Why Is Anyone Grousing About Women Breadwinners?

It’s hard to have missed the hoopla about the recent Pew Research Center survey that reported that 4 out of 10 families with children under 18 now depend on the income of women who are the sole or main breadwinners.

The survey prompted lamentations by male commentators on Fox about what this trend portends for society. After RedState.com editor Erick Erickson said in a broadcast “that more women being the primary or sole breadwinners in families is harmful to raising children,” as he later put it in his blog, Fox host Megyn Kelly took him to task, pointing to a battery of research showing that the children of working mothers are doing just as well as children of at-home moms. If you’ve gotten tired of hearing complaints about working moms, take a moment to watch the video. It’ll give you a second wind.

What really surprises me is that women’s working is still such a loaded issue. In couples where women work, it’s usually because the family needs their income. According to a 2010  study by the Center for American Progress, in families with the highest income levels, only 33.5% had a wife where the wife earned as much or more than her husband. But that percentage rises in middle-income and lower-income families. In 43.5% of middle income families, there’s a wife who earns as much as or more than her husband. For those at the lowest income levels, the percentage is 69.7%.

The research found that only about one in three families now includes a full-time parent who does not have paid employment. In short, it’s a luxury that few can afford.

Given that this is the case, why are are wasting time debating whether or not it’s good for society if women with kids are breadwinners. The fact is that many are–and they’re doing it for a very good reason: To feed and house their families.

The real debate should be about how we, as a society, can rethink the workplace to reflect this trend. Women’s lives are different from men’s. Even if they are breadwinners, they typically tackle more housework, as Elizabeth pointed out. The lower-income and middle-income women who are most likely to be breadwinners often can’t afford the support systems that parents in the executive suite depend on, like reliable, in-home childcare professionals and house cleaning services.

Big employers don’t seem to want to pay attention to this. Perhaps that’s because it’s more profitable for them to try to get their workers to do the jobs of 1.5 to 2 people for the salary of one person–regardless of the personal price that workers with families pay when they are expected to work this way.

Freelancing can be a good alternative to this situation for some women, but if you’re the main breadwinner, it does require a cash cushion of about six months of savings to ramp up, given that clients don’t always pay on schedule. For those who don’t earn a high salary, it can be hard to save this much ahead of time.

Hopefully we’ll see the evolution of some new freelance marketplaces that offer workers the chance to earn quick, relatively steady payments without the strict schedule of a job. Freelancing would be a more realistic option for some if they knew they could get steady work every week–on their own schedule–and could expect their paycheck next Friday. I wrote about one company, Rev, that offers this model for translators and transcriptionists. Are there more out there? If you know of any others, please let us know by posting a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Measured Response To Lean In

I’ve had two good conversations lately with female friends of mine, both with careers. One of them is a high-powered young woman on the fast track, thinking about having children and wondering about the effect on her career. The other is a woman with two elementary age children, working on a graduate degree and looking to get back on a career track – though in a tempered way.

Our conversations boiled down to the same thing: What is rarely discussed in all the conversations about women leaning in or walking out is the home factor.

Yes, women hold themselves back, aren’t good at self-advocating, and underestimate their abilities. But even once you figure out that you’re just as good or better than the men you’re working with … that doesn’t matter so much if you are still the one folding laundry at midnight instead of reading a report. It’s the impossibility of competing with men while you’re holding your household together that leads so many women to opt out, become freelancers or momprenuers — or to take part-time jobs. For people who find happiness on those non-traditional paths, that’s great.

To the extent that those women would rather be winning in a supportive workplace, and to the companies that aren’t benefiting from their skills, this remains a problem.

In just about every household I know, the greater share of the family duties still falls on women. We could spend endless hours talking why, but my thought is simply that when you’re trying to get things done, you fall into the comfortable patterns. Women by training and temprament are usually the more skilled at child care; to teach men to do what we do would take time and energy, which we don’t have.

In any case, some recent research by Mandy O’Neill speaks to how the inequity in home responsibilities holds women back. O’Neill asked why female MBAs end up making less than male MBAs, even after they start out at the same level.

Eight years after graduation, in the 1995 survey — by which time the MBAs’ income ranged from $15,000 to $2 million per year — women had fallen behind men. To see why, O’Neill and O’Reilly dug deeper into the data, which revealed an interesting answer: The number of hours put in at their jobs made all the difference. Quite simply, eight years into their careers, women were working fewer hours than men on average, even when compared with men who had the same number of children.

The research doesn’t oversimplify. Some of the answer probably has to do with the housework factor. Some might have to do with the nature of the organizations – the intense competition of the corporate world might turn some women off. Perhaps, she suggests, it’s a combination of the two: as the number of people at each tier of the corporate hierarchy is winnowed, their capabilities are more and more the same. What starts to matter most, then, are factors such as the hours a person is willing to put in and the willingness to relocate.

The Lifestyle, Uncategorized , , ,

Create a Killer Blogging Program

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people who want help attracting visitors to their companies’ websites. Can I write a blog post or two every week for them?

Plans to publish a gigantic list of blog posts like this always give me pause.

Often, the folks who call have heard from a search engine optimization expert that they need to publish frequently to generate web traffic. But generally, I’ve learned, putting up a bunch of quickie posts isn’t the best way to do it. Frequent publishing may raise your Google ranking and pull in visitors–but if what you’re writing isn’t inviting (Read: entertaining and/or useful), it won’t be “sticky.” It may ultimately repel the types of visitors you’re trying to attract in the longer term. If what you’re really after is higher web traffic, it’s often smarter to invest in a web-based advertising campaign.

Here are some thoughts that I hope will be helpful to organizations that want to add a blog — and the writers who assist them. For some context, I am basing this on my past experience running a small business website with millions of page views a month and in working with private clients on blogs as a freelancer.

It makes sense to blog only if you’re trying to start a real conversation with your target audience–whether that means colleagues or potential customers. This takes time and effort, even if you hire a professional writer to help you. It may be simple to publish on today’s blogging platforms, but it is not easy to conceive and write high quality blog posts that really mean something to readers. Delivering quality, not quantity — in both your thoughts and your writing — is what matters.

Have you ever gotten cornered at a party by someone who talks at you nonstop about anything that pops into his head, without caring who you are, how you’re reacting or what you may have to say? Your instinct, of course, will be to flee. How you felt in that situation is similar to what visitors to your site will feel if you bombard them with so-so blog posts.

Contrast that to running into an intriguing new acquaintance who brings up something really interesting or funny, asks you about yourself and really listens to your answers. He  draws you into a conversation that changes the way you feel about something important–to the point that you’re still thinking about the conversation a month later. If you hear he’s coming to the next party, you’ll make an effort to show up and hang out with him. When you’re blogging, you want this party guest to be your model.

Before you embark on a blogging program, think about what you have to say that will be meaningful or useful to the people you want to reach. In what areas are you an expert? What topics are you passionate about as a professional? These are good sources of material for the blog of a company or organization. While every blog should be fun to read, keep in mind that if people want to read sports commentary or political ideas, they’re generally going to look to their favorite news sites, not the blog of, say, a tech company CEO.

To find the right writer to help you, look for someone who will help you brainstorm topics, focus your message and come up with a publishing schedule based on the best ideas you have to express. It could be that instead of two fast blog posts a week, you’d be better off with a great monthly blog that reflects your best ideas as a leader. In other cases, you may need to blog more frequently. Say you’re planning a giant conference and you’re adding great new speakers every couple of days. You might want to publish your blog each time you have a new speaker to announce. The best writers will be willing to help you match your publishing schedule to your ultimate goal, even if that means less paid work for themselves.

Don’t waste money hiring writers to deliver a series of blog posts without your involvement, based on news or information they’ve found on the web. Why bother posting generic material like this? Unless someone in your organization is willing to lend insight and expertise to the posts, this type of writing won’t help you make meaningful connections with anyone you’re trying to reach. It looks canned and insincere and, in the worst cases I’ve seen, unprofessional.

A great writing partner for your blog won’t behave like a dictation service. The relationship will be collaborative. Look for a writer who listens well to your ideas for a blog post but has the backbone to push back when you need it. The best writers will question you if your ideas aren’t clear or your words might backfire and hurt your reputation. They’ll lean on you to deliver quality–to the point that you may occasionally want to scream at them–because they will want your work to shine as much as you do. They’ll be willing to revise and polish. This type of help isn’t cheap. But you’re better off writing one post that really means something and goes viral than 100 posts that only two people read.

 

 

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Protect Yourself from Nonpaying Clients

There’s nothing more draining than chasing down payments for projects you delivered on time, months ago. The best way to avoiding doing so is vetting clients carefully from the get-go, to make sure they can actually pay you. But, as experienced freelancers know, this is more of an art than a science.

In “How to Avoid Deadbeat Clients and Get Troubled Ones to Pay,” our most recent post for the AARP’s Work Reimagined site, we offer tips from seasoned solo professionals and experts on how to minimize the time you spend acting as a collection agency.

It’s hard to turn down work in the feast-or-famine world of freelancing–or to operate from a position of mistrust. When in doubt about a client, I have a suggestion: Either ask for a deposit up front or set up an account on one of the major freelancer’s sites where clients must put money to pay you in escrow prior to the job. (Elance is one I’m familiar with, but there are several other reputable ones.) Have the client hire you through one of these sites. These middlemen will typically take a cut in your earnings, but you may find you have more peace of mind if you have some up-front assurance that you’ll get paid.

While the greater exposure we have to distant prospects on the web can be a blessing in some cases, it means we need to be more vigilant, too. Recently, I had an experience where a very small potential client who found me online lined me up for a project. The prospect asked for my federal tax ID number on a W-9 form, which I provided. Some of the other agreements this prospect then asked me to sign were very poorly written and started raising questions in my mind. When I was later asked if I wanted to receive future payments by direct deposit (and asked for my bank account information), I said I’d prefer to receive a check in the mail. The job suddenly evaporated. This may have had nothing to do with my refusal to provide a bank account number, but I had to wonder if I was being targeted in a scam. Now I regret having provided my tax ID and hope I have not become entangled with someone who plans to misuse it.

I would never back away from working with clients I don’t know. However, I’m now considering setting up an account on one of the freelance sites simply to avoid providing my tax ID until I’ve built a working relationship with a client who hasn’t been referred by someone I know. These sites typically act as the employer, so they’re the ones who receive your personal information. While you do sacrifice some earnings by involving a middleman, you are often free to move off of these sites to work with a client privately after a set period, such as a year. That should be long enough to know if a client is on the up and up.

 

 

 

Growing Your Business, Your Back Office , , ,

The Social Media Sites You DON’T Need to Be On

Guest post by Evan Horowitz, business advisor at Evan Horowitz Advising.

So many sites and so little time!  You could spend hours a day with likes, pins, tweets, +1′s and more!  Freelancing is busy enough as it is, so here’s how to spend LESS time marketing–and get better results.

Principle #1: Don’t Try to Do Everything

When it comes to social media, it’s better to do one thing well than have a skimpy presence on many sites.  Because each post only lives for days–or hours–in viewers’ newsfeeds, focused efforts will yield much better visibility with clients and prospective clients.  If you’re being stretched thin, cut some social sites off of your list.

Principle #2: Go Where Your Clients Are

Which sites do you focus on?  Go to the ones your clients use.  If you’re selling professional services, your clients are on LinkedIn.  If you’re selling to engaged couples, your clients are on Facebook.  If you’re selling to home makers, your clients are on Pinterest.

Here’s a quick review of the main sites, with tips on whether to use it or cut it.

The Biggies

Facebook

With 750 million unique visitors every month, Facebook is the behemoth of social networking.  As such, it should get strong consideration for any business.  Also, don’t make the mistake that Facebook is only for young people.  65% of Facebook users are 35 or older!

However, if you only have time for one social network, and you’re selling to businesses, you don’t need to be here.

LinkedIn

Often overlooked, LinkedIn is an extremely powerful platform for finding clients in the professional world.  With 110 million unique monthly visitors whose average age is 44, this vibrant community is a must for B2B companies.  At the same time, if you’re business is consumer–or lifestyle-oriented, I don’t recommend that you spend your time here.

Twitter

Twitter has the most committed users of any social network, who send half a BILLION tweets every day.  If you’re a natural at social media, you’ll be able to mobilize and inspire a following here.  If you don’t love social media, you’ll quickly find Twitter exhausting, and you’ll simply be lost in the noise.

The Other Guys

YouTube

Very underutilized, this is an excellent platform for people trying to share products or expertise.  Check out my article, How to Use Video to Promote Your Business for suggestions.  Keep in mind that even the simplest video takes a hundred times longer to create than a status update on other sites.

Pinterest

Now officially one of the most important social networks, Pinterest is a valuable place to reach high-income women and creative people.  If that’s not your target, or if your business isn’t easy to represent visually, you don’t need to get on this bandwagon yet.

Google+

In my view, Google’s social network still hasn’t gotten enough traction to warrant attention, unless you’re selling to technology buffs.  That said, Google appreciates your creating a page, and it’s rumored to help your search rankings…so why not?

Other Networks

Depending on your business, there may be specialty networks that would be better even than the biggies.  Going after moms?  Check out CafeMom.  Visual or lifestyle business?  Think about Instagram or Tumblr.  Doing business in Europe?  Join Xing.  Those are just a few.  But remember, don’t get carried away.  It’s about quality, NOT quantity.

Action Plan

What networks are you going to focus on?  How will you become more efficient online?  Let me know in the comments below!

About Evan Horowitz

Evan Horowitz Advising, based in New York City, empowers successful business owners to grow their businesses faster and smarter.  Horowitz, who earned an MBA at Harvard Business School and has more than a decade of experience in advising busiensses, works with talented, driven entrepreneurs whose dreams are bigger than their business experience.   To sign up for his free busines tips, go to www.ehadvising.com

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Give Your Freelance Clients A Fair Shot

I recently told someone I work with that I’d give a new situation a fair shot. The same day, I told my daughter that she had to give her new softball team a fair shot.

Now I’m struggling to define that term. I know we’ve all done this as freelancers and employees: taken on a new job, client or situation that doesn’t seem quite right, or that you suspect you won’t like. Your instincts say, “No,” but your rational mind says it’s worth a shot. Maybe you need the money, or you think it will be a boost for your resume. Or your rational mind says, “No,” but your emotion says, “Try it.” You like the people, or something about the work appeals to you personally.

You decide to try it: to take it on as an experiment.

When I’m in that situation, I use the fair shot idea. (If my instincts are prickling about someone’s ethics, I also try to build in safeguards for myself – Elaine wrote about this not long ago). But defining a fair shot is hard.

I’ve done it via calendar. I tell myself: One month from now, I’m going to check in with myself. Time-based fair shots actually don’t work that well, in my experience, though that Steve Jobs used the element of time in the following famous quote.

He had something to say on making a change when you feel you’re on the wrong path, but he doesn’t define the length of time you should give a situation. He says “too many days in a row.”

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something…almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

What works better for some people, myself included, is a trigger. Scientists structure their experiments, deciding at the beginning what the hypothesis is and what result will disprove or prove the hypothesis. (The other difficulty, of course, is committing yourself fully to the experiment, even while you recognize it’s an experiment. If you set your mind against something in the first place, it is likely to fail.)

The hypothesis in the case of a new job: I’m going to find this worthwhile for me. In the case of the softball team: I’m going to enjoy this.

In the case of my daughter, I want her to experience two games before she makes a decision to quit or continue. Now, I’m thinking about how to structure my experiment with a new work situation. I’ll pick some projects with end dates, set some goals and see where I am at the end of that road. I don’t want to keep walking if it’s not the right one for me.

Growing Your Business , , ,

When Clients Aren’t Honest

One of the best parts of freelancing for me has been all of the clients who’ve become friends over the years. If I had continued working for one company, I may never have had a chance to meet all of the smart, interesting people I work with every day.

Reporting our latest feature for the AARP’s Work Reimagined site, Danger! A Dishonest Client Can Derail Your Business, reminded me that there’s a flip side to all of the variety.

Sometimes, our vetting processes for new clients can fail us–and we can get burned. Or a longtime client’s situation changes, and we don’t pick up on the signals. With freelancers, this will often result in not getting paid, but in other fields, unethical clients can bring different problems. One accountant I interviewed was thrown for a loop when he was suddenly asked to help a longstanding client–who’d become a friend over many years–hide financial malfeasance. (He ended the relationship immediately).

No business owner wants to turn away clients, especially in a slow economy. But sometimes, it’s a good idea.

 

Growing Your Business, The Lifestyle , , ,

Your Perfect Work Schedule

Sometimes, when my three-year-old son is sleeping at night, I’ll talk to him. “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to play with you in the morning,” I’ll say, if I was working on a deadline project and he spent that time with my husband. Or “I’m glad we planted seeds in the yard and went out to lunch today.”

He’s not listening, of course. I guess what I’m really doing is talking to myself about whether I did a good job managing my time. Did I take on too much work to make the most of a day with my family that I’ll never get back? Should I start getting up at 4:30 am and not, so I can finish my work earlier and spend more time with my kids?

The success of Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, made me realize I’m not alone in obsessing about how I use my time and continually hacking my daily schedule to get it right. Many freelancers and business owners have passions, from world travel to volunteering, that inspire them to keep close tabs on their hours, so they have time to do what matters to them outside of work. But it’s not always so easy to achieve the perfect balance.

In “Creating the Perfect Work Schedule,” our latest post for the AARP’s Work Reimagined site, we offer tips from experts on how to make the most of the time you’ve allotted to work, so you have the freedom to do for other things.

One of my favorite tips, from a seasoned entrepreneur: Don’t respond to routine emails from clients in the evening or weekends, so they don’t come to expect it. Wait until the next business day, unless it’s an emergency.

How do you stay in control of your time? We welcome your tips in the comment area.

 

Growing Your Business, The Lifestyle , , , , ,

Why I Miss Working For A Newspaper

I graduated from college (the University of Maryland) in 1993, at the tail of the print world. My training as a journalist was all in print. At the student newspaper, we “rolled” our newspapers. They were produced in long strips, and pasted on huge sheets of paper via a roller and wax. At the end of the nights, we had “roll” parties. My first jobs were in newspapers and weekly newspapers. We packaged originals in big flat black cases and took them to the printer.

I left that world behind gradually, as I imagine most of us did. Then, 10 years ago, when I started freelancing, I made a conscious choice to focus on online media. Career wise, I tried to become an early adopter, or at least not a laggard. I didn’t look back. I knew if I wanted to stay employed, I needed to let go of the joys of working in the print medium.

I’ve had a couple of experiences lately that reminded me how much I miss working on a print publication. I edited a print section for Crain’s New York. What a pleasure, to see an actual page. The other experience was bringing the pullquote to the online world, for the Wealthfront blog. I was thrilled to bring an element of the print world into the new age, and I’m hopeful that the online world will be able to reincorporate what was best of print.

That’s the intellectual view. Today, I just want to say how much I feel nostalgic for print. I miss the feeling of the physical limitations, of knowing that a story that is too long, must be cut. I miss doing the surgery of the word-by-word cutting. I miss the finality of print, and the precision demanded of editors and copyeditors because of that. I miss seeing the printing presses themselves, and watching those marvelous, huge pieces of machinery spin out hundreds of thousands of copies. I miss worrying about a “M” in a headline, or — God forbid — a “W.” I miss seeing my byline in print, in somebody’s hands at the local diner, or in the doctor’s office waiting room.  I miss working with a designer, bending over the actual, print mockup of the page, and seeing our collaboration in reality instead of in the cloud.

The physicality of newspapers was a reminder of how true communication is a combination of art, craft and meaning. The newspaper was the craft part of the equation.

The Lifestyle, Uncategorized , , , ,

Living Honestly

One of the most valuable messages I’ve taken away from financial gurus like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey is the importance of honesty about our finances. It’s easy to get into debt if we delude ourselves about what we can afford to buy–or buy things we know we can’t afford, because we’re hesitant to tell others in our lives that something is beyond our means.

But no one seems to talk about another type of debt that can easily engulf freelancers if we’re not candid with ourselves and the others in our lives. It’s easy to treat our time like it’s infinite–and find ourselves so overbooked with commitments that we can never dig out.

I’m good at estimating the amount of time work-related projects take, because I’ve been a writer and editor for a long time. Where I’ve tended to get into trouble is in my personal life.

One of the reasons I went freelance is to have more time with my family and friends. I’d like to be the type of mom who throws out the welcome mat to all of the kids in the neighborhood  after school and always helps friends in a jam, day or night. But last summer I had a serious health scare that made me realize that, between work and family responsibilities, I was not leaving enough breathing room in my life for things like getting regular checkups or even to give myself an hour or two a week to relax and recharge.

Since then, I’ve been tougher on myself about accepting the realities of my life: I already get up at 5 am to squeeze in a full-time work day and still be present for my four children, ages three to nine. I’m maxed out. I can’t delude myself into thinking I have the same freedom to plan a play date on a Wednesday afternoon as my friends who are full-time, stay-at-home moms or to invite long-overdue house guests for an extended stay–unless I carve out the time in my schedule well ahead of time.

Recently, I’ve forced myself to say no to some favors and invitations from friends that my fantasy self–the one with all of the extra time and no need to earn a living–would have loved to say yes to. I had to acknowledge that, despite my flexible schedule, squeezing them in would have made it hard to meet other commitments, to my family and my clients–and that it’s okay to say no.  I never get upset if friends tell me they can’t accept an invitation or aren’t free to help me out if they’re tied up with other demands, so I have to assume that they cut me the same slack.

It was not easy to say no, but since I started forcing myself to take a more honest look at what I can and can’t realistically “afford” to spend my time on, there are a lot fewer nights when I wake up at 2 am wondering how I’m going to get everything done. I actually have time to do most of it.

 

 

 

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