Kissed By A Shark and Lived To Tell the Tale

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Penn Station at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning, sipping a disgusting coffee, wearing a cream-colored cocktail frock, and carrying my 30-lb computer bag with a red velvet cupcake in a jar peeping out of the top.
It was morning, but it was actually the end of an evening, one that had started at the beginning of the week with a freelancer’s dilemma.

I’d received an invitation to the premier of Shark Tank, a television show that shines a spotlight on startup financing. Because I don’t have television, I had never seen Shark FullSizeRenderTank, but I’d heard about it from friends.

I put off the decision to go for a few days. I was going to have to pay for the trip to New York City on my own, and hope to earn back the money by selling a story somewhere.

When Friday rolled around, I was doing OK on the deadlines. I also had something to wear, which is not always the case. And I’d come up with a plan to do the trip on the cheap.

If I’d been on staff at a magazine or newspaper somewhere, a trip like this would have been a no-brainer: the contacts would be invaluable, and I’d probably pick up some stories about really interesting entrepreneurs. As a freelancer, it’s a trickier question: how do you know when it is worthwhile to spend money traveling for a story? The tab for a trip to New York is almost inescapably $1,000, including train (about $400), taxis (about $100) and hotel (typically $300-$400).

I decided to go for it — but to try and make it back down to Washington on the last train home so that I could keep the cost more in the range of $500. (Sometimes, frugality is a mistake.)

The last and most important factor in my decision to go was that the publicist said it was OK if I brought a friend. I like parties and they are part of my job, but an introvert in a room full of strangers is always better off with a friend at hand.

My friend EJ is especially good at this kind of thing: She’s a tall, friendly New York City lawyer with a lot of funny jokes up her sleeve — and unlike me, she always has something to wear, complete with matching shoes.

She was game. “You are one of the only people I would do this with,” she said. I’m not exactly sure what she meant by that but I took it to mean that I bring out her adventurous steak. EJ was in for this particular adventure partly because her teenage son likes Shark Tank so she wanted to get selfies with the stars.

As usual, the people working the coat check looked askance at my computer bag, which is about 10 years old and weighs about 30 pounds because in addition to my computer it holds a couple of books I am reading, a few notebooks, some pages of a book I’ve been trying to write for a decade and all the other sorts of things a working mother might have, like lipsticks, homework assignments and spare headphones.

It’s a good thing to have a bag that sticks out in its disreputable state, though, because I very often lose the claim ticket for my bag immediately after I drop it off.

After EJ took took her pictures, I chatted with Daymond John. When he heard that I’d come from Washington and planned to take the train home that night, he looked skeptical. “Check the schedule,” he urged practically. “Nah,” I said. I’ve traveled back and forth to New York hundreds of times, and I was sure there was a train leaving at 11 or 12.

As the evening wore on, I had a couple of the signature shark drinks, which had candy sharks swimming at the bottom, and a few nice conversations with entrepreneurs, including the couple that I ended up writing about a few days later in How a Texas Couple Started with $500 and Built a $1 Million Shark Tank Winner.

Kevin O’Leary came over and introduced himself just as I was leaving. I stuck out my hand for him to shake and he turned it over and kissed it, which is how the title for this blog post came about. (Thank you to Canadian entrepreneur and investing expert Randy Cass, who suggested it.)

“He is such a media whore,” John joked.

The party organizers gave us bags of goodies, most of which I donated to a yard sale collecting money for a nonprofit called Huru International, which helps girls in Africa who don’t have money to manage their monthly periods. But I kept the Wicked Good cupcake-in-a-jar for my girls.

We stepped out into the New York night air. We stopped at Pie Face.

I checked the train schedule.

Needless to say, John had been correct: there was no train back to DC.

I crashed on EJ’s couch (thank you EJ), rose at 4 and made my way over to Penn Station, thinking about how many adventures you get have when you’re a freelancer and a journalist and have good friends and thinking about the last time, back in college, I’d gone back home in my clothes the morning after a party. #walkofshame

I wasn’t the only one who’d had an adventure that night: As I walked through Penn Station I noticed about a dozen other women in cocktail dresses, all making their ways back home.

The Lifestyle, Your Back Office , , , ,

Create a Million-Dollar Business

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that corporate profits were at record highs because labor costs growing so slowly. “Corporate profits are their highest ever and wage growth is near its lowest in half a century,” Jamie McGeever wrote in a blog post in January. At that point, wages were growing by only 2% a year.

Now that employment has picked up, wages have increased a bit–but not as much as you would think. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that workers’ productivity is also higher than last year.  The BLS said wages had increased 2.3% in the second quarter.

Given these brutal facts, it’s easy to see why so many corporate workers are unhappy, stressed and afraid to take a vacation. They know the truth: If they don’t keep running on the treadmill so the corporation can hold onto these giant profits, they are at risk of joining the unemployed–and potentially never being able to replace their job at all.

It’s a very fear-based way to live, focused on scarcity. Employees’ underlying anxiety that they will slip out of the middle class gives big employers inordinate control over many people’s daily lives. It allows these companies to underpay loyal team members who are now on call almost 24/7, thanks to the digital era. And at a time when the cost of daily necessities is rising, many people are pinched as a result.

The cost to employees goes beyond the economic. When workers feel forced to say yes to the ever-increasing demands of employers, they must say no to the many other meaningful things they might be doing with their time. They have little chance to recharge themselves or spend time with the people who matter to them. It’s hard to contribute to their communities or devote themselves to other activities that might replenish them or deepen their lives. That can lead to depression, anxiety and constant regret.

But living in fear doesn’t have to be a way of life if you realize you can provide for yourself without a big employer. Many people are pleasantly surprised to discover that running their own business lets them earn a great living without having to run on a hamster wheel or to say no to who they are and what matters to them.

According to Gallup’s research, only five out of 1,000 people have the capability of being a future Richard Branson or Sara Blakely–meaning they have the combination of innate talents and skills to create a business worth $10 million or more.

But many more people do have the ability to create a small business that provides for them and their families–often while working from home. Consider these U.S. Census Bureau statistics on nonemployer businesses, which I reported on for Forbes: 

* 1.7 million one-person nonemployer businesses achieved six figure revenues in 2012 (the most recent year available)

* 513,137 brought in $250,000 to $499,000

* 221,815 generated $500,000 to $999,999

* 29,494 companies generated $1 million to $2.49 million

* 1,900 grossed $2.5 million to $4.99 million

* 386 firms generated $5 million in revenue or more.

Nonemployer businesses are those staffed only by the owners. Many of these are one-man or one-woman shops or run by a couple of partners.

Next time you’re dreading your commute to a 10-hour day at work, it’s worth considering these statistics. What would happen if you reclaimed those 10 hours and instead devoted them to building a business for yourself? Could you take back even two or three hours this week to build a more joyful life for yourself so you can walk away from your job someday in the near future?

If you feel like your job is slowly killing you, it’s worth considering getting off the train you’re taking and catching another one–to a happier, more meaningful life where you’re in charge. You don’t have to hand the keys to your life to a soulless corporation where no one cares if employees are being worked to death. You can choose life: Your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the Break, Uncategorized

What’s Keeping Your From Living The Life You Want?

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post for a career site where some readers disagreed with my tips on avoiding age discrimination in the workplace.

One commenter looked at my online bio and pointed out that since I was a former editor at Fortune Small Business magazine, I must be unemployed. Her take was: What could I possibly know about careers?

Her post made me smile. Anyone who is around me on a daily basis will tell you I’m more than fully employed. My challenge for the past couple of years has been actually taking time off.

But she’s right. I don’t have a traditional job. I own a thriving freelance writing and editing business.

Her comment reminded me of an attitude that holds a lot of people back from doing the work they love: They think it can only be done in a traditional job someone has created for them. Anything other than that is the equivalent of unemployment.

Perhaps at one time that was true, but in a digital economy, there are many sources of work other than traditional employers. If you still have the mindset that the only form of steady employment is a formal job, then you may be closing of amazing opportunities to use your talents.

When I was making the decision to go freelance or continue on a traditional corporate track, I did a simple analysis: What did I like about my career? And what did I want to get away from? How could I get closer to a lifestyle where I was mostly doing work I loved and leading the lifestyle I wanted, as the mother of three young children at the time.

What I liked was working with a wide variety of interesting people and writing and editing. What I didn’t like was sitting in long meetings or having to work hours that interfered with my family life.

I realized that if I started my own business, I could enjoy all of the best aspects of my career without the downsides. There are tradeoffs. Being able to focus on the work I want to do has meant taking responsibility for my own income stream. I’ve had to tackle what one of my clients calls “administrivia,” like selecting an insurance plan and submitting invoices.  And sometimes I do have to rearrange family time to make the business run smoothly. But now that I have just passed my seven year anniversary as a freelancer and have four children, I have no regrets about going this route.

If you love your work but don’t love your job–or you love your work but can’t find a job in your chosen field–I’d urge you to do a similar analysis. It could be that it’s very possible to do the work you love if you’re willing to take on the responsibility for being your own boss. It’s not easy. But working in a job you loathe or getting sidelined in the economy is a lot more difficult.

 

 

 

 

Making the Break, Uncategorized ,

Best Pieces of Financial Advice for Freelancers: Part II

Put Aside Your Emotions

For years, I’ve been writing about behavioral economics. Because we are human, we are motivated about 80% of the time by our emotions. Even when we think we’re not being emotional, we probably are — we’ve just successfully constructed a rationale to disguise the emotion even from ourselves. I realized how pernicious this tendency is in a conversation I had with one of the best investment thinkers of all time, and want to talk about it in this, the second of my three-part post on the best pieces of financial advice for freelancers.

I was in the middle of a divorce. I’d convinced myself that I needed to get my ex-husband off the deed of my house.

Just as I was about to launch into the machinations required to refinance as a freelancer (that’s a whole other topic), I talked to Charley Ellis, a revered money manager, the founder of Greenwich Associates and author of What It Takes and Winning the Loser’s Game, among many other accomplishments. I did a little bit of editing work for his latest book, Falling Short, which is coming out later this fall and is about the retirement crisis.

Along with reams of paperwork, refinancing meant I would have to buy my ex out of the house, which was going to cost $70,000.

I told Charley the situation and mentioned how determined I was to do this. “Why?” said Charley. “If you wait until you sell the house, the $70,000 will be worth a lot less.”

“But then he’ll be on the deed,” I said.

“So what? Just pay your mortgage every month,” said Charley. “The mortgage company doesn’t care.”

He was right, of course. Inflation would eat into the value of the $70,000, and 10 years from now, or so, I’ll probably be in a stronger financial position, too.

Thinking rationally about the value of money helped me decide the right course of action, which was not to refinance.

It’s particularly easy as a freelancer to allow money to represent something else emotionally — usually, it’s security. So you might jump for a big contract with income for six months without thinking through how much time it’s going to take you.

It’s also correspondingly easy to see money as a symbol of the corporate world you left behind and to adopt on attitude of “it’ll come from somewhere.” That sometimes leads freelancers to take on high-profile jobs that pay too little or pro-bono jobs.

The first step to managing your money as a freelancer is managing your emotions — and the first step to doing that is recognizing when your emotions and your money are too tied up together. And maybe the easiest way to do that is bounce your thoughts off a friend, because sometimes, the hardest landscapes to know are our own minds.

Growing Your Business , , ,

Three Best Pieces of Financial Advice for Freelancers: Part I

Being a freelancer requires a whole different mindset than being an employee. You can make a living — as Elaine and I have, and as we help people do. But there’s no steady paycheck, and no big benefits package.

We offer plenty of specific financial advice, like how much you need to have in a cash reserve fund, and how to keep C4xRvRB9kLCwdjudd-xX-gVG_iRhgHxyIQez_Z4Ky3Eyou cash flow, well, flowing. But the most important pieces of financial advice I’ve received have been broader. They helped me reframe my mindset from employee to entrepreneur. I’m going to post them one-two-three in the next three days.

#1: Take Care of Yourself

If you are even considering becoming a freelancer, chances are you know a lot about how to make people happy. You’re confident in your people skills and your talents; to greater and lesser degrees, both will be crucial to winning business. You probably also love what you do, which is motivating you both to leave the crushing realities of a corporate job and to have the freedom to practice your profession the way you think best.

In other words: you have the perfect personality to be a freelancer. But there’s a downside to having a passion about your work and about serving the needs of clients. You might tend to put yourself last. Many freelancers I know do this. Out of a combination of passion and the unsteadiness of the income stream, they become chained to their computers. That’s certainly not the point.

One of the key financial concepts for a freelancer is arranging your budget and your schedule so that you can TAKE TIME OFF. You must be able to decompress. It’s even harder if you have children and a spouse, because they are making demands on you too.

My friend Reba Axelson coalesced this for me. A single mom in the 50s, she was widowed very young. I knew her in her late 80s. When I got my divorce, she took me under her wing, fed me and my girls dinner a few times, and told me how she managed emotionally and financially as a single mom. A native Virginian, she could be very stern when she wanted to be, though always in the most genteel accent you can imagine.

(One of her favorite things to say was, “When God was handing out brains, I was standing behind the door,” which was charming because it was so profoundly and laughably untrue; everyone who met her knew Reba was brilliant).

One day as I was leaving her house, I stood by the door with my hand on the knob — I was headed back to my computer. She had bright blue eyes and she looked at me implacably and said, “You need to take care of yourself.”

She had the authority of being a mother figure who wasn’t my mom, and I felt like I had to listen. When I’m tempted to skip a doctor’s appointment, not take time for exercise or say no to a dinner with friends, I remember Reba’s words.

My work gets a lot better when I take time for myself. That time re-energizing is what gives you the distance and space and ability to think clearly.

The ability to prioritize well is the single most important financial skill for a freelancer: You need to have the emotional and intellectual energy to think clearly, so that you can decide what to work on when and how hard to work on each task.

Growing Your Business , , , ,

Why Freelancing Works For Women

Every once in a while, I’ll get a full-time job offer from a client. These have been well-paying gigs, where I would work for people I know and like. But so far, I’ve always said “No, thanks.”

To some people, this might seem crazy. But when I look at the hours I have available in a day, a traditional job doesn’t fit in right now. I’m very passionate about my work and do earn a full-time living, but I also really like doing things with my family on the weekdays. These bright spots in my day would get stripped away and reserved for the weekends if I commuted into New York City and got home at 8 pm. And, for many reasons–some imposed by society’s expectations and some by ourselves–it just seems harder for women to be able to declare ourselves MIA from the home front during the day so we can focus 100% on work on a punch-clock schedule than it is for men. I know I would be at a competitive disadvantage in the mono-focus world of traditional jobs, with less opportunities for growth than those who don’t have as many responsibilities at home. So  I keep doing what I’m doing.

It turns out many women are freelancing for similar reasons, according to MBO Partners’ new report, the 2014 State of Independence in America. This is a big study of more than 11,000 people.

As the report puts it, “Women tend to see independence as a path leading to fulfilling work that fits into their lifestyle. Men, on the other hand, tend to focus on being their own boss and maximizing their income.”

Consider this:

* 65% of women said flexibility was a key reason they chose to become independent versus 54% of men.

* 20% of women said being able to have time for children is a key reason for their going freelance, vs. 6% of men. For women ages 34 to 49, 26% said having time for children was a key reason.

* 71% of women said flexibility is more important than making  the most money versus 58% of men.

*  76% of women agreed that“Doing something I like is more important than
making the most money” — vs. 69% of men.

* 81% of women responded that they like feeling that they make a difference with their work, compared to 71% of men.

* 48% of  men say they earn more working on their own vs. 40% of women.

* 68% of men  said they always wanted  to be their own boss vs. 61% of women.

* 44% of men said they chose independent work to better control their career, compared to one third of the women.

What’s interesting to me is that the gaps between men and women, while significant, aren’t all that wide. Perhaps that reflects the fact that men today are becoming more involved in life outside of work than earlier generations were–and want many of the same things women now do. Many jobs don’t let people live full lives outside of their cubicles and these independent folks just can’t give up their freedom to do what matters to them.

 

 

Growing Your Business, Making the Break, Uncategorized

Freelancing Isn’t “Fringe” Anymore

If you’re surrounded by corporate friends who don’t “get” why anyone would freelance, the independent lifestyle can seem a little lonely at times.

But a new report by MBO Partners suggests that the size of the independent workforce is growing rapidly and more people are embracing self-employment.

In the 2014 State of Independence in America report, MBO Partners, which provides support services to independent workers, gathered data from more than 11,000 workers.

It found that there are now 17.9 “solopreneurs” in the U.S. That’s an increase of 12.5% since 2011. While some would prefer other work arrangements, 76% plan on staying independent in the future. There are also another 12.1 million “side giggers” who work 15 hours a week on a recurring basis to generate extra income.

The top reasons for freelancing didn’t surprise me but they reinforced why the decision to go freelance often works out so well. Respondents listed:

* Control my schedule (63%)

* More flexibility (61%)

* Like being my own boss (57%)

Given the trends toward a more flexible labor force, I suspect we’re going to have a lot more company in the future. Professionals who develop the skills to succeed as freelancers will have many more career options than those who don’t–whether they opt to freelance full-time or on the side.

Making the Break, Uncategorized

How To Handle Screw-Ups When You Are a Freelancer

When you’re a freelancer, it feels like there’s very little room for error. A series of mistakes that in an employed person would be a mere irritant become an excuse for not renewing a contract.

That’s probably why, when the inevitable mistake happens, I can sometimes go into a tailspin. I don’t literally beat my head against the desk, but I curse a lot, decide I’m going to lose all of my work and go bankrupt, and then reach out to a few friends.

In this case, the mistake was a scheduling mistake; a meeting that was slotted on to a Tuesday in my calendar was actually on Monday. But it was an important meeting. I felt a little like Marissa Mayer, who famously missed a dinner by oversleeping.

I didn’t oversleep, I just lost track of things in the midst of a triple deadline school day. If anyone has a miracle cure for scheduling snafus, I would love to hear it.

What about those inevitable mistakes? I don’t know the right way to handle them. I don’t lie or fudge, but I have learned over the years to be more honest: I don’t hide the fact that I am a single working mother juggling a lot.

Then I try to remind myself that the organization is getting something pretty great out of this deal: a benefits-free, highly experienced writer/editor. Then I look at my bank account and remind myself that I have a cash reserve and a lot of clients.

And then, I call my friends who inhabit the solo entrepreneur world with me, like Elaine, who said, “Remind yourself of how much you get done and how great you are at your work before you beat yourself up too much.”

Thanks, Elaine.

Growing Your Business

The Mindset That Will Help You Survive In Freelancing

Many of the folks I know who have tried freelancing and given up have gotten derailed by the same thing that leads to abandoned exercise goals: They’re not taking it one day at a time.

Perhaps they’re working on an assignment with a difficult client, experienced a schedule conflict between work and family, gotten sick unexpectedly or struggled to pay the bills when a check for a project didn’t show up on time. Whatever has gone wrong has become so overwhelming on that day that they just quit.

Sometimes, these were folks who really wanted to make freelancing work, so in case you are one of them, I’ll share a mindset that has helped me get through discouraging moments and press on these last seven years.

When I was training for the New York City Marathon years ago, I read a book on running where the author recommended thinking of yourself as a lifetime runner. If you viewed yourself that way and you had to miss a day’s workout, it would be easier to pick up the next day where you left off–instead of scrapping your whole training schedule.

Thinking the same way about freelancing can help. If yesterday was really hard and you got derailed, it doesn’t mean today will be the same. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish by just showing up at your desk one more time and firing up your laptop.

 

The Lifestyle

Life Hacks For Freelancers

In my twenties, I discovered a lot of my favorite places through serendipity. I had the spare time to wander if I took a wrong turn in my car or missed my subway stop and ended up in a different neighborhood. That’s how I found a lot of out-of-the-way cafes, an almost undiscovered running path in Jersey City, and my favorite vintage store.

Like many working parents, I don’t have those air pockets in my schedule now. My husband and I are raising four children, ages 4 to 10, while juggling his independent business as a real estate appraiser and mine as a journalist and ghost writer. I keep inching my wakeup time a little earlier to buy myself more time, but I have not been able to move back from 4:45 am to 4:30 without being bleary all day, so I’m trying a new plan this fall. I’m turning to more time-saving tools. And I’m trying to say no more to things I don’t want to do, to free up more time for what matters.

Here are a few tools that I’m using. Most were referred to me by enthusiastic clients and users. If you’re up against a similar time crunch, I hope they’ll help you free more time.

Globafy. This is a free conference bridge that you can use for international calls. You can dial in from a local number in the U.S., while, if, say, the other participant in the call is in Italy, he or she can dial in from a local number there. It’s a good alternative to Skype unless your contact is in a hotel and has to pay the per-minute charges. On my phone, the sound quality is better than on Skype.

Join.me. This free screen-sharing service lets you tunnel into someone else’s computer or vice versa. Sometimes, it really saves time when you can both look at a document at the same time.

ScheduleOnce. This service, which starts at $5 a month, lets you send a link to clients to set up an appointment on your calendar, so you don’t have to email back and forth. They can see your available times, but not what you are doing in the unavailable time. If you set up a separate calendar, such as a family calendar in Google calendar, you can use the service to schedule time in that calendar, too, without accidentally treading into your work time. A client recommended it to me, and so far, it seems excellent. I had to migrate my Yahoo calendar to Google Calendar to use it. I’m using the premium version ($9 a month) and it seems adequate for my needs in a one-person business.

FreshBooks. This accounting software, which starts with a free version, is very easy for folks who aren’t financially-oriented to use. It’s simple to send invoices to client and keep on top of how timely the payments are. And you can easily run reports your accountant may want, such as a P&L statement.

AudioAcrobat. I’ve tried free apps to record phone calls, but I never found one that I could trust to be 100% reliable. So far, the best alternative I’ve discovered is AudioAcrobat, which will let you record phone calls from an iPhone or a conference line and in other scenario. You can also use it to create online content, like taping a podcast. There’s a free 30-day trial, then basic pricing starts at $19.95 a month. You can also use FreeConferenceCall to record calls, but that requires everyone to dial into your conference line unless you’re using another app. Sometimes, when I’m joining an existing project with a standing conference line, switching everyone to my line is not practical, so that’s where AudioAcrobat comes in.

Do you have any great tools you’re using? Let us know. Send us a Tweet at @200kFreelancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Your Business, The Lifestyle, Uncategorized