It has been well over a year since I started my business, and I find myself reflecting on how I’m doing. Have I accomplished all that I set out to do in the first year? Have I learned enough lessons and made enough progress?
I think I’ve done a good job. I’ve brought in several corporate clients and made a fair amount of money (enough to support us, at least). I’ve learned a ton about the types of companies I like to work for and those that I don’t. I’m more confident in my skin as a freelancer. I’m not as ready to take those penny projects–I know they aren’t worth my time.
Sacrificing for the Future
I started this journey with a ton of grand goals in mind, and I’ve gotten to where I am now with only a few of those goals realized, but that’s okay. The goals were too lofty to be comfortable, and that’s another lesson in itself.
There came a time at the start of my business when I had to choose where to focus my attention and energy. I couldn’t do it all, particularly when I was so new to the freelancing lifestyle. I ultimately felt compelled to focus the past year on corporate projects rather than art-based projects (e.g., blogging, magazines, fiction).
It makes sense that I would do this: I had to support myself first and foremost, and the easiest way to do that was to lean on the foundation I’d created during my in-house life. Many of my clients have come–directly or indirectly–from the connections I had when I worked in the corporate world, so that just shows how important your network can be over time.
Over the year, I often resented focusing on copywriting and was easily distracted by the appeal of my other goals. But honestly, I wasn’t yet ready to tackle creative projects, and I must have known that on a certain level.
Writing a novel, becoming a magazine writer–those are pretty demanding projects that require risk, patience, and self-direction. I needed time to adjust to the idea of jumping into something so big and scary. I also needed experience: in life and in my craft.
I may not have been ready to tackle them last year, but I’m much more ready now, and that says something to me: I’ve spent time focusing on the right things in order to prepare myself for the things I truly want, and the sacrifice has paid off.
Defining Your Own Success
If I didn’t have so many goals for myself, do I think I’d be further along in my business than I am now? Probably. If I enjoyed copywriting more, I know I would have collected clients like fireflies in a jar and reaped the monetary rewards.
I tend to go after things that I want with my whole heart, but copywriting isn’t and never was what I want. It isn’t my love. I quit my job for freedom AND for the chance to work on projects that more closely resemble art.
The transition from corporate to true creative was bound to be a tough, time-consuming one, but I’m headed down the right road. Money isn’t really important to me (within reason, of course), but I hope as I work toward the projects I really care about, success (in whatever form) will find me. What I really want is fulfillment, and I already get that on a daily basis.
I’m a naturally impatient person, but my business has taught me patience. It has also taught me to look at time from all angles and understand that the present won’t last long, the future will be here before I know it. The most important thing I can do on any given day is SOMETHING. If I can make even the smallest part of my projects happen regularly, I will progress.
I’m pleased to see that I’ve worked at a pace that is fitting for me. I had to learn to focus my attention on stability first, and I’ve done that. Now I can feel a bit more comfortable taking on new experiences and tackling those less certain but ultimately more meaningful projects.
I can feel myself taking the leap.Read More
I’m excited about this recent post by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest and blogger of There Are No Rules. The title of the post is My Secret for Battling Procrastination, but I think it’s actually more about how to focus your attention and make reasonable goals than about motivating yourself.
Thank goodness for Jane. I can really use some of her tried-and-true wisdom on this topic.
It seems I’m always planning out my collection of grandiose goals, only to find (hours/days/weeks later) that I’m stressing myself out trying to micromanage every detail of my life for the next year.
Even just this morning, I attempted (again) to map out the phases of my major goals, point by point, in hopes of seeing into the future and being more productive with the here and now. And like every other time, I could feel the tension and anxiety creeping into my heart, rendering me useless.
I’ve got good news, though. The difference between this morning and many other previous “planning” sessions is this: I finally realized that this system is inefficient and must go.
The thing is, I’m so new at most of these projects, I have no idea where I’m headed from one week to the next–and that’s okay. There is a learning curve to overcome and a new path to pave for myself. And I’m only just headed down that path.
After 3 hours of excel table manipulation and labored breathing, I finally closed the file, shut my computer, and declared this system dead. It doesn’t work for me, and I’m a creative person, so it’s time to find / create / customize something else that does work.
After over a year of system insanity, I’m finally ready to try something new and simpler.
The reason I like Jane’s advice in this post is because her system is not only simple but also promotes a nice balance of focus. It allows you to see what’s up ahead and plan your time, but it also keeps the near future–all those intimidating white-water rapids–out of your way until you are ready to tackle them. And the way the system works, you may not even know you’re heading down those rapids until you’re past them.
In a nutshell, it’s a way to keep yourself from freaking out over too many new and scary things while still accomplishing tasks throughout the week.
I also like the worksheet she provides. The language she uses plays more to the emotional self than to the practical, robot self, asking questions like “What do I need to do to feel most satisfied?” instead of “What tasks do I need to complete to be successful?”
After attempting to “plan my goals” this morning, I’m feeling burned out with the whole planning thing. Still, I want to try out Jane’s system and see if it might make me feel better and more productive about my life.
Once my brain stops churning smoke and I can get the gears running on this new idea, I’ll let you know how it goes.
When I was in college, slogging through mountains of reading as an English major, I had this grand idea that I would one day have my own freelance business.
At that point, I was already freelancing a fair amount for various companies, so the thought didn’t seem crazy to me. I liked the idea of having control of my time and creativity on a long-term basis. I wanted to be a career woman but still have the energy for a future family. Freelancing seemed like the perfect fit for me.
I fell into freelancing in college at the encouragement of my dad—a successful financial consultant with a nicely groomed network. With his help, I landed my first corporate clients and an editorial internship at Ancestry.com that later led to more freelance projects.
Through my freelance work, I built an impressive resume that paved the way for a decent in-house writing job after college.
That initial freelance work also gave me a taste of a lifestyle that I’d never be able to fully forget.
My Intro to the Corporate World
When I got my first job out of college, I was a fresh writer with a fresh perspective. I was enthusiastic and optimistic and hard-working. I ran circles around many of the older employees, who often lacked spark and ambition.
But my eyes were soon opened to the plague that can set in on companies that aren’t careful. As my company grew, things were changing, and the work life that seemed so great at first was slowly turning sour.
I learned first-hand the effect that a bad work environment can have on a person—particularly a creative person. With its control and mind games, I saw the workplace squash the life out of the intelligent, fun-loving, ambitious people around me. We were all on our way to becoming dull-eyed, mechanical, pessimistic, gossipy creatures.
The 9-to-5 schedule that had been tough right after college suddenly felt brutal. It was too much of my life to give to a cause I didn’t believe in. So much of the system seemed inefficient to me, with two-hour-long meetings that went nowhere and projects that never seemed to end.
I struggled with the politics of the corporate world—I consistently found myself back in high school, questioning whom to trust. I was ambitious and wanted to excel faster in the corporate system, but I felt so many things holding me back. I also wanted a mentor to help me learn the ropes better and faster, but my options were limited.
I had not been prepared for this in college. This was what people were willing to give for (limited) money and stability? What was I willing to give? What mattered more to me?
I understood that not all companies are like this, but that knowledge didn’t matter much. In the end, the whole environment depressed me, and I wanted out.
Jumping from a Burning Ship
A bad work environment can make you do desperate things—particularly if it is your first real job out of college and it is all you’ve ever known of corporate life.
One day in 2009, I decided I had hit the limit of what I could stand, and I quit. Out of the blue. I gave 12 days’ notice and waited to be done.
I didn’t have another job waiting—I hadn’t really even been looking. I was jaded, and scared to enter into another potentially disastrous workplace. But I couldn’t yet get past the fear of NOT having a stable job. I still valued money and health insurance over my sanity and ultimate fulfillment.
When my last work day came and went, I took a two-week break from it all, then started searching for something else. I found my next company and had another stable job within a week.
The environment at my new company was a hundred times better, but I soon discovered that the actual job I was doing was the exact same. I was a copy monkey, required to churn out writing but not think too much.
Suddenly, I realized this was also a problem for me. I already knew I could do this job; I needed a new challenge and new ways to keep my mind and interest alive. I found myself in a brand-new job with a desire to look elsewhere, which felt wrong.
I was so burned out by this point, I hardly knew how to think straight.
The idea to freelance full-time was never very far away, but it still seemed impossible. How would I manage to support us—to put my husband through his final year of college—if I quit my job like this? It seemed so selfish; there was no guarantee that it would all be okay. So I stuck with it.
The new job was fantastic. I could actually stand behind the company’s products, mission, and executives. I adored so many of the employees that I worked with. But there were still problems, of course. I was one of the only professionals my age. I was surrounded by managers but not actually a manager myself, which was difficult at times. There were still lots of politics and gossip, and problems seemed to be escalating.
I was also sacrificing more to be here. My first company had been a 7-minute drive from my house. This new company was a 45-minute drive. I had to figure out what to do.
Perspective is an important thing to note here. Yes, I was dealing with frustrations, but I was also allowing those frustrations to affect me emotionally. I allowed my situation to kept me in a perpetual state of burnout–which fueled the idea in my mind that the grass must be greener on the freelancing side of life. Mentally, I was too far gone to be happy in my corporate life again. I had gotten the idea in my head that it was time to try something new, and I wouldn’t be happy until I got there.
So my desire to leap built and built over the course of several months–and I let it build until it ultimately pushed me back into a crazy risk-taking mode. I found myself asking those self-seeking questions again: What was I willing to give up to keep my sanity? What was I willing to change within myself to make it happen?
Getting the Ball Rolling
In winter 2009, I finally latched onto the idea of quitting my job and starting a full-time business. In truth, I was feeling a bit reckless and overly hasty about freelancing, though, which is never a good state to be in when you’re trying to make an important life decision.
The good thing about such a wild state of mind is that it really helped me to relax and reevaluate the importance of certain things. I had spent years obsessing over the supposed importance of money and the idea that I didn’t have enough of it to feel stable. With the onset of my newfound interest in freelancing, I suddenly didn’t care about money or health insurance anymore. Money was just a means, and it would come. Living life more slowly and truthfully was now more important than living the fast, material life. I was no longer willing to sacrifice myself to an imaginary system, and I felt a huge relief from that new mentality.
Through all of this, Ryan was my rock and my stable sail. He was completely supportive of the full-time freelance idea. Thank goodness he was also practical. I was ready to quit right then and there, but he convinced me to stick it out a bit longer. He saw a safe way out for me, which would help give me what I wanted without destroying the financial stability I’d worked hard to achieve.
The safe way was this: in spring 2010, Ryan’s industrial design program required that he do an internship. If he could find something that paid well enough, he could support us for a few months while I got my feet under me.
It took all I had to not quit immediately, but it helped to finally have a reasonable plan—and a deadline.
Leaping with a Safety Net
Once a plan was in place, I wanted to tell my boss, so she would have time to find a replacement for me. In early 2010, I walked into her office and shared the news that I’d be leaving in a few months. I explained that Ryan had to get an internship for school and I wasn’t about to let him have all the fun without me. I also explained that it would be a jumping-off point for a freelance business I’d been dying to start for years. She was very supportive, though I think a little panicked that I was leaving her.
Then the countdown to my release began. 4 months, 3 months, 2 weeks, 1 day.
In the time that I waited, I read a shelf of freelance writing books and made a lot of goals and plans (all overly general and ambitious). There were days I was a bit terrified and couldn’t believe I was doing this, and there were days that I wanted to jump the gun and start my new life immediately.
April 22 couldn’t come fast enough, and then suddenly it was here. And I felt stress in other ways. Okay, was I actually ready for this? How would I handle the freelance life? Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into?
The short answer: no, I did not. But that was okay.
Ryan managed to land an awesome internship in Cincinnati that paid unbelievably well—as in, better than my salary at any of my professional jobs. (I admit to only a hint of jealousy.)
His full-time work that summer helped to support us while I pushed past the incredibly overwhelming task ahead and slowly figured out my new system, my new life.
This whole experience–from corporate life to freelance life–gave me (us) a solid foundation on which to build a more flexible life. It also gave us the freedom we needed to take a random trip to Europe. It’s amazing how way leads on to way, isn’t it? Even today, I find myself wondering if I shall ever really look back.Read More
The past several weeks, I’ve been involved in all kinds of wonderful projects, and it has felt so empowering. I’ve nurtured relationships with potential clients and enjoyed interest from new people. I’ve been blogging, outlining my novel in prep for NaNoWriMo, and writing a decent short story (something new for me). I even got acquainted with someone from my college years and together we have started a writing group. Best of all, she has been kind enough to let me join her online magazine, Latter-day Woman Magazine, as Associate Editor. This means I have a few articles to write and a part in a real mag! So exciting.
Of course, about the time that everything seemed to be going perfectly, I realized something important was missing; namely, the new clients, new copywriting projects, and the moolah they would generate. I had planted plenty of seeds, but when I looked, there weren’t many contracted projects to speak of. …Uh, where’d they all go? With a quick rundown of the budget, I knew money would be even tighter. I had to hope I could get a few new projects without selling off our possessions…
And that’s when the poop hit the fan. I was counting on getting paid in full by a client, but they only paid me half. That meant I didn’t have new work from that client, and my other clients didn’t have anything to offer me for awhile, either. The ball was out of my court for all client prospects. And to add to the drama, my cat, Moki, didn’t come home one night. (I don’t have kids, so I kind of dump all that nurturing on him [and my husband]. I realized I would be devastated if I lost him like that.) I had so much going for me, but all that seeming failure–I was a cat killer and a breadwinner with no bread!–was too much.
Sometimes I think stress is hard-wired in me, because no matter what I do, when things get rough, the optimism and self-respect go out the window. I can’t see reason. I can’t see hope. I can just see plain and painful emotion–and a big sign that reads”YOU FAILED!” staring me in the face. And of course I can’t function when I beat myself up like that. For a couple days, I went into a kind of panicked trance, asking all the “appropriate” self-damning questions: Why hadn’t I been more focused on making money? What was I going to do now? How could I have been so stupid? All the while, I was walking the streets of my neighborhood, lamely searching for my stupid feline.
Then, just as quickly as the drama had started, it righted itself. One day, I got up, heard a cry outside, and opened the door to a very dirty cat. MY cat. Yay. That same day, I got a call from one of my clients. And lo and behold, he wants me to go to Europe (you read that right) with him and his secretary for two weeks to help out on business. I’ve never been to Europe and suddenly I am going, and getting paid for it!
I’m a target for lesson learning, I guess. With the kinds of things I pull, who blames God for reminding me on a daily basis that freaking out is not the way to handle the tough blows of life. Fortunately, I know the message of this lesson well, and it applies to you just as well as it does to me: Yes, crappy things happen on occasion. Sometimes they seem just a little too messy to clean up. But you know what? They always work out eventually. ALWAYS. Perhaps now I’ll get this through my tough skull and remember it next time something potentially disastrous comes my way.
For all my crazy anxiety issues, I’m at least good at turning them around with a big helping of gratitude and a desire to work even harder than before. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity I have to work on this writing business of mine. Sometimes I do feel like a failure, but other times, I feel really proud of what I’ve accomplished. More than anything, I know I couldn’t do it without a fantastic support system. My dear husband is the king of patience, optimism, and control during stressful times, and he is gracious enough to hear me out when I’m panicking and then gently remind me that it will work out.
It always does.Read More
There are many days, sometimes in a single week, where I have to get a hold of my negative thoughts, build myself up (yet again), and tell myself that I can do it. When things get tough, I’m always tempted to sit down at my computer and “theorize” my writing job—that is, THINK about it abstractly and try to figure out how to make things work better from a technical standpoint. But the truth is, you can only think about things for so long before you start going in circles. At some point, you’ve got to convince yourself to ACT.
Networking is one road block for me that I’ve had to learn to face head-on. I’m not a natural salesperson, nor am I always interested in meeting loads of new people, so finding the motivation to get out there and sell myself has been a challenge at times. Yet, I have known all along that networking is a requirement for success in the freelance world, and that knowledge has helped (forced, rather) me to change the way I do things.
I think the biggest networking breakthrough came when I realized the huge difference a little attitude adjustment can make. When I choose to simply ignore my hesitations—fear of rejection, appearing foolish or naïve, or making mistakes—and focus on the task at hand (that is, putting projects on my plate, money in my pocket, and more impressive pieces in my portfolio), networking becomes almost second nature.
Ignoring these things isn’t easy at first. There are always those voices inside you that question your worth and overemphasize how terrible criticism can be. Yet, the more you practice combating those negative voices and replacing them with positive ones, the faster you become more comfortable in your skin. And since confidence is eye-catching, there’s a good chance that people will take greater notice of you and help you get where you want to go.
I’ve had a few months to practice networking (and confidence) now, and I can tell you that it has become surprisingly enjoyable for me. And I’m not nearly as bad at it as I originally thought. I’ve found that when I allow myself to stop caring about people’s opinions of me, the pressure of the situation diminishes and my creative self comes alive. All of a sudden, marketing my business is fun—almost addicting. And networking, in general, is a way to enjoy great company, learn something valuable from others, and share some of my own insights.
I wouldn’t have discovered all this if I hadn’t thrown myself—completely unwillingly—out there and given myself a chance to prove I was capable. It was hard, I admit. Even a few months ago, I didn’t think I liked people enough to interact with them this much. But I do! And the more I talk with people, the easier it gets. Best of all, the more I talk, the better I understand and can communicate that I AM worth people’s time, and money.
It’s always great to have support from those around you, but the best kind of support you can have when building a business is yourself. Learn to make friends with the person inside you, and you’ll always have someone to turn to for guidance and inspiration.Read More
Many professionals in the corporate world can tell you about lunchtime events. For instance, they offer something to look forward to. They are fun. They break up your day. They keep your sanity in check. And they always seem to take more time then anyone expected (which means fewer hours to suffer through until home time). That’s a pretty nice list of positives for lunchtime events (at least from an employee standpoint), but everything changes when you have your own business.
The past few weeks, I’ve found myself filling my schedule with events that fall around lunchtime—perhaps for the above reasons. By Friday of last week, I had excitedly penned in at least one event per day for this week’s agenda: everything from job fairs to lunch with clients to crazy opportunities like photo shoots and book clubs.
And this is how it all went down—on Day 2, no less.
I decided to try my hand at modeling and volunteered to do a photo shoot yesterday for two sisters who are hoping to get into the fashion industry. I spent the morning cleaning and prepping my house, which was good. The shoot lasted four hours. It was fun. It was a new opportunity. The evening came quickly. I hadn’t written all day. I was tired. End of story.
Then came today’s Park City job fair. The preparations alone make me cringe. (Why, again, would I want to iron clothes, get ready, drive an hour to Park City, generate enough energy to market myself, then drive an hour home?) Around 1pm, I’m still pre-shower. Burnout hits. I decide the job fair doesn’t interest me. As a fitting substitute, I try to figure out why.
And here is what I’ve decided: Lunchtime events are super fun, and necessary to any freelancer. They are also super TIME-CONSUMING and possibly a waste of time, if misused.
Think about it:
- Like it or not, events take preparation. That might include putting on a decent pair of pants. That might include dolling yourself up to look your best (which takes time). It might also require compiling resumes and business cards and commuting to the event (which may take a lot of time).
- Lunchtime comes around fast, particularly if you are like me and wake up fairly late in the morning (to compensate for night owl tendencies). The later your sleep habits, the less time you have to do anything but prepare and attend your event.
- Events tie up mental and emotional space. When I have an event to attend, my thoughts are often focused on that event and nothing else for several hours before (and sometimes after). I’m thinking of exactly when I need to get ready. I’m thinking of exactly when I need to leave. If it’s a client meeting, I’m thinking of things I should say or do. That leaves very little concentration for writing a blog post or planning a new project—even if I have the time to do it before I head out the door. And when I return, chances are I’ll analyze the event’s value according to my impressions, which also takes time and energy away from my writing.
- And how many lunchtime events actually last just an hour? Some, but not all.
I’m not that great at math, but the above list seems to add up to a lot of hours in preparation, attendance, and debriefing. No wonder we feel anxiety when we roll too many of these up in our agenda in a single week.
As with a lot of best business practices, the key to managing our events is balance. These opportunities are important—and sometimes crucial–to our businesses and our lives. How else can we build new relationships with people and maintain the ones we already have? How else can we try new things and develop our marketable skills? The trick is to weigh the value (pros & cons) of our events with (1) the time it will take to attend them and (2) the time we need to get our other projects finished to our satisfaction.
In reality, my tune hasn’t changed much over the past few days. I still love to go to lunch with friends, attend networking events, and meet new people. And let’s be honest: sometimes there just isn’t a way around the lunchtime scheduling period. It’s simply the most convenient time for many current and future clients to meet with us. In those instances, you just have to learn how to put your business on hold for the day and make up for it at other times.
At the same time, I’ve realized that when it comes to business, my office hours are sacred space, and I need to think hard about giving up that time to just anything. Typically, the more events I pack into my schedule, the more quickly I hit burnout and the less productive I am in the areas that really matter. (And I think no event is worth it if I’m unhappy and having trouble progressing.) Of course I will have things I have to attend to, but the more flexible I can be with myself, the better I will feel and the more successful my results will be.
After this week, I think I’m ready to space these kinds of events out a bit, so I can enjoy them more fully. I think one or two a week is about right for me, though I’ll leave room for those valuable exceptions. And as for the remainder of this week, I think just writing this blog post has been therapy enough. I’ll get through it, learn from it, and apply that newfound knowledge to the future.
What scheduling tricks have you acquired to keep yourself happy and motivated? Share your experience in the comments below.Read More
Way back in January, when Utah was basically one large ice cube, I was busy indoors trying to plan out a smooth transition between full-time employment and full-time freelancing. The plan included three steps, which went something like this:
- Step #1
Search out credible books on freelancing and use them to get an overall picture of the freelance writer’s life
- Step #2
Make a list of basic things I need to do to establish my freelance business, then transfer the items to post-it notes (easy to put up, take down, and replace if the cat eats them) and display them in a prominent place
- Step #3
Take the next 5 months to complete the items on my list
Steps 1 and 2 were a breeze—I soon had a collage of post-it notes lining the wall of my office—but Step 3 sneaked up on me. After delving into just one item, I realized how much time and planning everything was going to take, and I was petrified. I tried focusing first on the items I had experience with—namely, business branding—but the more I worked, the more I found myself going in circles.
May came, and I was now jobless and in Ohio. I wanted so badly to do well at this new freelance thing, so I threw myself into another section of my list: legal entities, business names, and business licenses. The subjects were intriguing, but I was still wasting hours running in circles and wondering what would be best for me.
After I had been at this for about a week, I was miserable. I was frustrated. I felt utterly useless. What was I doing wrong?
Then my husband came home from work and offered me a generous helping of perspective. I had dreamed about freelance writing for years, and now that I had it, I wasn’t even writing. No wonder I wasn’t happy! I sat and pondered that thought for awhile, and realized where I had gone wrong.
- First, I had convinced myself that I needed to do everything the perfect way for my business to succeed—and that I had only one shot to make it right. As a result, I clung to my list, because those were the suggestions that seasoned freelancers had offered. I saw gold in those suggestions. What I didn’t realize is that these writers had developed this advice after many years and many mistakes. I had been trying to skip steps in the learning process, and now I knew it wasn’t working.
- Second, I thought I had asked myself all the right questions, such as why I wanted to do freelancing, but I hadn’t looked deep enough yet. I still didn’t have a clear picture of where I was headed or what I hoped to gain.
- And third, I had been focusing way too much on theory, without actually applying anything I’d learned. I’d read a ton of books, made a ton of lists, talked to a lot of people, but I hadn’t actually put any of it to the test. Yes, taking action was scary, but I couldn’t move forward if I didn’t do it.
Once I realized these things, it was fairly easy for me to see my situation clearly and sort out the things that were absolutely essential right now from those that could wait awhile. Through this little lesson (and hundreds of others over the past several months) I’m finally learning to give myself time to get my bearings and just enjoy the journey. Now I understand that it’s okay to take it a step at a time, enjoy the process, laugh when I make stupid mistakes or fall short on something, and appreciate the progress I’m making.
So there’s freelance lesson #1 (or maybe #1, #2, and #3). Now it’s your turn. How have you come to know what’s important to you? How do you keep your focus and remain positive, despite setbacks?photo by Cayusa, under a creative commons license Read More