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Friday, September 30, 2022

Learning My Own Lesson

I have been talking a lot about the importance of marketing lately, but guess who hasn't been actively looking for new clients?  This girl.

To be fair, I haven't exactly been doing nothing.  My horse got sick in April, and quite a few months of the year were spent simply keeping him alive.  I had no time to market; I was lucky when I was able to just get existing client work finished on time.

Since then, I've been working a lot on branding, websites, and my resume and portfolio.  So it's not like I haven't been marketing at all.  I've been working on getting all this stuff ready for potential clients to see, which is important too.

But I have not been looking for new clients, and it is coming back to bite me.

Early this year, just before my horse got sick, one of my regular clients went on hiatus.  They had something in the pipelines that they were working on, and needed to finish it before they could send any further work my way.  It was initially just supposed to be a couple months, but it has gone on and on.  I got a little bit of work from them a couple months ago, but that unfortunately didn't last long before they were back to the drawing board.  I'm still currently waiting to see when they'll be back.

And now, I've just lost another regular client, one I access through a writer site.  They've decided to stop offering client marketing as a service, so they no longer need writers to create marketing content.  It's unexpected and a disappointment, since I've been writing for them for about seven years - a pretty long time for a repeat client.  But it's also a significant loss of income, since they were one of two remaining regular clients.

The only regular client I have left does give me a fair amount of work, and has increased what they give me recently, but it's not quite enough to make up for losing not just one but two clients in one year.  So it's good that I'm almost done working on my website, resume, and portfolio, because I'll need to start actively hunting for more clients soon if I don't want to feel too much of a pinch from the loss.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Importance of Marketing for Small Business

The other day, I wrote about why freelance writers need to market continually.  Marketing on a regular basis keeps helps us to maintain our work queue, find new clients, and replace lost regulars.

But it's not just freelance writers that benefit from regular marketing.  Small businesses of all sizes also benefit from regular marketing.

Think about it for a moment.  If even huge, well known companies market themselves, how are the little guys going to ever survive with the big fish if they don't market, too?

Marketing looks a little different for small businesses and sole proprietors, of course.  Big companies can afford expensive prime time TV commercials, for instance.  It's their tremendous brand name recognition that allows them to spend so much on marketing, ironically.  Those kinds of ads will be out of reach for the majority of small businesses.

For many small businesses, marketing means having a stellar website, blogging regularly to keep it higher in search engine rankings, posting to social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, building a mailing list and sending out emails and newsletters, and creating visual content for social media sites like Instagram and YouTube.  These are all free or low-cost marketing that have the added advantage of speaking directly to your target market.

Marketing for small business owners isn't necessarily expensive.  Aside from the cost of paying a writer or editor, most of the expense is in the form of the time it takes to run all those marketing campaigns, which is of course why many small businesses either have a dedicated marketing person or outsource their marketing.

However you do it, marketing is important.  No one is going to know your business exists unless you get it out there, and the client's or customer's decision to buy is often dependent on name recognition at minimum, if not a track record of following you on social media or getting your emails.

Marketing isn't all that complicated, either, once you zoom out a little.  At minimum, you need to figure out where your target market hangs out, find a way to reach them there, and get your business in front of them as much as possible.  As long as you can do at least that, you can give your business a fighting chance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Using Canva for Social Media Marketing

In a recent post, I mentioned Canva, a design tool I've been using for everything from video editing to marketing materials.  I'm still loving Canva, and was super interested when a self-publishing author support firm whose mailing list I'm on posted a Canva for Beginners virtual class coming up.

I'm not entirely sure I'm a beginner with Canva anymore, but since I'm largely self-taught, there's probably still something I could learn in that course.  I'm considering taking it.  I really like that if you register for the class, you can listen to it live, but if you can't make it live you also get the audio file download afterward.  I'm terrible at making it to things like that on time, so I think I'd probably be dependent on getting the download later.

While I was looking for the My Word Publishing business page and event schedule, I did a little Google search and found a surprising amount of Canva tutorials for authors and small business owners.  I found tutorials for everything from creating ebooks in Canva, to social media marketing for authors.  I'm thinking about reading and watching some of those free YouTube videos before I decide whether to pay $29 for the paid course.  I'd be interested in learning as much as possible about how to use Canva, so I may end up doing all of it.

The other thing I found while looking up the Canva for Beginners online class is that My Word Publishing also sells access to recordings for past classes.  Click here for their list of events and recorded classes.  I'm potentially interested in the Basics of Email Marketing and MailChimp and Instagram for Authors recorded classes.  Perhaps not yet, but hopefully next year I'll have to start thinking about starting to market.  But again, me being me, I'll probably check and see how much of that information is available online for free first.

A note about My Word Publishing: I found out about them a few years back, when they reached out to the Denver area NaNoWriMo MLs to let us know they were having some free related seminars during October and November.  I went to one or two of them, just to check things out.  They were, of course, ultimately marketing their services to wrimos, but I remembering still feeling like I walked away with some valuable information.

The bottom line is: There is so much you can do with online marketing these days, and knowing how to use tools like Canva to your best advantage is so important!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Freelancers: The Importance of Diversifying Your Client Base

Like my last post, this post is more for other freelancers, although some clients may find it applicable to them as well.

As a freelancer (or any small business person, really), it's important never to focus all of your work in one place.  Freelancing is about working for more than one client, after all, as working for just one employer would be essentially full-time employment without any of the benefits - and what's the point in that?

More importantly, though, spreading out your work between many clients is what protects your livelihood.  If you work for many clients, even if they are repeat clients, you have a buffer if you should lose one.  Yes, you might miss that income and you might have a tight month or two if it takes you a while to replace the lost work, but you will still have your other clients.  It's the modern-world equivalent of putting your eggs in more than one basket.

This is also why marketing is important for freelancers, as I discussed in the last post.  If you're marketing regularly, you should have some work already lined up.  Plus, if you're marketing on a weekly or even daily basis, you may even be able to fill the opening before you get through the queue and start to feel the pinch from the lost client.

Diversifying also has one other benefit that isn't often discussed: It helps protect you from burnout.  It's really easy to get burnt out when you're writing too much of the same thing all the time.  One of the benefits of freelancing is that we have a little more power over what we choose to write, so exercise that power, and make choices that keep the work interesting to you.

It takes a dedicated freelancer to juggle regular marketing plus multiple clients and a project queue, or perhaps I should say a dedicated small business person and entrepreneur - as that is what we are, after all.  If you feel overwhelmed by the many hats you have to wear as a freelancer, or if you worry that you don't have the skills to juggle all of this, find some productivity tools (like these that I suggested not too long ago) that will help you accomplish what you need to do to freelance successfully.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Ebb and Flow: Why Freelancers Need to Keep Marketing

This post is more for freelancers, although small business clients who hire writers could use some of the marketing insight as well.

You may have heard other freelancers talk about marketing.  But what is it, and why is it important to keep it up?

Marketing can take many forms.  Cold calling or writing to clients is marketing, yes.  But browsing freelance job boards and responding to job postings is also marketing.  Reaching out to past clients or following up with current clients to see if they have more work for you is marketing.  Posting your resume, building your website, blogging, posting to your writer Instagram: all marketing.

Simply put, marketing is anything that gets your name out there and helps to build your brand.  Sometimes marketing may see immediate impact, such as cold calling, responding to job postings, or following up with past clients.  Those actions can result in work right away.  Other times marketing doesn't pay off for a while, such as when a client doesn't have any work for you yet (but your follow-up keeps you fresh in their mind when they do have some work).  And sometimes, marketing doesn't really have any direct payoff, but contributes to building your brand or online presence, so it's beneficial in a cumulative sense.

Lately I've been working a lot on marketing materials for my businesses: overhauling my websites, settling on visual branding, rewriting my resume, and updating my blogs.  It's been a ton of work, and there's no immediate benefit of any of it, but it's still important.  Once I get everything updated the way I want it, I intend to make a habit of trolling the job boards on a daily basis.

I used to search for work daily.  It was how I started out every day: I read email, I caught up on the blogs I followed (yes, this was when blogs were the primary source of social media), and I searched the job boards.  I would do quick searches of all of my favorite job boards, saving all of the ads I wanted to respond to, and then I would spend some time responding to each one.

I haven't done that in a long time, but I need to start doing it again, for the simple reason that marketing regularly helps you to avoid any gaps in work (and income).  Not every query or cold call or job ad response will lead to work, so doing a few a day ensures that a freelancer can keep plenty of work queued up.

I've gotten a little stuck in my routine and lately have been getting all my work from just a couple of clients on one freelancer site, but it's time to start marketing again, as I don't like being dependent on just a couple of clients.  I had a third client who stopped needing work from me early this year while they worked on their software, and the loss of income from that client has been really rough to deal with, on top of an already really difficult year.

With all of this in mind, my next post (also for freelancers) will talk about the importance of diversifying.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Create Your NaNoWriMo 2022 Project Today!

This just in from NaNoWriMo HQ: Project creation for November 2022 is up and running!  Click here to create your NaNoWriMo 2022 project.

You can see my project for November in my list of NaNoWriMo projects.  I'm linking to the entire project link rather than this year's project, just in case I change my mind on what I'm going to do this year.  I don't want to break the link if I change the project title, since the project title is in the URL.

For now I'm still planning on working on the Ruby Ransome rewrite during NaNo this year.  It makes the most sense, since 1) it's fiction, so it's more appropriate for NaNoWriMo, and 2) I would love to get that novel published next year, just for the appropriateness of publishing it exactly 100 years from when it takes place.  I think it'll be a lot harder to stay motivated and "win" if I work on one of my other projects.

I did think about working on one of my other fiction projects (I have several that are in various stages of progress), but decided not to add them to my list because as much as I'd love to finish them, there's less of a time crunch on those.  I have a couple of novels in progress, one that's part of a larger project that I was working on last year (but didn't get very far), as well as a shorter juvenile novel that's almost done.

Even though it's early, I encourage you to decide what you're going to write and create a project.  Even if you might change your project later (like I might), it's good to get started thinking about it now.  I've found that the NaNo projects I've been more successful with have been ones I've had plenty of time to plan.  Last-minute projects are much less likely to succeed, at least in my own experience.

What are you planning to write for NaNoWriMo?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Choosing This Year's NaNoWriMo Project

It's that time of year where I'm starting to think about what I'll write for NaNoWriMo.  I have been working a lot on my websites lately, overhauling the older sites and developing some much-needed visual branding.  But that has brought to mind a lot of potential projects that I could work on this November.

Remember, I've often been a Rebel (someone who breaks the traditional rules of NaNoWriMo, and writes something other than a novel started on November 1st), so this opens up a variety of possibilities for me.

Projects on the table for NaNoWriMo:

  • Revive work on Ruby Ransome, my 1920s vampire series.  I determined a few years ago that the novel needed a complete overhaul based on something I realized about my main characters' motivations, but around that time I decided to shelve the project for the time being.  If I revived it for NaNoWriMo, I would have to read through the existing first novel prior to November, reacquaint myself with the story and my research, and mark out the passages that I want to rewrite (which is most of it, but there are a few I could possibly keep).  The big motivation for working on Ruby in November would be so that I could self publish it in 2023.  The first novel takes place in 1923, so publishing in 2023 seems appropriate.  On the down side, it wouldn't be income generating for a long time, and would be the start of a fairly time consuming project.
  • Work on my DIY doll stringing ebook and related tutorials.  I've had a restringing tutorial for sale on my DIY Doll Stringing website (formerly Doll Stringing Extravaganza) for years, and it desperately needs to be updated to reflect current ebook publishing standards.  While some of that would be updating the ebook template, some of the copy needs to be updated.  In addition, I've been planning on writing several related tutorials and expanding my ebook line.  Working on this in November has its draw because it would be income generating much sooner than my novel series.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't generate 50,000 words (which is what's needed to "win" NaNoWriMo), and I've found in the past that writing nonfiction during NaNoWriMo is much more difficult.
  • Blog-o-vember.  I've done this before, and used November to form better blogging habits.  It works well, but 1,666 words is a lot of blogging per day.  Possibly not a bad thing, since I've got multiple blogs, but still.  It feels like a bit of a copout, even though I know it's still valid writing work that I need to get done and that will benefit my websites.
  • Write what you will.  I've done this in the past, too, with somewhat less success: Made my goal to write 1,667 words a day, on any of my personal projects (client work doesn't count).  That might be blogging, working on my ebooks, or working on my novel.  I find that not focusing on just one project actually seems to sap my motivation during NaNoWriMo, though, so while it's a valid effort and not quite off the table, it's not my preference.
I am still going back and forth over what my goal will be for November, but most likely I think I'll either choose to focus on Ruby, or if I can't get organized in time, do a hybrid "write what you will" of business writing (blogging, ebooks, etc.).

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Challenges of a Virtual NaNoWriMo

I've already talked a little bit about how covid impacted workers in 2020.  I didn't work in an office, so it didn't really change anything for me there, but I experienced many of the same (but different) challenges in November of 2020 as an ML for NaNoWriMo.

We knew earlier in the year that HQ was mandating virtual only for NaNoWriMo.  Even though most places were opening up, NaNoWriMo didn't want any of their events to be responsible for people getting sick and potentially dying, so we weren't allowed to plan, promote, or even approve any in-person events.

This was a challenge for our region, which is typically a busy and well-attended region at local, in-person events.  We had a pretty good social media presence already, though, so we built off of that.  We offered virtual write-ins at the same times as many of our common, popular in-person write-ins, using a variety of platforms.  Some write-ins were on Zoom, some were on Facebook video chat, some were in Discord.  We also held a virtual kickoff party on Zoom.

Participation dropped, of course, which we expected, but not too badly.  We still had anywhere from four to ten people at most of the write-ins.  We didn't do as many write-ins, just a few a week instead of the one or more a day we were used to - which was actually to be expected, since we were planning and hosting all of the write-ins, rather than wrimos planning some of them as happens with in-person write-ins.

Last year ended up being virtual as well, and we noticed more of a drop-off in participation last year.  The feeling was that most of our local participants had the stamina to make it through one year of virtual, but not two.  There were many write-ins that weren't attended at all. 

We get it.  Some people really like the virtual format, and we've had Discord write-ins for years.  But others struggle.  For a lot of wrimos, the social aspect of in-person write-ins is what sustains motivation and momentum for the entire month of November, and virtual events just aren't the same.

Don't get me wrong, I think some people love the virtual write-ins and will still attend them.  I just think we'll do better with a combination of virtual and in-person.

This year will be our first in-person NaNoWriMo following covid.  HQ wants us to continue to offer a virtual component too, so we're planning on still doing a few virtual write-ins.  But we're excited to be able to offer in-person events again, as we feel like that's the life and blood of a successful NaNoWriMo.

Will participation still be down a little, even in our busy region?  HQ expects it to be, although I won't be surprised if we get a surge of participation at first from wrimos who have been anxiously awaiting the return of in-person events.  We'll have to wait and see how the forum and social media participation ramps up closer to November.  It's only September, after all, and not everyone is thinking about NaNoWriMo yet!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Volunteering as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo

In my last post, I talked about what NaNoWriMo is, and what I've done with it over the years.  In addition to participating as a writer every year, I am also a Municipal Liaison, known as an ML, which basically just means I'm an organizer for my region, the Denver region.

I had been doing NaNo for a number of years when I decided to apply as an ML.  I was already organizing write-ins and was quite active in the local events for our region.  I started "MLing" in 2015, which means that this will be my eighth year as an ML.

Eight years!  I can hardly believe it.  When I started, I was replacing one of our region's two MLs, as she was moving.  She later moved back, and since we have a busy region and really need more than just a couple MLs, she rejoined the team.  (More recently, a longtime ML from about ten years ago has moved back to the Denver area, so we're hoping she'll rejoin the team next year, too.)

As I keep mentioning, we have a busy region here in Denver.  The last couple years have been all virtual due to covid, but before that, we always had a kickoff party Halloween night from 10pm until 2am (so that we could start writing right at midnight), and at least one write-in nearly every day of the month throughout November.

A write-in, by the way, is where a group of wrimos get together and... you guessed it... write.  We do this at book stores, coffee shops, libraries, cafes, college community areas, and pretty much just anywhere that'll put up with us. Most write-ins last two to three hours, and if you have a successful time, you can easily leave with your daily word count (or more!) finished.  They're fantastic for keeping up motivation, spirits, and word count.

As an ML, it's our job to run this busy month of moving parts.  We put a fair bit of planning into the kickoff party especially, usually starting weeks if not months in advance.  We don't have to plan all the write-ins - wrimos do some of that too - but we plan quite a few of them.  We also have a calendar we manage for all of the write-ins and events, a regional forum within the NaNoWriMo forum that we have to stay on top of, regular emails we send out to participants, and social media presences to maintain.

In addition to all of that, there are extra things that we often do in our region.  One of my co-MLs has developed a relationship with Denver's version of Comic Con (the name has changed a few times since they had to stop using the name Comic Con, but the con itself has been the same).  We get a community table there nearly every year, where we hang out and educate people about NaNoWriMo.  We also often speak on panels at the con about doing NaNoWriMo and other aspects of novel writing.

It's not a huge volunteer job, especially as so much of the "job" coincides with what I would be doing anyway (planning and going to write-ins), but it's nothing to sneeze at, either.  I feel like the past seven-soon-to-be-eight years have taught me a lot of skills that have benefitted me both professionally and personally, such as more confidence with public speaking, better people skills, more networking opportunities, and experience organizing events.  Plus, as funny as it sounds, it has given me writing experience I wouldn't have gotten as easily doing what I do: It encouraged me to keep up with my fiction writing (my first love), and also gave me an opportunity to practice my writing for emails and mailings, which I don't do a lot of in my "day job."

As I write this, we're in the early stages of NaNo prep season.  While our wrimos are starting to plot and plan, we're ordering stickers from headquarters and getting a location and other details nailed down for our kickoff party (planned way in advance because we require a venue that can handle anywhere from 60-70 people, to as many as 130 when November 1st falls on a weekend).

This year's NaNoWriMo will be an especially big deal, and I'll talk about why in my next post.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

NaNoWriMo: Just What Is It, Anyway?

When I was going through my posts the other day, I came across all of my old NaNoWriMo posts.  With NaNoWriMo coming up again, and considering the major overhaul in my blog after a long hiatus (and most likely the loss of all my old readership), I decided I had better explain NaNoWriMo again.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and is frequently shortened to NaNo or nano (and its participants are often called wrimos).  Despite the name, this is actually an international event now, which takes place every November.  It's a self-challenge (meaning it's not a competition against others) to write a novel, or 50,000 words of a novel, in the month of November.

If you do NaNoWriMo fairly strictly, you're not to even start the novel until November, although you can start outlining and worldbuilding before then.  You can start writing on the stroke of midnight on November 1st in your time zone, and need to have finished by 11:59pm on November 30th in order to "win."

NaNo has been going on for a long time, I think around 20 years now.  I started participating in NaNo way back in 2006, when I had just a year of freelancing full-time under my belt.  I "won" that first year, had a number of failed years after that, and then "won" again with the completion of my 1920s vampire novel, Ruby Ransome, in 2011.  I was a "rebel" that year, since I started with a novel already in progress, although I only counted words written in November toward my NaNoWriMo word count.

I've actually rebelled a lot of years.  NaNoWriMo is an incredible motivational tool, so I've used it to kick start all kinds of writing projects, not all of them novels.  I love bending rules, so I've used NaNo to increase my blogging, to work on nonfiction projects, and to write more for myself just in general.  As a freelance writer, I find that the hardest thing is to work on my own projects, especially when I have paying client work waiting in the wings.  As a result, I have lots of unfinished projects forever parked on the back burner, and NaNoWriMo helps me make progress on those.  I don't always "win," but I figure as long as I get writing done that I wouldn't have otherwise, it's a win in my book.

That's what NaNoWriMo is and what I've written with it over the years.  In my next post, I'll talk more about my volunteer work with NaNoWriMo.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Canva: Free, Easy Design Tool

 

I started out looking for a way to edit videos, and I remembered several different friends having recommended Canva for different purposes.  One friend uses it for social media posts for her job, and another friend uses it for designing digital downloads for his online business.

I was slow to warm up to this free design tool, as it can sometimes be glitchy and counterintuitive, but I keep going back to it and discovering something else it can do.  Canva has a lot of features I love:

  • Seamless syncing between mobile and desktop
  • Flexible ability to design pretty much anything, whether it's an image, text-based, video, or mixed
  • A nice selection of freebies

I'm only just beginning to get acquainted with Canva's full potential, but the more I discover, the more I love it.  It's not just a social media tool - it has the ability to design just about any print material you can think of (resumes, brochures, business cards, book covers, even ebooks), plus a great selection of templates to give you ideas and make the job easier.  I designed my website header in Canva, I'm working on a shiny new resume, and I have plans to use Canva for a whole list of projects I had on my to-do list, from business cards to ebooks.

I still do most of my video editing in a dedicated video editor due to how glitchy Canva's video editor seems to be, but I'm realizing how powerful of a design tool Canva is for just about everything else!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Freelancers Prove that Working from Home Works

Yesterday's post about the business world pushing employees back to the office went a little off the rails, so I never got around to discussing where freelancers fit in.

When I left off, I was talking about the assumption that management has to physically watch employees or they won't work, and how I believe it comes from Taylorism, which is basically the grandfather of the modern office.  While Taylorism was originally designed for the factory setting, the same principles were quickly put to use in early 20th century offices.  For instance, in the 1910s and 1920s, Sears in Chicago hired young women as typists to type up order slips.  They were not secretaries, trained to handle any number of tasks their employer could need done, such as in a private office.  There were hundreds of them, working at rows of desks in a large warehouse-style office, typing up the same sort of thing. over. and. over.  And there was a manager's office on high, watching over them as they worked.  Start times, quitting times, and breaks were closely monitored, and no talking was allowed during work hours.

That's obviously a very extreme workplace environment to most of us today, but still, you can see the ancestor of the modern office in the structure, the microdivision of tasks, and the intense supervision and fundamental distrust of employees.

Freelancing is obviously the polar opposite of Taylorism.  Rather than believing employees to be untrustworthy and incapable of managing the big picture, the freelance industry puts us wholly in charge of our fate.  We are big picture people.  We manage our client relationships, our marketing, our task management, and our rates, and we do it all from our own homes (or wherever else we choose to work).  We basically say, "You don't have to micromanage us; just pay us for the finished product and we will deliver it to you."  We take all of that assumption that employees are inherently lazy, all of the loud offices with their foosball and snack walls and other "perks" designed to somehow trick people into wanting to be in the office, and we trash it without giving it a second thought.  Cut the bullshit.  Tell me what you want and I'll do it, from the comfort of my own kitchen.  And then I'll feed my cat.

There are, obviously, disadvantages to the freelance industry.  You don't have someone on staff to take your demands at any time.  We don't have a guaranteed salary or other benefits that come with full-time employment.  I have to buy my own office supplies... but hey, you don't have to devote resources to making sure I don't steal yours.

I think it's taken me these two posts to come round to what I've been trying to express the entire time: Freelancing proves that these things can be done, just as the pandemic and the studies I cited proved they could be done, but it's all in how you approach it.  When you give people freedom to work how they work best, you're meeting them on equal ground.  It becomes a matter of respect, and when you respect someone, they will do their best for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

What Happened to Working from Home?

As a freelancer, it's been interesting to watch the work-from-home tug-of-war over the last few years.  For years there had been a prevailing reluctance to allow employees to work from home, even though I'd seen some of that resistance breaking down more recently, usually in "millennial" type companies that prided themselves on their work atmosphere and perks.  One of those "perks" was often the flexibility to work from home some days, usually on snow days and sick days, but sometimes "just because," a sort of early hybrid schedule.  I had a couple of friends who worked 100 percent from home, but those friends were outliers, exceptions to the rule.  The reigning belief was that it couldn't be done, even though those friends' companies and freelancers like myself proved otherwise.

Then covid hit, and basically the entire business world went to work from home.  There became a new definition of what could be done, because it basically had to be done, unless it genuinely couldn't be done.

I remember a lot of discussions with office workers at the time.  We all felt like covid had tipped the scales, and now that businesses saw that it could be done, and actually done quite well, that more businesses would go to work-from-home models.  After all, why pay for huge offices and all those expensive office perks if they aren't needed?

Over the last two or so years, I've watched my friends, family, and acquaintances slowly creep back to work.  At first, it was just a few lonely businesses who seemed, rather unfairly, to be forcing their employees back to work.  Gradually more companies followed suit, but there were still quite a few holdouts.  And then all at once, it seems, the majority of the business world has suddenly returned to our old normal, without any regard for the lessons learned when practically the whole world worked from home out of necessity.

I've seen companies get almost mean about it, when their employees didn't want to go back to the office.  They asked, they prodded, and when their employees were basically like, "No, we're good," they put their foot down and forced the issue.

I started to wonder, was the work-from-home experiment not as resoundingly successful as I thought?  But then I saw this article in the times, So You Wanted to Get Work Done at the Office?  And it turns out I'm not the only one who is bemused at the push to return to the office.  People really do get more done at home, away from the distractions of a busy office and all of its "perks," and there is research to back it up.  For example, take this study showing that call center employees who worked from home took fewer breaks, called in sick less, and got more done.  Likewise, this study demonstrated that even a hybrid model (two days working from home out of a five-day workweek) led to an increase in both productivity and job satisfaction, and a decrease in turnover.

In other words, employees who work from home are happier, more motivated, and more productive.  Why on earth wouldn't employers want this?

I believe it comes down to a business philosophy called Taylorism that became popular over 100 years ago, and is the basis for many of our current work atmospheres and attitudes.  It's partly the idea of paring jobs down into assembly-line tasks to save time by creating employees who are each experts in a small part of the big picture, but Taylorism is also all wrapped up in the notion of watching employees who are assumed to be innately lazy and untrustworthy if they don't have their manager driving them at all times.

Of course the modern workplace has softened a lot from the way Taylorism was enforced 100 years ago, but it's still much the same concept.  Now offices have water coolers and coffee machines, snack walls and community rooms, but there is still - apparently - that expectation that if management doesn't keep a physical eye on employees, they won't work... even though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary (not the least of which is that nearly the entire business world worked from home for months, if not longer, and the world kept on turning).

This turned into a longer post than I was anticipating, so tomorrow I'll talk about where freelancers come in.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Covid as a Freelancer

One of the things covid has really thrown into sharp relief is the failure of our job market to provide reliable benefits such as sick time.  For the most part, middle and upper class employees don't have to worry about this, as they generally work jobs that provide paid sick leave (or enable working from home, when someone is contagious but not too sick to work).  It's hourly employees and freelancers who have had to deal with the impact of illness when paid sick days are not available.

Yes, this is on my mind because finally, after nearly 2.5 years since it first shut everything down, I got covid.

I had a fairly mild case, as far as covid cases go, and yet it still wiped me out.  I was congested and coughing just a little, but the fatigue itself was anything but mild.  My husband and I felt symptoms coming on Wednesday night, and quickly went into full sick mode, conserving our energy for the only things that mattered: feeding my horse and the house pets, basically.  We alternated going out to the barn to feed Panama as much as possible so that we could both get enough sleep, and in that manner, slept basically all day Thursday and Friday.  We barely even ate.

Saturday was the first day of any improvement, when I was able to stay awake for about eight hours instead of immediately crashing again as soon as I was done feeding Panama.  Yesterday, Sunday, saw a little bit of a backslide, as I napped again in the afternoon and early evening, after dragging myself out to the barn to feed.

Once again, I am incredibly grateful for my clients.  The same clients who were understanding when Panama was sick were also patient when I couldn't get a couple of articles done last week.  I kept thinking I'd be able to, but kept having to put them off.  Fortunately my clients allowed me the extra time, no questions asked.  I was able to get a little caught up by working a bit over the weekend when I felt well enough.  I've been moving a little slow today, but have been able to get enough done that I'm pretty satisfied with the day.  I have to remind myself not to expect pre-covid productivity, though, just something that's better than the last few days.

I'm trying to prioritize so that I can get the most important things done while still giving myself sufficient time to rest.  A lot of friends have been warning me about the hazards of pushing yourself too soon when recovering from covid.  Apparently it can delay getting better and may even contribute to rebound covid.  I definitely don't want that!

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Regarding Holiday Weekends

Holiday weekends are always a tough thing for freelancer writers.  These include the standard holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day; uncommon holiday weekends where a holiday falls on a Friday through Monday, creating a three-day weekend for business people; and also uncommonly celebrated holiday weekends that include holidays not observed by all companies, such as President's Day.  I'd also include that pesky Friday after Thanksgiving, which many business people get or take off.

Holiday weekends are difficult for freelancers because typically our family, friends, and people we would consider colleagues have paid days off for these holidays.  They get to enjoy a three-day weekend (or four-day weekend, for Thanksgiving) without actually taking time off.  And they typically expect us to have the day off too, inviting us to barbeques, dinner parties, weekend getaways, and the like.  Because why wouldn't we have the day off?  We're in charge of our own schedules.

Obviously this is on my mind because this is a holiday weekend, and my husband has Monday off.  On top of that, my mom is visiting, but not until Monday afternoon.  It's all complicated by the fact that I have several deadlines midday Tuesday, so I have to plan ahead in order to meet those.  And since I wasn't able to get the work done during the week, it means I'll be working on the holiday weekend.

After 17 years as a freelance writer, I've worked a lot of nights and weekends.  In fact, as you probably remember from my other posts, working late is my preference.  That doesn't mean, however, that I'm available all the time.  Just like any other worker, I require time off during the week to spend time with my family and enjoy personal hobbies.

I don't blame any of my clients for my current predicament of having to work this weekend.  I knew about several of the deadlines a couple weeks ago, and since I had planned to get the work done this past week, hadn't noticed that they were due right after Labor Day weekend.  I do, however, think many freelancing job platforms bear responsibility at least in part for the "always on" notion of freelancer schedules, as they allow clients to assign work with a deadline expressed in hours (24 hours, 36 hours, etc.) without regard to weekends or holidays.  For instance, one client assigned me four blog posts yesterday, with two of them due in 48 hours - which, even if I had waited as long as possible to accept them (and assuming I did not forget) would have made them due on Tuesday, immediately following a holiday weekend.

Please, if you appreciate and respect your freelancers, try to be aware of their schedule when requesting work.  Not all freelancers avoid working on the weekends - in fact, some work weekends out of necessity - so if they've shared their work schedule with you, try to keep that in mind when assigning work.  Best practice is to always request new work at least a week out, so that your freelancer can complete it with whatever time works best for them throughout the week, not to mention juggle it with any work they have for other clients.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Productivity Tip: Reframe Your To-Do List in Terms of Goals

I've been talking a lot about productivity lately and how to maintain it, and in that vein I'd like to discuss another tip for staying productive.  In my last post, about getting moving by doing something small, I mentioned that it takes finding ways to "trick" myself into being productive.  I feel like if I didn't make myself be productive, I'd probably sit here reading my book all day.  (Yes, my Kindle is open next to me right now.)  So it takes a certain amount of knowing how to trick myself in order to get anything done.

I'm always trying to find new ways to motivate myself, and I'm a big list-maker, so a year or two ago I read a book on how to write to-do lists that work.  One of the big takeaways from the book was that to-do lists work best when you write them in a way that reflects your goals.  The author recommended writing everything on your to-do list as a sentence that includes your goal at the end, which seems silly to me, but the message was valid: We are more likely to follow through when the items on our to-do list are meaningful to our larger goals.

For instance, I might have it on my to-do list that I'm going to update my website today, but that alone doesn't mean it's going to get done.  But if I reframe that to-do list item in terms of my goal - in this case, growing my business, which I want very much - I'm likely to feel more motivated to do it.

It works for client work too, and not just personal goals.  For instance, if I want to write an article for a client today, I'm more likely to do it if I'm thinking of both the benefits of doing it and the consequences of not doing it: I want to get paid sooner, have more time for other things later, and continue to grow my business, versus having to make excuses to my client or having to shuffle my bills in order to make up for the delay in pay.

Your goals don't have to be epic life goals, they just have to reframe how you're thinking about that task.  For instance, I want to clean my kitchen so that I can cook dinner and not feel like a slob.  They're not epic life goals, but they do the job of reminding me why I wanted to do that today.

Speaking of which, I'd better get going... I have some things to do.  But in the meantime, let me know in the comments: How do you make your to-do list meaningful and motivating?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Productivity Tip: Start with Something Small

I know I've mentioned before that sometimes I really struggle with my productivity.  I'm a vicious procrastinator.  For me, deadlines are targets, not last resorts, and quite often they're my main source of motivation, too.  Most writers know the power of a looming deadline to break them out of writer's block.

It's not always ideal to wait until the eleventh hour to work on something, though.  For me, working on it sooner requires a little bit of tricking myself.  Basically, I need either motivation or momentum, so when the motivation is lacking I need to find a different way to build up some momentum.

For me, a good way to get going is to start with something smaller.  Like this blog post.  Blogging is often a good "warm up" exercise for me, since it's a way to get my writing muscles going, so to speak, without jumping straight into the deep end.  (And yes, I'm blogging right now as a way to warm up to writing an article for a client.)

Another trick I often use is prioritizing my to-do list.  Lately I've been keeping my to-do list in Google Calendar, which works well for me as it puts my to-do items and my schedule all in one place.  If my day gets hijacked or I find myself having a hard time getting to work, it helps to rearrange the items on my to-do list so that I'm thinking about what's most important to do next.  Once I'm thinking about what I need to do, often it's a little easier to slip right into doing it.

The final trick that I find helps sometimes is working on something in small bites.  I've found if I tell myself, "I'll just work on it for ten minutes," I get myself moving and often even forget I was only going to do ten minutes-worth.  Or, if I know I have a lot to do and the size of the project is overwhelming me, I'll work in small chunks of time with short breaks in between.  

Of course, sometimes none of these tricks work, and when that happens, I rearrange my to-do list, try to shake off my feelings of failure, and hope the next day will be better.  I think we all have off days, and it helps nothing to be hard on yourself about it.

What tricks do you use to get yourself moving when you're struggling with your motivation?

Monday, August 29, 2022

How to Set Reasonable Expectations of Your Freelancer

One of the things that defines the relationship between freelancers and clients is that freelancers don't work for just one employer.  We still have to report to our clients, so they are still our "bosses" in some respects; but since we have many employers we work for, instead of just one, it changes the balance of power in the relationship.

One thing many clients struggle with is that they are not the freelancer's primary source of income, which changes our priorities somewhat.  Since we don't just work for one employer, we can't let any one employer's needs become more important than other clients' needs or our business's needs.

When you hire a freelancer, you are basically paying only for the finished product that you need.  Compare this to hiring a full-time employee to complete that product, for whom you would then need to pay the expected wage, provide benefits, set up work space for, and establish an employee culture conducive designed to keep employees happy.

Clearly hiring a freelancer is cost effective in many ways, but problems arise when clients expect freelancers to behave like salaried employees.  When we have many clients and many different projects we're working on, however, we can't behave like a full-time employee.

Here are a few of the most important things for clients to remember when navigating their expectations of their freelancers.

  • Give freelancers adequate time to respond to you.  Don't expect freelancers to be at your beck and call.  We don't have to punch a clock, and many of us don't have consistent office hours.  We'll get back to you when we are working next.
  • Provide ample time to complete the work.  Remember, you're not our only client, so order new work well in advance whenever possible.  This gives us the ability to plan it around our other client work.
  • Expect to pay extra on short notice.  Of course, sometimes you may need something back quickly, and that's okay.  It happens!  But do expect to pay a premium for a quick turnaround, as we may need to rearrange our schedule, put off other client work, and/or potentially work long hours in order to get your rush job done in time.
  • Let go of the control.  Above all, please do not try to micromanage us.  You've hired us to produce a finished product, so there's usually little you need to do in the meantime.  There's no faster way to destroy a relationship with your freelancer than to hover (even virtually) while we work.  We're not employees, often by choice, so if you try to treat us like we are, we're likely not to work with you again.
  • Ignore the client-centric attitude of content platforms.  While content platforms have become an easy way for freelancers to easily find clients, they've also perpetuated many of the unreasonable expectations clients have of them.  Content platforms tend to have short, tight deadlines and some even require that freelancers allow clients to 
The guidelines I've laid out above are often blatantly ignored by freelancing platforms, which is one of my biggest beefs with them.  They can be a good way to find clients, but make no mistake, the freelancer is not the platform's customer: The client is.  As a result, content boards often turn into a place where freelancers get taken advantage of and boundaries are ignored.  If you intend to use a content board to order content, that's fine, but remember these guidelines and be good to your freelancers!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Every Day Should Be Freelancer Appreciation Day

My recent post about "quiet quitting" had me thinking about how clients can show appreciation for their freelancers.  And then, in writing the title of this article, it occurred to me: IS there such a thing as Freelancer Appreciation Day?

Close.  It turns out there's an entire week for freelance writers: the Freelance Writers Appreciation Week, which takes place the second full week of February every year.  (Hopefully other types of freelancers have a day or week to celebrate them as well.)

But honestly, just like many other holidays we celebrate, there shouldn't be just one day or week where we show our appreciation.  Freelance writers create probably a majority of the words you read every day.  So if you hire freelance writers to help you with your business, now is a perfect time to consider whether you show them enough appreciation for what they do.

Need help with ideas to show your appreciation?  Here are a few.

  • Say thank you.  You have no idea how seldom we hear this.
  • Provide positive feedback.  Usually we don't hear any feedback unless a client doesn't like something, so it's nice to hear from time to time what a client did like.  Not only does it make us feel really good, but it also helps us to improve what we write for you.
  • Pay well.  Yes, we writers know you have a bottom line and need to ensure you maintain a profit.  The thing is, so do we.  Most of us depend on our income and need to make sure we can earn a living wage with our writing.  Show us that you value our work by offering that living wage up front.  Don't make us beg or negotiate, and certainly don't belittle us with offers for "exposure" or a chance to "do what you love" in lieu of making enough money to live on.
  • Acknowledge us on the holidays.  The best clients I've worked for have all at least acknowledged us on holidays and special occasions.  It's not necessary that you know every detail of your freelancer's life, but wishing us happy holidays, and if you know the date, a happy birthday can go a long way toward making us feel like we're people in our clients' eyes.  I've even had some clients send me holiday cards or little treats for the holidays.  Of course, if you can provide a holiday bonus, do that too, as there's nothing like a surprise bonus for making a freelancer truly feel appreciated for everything they do.
Freelancers may be just contract employees and not permanent members of your staff, but we still deserve (and crave!) recognition for our work.  And if we don't feel like we get it from a certain client, that's the first client we'll drop if we get a better offer.  Remember, the whole point of being a freelancer means we can work for whomever, whenever we choose.  So if you value your freelancers and want to continue working with them, make sure they feel appreciated for the work they give you!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

"Quiet Quitting" from a Freelance Perspective

Lately there has been a lot going around on social media about "quiet quitting," and the inevitable backlash.  One side says it's a form of protest for how workers are somehow simultaneously expected to work extra, but also not recognized for doing so.  Another side says no, it's just setting healthy boundaries at work.  A third side says it actually shouldn't be confused with organized protest, which is actually called work to rule, and is intended to function as a sort of strike without any actual striking.  Work to rule is where the employees produce a significant slowdown of production by following all the rules exactly.

It's interesting to watch this debate take place not only as a freelancer, but also as a freelancer who has worked regular jobs in the past.  One of the benefits of self-employment is that if a client doesn't appreciate me or the work I give them, I have the freedom to stop working for them and find a different client who works better with me.  I can also set my own rates and refuse to work for less, especially when a client has unreasonable expectations about my time.

Fortunately I've known very few clients who weren't appreciative, but I have known some who had unreasonable expectations.  For instance, I've had a few clients who assumed that since I am a freelancer and set my own schedule, that it means I'm available any time they want.  I even had one client once who asked me to set up a chat service (I think it was AOL or some kind of Microsoft chat - back in the day before Facebook Messenger) so he could contact me any time he wanted.

I was a fairly new freelancer at the time, so I didn't realize the potential consequences.  At first I set it up, but I quickly discovered what a mistake that was.  I started not being available unless I was actually working, and when the client didn't like that, I eventually ended the relationship.

Of course that decision is a little tougher for full-time employees, many of whom get a lot of pressure to be available during off hours.  It's typically pressure that employers won't admit to, either.  For instance, at a former full-time job of mine, I was always under a lot of pressure to produce faster and faster, which initially led to me working on my off hours.  There wasn't a requirement that I do so, in fact if I asked my boss would have said not to; yet if I wanted to complete my work in time, I had to.  I still remember being so proud of my first fast turnaround, and my shock when my boss yelled at me that I was still too slow.

The natural consequences of that interaction were that I stopped giving my job anything extra, doing only what was required.  In fact, all of us employees banded together, putting forth only the minimum effort, becoming religious about taking our full lunches and breaks, and pushing back when our boss tried to cut our breaks or work us harder.  And one by one, we all found other work.

It's an important lesson for employers and clients alike: Make sure you show your appreciation for your employees.  Interestingly enough, appreciation doesn't have to mean extra money.  Most people just want to feel they are noticed and valued, and will gladly work a less lucrative job if that job also offers a healthier and more fulfilling work environment.

If you find you have a team of employees who won't do more than the minimum requirements of their job, you should probably ask yourself what kind of programs you have in place to recognize employees who go above and beyond.  If the answer is "none" or "just an employee of the month program," you will likely need to rethink how you show your appreciation for hard work and dedication.

The same goes for your freelancers, and perhaps even more so, since they can much more easily walk away from a single client.  Returning clients are usually a freelancers' bread and butter, so if you have a track record of freelancers only working for you once, I recommend honestly considering why that could be.

Ultimately, I agree with the memes circulating on social media, that "quiet quitting" makes it sound like employees are doing something wrong, when they're actually probably protecting themselves from burnout and potentially even making a bid for change in their workplace.  Our society has gotten to a point where the boundaries of a healthy work-life balance have become completely blurred, and employees are expected to give continually more and more of their lives to their jobs.  It's time we stepped back from the precipice and gave ourselves - all of us - some space to breathe and just live.

In writing this article, I've realized a couple of other topics that I want to address: what's unreasonable to expect from your freelancer, and how to show your appreciation for their work.  Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

A Note on My Schedule

I've mentioned a few times lately things about the odd schedules that I keep.  It impacts my work schedule, so I think it bears explaining here.

I'm a bona fide night owl.  And as a self-employed person, I've taken full advantage of the ability to set my own schedule over the years.  I tend to "warm up" in the afternoon and work late at night, when I'm most productive and focused.  Evenings are spent with the people in my life who are not night owls or don't have the luxury of setting their own schedules.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a client or prospective client of mine, you might wonder what my schedule means for you.  As a freelancer I work independently, so for the most part it doesn't mean anything at all.  Think of it like me just having afternoon office hours, but instead of having meetings or focused work time in the mornings, I'm doing that part late at night.

It may take a little adjustment on your part, though.  For me, I tend to count it all as today until I've slept.  Which means that when I'm working late, say, Thursday night, it might technically be Friday, but to me, it's still just the end of Thursday.

Because of this, it's important to be super clear about deadlines.  If you need something on Wednesday, don't tell me to have it to you by Wednesday, as there's a good chance I'll be finishing it up after close of business on Wednesday.  Instead, tell me when exactly you need it on Wednesday.  If you need it by 8am Wednesday, for example, tell me that, so that I can adjust that deadline in my head to be Tuesday night instead - ensuring you have it by the time you need it Wednesday morning.

I know it probably seems a little weird, but after years of trying off and on to adjust my schedule to be more "normal," I've realized this is just the way I'm wired.  Fortunately, after nearly 17 years of freelancing, I also know it works quite well this way.  Most clients never even notice the odd hours I keep, unless of course I send them something at 2am!

Friday, August 19, 2022

Lessons from Do Nothing: The Down Side of Productivity

My last post talked about what productivity tools I use to keep myself from losing momentum and focus.  And it's true, I feel pretty good when I'm busy and productive, but I also forget that I need down time to recharge.

I'm already forgetting the lessons of a very interesting book called Do Nothing, which I read a couple years ago now.  It's all about how modern society makes us feel like our worth is in how productive we are at any given time, even our "down" time, and how modern an idea this actually is.

Unfortunately for me, it's not just society that makes me feel I need to be productive all the time.  It's also partly the fact that I've chosen the life of an entrepreneur, where hustling is literally how I get paid.  If I slack off, that's time I'm not getting paid for - possibly the biggest pitfall of self-employment.

The rest of being self-employed, I love.  I love that I'm up at nearly 3am writing this just because I felt like doing it.  I love that I get to sleep until late morning tomorrow, and even though I will feel a little guilty, I also know that it's primarily society's attitude toward night owls that makes me feel that way.

I also love that I can work wherever I need to.  The past few months, with my horse being sick, that's been especially helpful.  Before that, before covid, it was helpful because I could sneak work into odd pockets of time: when I was charging my car after taking my nanny kid to school, for instance.

But the productivity demands, the pressure to always be on and always be working, is definitely the most difficult thing about being self-employed.  I can always use the money, so it makes it hard to say no to any work or any chance to work.

I do try to take my rest where I can get it.  I sleep late, as I noted already.  I read every night before going to sleep, even if I'm too tired to read for very long.  I do things with friends and spend time with my horses (and I mean doing fun things, especially lately, now that my horse isn't as sick anymore).  I pursue my other hobbies, such as collecting and photographing dolls.

But it's good to remind myself sometimes that I need to slow down on occasion and give myself a little extra rest, that productivity isn't everything and it's okay to do something for fun rather than having to accomplish things all the time.

What about you?  How well do you manage the work-life balance?  If you feel like you struggle with it, or are too hard on yourself about getting things done, I highly recommend reading Do Nothing!

Thursday, August 18, 2022

My Current Favorite Productivity Tools

I have a love-hate relationship with productivity.  I love to get things done, but I'm also a horrible procrastinator.  I'm constantly having to play games with myself and rotate the productivity tools I use to keep myself from slacking off.

To-Do Lists

I'm also a big list maker, so one of my main tools has always been some sort of to do list.  For a long time I kept a daily written to do list, and then I switched to apps for a few years.  I had a hard time finding an app that worked well for me for very long though, so I switched back to written lists, except I started keeping it on an LCD writing tablet.  There's always been something I liked about physically writing out a list, and I liked the eco-friendly tablet, but after a while that stopped working as well, too.

And then I discovered that Google Calendar gives me the ability to add tasks.  So far this is working for me better than anything else has, because I can see my tasks on the calendar and schedule them around events.  The visual tool also helps me to hold myself accountable, and the fact that I can drag and drop the tasks on the desktop view makes it easy to reschedule when I overschedule myself (which I do often).

Focus Time

I'm great at making lists of what I have to do, but not so great about actually doing it.  I'm terrible about putting things off, but my biggest downfall is really that I just get distracted.  Being on the computer it part of my job, so it's inevitable that I get distracted while I'm supposed to be working.  I spend a lot of time on social media due to my other business, personal projects, and hobbies, and it's easy to get sucked into that when I intended to work on something else.  Not to mention I'm so easily distractible that I can start out doing research for something for a client, and end up following Google down the rabbit hole for 40 minutes instead.

Sometimes I do all right reminding myself to get back to work when I catch myself getting distracted, but when I think of it, I try to set a timer and work for 20 or 30 minutes at a time before taking a break.  Recently when I opened the timer on my computer, I discovered it now offered "focus sessions," where I can dial up how long I want to work, and it'll schedule breaks for me.  Or I can dial up a shorter focus session and do the breaks manually.  Even more useful to me, I can now minimize the timer and keep it on top of my other windows wherever I want on the screen, so that I have that visual reminder that I'm supposed to be focusing and for how much longer.

What Next?

Unfortunately, it seems like for me, whatever method or trick or app I use, it doesn't last long before it loses its power.  I feel like I have to rotate productivity tools often, otherwise I get used to them or learn to "outsmart" them, and they stop being as useful anymore.  Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize something isn't working well anymore, too.

For now, my current system seems to be working pretty well.  I'm getting a lot done and I'm pleased with that.  It's only a matter of time before I need to change it up again, though, I fear.  When that time comes, hopefully I'll be able to find some new productivity trick or method to jump start me again for a little while.

What about you?  What productivity tools do you use to keep your momentum going?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Looking ahead to NaNoWriMo 2022

Well, I didn't end up participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July, as you might have noticed.  I just had too much still going on, between taking care of my horse, figuring out what to do with my websites, and adjusting to a schedule that is getting busier now that I have a little more free time (read: time that's not spent at the barn).

My life is gradually getting back to normal, though, if I even know what normal is like after just over four months now of my horse being sick.  I'm picking up more client work again, and taking on other projects.  And I'm thinking about NaNoWriMo, which is coming up fast, as it starts in only a few months.  We're already getting ML emails from Headquarters to get us started thinking about November.  I opted to still be a municipal liaison this year, despite everything that's going on, as I think Panama is doing really well and will hopefully be back to "normal" (read: requiring less work from me) by November.

Still, I want to make sure I plan well enough in advance for NaNoWriMo that if he takes a turn for the worse, NaNo will essentially run itself.  My co-MLs and I are already starting to talk about November, although we're not planning out much yet, just talking about it.  Once the forums get wiped in October, it'll be easier to start planning in earnest, but it's good to get it on our radar now!

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, we felt like participation was a little down due to the virtual format, but a lot of our regular participants were hanging in there.  Last year was rougher, with participation way down for the virtual events.  I'm hoping we can encourage more participation this year!

What about you?  Are you planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this fall?

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Why Bots Shouldn't Write Your Blog Posts

Not long ago, I was browsing on Facebook when I saw an ad for a software that automagically generates blog posts for you.

This was news to me, although it shouldn't have come as a surprise.  As a longtime content writer, I have known for a long time that there are software programs that (badly) rewrite existing content.  Using a thesaurus and a syntax generator to replace words and rearrange sentences, they produce something that can fool the search engines into thinking it's original content.

This kind of software, along with low-paid ESL writers from countries such as India, have always been the bane of a professional writer's existence.  They drive down prices and cheapen content, making it more difficult for professional copywriters to sell well-written and fairly-priced copy.  From the reader's perspective, they've also lowered the overall standards of quality for content on the internet.  It's part of the reason why so much of what you read is poorly written clickbait.

Now apparently software can also write a completely unique blog post, with you just providing it a few key terms and main points.

The thought is mind-boggling, but if you read the comments on the ads, it's also not very effective.  There are a lot of people complaining about the lack of readable quality in the posts.  And it makes sense.  The point of blogging is to write in a more informal style, allowing your own personality to shine through.  A bot will never succeed at that style of writing.

The problem with bots writing blog posts, or even writers who don't speak English as their first language, is that readers can tell.  Awkward phrasing, typos and misspellings, and lack of flow make it difficult to hook potential customers and keep them reading.  Worse, it reflects poorly on your professionalism.

To understand why bot-written content is so bad, think about the purpose of a blog.  Your blog does several things for your business:

  1. It constantly updates your website with new content, which helps it to rank more highly in the search engines
  2. It appeals to potential customers with more varied and interesting content, keeping them on your website for longer and hopefully generating a sale, and
  3. It encourages potential customers to return to your website to check for updates or read additional posts, which also makes a sale more likely.
Bot-written content (as well as, honestly, poorly written content) will satisfy the first point, but probably won't help much with the second and third.  The content is likely to be too dry or awkward to interest potential customers for long, which will cause them to move on faster and may cost you a sale.  And if they don't find your content interesting enough to stick around, they're certainly not going to make returning to your site a very high priority, either.

Having good content is just another part of running a successful business.  There are ways to save money on business expenses, but sacrificing the quality of your content shouldn't be one of them.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Pros and Cons of Working from Anywhere

Remember how I said my horse was doing better again?  He had a pretty major setback on Monday, so we've been pretty touch and go all week.  This unfortunately means I haven't had time to work on my websites as planned.

There are some definitely advantages to being able to work from anywhere, and I've exercised this freedom many times in my career as a freelancer.  I've worked on client materials while waiting for my electric car to charge at a public charger, while waiting for appointments, and after the kids have gone to bed while babysitting.  And that's not counting all the numerus coffee shops, libraries, and other places where I've gone intentionally to get some work done when I needed a change of scenery.

The current situation has been a little more challenging.  My horse has needed frequent meals and attention, so I've been packing my computer up and taking it out to the barn with me every day.  When I get a little bit of time, I fire up the hotspot on my phone and work.

Being able to work from anywhere carries with it both pros and cons.  It's nice to be able to get my work done even during a major life crisis like this one.  But you know what?  It's hard.  When I'm stressed out about my horse, it's hard to focus on work.  When I'm having to do a lot to take care of him, it's hard to find time to get work done.  I can only work on what travels easily with me to the barn, so there are some things I am perpetually trying to find time for.  And as a freelancer, I don't get paid time off, so there's more pressure on me to find time for it all, too.

As I've been taking care of my horse, I've been around the barn a lot, and a lot of other boarders have taken to commenting, "I don't know how you do it!"  It's an awkward comment for me, because the answer is, "Not well."  I cobble it together, and I get as much work done as I can, but my income and my sleep have taken a hit while my stress levels have skyrocketed.

As nice as it can be at times to work with a view of my horse in the background, I look forward to the day when I can go back to my version of normal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Camp NaNoWriMo: July session

In just a couple of days, the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo will start.  Are you planning on participating?

I don't know about you, but I feel completely unready for Camp this year.  The April session is almost always a flop for me, mainly because it happens to coincide with the same month as taxes and my birthday.  The first half of the month I'm usually getting ready to file my taxes, and then I'm totally burned out afterward, with not much time to recover and get much writing done by my birthday.

The last couple years, though, I've barely made a showing for the July session, either.  I think Camp is a lot harder to do than the main National Novel Writing Month that happens in November, mostly because there's so much hype and such a strong local community here in November that it's easier to stay motivated all month.  The summer sessions lack that almost completely, though, at least in our region.

In past years, we've tried to get people to come to what used to be a year-round writers group.  Of course we haven't been able to do that the last few years, because of covid and NaNoWriMo's rules against official in-person gatherings during the pandemic.  But even before 2020, the push to get people to do in-person stuff during Camp (at least in the Denver region) had exactly zero effectiveness.

This year, my time has been completely consumed with my sick horse since mid-April, so there's a pretty minimal chance that I'll have much time for Camp.  However I've been thinking again about my novel from last year, and wanting to get back to work on it since I never finished.  I might try to see if I can carve out a little time to work on it in July, even if it's not much.

What are your plans for Camp NaNoWriMo next month?

Monday, June 27, 2022

Setbacks

As I mentioned in my last post, this website is under construction at the moment.  My site desperately needed to be updated, as it was more than a decade old at this point, and I was considering changing hosts (although I'm rethinking that plan).

There's still a lot to do on this and another of my websites.  I need to rewrite the content for a few sections of my website that hadn't been revamped in a very long time.  I was planning on working on it this past week, but unfortunately, my life had other plans.  My horse - whom you might remember has been sick - had another setback, this one pretty major, and we had to have the vet out two days in a row.  We spent both days almost entirely at the barn, and as a result, I ended up playing catch-up on what I could get done Thursday and Friday of this week.  The websites weren't a priority, so they got pushed back.

But my horse is doing better now (again) and I have a brand-new week ahead of me, so I'm hoping to do better this week.  I didn't really catch up to where I wanted to be at the end of last week, and I've had a bunch of new things pop up, so I have a lot on the docket for the next few days.  With any luck, I won't have any major interruptions this week, and I'll be able to get a little more done.

As I get through the website redesign and my life gets back to normal, I'm hoping to start updating my blogs a little more regularly.  It's been a minute since I updated this blog on a regular basis and I'd love to change that!

Friday, June 10, 2022

Site Under Construction

Please excuse my mess!

Over the next week or two, I'll be overhauling my website and changing hosts.  I expect my site will come and go during that time, and there are bound to be some confusing things popping up, such as remnants from my old site.

Feel free to browse my blog as I get my list of services, portfolio, resume, etc. back where it belongs.  Thanks for visiting!

This Is My Office Now

Since my last post, there have been some upheavals in my life.  My horse got sick, actually about a week before my last post, but at the time that I posted I didn't realize how bad it was going to get.  He had just been in the ICU, but at the time it seemed like he was going to recover okay.  I didn't realize how much worse it was going to get.

He landed right back into the ICU less than a week later, and spent a couple more days there that time.  When he came home, it was with the plan of feeding him four times a day, which meant that I needed to do two of the four feedings (the barn would only feed him twice a day).

It quickly became obvious that he was still not okay, so I ended up tossing out the vet's plan and coming up with my own.  It meant feeding him six times a day, although that worked out okay because he also needed meds six times a day.  But it also meant a lot of time either driving back and forth to the barn, or just staying at the barn, since by the time I drive back and forth I only have about an hour, sometimes two, at home.

Fortunately throughout the repeated colic episodes, the stays in the ICU, and the first few days and weeks at home where everything was touch and go, my clients were super understanding and gave me all the time I needed to finish my current work.  There were days and even a couple of weeks where I could hardly find any time to work at all, so I will be forever grateful to my clients for their patience during what amounts to the absolute worst period of my entire life so far.  There was a time when I was legitimately afraid we would lose my horse, and he is my heart horse, so of course I got nothing done during that time.

Eventually he stabilized enough that I was able to start getting some work done here and there, and over time I've been able to carve out more and more time for normalcy.  In the past week or so especially, I've really started feeling like I've got something approaching my old life back.  It'll still be a while before we can stop feeding Panama every three or four hours throughout the day, but at least now I can focus on work between feedings, instead of taking care of him and constantly stressing about whether he was going to make it through this.

Of course I still had to figure out how to find the time to get my work done during the day.  Ultimately I decided that driving back and forth all day long took too much time out of my day - the drive is only about 15 minutes each way, but that adds up after a while.  Plus when you consider the cost of gas right now (for various reasons I wasn't using my electric car for a little bit there), it just wasn't worth driving back and forth.

So for now I've settled into a routine where I get up, go to the barn, feed Panama his elevensies (he's almost a hobbit now), and then settle in with my laptop and my phone as a hotspot.  I work for anywhere from two to four hours, depending on how much work I have and how much attention my horse needs that day, from a picnic table in the yard where I can see my horse.

Yesterday one of my barn friends came over to me while she was letting her horse graze in the yard.  "Is this just your office now?" she asked.

"Yep," I said, and laughed.  And I realized it wasn't really a bad view for a temporary office, so I took a picture.


Panama has a scope on Tuesday to see if his ulcers have healed, at which point I'm hoping we can start transitioning him back to hay and fewer meals per day.  With any luck, at some point this summer I'll be able to stop working at the barn throughout the day (not to mention get some more sleep, clean my house, and plan day trips again).  But right now I'm grateful that I freelance, so that when I needed that flexibility, I was able to do what I needed to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Big Changes Coming

It's been a long time since I've blogged regularly, and an even longer time since I've updated my website.  I've been slowly letting some of my blogs go, and I have decided to migrate my websites (and my emails) to a new host.

Part of that requires a complete redesign of this website, blog and all.

I maintained this blog for many years, so there are a lot of things that are probably going to break when I overhaul everything.  Years ago, I moved the entire blog to a subdomain and made sure all the images and links went with it.  This time, I'm probably not going to be as thorough, especially since it'll be an entirely different sort of move, and I'll be restructuring the entire site.  I do intend to leave all of the old content on the blog, even though I know some of the images won't transfer with it.

Going forward, I'm expecting a period of construction while I rebuild my site entirely on Blogger, and an outage as I transfer to a new web host.  I expect both of those to happen soon, not this week but hopefully in the week or two after.

It'll be the first time I've transferred hosts in many years, and I'm a little nervous, so wish me luck that it all goes smoothly!

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