just chore and parenting-related time, and not only does this push my brain in different directions, but it brings me closer to my children, and I find they even listen better.

See if any of these ideas work for you.

Creative Activities for Parents and Kids

Mad Libs: You buy these as pads, usually somewhere in a bookstore. They’re short texts with blanks, and you have to fill them in. The blanks are usually described as a noun, verb, adjective, or something similar. Not only will they help your kids recognize some parts of speech, you’ll likely both find yourselves in stitches as you read back the zany story you’ve both created.

Lego: This I find hard, because I’m stuck with some old inhibitions (I can’t create anything out of Lego except basic houses), and because I need to concentrate on the very foreign world the kids have created. But nothing makes my kids happier than showing off their Lego creations, and the brain drain I experience when playing with them improves my concentration.

Sewing: If you own a sewing machine,  just letting the kids (carefully!) run some fabric through it can be fun. I used to let my older son control the foot pedal when he was four or five. But certainly use your parenting judgment here. A sewing machine does have a needle, and kids’ hands are very small.

Sports: You don’t necessarily have to play a game that already exists. My husband loves making up games with our kids, and they have a blast at it. They’ve even created their own boardgames that the two play together in the evening. I’ll admit, this is less suitable for me, because I like consistency, but then again, maybe it could force me to use my brain differently.

TV: Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you watch TV with your kids. Not only does this help you, the parent, see what they’re actually watching, but it will, again, force your brain to focus on something different. If watching YouTubers playing video games is all your kids watch, then try a movie on the weekend, with some popcorn.

Painting: Yup, show your children that they’ve probably already bested you in the arena of art. And if you are talented in art, show them one or two tips that’ll make them better. (Of course, if your kids are old enough, maybe actually painting a room might be more engaging for all of you.)

Colouring: Those adult colouring books are more than suitable for kids over the age of five. My older kid (in the junior grades) will occasionally sit in the same room with me as we both colour for ten or fifteen minutes in separate books.

Writing: My youngest loves this. He’s in the primary grades, so he still finds spelling and printing arduous. He absolutely loves to dictate a story to me as I type it out in Scrivener. I set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes (my forearms can’t handle anything longer), and he’ll easily produce 300-600 words.

Dancing: Kids don’t care how you move. If your kids is active, turn on the tunes and get dancin’!

So, those are just a few ideas of how to build in some creativity time that will help you in your profession but also connect you with your children. Do you do any of these activities already? Or other ones?

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New Mentorship Program in Ontario

Any art or craft you practice seriously can benefit from a mentorship.
Cooks in a luxury hotel in Austria in the 1950s.

Mentorships in many industries are common. They’re an excellent way to build your skills and learn from a highly experienced professional. Some mentorships are informal: mentees simply find someone who’s willing to volunteer their time to help out. Others are formalized via an arts mentorship program like this new one that has just emerged in Ontario: The Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network / Le Centre de ressources pour les artistes aînés du Canada has received private funding for a new mentorship program beginning January 2014.

I benefited immensely from Theatre Ontario’s mentorship program Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP). It’s geared towards emerging arts administrators. I had taken college courses on arts administration, but there were still many things the books didn’t teach. I applied to focus on accounting and fundraising skills, my two weakest areas at the time.

Working alongside someone more experienced filled in those gaps. My bookkeeping entries became easier. I also had a few small but successful grant applications, which meant more money for the arts organization I was working for.

The other night at my PWAC meeting we were discussing grant applications. Applying to a mentorship program is similar, especially if money is involved.

One member, a grant writer, explained that a solid grant application is like a winning pitch on Dragon’s Den (or Shark Tank, for those in the US). It has a strong track record, concrete details, and a confident plan. When I applied for the Theatre Ontario program, that’s how I attacked my application. I got it.

If you’re in Ontario and are seriously practicing your art, consider applying to The Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network’s mentorship program. The mentors are being paid for their time with you, which is not always the case with mentorships. You can apply as a mentor or a mentee. Applications for both roles are due in October. It’s only available in Ontario right now but should expand nationally in year three.

If you’ve applied and/or participated in a mentorship program before, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section. I just ask that you leave the names of the mentors/mentees involved out. It’s important to me that we respect people’s privacy.

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Every Little Bit Helps Your Goals

Child building a snow fort: every snowball helps.
Children don’t think twice about how long it’ll take to build a snow fort. They just do it.

The desire to achieve your dreams can be overwhelming. Maybe you’re trying to stop spending so much, or maybe you’re trying to write or paint more, or maybe you dream of running your own home business. It’s easy to see the big picture, but what about all the little pictures that make up the big one? That’s where the overwhelming feelings come in.

Setting goals is great. Taking time to plan out the little steps is great, too. But finding the motivation to complete all of those little steps can be daunting, especially when you see your end goal, and it’s really, really, reeeaaally far away.

That’s where I tell myself, “Every little bit helps.”

My grade 10 math and computers teacher, Ms. Schindler, also headed up the environmental club at our school. It was important to her that anything we wrote finished with “every little bit helps.” She’d apparently read research that proved this sentence actually increased charitable contributions. I don’t know what research she was citing, but the sentence stuck with me.

“Every little bit helps.”

So I took ten minutes one morning and quickly wrote a short kids’ story. I didn’t set up a schedule to do one every day or even every month. I just did one. If I didn’t write another story for a while, that was okay. It turned into a fantastic new bedtime routine with the kids.

So if you’re waiting for that moment when you suddenly feel inspired enough to paint your first portrait, write your first novel, or start up a home business in one day, stop waiting. That moment is now, it is all the time.

Sketch something on paper, write a quick story, jot down some ideas for a business. If you have nothing to write or draw with at the moment, dream your sketch, your story, your business idea. Just do it now. Even if you only have ten seconds before you get off the bus, out of the car, or run out the door, do it now.

Every little bit you do will help you succeed, and when it comes time to the bigger steps, you’ll be ready for them.