There Is No Perfect Job

Yesterday, I wrote about my personal narrative – the story I tell myself and others. Contemplating work and life choices led me to think about Jon Morrow’s recent post How To Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers. I’ve been pondering what my so-called ideal day would look like (there are actually several versions of it) and whether or not the activities I do on a daily basis are going to get me any closer to any of those versions of an ideal day.

Jon’s post is about getting smarter in order to become a popular blogger. He shares his own daily routine, including the deliberate steps he takes to get smarter. Those steps cover everything from reading nonfiction books daily to finding friends who stretch his mind. He is talking about the day to day activities required if your dream is to be a popular (or successful, or money-making, whatever you want to call it) blogger.

Jon does a great job of explaining the work that is involved in being a great blogger – great posts don’t just flow from a fountain of inspiration. There’s research, writing, rewriting, learning, and thinking involved. There are a whole lot of experts and studies that offer inspiration for people who are looking for something different, an alternative to a gray cubicle. You can find all kinds of advice on starting and running a small business. While that kind of inspiration abounds, posts like Jon’s are a different sort of inspiration.

Even the most perfect job involves, well, work. Some part of the day to day stuff will probably always feel like a grind. Calling it an “ideal day” is a

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

A literal grind! (image from Creative Commons on flickr.)

little misleading – wouldn’t most of us think of a vacation day as the ultimate ideal day?

When I am writing, I can get lost. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post, a research article, marketing copy, or fiction – if I’m playing with words, I am having fun. (Unfortunately my dogs or the phone or some other minor interruption usually limits the time I’m lost in the fun part of my work.) But, sending out emails marketing my services? Ugh! That, for me, is a grind. A slog. The part of this job I’d like to skip. (And, I don’t mind the minor daily interruptions during this part of my work!)

My writing accountability partner is the opposite. She LOVES marketing. If you also have a passion for marketing then it might be wise to read these king kong marketing reviews before jumping headfirst into a job in this industry. She also likes doing interviews, creating outlines, and so on. The writing? She can’t stand it. She gets all tangled up in figuring out where in the outline bits of information fit best, and in writing active versus passive sentences.

There’s always going to be a part of the job that isn’t fun. What part of your job do you love? What part could you do without?

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Examining My Story

Early this month, I posted about being back in my place as a full time business owner.  A couple of weeks ago, I had several conversations with a friend about what her ideal job would look like, which led to some deep soul searching. Yesterday, I read Peter Shallard’s excellent post about the

I'm still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

I’m still weaving my story. (photo credit: flickr, Creative Commons)

power of our personal narratives. All of that together added up to me taking a serious look at where I am, how I got here, where I want to be, the best way to get there, the story of then, the story of now, and of then, and of the journey between the two.

In Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig, I shared a certain personal narrative – the tale of how I ended up back in an office. Today, I’d like to share my new story:

My Story, Version 2 (aka The Truth)

A quirky lady who never quite found her professional niche got laid off around the time she had an idea for a writing business. She drew unemployment and read a lot of books. Then she began finding clients.

It’s easy to get complacent, though, and she does. She has a few clients and is making enough money to get by, and gets lazy. Eventually clients start dropping off, as is normal, but she doesn’t replace them. She spends most of her time waiting on clients to come to her. She does some half-hearted marketing, then decides to find a job.

The job doesn’t work out, so the writer decides to work harder. She realizes that everything that came before was research, career prep, and important. She learned about all the different ways one can be a freelance writer, all the different ways a writing business can be run. She made a slate of contacts, and realizes that all of that will translate into a better business now.

She shines up all of her samples and past work and starts making lots of phone calls. She calls businesses, ad agencies, and nonprofits. She writes everyday. She pitches blogs that pay contributors. She thinks of a few unusual ways to market and begins trying different things. Sheh emails letters of introduction and queries to editors.

She tracks all of her ideas. And enjoys all of it! Even the calling. It takes a little motivation to make 20-30 calls a day, but she realizes that she likes talking to people, learning about their businesses, and finding out more about the world. She makes lists, becomes aware of time management and starts getting more done each day.

It takes a few months, but she soon finds herself in a position to pick and choose her assignments. She is writing nonfiction books and selling them, doing some editing work, blogging, ghost writing, and writing – and more importantly PUBLISHING – fiction. She is making more money that she ever did as an employee.

What about you? I’d love if you share your personal narrative in the comments!  

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Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Smiling Tree Writing is, once again, a full time operation. After three months as an employee, I’m back at my desk where I belong. Someday, I will write a post describing my short term employment, and probably it will be entertaining, but it needs a little distance first. In the meantime, I’ve been pondering my decision to re-enter the world of employment–what led to it? I love running my own business, working from home, collaborating with other business owners, choosing when and what I work on…so why did I seek out a position as an employee?

In order to answer that question, I had to take a look at the course of my business since its inception. Smiling Tree Writing began as a way to earn income on the side, and became a full time business after a lay off. The transition from side gig to full time business brought along an increased sense of urgency, though, and I strayed from my original plan–which involved calling businesses and offering my services as a professional copywriter.

Cold calling is a slow way to build a business. It takes hundreds of calls, follow up emails, patience, thick skin, and more patience. I found quicker success with local small business owners–many of whom clearly had a need, but not much of a budget. Over the course of a couple of years, I found myself lowering prices, doing more for less, and in a funk.

I decided to switch to sending query letters and letters of introduction to editors of print publications. By this time my savings were depleted, and things were critical. It’s hard to run a business when you’re against a wall. I did get some assignments, but by this point, my family needed a steady paycheck. You do have to wonder why you got no business. One of my friends actually said that it might be because I was operating this business from home. Apparently, some companies can find it difficult to trust a business that has a home address. My friend said I should’ve visited to see if a registered office address would have made any difference. My friend seems to think it would’ve got me a lot more assignments. I suppose it would have made the business look more legit and real.

This time, I’m charting a path forward more carefully. Planning, executing, and perhaps most importantly, measuring. There are multiple backup plans in place, set points at which to stop, take stock, and decide how to proceed. It’s awfully easy to lose your way without a map.

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Marketing Seeds

Since I started freelancing, I have liked the idea of marketing as “sowing seeds.” One the most lucrative clients I’ve had called me almost exactly one year after I originally contacted him. The same has been true for many of my clients – I contact them, either by phone or email, chat for a few minutes and explain what I do, then hear from them months later. It happened again last week, and I wanted to share the story here, in case anyone reading this feels discouraged or as if their marketing efforts are not paying off.

I am an avid gardener. (Note the use of the word “avid” rather than “accomplished” or “successful.”) Every spring, I spend more money than I should on seeds and plants. Last

The clerk gave me coneflower seeds that day.

The clerk gave me coneflower seeds that day.

spring, I read about a hydroponics store in Chattanooga, and then found out they were having a plant sale. Going to commercial hydroponics stores can help the avid plant lover with choosing the best way to grow their own plants without access to soil. Anyway, I went, bought some seeds, asked a thousand questions and chatted with the clerk. We had a discussion about some professional and commercial hydroponic grow equipment like what’s found on In the course of the conversation, I mentioned being a writer and ended up leaving a couple of cards. “Here are a couple; one for you and one to give away,” is my standard line when giving out my business cards.

The hydroponics store never called, even though I sent a few follow up emails, with high hopes of writing for them. It would be fascinating to research articles that would appeal to customers who grow things without dirt. But, then, last week my phone rang.

The person who contacted me was a prospective customer who is part owner of an aquaponics farm – they maintain fish, filter the water to collect the fish waste, which they use for fertilizer to grow delicious produce in large commercial greenhouses. They need some help marketing. He had gotten my card from the clerk at the hydroponics store, who told him in the course of their conversation, “I’ve been looking for someone to give this card to for awhile.”

I don’t know yet if this farm will become a client. But here are some things that I do know:

  • Writing about farming, food, and agriculture in general is an increasingly interesting niche for me.
  • Pleasant conversation combined with handing out business cards works.
  • It’s an amazing feeling when prospects call me instead of the other way around.

There is one step left in this marketing loop: a thank you note to the clerk at the hydroponics store. Partly, I want to keep my business in his mind, and also I’m genuinely grateful for his referral.

Have you ever gotten results from this sort of “marketing”? It has always been both the slowest way to find business, but also the most profitable way. I’d love to hear what works best for you, or what you find most comfortable when it comes to telling people about your business.

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You Are Going To Screw Up

A few months ago, I lost a client. He simply sent me an email that said something like “I want to take a break from using your services for awhile.” There hadn’t been any complaints on either side, or at least none voiced. As far as I could tell, we had an amiable working relationship. But, since I am fairly paranoid, and really do strive to provide outstanding service, I asked if he was unhappy, and if so, could I have a chance to remedy the situation. He didn’t respond.

It will be okay. You don't have to be sad.

It will be okay. You don’t have to be sad.

Now there could be a million reasons that he wanted to take a break, and it took me a few days to convince myself that answering the question about  whether or not he was unhappy with my service might have made him uncomfortable. Maybe he was having money troubles, but didn’t want to say so. Maybe I had somehow offended him, but he doesn’t like confrontation. Maybe he just overlooked the email. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the idea that, even if I had somehow messed up, it’s okay.

No matter how hard you try to please everyone you work with, no matter how much time you spend tweaking your site, your newsletter, your invoices – every customer touchpoint – there is still the chance that you will inadvertently do something that one of your customers doesn’t like. Sometimes you never even know that you did something “wrong.” Worrying about what might have gone wrong is pointless.

The best thing to do is to carry on, doing the best job you can for your current and future customers. Just keep on being as helpful as you can be. Strive to make sure there are more people who are happy with what you do than those who are not.

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The Power of a Spreadsheet

Last weekend, I got into an argument with a crowd of people about how many laps around a .3 mile track it would take to complete 6 miles. Everyone one involved possessed a high school diploma at the very least, yet there we were, a roomful of adults, disagreeing about some very basic math. If you have read many of my posts, you know that math is not my strong suite, and so I lacked the confidence to back up my assertion that it takes 20 laps – despite the fact that I had, that very day, thought about it quite a lot while running those 20 laps.

Spreadsheets are important to my business life because they remove the fuzziness inherent to mathematical questions for me. I have spreadsheets for prospects, articles written, publications Screen Shot of Smiling Tree Spreadsheetqueried, letters of introduction sent…I even use spreadsheets to organize books that I am writing. With the information so neatly laid out, it’s easy to figure out the ratio of queries sent to assignments received, and to compare time spent marketing to monthly income changes.

Last week, looking at a spreadsheet brought about an epiphany. Wait. “Epiphany” isn’t quite the right word. It connotes something good, right? This was not good. Maybe “startling realization” is a better descriptor. Or possibly “stark realization.” Yeah, that’s what it was. Stark.

In general, I think of myself as a pretty determined person. I tend to keep trying long after common sense says to stop. But, my spreadsheets tell a different story. Most of my freelance clients are business owners, and a great deal of the writing I do is ghostwriting. In other words, I don’t have many bylines. My name is generally not attached to my work, and often, it is a condition of my contract to not disclose I wrote an article or a book or whatever. Several months ago, I decided to query a few publications in order to have some work published under my own name.

I have a great accountability partner, and since most of her work has been for trade publications, she has been helping and encouraging me to send letters of introduction and queries. She helped me put together some good query letters and shared her own (very successful) process.

After a couple of months, I was ready to quit. I had gotten two assignments for print publication. Neither paid well, and one ended up being such a fiasco I eventually withdrew my article from consideration for publication.

My accountability partner encouraged me to continue. She said it hadn’t been long enough for me to make a judgement about whether or not the process of querying was working for me or not.

“But I’ve seen so many!” I whined, pathetically.

Pondering her advice, I decided to go to my trusty spreadsheet and count exactly how many. To make my point about it not working.

Of course, counting proved her point, not mine. It felt as if I had sent hundreds of emails to editors, some pitching story ideas, others simply introducing myself. In all reality, I’d only sent about 25. Determined, huh?

The same kind of thing has happened again and again. I feel like I’m working so hard, only to check my spreadsheets to find that I’m not, really.

How do you track your activities? Have you ever found that you are not working quite as hard as you thought?  

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