Go Your Own Way

I have to admit, when I hear “Go your own way” I immediately start singing the Fleetwood Mac song. Not that this post is about being in love with someone who wants to avoid emotional intimacy. No, this post is quite literally about going your own way, or marching to the beat of your own drum, or taking the road less traveled, or any of the other often-quoted idioms we use when describing someone doing their own thing.

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What’s interesting about me is even though I LOVE to follow rules (structure! order! routine!), I’m an outlier in many respects. I’ve never intentionally eaten meat in my entire life, I’m highly sensitive to stimuli, and whenever a medication says 3% of people will experience XYZ symptoms, I’m usually in that 3%. However, I’m also a goody two shoes. If a cashier gives me too much change, I will return it. If quiet hours start at 10 p.m., I have my headphones plugged in at 9:59. If there are rules to follow, I’m likely following them.

Both of these dynamics — following rules and being my own person — also play out in business.  I want to follow in the footsteps of someone else, to do what they do. If someone tells me I have to do X to be successful, by golly, I’ll do X. I follow their instructions to a T and then much to my dismay, I’ve noticed I fall flat on my face over and over again because what works for other people doesn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong — some things like hard work and consistency are universal and are required for the success of anything, not only business. However, copying the more variable, subjective things, like someone else’s program, or their marketing strategy, do not work for me. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent on various courses telling me the best way to do whatever, only to have those courses accomplish exactly zip for me.

I keep thinking about the company behind the game Cards Against Humanity. In 2013, instead of lowering their prices for Black Friday, they raised them by $5 and sales improved!

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“Anyone can do a sale for Black Friday, but nobody but us could get away with raising their prices and risking a ton of sales just to make a joke,” Cards Against Humanity co-founder Max Temkin wrote on his blog.

That story has stuck with me for the ensuing seven years because it’s so counter-intuitive. Who would have thought completely going against norms (i.e., having lower prices on Black Friday) would actually generate even more sales?

I realize I’m still a newbie at having my own freelance content writing and ghostwriting business, but there’s something comforting about knowing a person can flout conventional wisdom and still be successful. There’s something comforting about knowing I don’t have to run my business (or my life, for that matter) just like everyone else in order to have the things I crave: financial stability, ease, peace of mind, and purpose. And in fact, the more I go my own way, the more I’m true to myself and what works best for me, the more successful I am. How about that?

How to Take a Vacation as a Solopreneur

I’m one of those people who finds it hard to rest. I’m much more comfortable being busy and juggling multiple tasks. When I have downtime, I find myself becoming bored easily. However, I know breaks, and a vacation, are crucial to avoid burnout.

As an Oakland, CA, freelance content writer and ghostwriter, I’m a one-woman show. I don’t have a boss or any employees to pick up the slack if I’m out of the office. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. All of that makes it much more challenging for me to take a proper vacation. Sure I can goof off here and there for a few hours, but taking a few days off? Or a week? Is it even possible?

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When I consulted the great Oracle (aka, Google), I learned there are several methods solopreneurs use to take vacations. Some people use the method I’ve been employing, which is goof off for a few hours but still work every day. Instead of working from home though, they’ll work from the beach or their parents’ house. For true vacations? That takes preparation. Read below for five tips on how to take a vacation as a solopreneur.

1.) Tell your clients about your vacation plans

To unplug completely, you have to let your clients know you’ll be unavailable. If you take off and become AWOL, that’s the fast track to losing your clients. Let them know in advance when you’ll be out of town so they are prepared. If you can, submit your work to them early so it’s finished before you become incommunicado. This works for some clients but not others.

In addition to working as a freelance content writer and ghostwriter, I also work as a freelance journalist (yes, I wear many hats). For certain journalism gigs, I can’t get all my work done early because sometimes I’m required to write day-of news pieces. If I’m not around, I obviously can’t write those articles, and instead I miss out on that income. What to do about that? Read on.

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2.) Create a vacation fund

At this point I’ve accepted the fact that sometimes going on vacation means I will lose money (certain journalism gigs are a case in point). However, I know vacations are crucial for my mental health so the best thing I can do to take care of my present and future selves is create a vacation fund. Even if it’s only a little bit every month, setting aside money in the bank specifically for vacations eases some of my stress because I remind myself, “You saved for this. That’s what this money is for.”

Also the reality is I’m worth more than money. I know that can be hard to embrace when money is tight and bills are overdue, but it’s true. At the end of the day, I, you, we, are priceless and taking a vacation is one of the ways we demonstrate that to ourselves. We matter and our mental health matters. Vacations are a great way to rejuvenate, even when it means losing income because once we come back, we are refreshed and ready to work. (And maybe we’ll land new clients because we have more energy to put into hustling!)

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3.) Keep your “head” in the clouds

You can perhaps guess what I’m getting at here with my attempt at a play on words. Don’t keep your head in the clouds because footwork is required for dreams to come true, but do keep almost everything else in the cloud. Use Google Drive, Dropbox, icloud, whatever, to store templates, instructions regarding clients, contracts, that sort of thing. That way in case you go “full on vacation mode” and leave your laptop at home, you’ll still be able to access important documents via your phone or tablet — just in case of emergencies.

Hopefully one of your clients won’t ring you in a panic asking for something, but just in case, you want to be prepared. Part of the reason people hire small businesses (include sole proprietors) is the personal touch. Being able to talk on the phone to a real person should problems arise is crucial, and that means while on vacation too!

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4.) Automate what you can

I just mentioned it’s important to remain accessible for crisis situations, but at the same time, automate what you can. Maybe that means running a vacation responder on your email. Perhaps it’s signing up with a system that will automate your invoices so you don’t have to think about them. Maybe “automation” really means using a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant is a person who can post to social media on your behalf, read through your email and flag any important messages, as well as answer calls for you. If you want someone to keep an eye on your business while you’re out of the office, a virtual assistant is a great way to go.

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5.) Ask for help

Last but not least, you can also ask for help from someone you trust. In my case, asking for help would mean contacting another content writer or ghostwriter and asking them to cover for me by writing blogposts that I can’t write in advance. The advantage of asking for help is you still receive some money (I’m fair-minded and that means paying people for their work), and your business doesn’t have to shut down while you’re on vacation. However, asking for help in this situation is risky because the person must be someone you trust. Will they write as well as you? Will they try to steal your clients? All fair questions.

What about you? Do you have any tips for going on vacation as a solopreneur? Tell me in the comments below. 

Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I’d have enough money to pay my rent, at the very least. (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so rent ain’t cheap, for the record.)

When I was younger, I took it as a guarantee that pursuing my heart’s desire would earn me money. I started blogging, I wrote a memoir, I launched a publishing company — all things I loved — but the money did not flow in. I felt resentful because wasn’t this a promise? Do what you love and the money is supposed to follow! But it didn’t.

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Now years later I recognize the two aren’t necessarily tied together. The dream of course is to make money doing something you love, but it could very well be that you do something you love and the money comes from somewhere else.

Did you know at least back in 2017 the author Ted Chiang worked as a technical writer? This is someone who has won numerous literary awards, had a short story turned into a movie starring Amy Adams (Arrival), and teaches workshops on science fiction. But writing fiction is not how he made a living at that time.

In an interview with the sci-fi magazine Interzone, Chiang said, “I don’t get that many ideas for stories. If I had more ideas, I would write them, but unfortunately they only come at long intervals. I’m probably best described as an occasional writer.”

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He also told an interviewer, “I don’t want to try to force myself to write novels in order to make a living. I’m perfectly happy writing short stories at my own pace.”

I find that incredible. Someone as successful and well-known as Ted Chiang doesn’t try to make a living with his creative work and instead allows money to flow in from technical writing. That’s pretty much exactly counter to what I would have predicted, and also goes against conventional wisdom in a capitalistic culture. If you have a gift, monetize it and make it how you support yourself!

Chiang reminds me there’s another way to be, which I’m finding to be true for myself as well. Money doesn’t have to be tied directly to what I love doing. I’ve received money from focus groups, from random donations, from out-of-the-blue assignments. Money can come from anywhere, from everywhere, and that I think is really what’s meant by “Do what you love and the money will follow.” There’s something about contributing to the world in a way that makes a person come alive that seems to gets rewarded by the universe. And not necessarily in a tit-for-tat way. Some of the work I do is for free, but I’m still getting paid in other ways, through other avenues like freelancing for news publications.

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I guess what I’m saying is I find value in being open, in knowing the universe can provide in magical ways. And also that my art doesn’t have to support my life. It’s perfectly acceptable to be like Ted Chiang and let stories come when and how they will without the pressure of making a buck from them. Same thing in my business — I write for busy professionals and I tell stories of transformation because I love it, but the bulk of my money right now comes from freelance work for news publications. And that’s OK. I’m doing what I love and the money is following, just not how I thought it would.

Do you need help with your blog? I’m available for content writing. Just get in touch.

How to Sell During COVID-19

I have an Instagram page where I post quotes from the novel I wrote, books I’m reading, funny memes, that sort of thing. Because I list myself as an author, I receive solicitations from people who want to sell me consulting services or offer me tools that I could use to promote my book (if I had one). I’ve noticed a trend in the way people are pitching to me lately that feels disingenuous.

They start off with a compliment (“Wow! You have great content!”) and then follow it up with a question (“How long have you been doing this?”). When I reply, they come back with another compliment (“That’s incredible!). And then they hit me with the sales pitch, which feels like the real reason they reached out in the first place. Do they actually think my content is great or are they only saying that to butter me up? I don’t have a problem with appreciation, as long as it’s real. But saying the same general thing to me as 50 other authors make me feel devalued.

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I’m not interested in the services being pitched to me for a variety of reasons, but the sales people keep pressing, asking why not and if they can work around my hesitation. I have no doubt this strategy is an avenue for selling, and it likely works for some people, but for me it’s a huge turn off. My philosophy in business is to establish a relationship. I strive to be friendly with my clients because we’re both giving and receiving. I don’t want to take someone’s money and run – I want to provide a service that my client can actually use.

I’m reminded of a story from Tosha Silver’s book Change Me Prayers. She said for her first book, she shopped it around to several bookstores and in one store, the manager said, “You can leave a copy for our ‘pile’ in the back room. Then you could call a ton and plead with us. If you get lucky, maybe one day we’ll stock it. Just keep hoping.”

Tosha’s response was, “Oh, my God, no! Why would I keep twisting your arm? It’ll go easily to the places that are right. You never have to convince someone. The people who are right will just know.” And sure enough, that happened with other store clerks. They were thrilled at the idea of stocking her book and one even threw her a party. That’s what I want for me too (maybe not the party, unless it’s over Zoom!).

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I want selling to be easy and smooth. That’s not to say no effort is required because of course action is always necessary, but the energy is different. Instead of twisting someone’s arm, pressuring them to work with me, I understand the right clients, customers, partners, etc. have already been selected and we’ll be guided to each other easily (and gratefully). I want to work with people who want to work with me. If I have to convince someone, are we a good match? Likely not.

I feel like especially now when most people are stressed, sliding in and out of depression, and struggling in some form or fashion, the best thing I can do is offer my services as a freelance ghostwriter, content writer, and editor. Emphasis on the “offer.” I’m opening my hands, saying “here you go,” and letting people take me or leave me. I’m not waving my hands in front of their face and saying “take this, take this, take this.” For me that makes all the difference.

If you’re a busy professional like a therapist in need of a ghostwriter, connect with me. If you’re looking for a unique way to promote your business through storytelling, I’d love to help with that too. If you just want someone to make sure your resume doesn’t have any typos, I can also handle that! Just reach out and I’d be glad to help.

Still One Day at a Time

Last night I started to spiral as I thought about how much longer this quarantine could last. A year? A year and a half? Even typing that my heart starts to beat faster and my stomach clenches in anxiety. I can’t go there. If I start thinking too far into the future I sink into despair. I realize this is a business blog, but the reality is my personal life and business life blend – they always have. One affects the other as much as I’d like to keep them separate. What that means is how I respond in my personal life will also apply to my business life.

What I’m focusing on is taking things one day at a time. A quote that comes to mind right now is from Sarah Orne Jewett who said, “Tain’t worthwhile to wear a day all out before it comes.” Yep. When I spin out into worry over what will happen to me, what will happen to my business, how I will make money, I’m absolutely wearing the day out before it comes. Some planning is important of course, but I’m finding the only way to stay sane in this insane period is to take things one day at a time. Or even one hour at a time.

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I think pretty much every spiritual teacher encourages people to stay present and in the moment. That’s never felt more relevant for us as a collective. I’m used to applying that principle on a micro level, but now we’re applying it on a macro one. If anything, COVID-19 has shown us we don’t know what will happen. We can’t predict the future – we’re all just guessing. In the meantime, what can we do here, now?

For me, it’s continuing to freelance as a writer. It means content writing for my clients, telling stories of transformation. It means contacting new people about how I can serve them in this time with my writing skills. It means keeping my finances up to date and billing the people I work with. It also means understanding some people will not be able to pay me right now, or won’t be able to pay me in full.

COVID-19 has taught me how to be nimble and flexible, to let go of expectations and surrender to what is both in my business life and my professional life. I am not in control of what’s happening. Not even a little bit. But I am in control of how I respond to what’s happening. I’m in control of how I’m spending my days.

The best way I know how to spend my days is to stay in the day. To be where my feet are. I feel more grounded and less anxious when I think about what’s next instead of what’s to come down the line. Because again, honestly, I have no idea what’s to come. But neither does anyone else. That can be a scary prospect or it can be empowering. Regardless, all we have is what’s in front of us: today.

The “Shoulds” and “Shouldn’ts” of COVID-19

Right now I’m hearing a lot of shoulds and shouldn’ts circulating about how to act, respond, or work during this pandemic. “Now is the time to do all the things you didn’t have the time to do!” “Move your business online!” “Use Zoom for all the things you need!” “Contact every client you’ve ever worked with and pitch to them!”

I get it. I want someone to tell me all of those things too. I want a leader to help me navigate this crisis. Some suggestions have wisdom to them and some do not, but the important piece I think is determining which is which. Glennon Doyle says, “As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is ‘to sift,’ as in, to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.”

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That certainly rings true for me right now. I’m learning what’s important to me and what’s not. But more than that, I’m learning about my inner compass. I’m easily swayed by other people and also susceptible to suggestions. If someone tells me the best way to grow my business is to beat down 10 doors, I’ll beat down 10 doors. If someone else tells me the best way to grow my business is to let the doors open for me, to offer everything up to the universe, I’ll offer everything up to the universe.

I’m like a ping pong ball batted around a table. Every few minutes I’m changing my mind about what to do, about what makes sense. I’m letting other people lead and become the authority for, well, everything. The reality is almost none of us were alive the last time this sort of thing happened with the Spanish flu. And furthermore, technology back in 1918 was vastly different than it is now so we’re truly navigating something brand new. No one knows what they’re doing. Not really. The best any of us can say is, “This worked for me and it might work for you.” But who wants to say that? Don’t we all want to seem put together or authoritative? That people should come to us for the answer?

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Through this crisis I am indeed learning to sift, but I’m not sifting what I anticipated. Instead I’m filtering through the noise. I’m wading through the 10 million advice columns people are churning out. Don’t get me wrong, I think advice columns are useful and I’ve written a few myself, but often what’s missing is choice. You get to choose what’s best for you and nobody else knows what that is. Sometimes even I don’t know what’s best for me, but that’s what I’m figuring out.

What’s best for me one minute might be resting. The next it could be answering all of my emails. Or going for a walk. Or writing an article about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of COVID-19. In this time of uncertainty and chaos, perhaps the best thing we can do is become our own authority. To ask ourselves what’s best for us and remember we don’t have to do everything other people tell us we “should.” I’m not a fan of the word “should” and I try my best not to use it. Instead I say “could.” I could reach out to all my old clients. I could wash all my dishes right now. There are many things I could do but what do I want to do? What feels best to my soul? And that I think is the best possible use of my time. And maybe yours too. I’m not sure – I’ll let you decide.

Do you need writing help? Are you underwater with transitioning to a virtual presence? I’m available for quick-turnaround assignments. Reach out to me. I’m here.

Working During COVID-19

I don’t have to tell you life is different now. None of us will come out of this experience the same. We can’t predict what life will look like days, weeks, or months from now, but in this moment as we’re trying to establish some semblance of normalcy, what does work look like? Below are some tips I have about working during COVID-19.

Have Patience

For one, work won’t be business as usual and I think it’s important we all keep that in mind. It’s unrealistic to believe or try to operate in such a way that promotes that idea. Parents now have to contend with children underfoot, or sharing working space with their partners. Everyone is undergoing some sort of upheaval so the best thing any of us can do is be patient with one another. Everything will likely take longer than it normally does so patience is key here.

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Practice Flexibility

It’s also important to practice flexibility. Ideally managers established work goals based on output – meaning the projects themselves and not whether the person spent four hours working uninterrupted. Or whether they worked specifically from 9 to 5. Parents especially might find themselves working in the later evenings and early mornings when their children are asleep because childcare is unavailable. The more employers understand that, the better for all of us. Also, the reality is parents likely won’t get as much work done as their childless colleagues. It doesn’t feel fair, but when is life ever fair? We work with what we’ve got and do the best we can.

Wikimedia CEO Katherine Maher put it best in a Medium piece: “It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect someone to be fully present, eight hours a day, when they have a three-year-old with crayons drawing on the wall, or an elderly parent who needs help navigating the stairs. We all have loved ones who need care, groceries that need purchasing, doctor’s appointments to keep, neighbors who need a phone call. And you know what? We trust our colleagues. People will work when they can, and when they can’t, we trust they’ll be right.”

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Push it Back

If you can push a project back, push it back! Whittle priorities and projects down to the most crucial, the most pressing. Now is not the time to be ambitious and pretend the only difference with work is the location. Use this time to slow down, not speed up.

Americans especially are on the goal-oriented and workaholic side. I’ve seen several memes about how Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity during a quarantine, as if the same could be or should be true for all us. There’s an expectation during this period we’ll be our most productive, our most creative, indulging all our hobbies. “After this quarantine I’ll be in the best shape of my life because I’ll have so much time to work out!” Or “I’ll write the next great American novel in my free time!” I applaud the sentiment, and yes, it might be true for some people, but for many of us, we’re just trying to get by. During stressful times, it’s important to lower the bar, not raise it.

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Be Gentle

The last thing I’ll say about this topic is to be gentle with yourself and others right now. We’re all feeling lots of feeling and in a period of high stress. This is one of the few times when everyone across the globe is in a similar situation. That calls for understanding and kindness because we’re all navigating something new. We’re not alone here and gentleness will go a long way.

What are your tips for working during COVID-19? Tell me in the comments below.