It’s Most Difficult at the Beginning

I am back to square one, maybe even square negative five, regarding my fitness level. Similarly, but much less drastically, I’m at a low point in client numbers. Fitness and business have always swung along the same pendulum in my life, likely because they both depend solely on my own motivation and willingness to do the work. At this particular moment in time, I’m working on the basics for good health and for a prosperous business. You know, paying attention to what and how much I eat, making a point of doing some form of exercise everyday, making marketing calls, sending out queries, referring back to my business plan.

And it’s freaking hard.

Easing myself into things, as I do, I started counting calories two weeks ago, and have kept it up. Now it’s time to add in exercise, and that is tougher. I’m trying to follow a fun, slightly silly workout plan, that uses the language of RPG (roll playing games). It’s called The Hero’s Journey, and it looks pretty simple. Except, on the first day, I am supposed to do 100 reps of four bodyweight exercises. I’m going to try, but don’t have much faith that I’ll be able to do it. The first set of 25 almost killed me.

Similarly, I started sending out marketing emails a week or two ago, but I know that to see real results, I’m going to have to do much more. Like make 10 calls a day, every day, for a month or two, and continue to send out several emails per day. That’s just how it works. For someone like me, who feels weird and awkward on the phone, and who struggles with any kind of social interaction, this stuff is hard. Probably not as hard as getting back in shape, but still not exactly as easy as writing a blog post.

The important thing to remember at times like this is that it’s only hard for a little while. It won’t take long before I’m looking forward to working out, or before the marketing has done what it always does and I only need to send out 2-3 queries each week to stay busy. Everything in life is that way. When I first built my flower garden, it took a lot of work to break up the grass and fluff up the dirt. But the next spring was easier, and every one after has been too. Any BIG THING is that way. You have to approach it a bit at a time and know that it will get easier.

A friend learned to play guitar as a teenager. Then she got a job, raised some children, and didn’t play. Recently she picked it back up and says the same thing about her practice sessions. They are tough, but she knows they will get easier.

Have you ever started over with something? How did it go for you?

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Walking the Freelancer Tightrope

The fourth quarter of 2014 was my most lucrative quarter as a business owner to date. It was the kind of quarter that makes you reevaluate and scale up your goals, and spurs you to begin dropping your lower-tier clients. It felt good.

(You know what happened next, don’t you? It’s so sadly predictable!)

The first two months of 2015 have been less than stellar. They haven’t been my worst months ever — not by a long shot — but my earnings did drop to about 30% of what they were in the two previous months. There are many reasons for the drastic drop, and most of them are related to the delicate balance business owners much strike between feeling good and feeling a little worried.

When I’m a little worried, I pay more attention to marketing — it’s just naturally on my mind more. Since it’s on my mind, I see opportunities while reading for pleasure, browsing online, having conversations with colleagues, as well as randomly in the middle of the night. I’m just more open to finding new work.

On the other hand, when I have lots of work, I’m thinking about getting that work done all of the time. I’m making connections to whatever it is I’m writing — and that is good. It gives my work more depth, and sometimes shines a new light on a topic.

When things are tighter, I tend to hoard my pennies, and my time. I don’t invest much in things like software, or in taking time off from writing to go to lunch or to events. Of course those things can, and do, generate new business.

You might imagine that less work = more time for other projects, but that hasn’t been the case in my experience. For example, when I had more deadlines than usual, I got up between 30 minutes and one hour early everyday to work on my fiction projects. Scheduling becomes more important when you are busy, and sticking to the schedule is critical.

When I have fewer deadlines I tend to let things slide, thinking, “Eh. I don’t have anything scheduled for the afternoon. There’s no harm in sleeping in this morning.” Or watching a movie, or baking some bread, or whatever other purple squirrel I can come up with that day.

Luckily, I’ve been working on my own for long enough that I have some safeguards in place to deal with the current situation. I have a long list of publications to contact, and another list of businesses and organizations that might need my services. I have a plan that I can pull up and follow the moment I realize things are off-track.

Recognizing the downward turn and taking the steps necessary to correct it are two different things, of course, but that’s where experience comes into play. It may take me a month or two to see what’s going on, but once I do, it’s easier to take action.

Here are a few of the specific steps I’m taking now:

1. Sending out a set number of letters of introduction or pitches each week. My number is 10. I do a fair amount of research before contacting a prospect so more than 10 becomes overwhelming.

2. Contacting all former clients with whom I enjoyed working. This one is self-explanatory, and just common sense. It also tends to yield the fastest results.

3. Closely evaluating how my time is spent. If there is “spare” time, I try to fill it with either planning, research, or working on my fiction projects. It feels terrible to realize I’ve wasted time on social media or playing games when a glance at my bookkeeping software clearly says I should have been doing something to support my income!

4. Getting back to my plan. In November and December, I put together a detailed plan for the next year. It has some good stuff in it, and pulling it out and following the steps is helping me stay on track.

5. Making sure the basics are covered. A couple of weeks ago, this site went down because I forgot to pay my hosting bill. That is just a bad way to run a business!

Have you ever corrected a downturn in your business? What are your best tips for avoiding a slump? 

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Refusing the Fear

One of my big things for 2015 is publishing fiction. It was one of my big things for 2014, too, but it didn’t happen. Lots of other good things happened, but I didn’t publish any fiction. This year, I’m taking a few proactive steps to push myself along:

I’ve taken a spot on the calendar of a very in-demand professional editor. In December, she announced that her first available opening for 2015 was August, and I grabbed the slot. So, I now have a deadline.

Writing fiction is scheduled, just like my client work. Each day begins with #firsthourforfiction. (Except today. Today I’m sick and haven’t written any fiction yet. Having that time as part of my daily schedule makes doing the work easier. Just like when I rode the city bus to school and walked to class. Exercise was a built-in part of my day and much easier to fit in.

Daily reporting on what I’m working on will give me a good reason to actually do the work. I’m posting #firsthourforfiction reports on my public Google+ profile, and have also joined a couple of accountability groups.

All of those things may seem like normal, common sense things, but in reality, they are tactics for dealing with fear. Feeling afraid of writing is something new for me. Writing is what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. Writing is how I make decisions, it’s how I work out tangled emotions, it’s how I speak most clearly. I write hundreds — often thousands — of words almost everyday. I’ve written and published a non-fiction book without the least bit of fear. Articles don’t scare me, nor blog posts.

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Why is fiction scary?

It’s not because it’s a window into my soul or anything cliche like that. I have no plans to write any kind of ground-breaking literature. I just want to tell a story. This book will be the equivalent of a TV show you might watch for entertainment. I’m not trying to change minds or say anything important
with it.

It’s not because I fear rejection. Since I’m going to self-publish, there won’t be anyone to reject it. I don’t expect it to be a best seller or anything like that. If things go according to my long term plans, it will simply be the first of many entertaining stories that will provide some small income for my retirement years. I have no plans to market this one story at all. I will simply write it, polish it, and publish it, then move on to writing the next one.

I think it is scary because some people I respect will read it, and maybe they won’t like it. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. People pay me money to write things. If the people I respect don’t like the stories I write, maybe I’m not really good at it. Then, I’m not good at anything.

Now, that is the deep, dark, sinister voice inside me. It’s not the optimistic, bright outlook I work for, or even the logical, calm train of thought that I rely on. It’s the ugly thing that I try to ignore.

It won’t be ignored, though. It asserts itself. It’s the reason this novel has not yet been published. It’s the reason so many other stories are sitting, half finished, in my documents list. It’s the reason I’m still a wannabe and cannot speak about writing fiction from a position of authority and experience.

2015 is the year of seeing projects through in spite of the fear. It’s the year of having a little courage.

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“I’ll Take a Look at It on Spec”

The majority of my writing clients are regular clients, and most of them are people I’ve met. I work with several local business owners, and a few folks I met or found online. In any case, my invoices go to pretty much the same group of people month after month. Sometimes there will be additions, and sometimes clients will drop off. Now and then, I like to look for new work — either because I’m ready to boost my income, or I want to learn about a new industry, or I have a good story idea.

Recently, I decided to look for publications within a particular industry. I had some ideas for stories and wanted to see what the market was like. I identified a couple, called

It's nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

It’s nice to look at pretty flowers while pondering a difficult business dilemma.

one, and learned they preferred to receive queries. I read several past publications then pitched three articles. The editor liked one of them and emailed me to say that she would “take a look at it on spec.”

If we were talking about a publication I’d dreamed of seeing my name in for years, maybe I’d feel differently, but my first reaction (in my mind only) was “I don’t work on spec.” But then I thought about the fact that this editor doesn’t know me. She would be taking a risk by assigning an article to an unknown. I offered to send clips in my introductory letter, but maybe she doesn’t have time for that. Even if she does have time to look at my clips, she has no assurances that I will turn in clean copy; there’s always the chance that my clips were cleaned up by some other editor.

However, I would be taking a risk by spending the time to write a good article on spec. It would, of course, be tailored to fit the tone and voice of this particular publication. There would be several interviews involved. It would take time and effort to do it right — time and effort that I could be spending on doing work for clients who know (and regularly pay) me, or looking for clients willing to take the risk of getting to know me. There are definitely two sides to this spec coin!

Ideally, I could offer this editor some kind of compromise, but I’m having trouble coming up with one. The publication is lovely, and one of the best in this particular niche. The pay is what I’d call average to low in the wider lens of magazine writing, but high for the industry. I’m opposed to working on spec — on principal, and because this is what I do for a living. It’s not a hobby. Getting paid matters. There’s the possibility of pitching the same story to several publications in case the editor doesn’t want it, but that doesn’t feel quite right either.

Have you dealt with this situation? What was your response? 

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Remembering Why I Am So Busy

6:30am – get up, feed all of the animals, start working on three articles that must be submitted to meet deadlines.

8:30 – wake husband, see him out the door

11:15 – admit that only one of the three articles will be ready to turn in, email editors to ask for one more day

11:45 – arrive at part time job in time to shove some food in before my shift

12-8:10 – work, work, work

8:30 – return home to cook dinner and try to wrap up at least one article

For some people, that would be an average Monday. For me, that’s a long day.

 

Lately, I’ve been busier than usual (you may have noticed the months-long hiatus from this blog). Most of the time, I’m careful to build down time into my schedule, but for the last couple of months, I’ve been booking myself completely solid. There are articles to write, a part time job to enjoy, marketing projects to complete…

Being especially busy can be good. It seems like my mind is sometimes more creative when my body is busy. But, if there’s no time to give that creativity an outlet, it just sits there. Finding the perfect (and elusive) balance between creative (usually non-paying) work and work that pays the bills can be difficult, but seems to me to be a worthy pursuit.

This summer, I want to help grow a giant garden, which means spending at least 4-5 hours a week weeding and shoveling and doing glorious physical labor outside. I also want to take a couple of short trips, go to a local amusement park, and spend some time in the woods. All of that means careful time management and the need for funding. It means working some long days so that I can enjoy time off.

I’ve also set a personal deadline: I will publish a novel-length work of fiction by July. I have a first draft, and have begun the second. But it is slow going between the paying work and the fun stuff. Writing a novel falls somewhere in between those two. It’s a big goal, and there are fun aspects, but it is also work.

With all of these goals, the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. It’s pretty common to read that if you Business owners usually have to make sacrifices to run successful businesses — maybe give up some personal time in order to work longer hours. Novelists, especially ones who have other, paying jobs usually have to sacrifice some time to write. A goal I haven’t mentioned here yet is fitness, and a common thread among people who are very fit is that they spend time shopping, cooking, and working out. Time that could be spent building a business or writing a novel.

One of the most-often clicked on posts on this blog is about pursuing multiple goals. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve never been one to narrow my focus. At this point, it would be painful for me to put my novel aside or to decide to forego the garden this year. Those are the kinds of things that keep me from feeling burned out. Success in any one area spurs me more to reach the other goals as well.

Yet, some days I end up feeling tired and angry. Yesterday was like that. Looking back over what I did yesterday, there was no time to remember why I’m so busy. No time spent on my novel, or even in my flower garden. There was no time to exercise or nurture myself at all.

Is it better to have whole days spent off — writing novels or planting gardens or hiking — and then work long hours on other days? Maybe. Entire days dedicated to fun are important. But, weaving some fun into everyday is equally important. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, a little time to mentally unwind is a necessity.

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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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