Can You Handle a Full-time Freelance Career?

According to the 2012 Freelance Industry Report by Ed Gandia, 65.5% of freelancing professionals work full-time as freelancers. Freelance writer's work stationTheir career is freelancing. They don’t freelance “on the side,” and they don’t have other part-time jobs to subsidize their income.

 

Given that Freelancers Union estimates “Nearly one in three working Americans is an independent worker,” that’s a lot of people making a living by freelancing.

 

Freelancing provides home/work life flexibility, the satisfaction of doing what you love, and the opportunity to develop your skills and knowledge on your own terms.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Personally, I’ve found I’ve worked harder as a freelancer writer than when I worked for a corporation. Don’t misunderstand; I wasn’t by any stretch a slacker for my employer. But starting and running my own business has demanded a whole new level of commitment in time, attention, and emotional investment.

 

Are you up for the challenge of freelancing?

If you haven’t started yet or are new to freelancing, here’s a list of some things you’ll need to consider as an independent contractor.

 

Setting up a website
Along with that goes: finding a web developer/designer, web hosting, domain name registration, content (both text and visual), ongoing content updates, etc.

 

Taxes
When self-employed, you’re responsible for submitting your tax payments to the appropriate agencies, because taxes aren’t taken out of your paycheck from an employer.

 
Income tax (federal, state, local), Social Security, Medicare. And depending on the nature of what you provide to your customers, maybe even state sales tax. Before you get rolling with your freelance business, talk with a tax professional to find out exactly what tax obligations you’ll have and when they’re due. A tax pro can also help you estimate how much you’ll owe so you can plan ahead.

 

No Guaranteed Income
Clients can come and go. Projects come and go. Even when you have several clients who give you regularly recurring weekly or monthly assignments, they may not last forever. Unlike having a steady paycheck from an employer, your income might wax and wane. I’ll bet you’ve heard about the “feast or famine” cycle before. You will probably experience it as a freelancer, especially when you’re starting out.

 

Marketing
If you’re thinking just being present will draw prospects to you, think again. You need to put yourself out there and build awareness of your services. Expect to spend A LOT of time marketing yourself, especially when your business is new. Social media and blogging have been immensely effective tools for me. Be warned, however, they require attention every day and will demand hours of your time each and every week. To keep the momentum going and nurture online business relationship, you can’t ignore your social media or blog even when you’re super busy.

 

Paid Time Off
As a freelancer, there is no such thing.

 

Sick Time
Again, no such thing.

 

Face-To-Face Networking
Arguably, this could be lumped under marketing, but I believe it’s important enough for its own mention.

As convenient and effective as online networking is, the in-person variety can boost your capacity to build trust. When you meet someone face-to-face, they get a better sense of your personality and likeability. By attending networking events, you can get your foot in the door and close deals more quickly. And you can easily build upon those new relationships by following up via connecting with contacts on LinkedIn and other social media channels.

 

Be aware, however, that it takes time and consistency, just like online networking does. Don’t expect to go to a single event and walk out with a new customer in the bag.

 

Also important to know: networking events typically require a registration fee or membership to an organization (like chambers of commerce or professional networking groups).

 

Health Insurance
I’m extremely fortunate in that I have medical, dental, and vision insurance through my husband’s policy at work, but not all freelancers are as lucky. If you’re not married or your spouse’s plan won’t cover you, you’ll need to look into getting your own policy. It’s an expense you’ll need to factor into your pricing.
Time to Do the Work. Time to Run the Business.
Expect that you won’t be spending 40 hours a week on billable work for clients. Having a freelancing business demands time for taking care of administrative tasks, marketing, prospecting, and other responsibilities. That’s another thing to factor into your pricing. Your billable time will need to compensate for the time you spend on non-billable tasks.

 

Dealing with Numbers
Running your own business requires some degree of competency in managing your financials. Even if you outsource elements of your bookkeeping, you need to have a basic understanding of tracking and reporting the money coming into and going out of your business.

 

Only the Self-Motivated and Organized Need Apply.
If you have trouble motivating yourself to start projects and see them through to the end, freelancing might not be the best career choice for you. Likewise, if you fail at prioritizing and let tasks and projects slide until they’re past due, think twice before diving into freelancing full time.

 

 

I could go on and on, but I think that should give you a good taste of what you can expect from a career in freelancing. You’re the boss and there are many rewards, but you’ll need to work for them.

 

That said, don’t let your lack of experience or knowledge about business lead you to think you can’t do it. With so many online resources and entrepreneur-focused organizations (like SBA and SCORE, for example), you can access information and gain insight easily. I also recommend talking to other freelancers who will share about their own experiences.

 

Do your homework; then decide if a freelance career is right for you.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

Sanity Saving Pre-Vacation Checklist for Solopreneurs

Ahhh. Vacation! Time to unwind, feel the sand between your toes, read a good book, escape your cares, and leave theSouth Padre Island, TX Beach pressures of work behind.

Those are the rewards that await you IF you survive the insanely stressful, tense days before you finally whisk yourself and your loved ones away.

When I started my own freelancing business five years ago, I suffered a number of pre-vacation symptoms – including short temper and scattered brain – prior to departing for our family get-aways. While those things afflicted me when I was on a corporate career path, they intensified after I became a solopreneur. The pressures of wrapping things up are a wee bit more demanding than when I had colleagues within a department to cover for me while I was gone.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some thought and planning, you can make preparing to go away a less harrowing experience.

Solopreneurs’ Pre-vacation Survival Guide

Here are my ready-set-don’t-fret tips for getting your act together before you leave your office.

    • Let clients know you’ll be going out of town.
      Don’t only inform them about when you’ll be gone; also let them know on what date you’ll no longer be working on assignments. For example, if your plane leaves for Florida on Tuesday, August 5, you might decide you won’t work on client projects after Friday, August 1.I typically give myself at least one business day off before I leave because I always discover there are eleventh hour errands to run and personal tasks to tend to. You might also want to include the day after you return as an off-limits day so you can catch up on things at home or administrative tasks. Email the dates of your unavailability to your clients at least one month in advance. If you tell them by phone, email them a reminder.  They’re human after all, and they’re likely to forget exactly when you said you’ll be leaving and when you’ll be back.
    • Reschedule assignments that would be due during the week(s) you’re on vacation.
      You’ve got the responsibility to come through for your clients. Plan to get their work done before you leave for vacation. About one month before you depart, schedule assignments on your calendar throughout the week or two before you leave so you’ve reserved ample time to complete them. Your clients will appreciate your reliability – and you won’t have to play catch up when you return home.
    • Resist taking on new assignments the week before you leave.
      Yes, the money will look awfully attractive because you know you’ll probably be spending lots of it during your vacation. But if a prospect or client brings a new project your way just before you leave, ask if you can begin to work on it after you return. Remember, in adherence to the last bullet point, you’ve already scheduled client work for that week before vacation. And then there’s always the unexpected that can – and likely will – pop up just as you’re starting to have visions of palm trees and margaritas dancing in your head. Don’t load up your pre-vacation week too heavily, or you could find yourself scrambling.
      • Schedule your blog posts and social media updates.
        Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean your marketing efforts have to go on a hiatus, too. You can still keep your blog and social media accounts afloat by writing your posts and updates ahead of time and scheduling them to publish while you’re gone. If you have a WordPress blog, you can future-date posts. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer make it easy to schedule social media updates, plus Facebook has built-in scheduling capabilities.

 

    • Pay your bills in advance.
      If you’re not set up for automatic payments, schedule time in advance to take care of any bills that will be due while you’re gone. This year, my Verizon Wireless and Visa payments will be due during my vacation, so I’ve created an appointment on my Google Calendar to remit them the week before I leave. That helps me in two ways: 1. They won’t slip my mind. 2. I won’t lose sleep over worrying about them slipping my mind.
    • Set up your automated email vacation response.
      Don’t haggle with this at the last minute. Do it at least a week or two in advance so you’re done with it. Set it so people know when you’ll be unavailable, which would include the time before and directly after vacation when you’ll be preparing to leave or catching up after you return.
      • Change your voice mail greeting on your office phone and mobile phone.
        Obviously, you wouldn’t want to do this too far in advance of your vacation, but take care of it the day before you’ll no longer be available to field client calls.

 

    • Create an instructions sheet for the person(s) who will be looking after your home while you’re gone.
      If you’ve got a house/pet sitter who takes care of your home and furry family members when you’re on vacation, you can avoid the worry of “Did I tell them everything they need to know?” by creating an instructions sheet. We’ve used one for the past several years, and we update it each time we go away if anything has changed. We include: our dog’s feeding and medication schedule, our plants’ watering schedule (I’ve got 40 outdoor potted plants in a variety of places, so yes, this is a necessity!), the combination for opening our garage door with the outdoor keypad, swimming pool care instructions, our mobile phone numbers, our home’s landline voice mail password, location of our vacuum cleaner, local emergency contacts, and most important – our Wi-Fi password!

I know. It sounds like a lot of work. But when you’ve got everything in order ahead of time, you can spare yourself the debilitating rush of cortisol that comes from frantically taking care of loose ends at the last minute.

Try it, and I think you’ll agree; you’ll relax more easily and enjoy that first vacation cocktail so much more by planning for your departure in advance.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

[Image is from one of our past vacations at South Padre Island TX]
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Five Reasons Solopreneurs Should Get Away and Go Wild

Not in a bikini-clad spring breaker way (Sorry to disappoint!)…I mean roughing it without the modern luxuries we take for granted at home and at work.

When did you last get out into the big, bold, unpredictable outdoors and escape the laptop, disconnect from email and social media, and forego many other everyday comforts for more than a few hours?

Just this past weekend, my husband, daughter Natalie, her friend Megan, and our 9-year-old boxer mix,Welcome-to-the-Handy-Dandy-Lodge Luna, drove 4 hours upstate to a hunting lodge known as the “Handy Dandy Lodge.” Whatever possessed the avid outdoorsmen to name it as such decades ago is beyond my realm of comprehension, but I can attest that “Handy Dandy” is not the moniker I’d have chosen to represent it best.

The Handy Dandy Lodge is not in any way plush. It’s musty, dusty and has its fair share of spiders in dark corners. It doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Yes, it has a water faucet at the kitchen sink, but it functions only after someone twists an outdoor valve which directs water from the neighboring stream to funnel through it. While the sink has hot and cold handles, the water is ice cold regardless which you’ve turned on.

OuthouseThe bathroom is a good 30 feet from the main building—and it’s not the flushing kind. Several years ago, a visiting female discovered a porcupine emerging from the “tank” just after she finished using the facilities.

When you visit the Handy, don’t expect to make calls from your mobile phone or Google anything – that is unless you decide to hike 2 miles up the mountain to where the 3G and 4G gods will once again bestow signal upon you.

(I must disclose that the Handy does have electricity [provided a storm hasn’t knocked it out], a refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, radio, and a propane gas stove. But it’s still plenty rustic and rough by standards other than that of a “Survivor” contestant.)

No. A trip to the Handy isn’t for everyone. But getting away from it all is for anyone who has been gasping for a breath of fresh air.

5 Ways Roughing It Can Make You a Stronger and More Satisfied Solopreneur

Nature gives energy levels and mental health a boost
According to a University of Rochester article, psychological studies have shown people experience less exhaustion, increased energy, and an enhanced feeling of well-being from exposure to nature and engagement inView at Lebo Vista outdoor activities. “…Research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health.”

One sure way to appreciate all the conveniences you have is to do without them for a while. It’s good to step away from all that we take for granted and the things that make life easy for us.

Experiencing nature can make you a better thinker.
Attentive Restorative Theory (ART) suggests that in contrast to urban settings that expose us to harsh stimuli like electronics, machinery, car horns, etc., nature provides soft stimuli—wind blowing, leaves rustling, birds chirping, etc.—which restore and improve cognition. The Earthday.com blog post The Effect of Nature on Cognition shares about a University of Michigan cognitive psychology and industrial engineering researcher’s experiment which determined walking in a natural setting improves cognition dramatically over walking on a busy street. As a business owner, what’s not to love about being able to focus and process information better?

No influx of external messages gives you time to think for yourself and renew your creativity.
Even the most independent thinkers can get sidetracked by the barrage of everyone else’s viewpoints and opinions. When you’re out in nature with no connection to social media, email, or electronic media sources, you have an opportunity to be at one with your own thoughts and perspectives.

You’ll set your imagination loose to think freely without second guessing where your thoughts are going. Nature has a way of making us realize there’s so much more than the finite world we surround ourselves with day in and day out. It puts us in awe of things great and small and opens our minds. Just make sure you keep a pen and notebook close at hand – so you can capture each brilliant idea before your brain moves on to the next one.

(Tip: Out in nature is a great place to trip over ideas for new blog posts and snap photos of objects that have the potential to represent something beyond themselves for your blog and social media.)

It forces you to play and leave worry behind.
Without a to-do list hovering over your head, you have no choice but to kick back and enjoy yourself. When you’re busy all the time, it’s easy to forget how much fun it is to play for the simple purpose of just playing.

During our weekend at the Handy, we spent hours playing Apples to Apples and Pass the Pigs and laughing hysterically at how the odds were either in—or out of—our favor.

It tests your endurance.
When you escape to the great outdoors, you have opportunities to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Hiking, kayaking, sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag, going without a shower for 2 days, using an outhouse…there’s always something to experience to grow your frame of reference and toughen you up.

I realize “roughing it” is subjective and everyone’s accessibility to natural surroundings varies. I typically only get away to tap into my wild side two to three times each year, but I’ve found a little goes a long way in refreshing my mind and perspective.

How about you? How often do you get away from it all and get back to nature?

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By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

Take Action Against Distraction in Your Small Business in 2014

“Bounce rate.” If you’ve got a website, you know less is best when talking about that particular metric. But the bounce Multi-tasking womanrate of your site isn’t the only bounce-related thing that can spell trouble for your business.

As soloprenrenurs and small biz owners, we take on every aspect of our businesses, so it’s easy to become unfocused and “bounce” from one uncompleted task to another, then back to the first one, and then move on to something else before bouncing back to the original task. That zaps productivity. And problems with productivity can quickly manifest themselves as an inability to fit in enough billable hours. And not enough billable hours means less revenue than you may have been banking on. Ouch! Bouncing can be painful!

But you already know that and saying it out loud doesn’t change the fact that you’re faced with needing to tend to not only the work you do for clients, but also to the day-to-day administrative responsibilities that come with the territory. So we multi-task, trying to get more done in less time. Unfortunately, while trying to take care of as many things as possible in a single bound sounds great in theory, in reality we’re only human and therefore incapable of doing it well.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article by Jonha Revesencio about multi-tasking and how digital stress affects the human brain.  According to the infographic within her post, some neuroscientists believe online multi-tasking (particularly email) can put our brains into overload and trigger a “fight or flight” reaction that causes us to lose focus and always aim for tackling what we perceive as immediate opportunities and threats.

And this post by Rachel Blom about interruptions from social media shares that parallel tasks (tasks done simultaneously) take us 30% more time to complete than if we’d do them independently (one after the other).

Multi-tasking might also do some damage to your gray matter, according to this article and infographic on Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News. A mere two percent of people can multi-task successfully, while the other 98 percent of us could lower our IQs by letting email, phone calls, and social media interrupt our work. Another astounding stat from that article: on average, people who use computers for work are interrupted every 10.5 minutes throughout the day.

Yikes!

So how can you get it together, get things done, and resist the urge to do everything at once. Take action to resist distractions!

Here are a few defense maneuvers to help you resist multi-tasking your days away…

  • Schedule time on your calendar daily for all tasks and responsibilities.

    By dedicating specific windows of time for email, social media, client work, accounting, etc., you won’t feel as impelled to bounce aimlessly from one to another.

  • Close your email and social media tabs on your computer when you’re supposed to be working on something else.

    Make them out of sight, out of mind. You’ll find they won’t lure you away nearly as easily from the task at hand if you don’t have them front and center.

  • Put your smart phone out of reach.

    Even a 1-minute phone call can throw you off course when it unexpectedly interrupts your work on a project. Plus, you might be tempted to check your incoming emails, texts, and social media interactions if you hear the notifications ding and your phone is within arm’s length. Better to put it across the room – or in another room – until you’re free to attend to it

  • Schedule some “wiggle room” into your day.

    While you might not always find it possible, try to block out a half hour once or twice each day for the unexpected. That way you won’t get completely behind on your work if you need to field an impromptu call from a prospect or discover a task is taking you a little more time than you anticipated. You can find more on my “wiggle room” suggestion in one of my earlier Insatiable Solopreneur posts this year.

When I stick to the plan above, I find I feel less stressed, feel more in control, and think more clearly. Most importantly, I get more done and have far less apprehension about what’s on my “to do” list, because I know I’ve got a plan in place to accomplish my outstanding projects and tasks. If you’ve found bouncing is sabotaging your productivity and not leaving you the time you need for focusing on billable work, it’s time to break the multi-tasking cycle. Take action against distraction and discover the difference it will make for your business in 2014.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks do you use to avoid bouncing through your day?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

Image courtesy of Pong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Solopreneur Squared: The Benefits and Challenges of Having 2 Solopreneurs Under the Same Roof

As a “solo” solopreneur, you might find those around you don’t always understand what you’re doing and why it Solopreneur2sometimes demands so much of your time and energy. While my family has always been extremely supportive, they don’t know first-hand the challenges and stresses of trying to do it all. How could they – except through what I tell them – and I’d rather be spending quality time with them than complaining. Still, wouldn’t doing business as a solopreneur be easier if those closest to you would know what it’s like to walk in your shoes?

Who better to ask that question than a pair of husband and wife solopreneurs? I reached out to Steve and Sherry Smith, who both operate as solopreneurs under the same roof in Lancaster, PA.  Steve runs both a marketing firm focused on helping business embrace new technology in their marketing efforts and a successful restaurant consulting business. Sherry owns and operates an interior design company that she started on the west coast, now pulling many of those design influences into her work for clients here in the east. Together, they juggle the responsibilities of their independent businesses and their family.

Check out this Q&A with Sherry and Steve to find out the behind the scenes of how they got started on the road to dual solopreneurship – and get a glimpse of what it’s like to have two solopreneurs in the same house. Plus, they share some good advice about balancing home and work life that’s relevant for all of us.

My Solopreneur² Q&A with the Smiths:

Who ventured into being a solopreneur first? Whoever did it second, what inspired you to follow?

Sherry: Ever since I met Steve he had always desired to be in business for himself, but honestly I believe both of us ventured into solopreneurship around the same time. I made my mind up to launch Design Elements, Ltd. in the spring of 2006 (after months of discussing with Steve and with his encouragement) and made it official in February 2007 after leaving a full-time position at the Tahoe Tribune….just 4 weeks after they awarded me ‘Sales Rep of the Year 2006’. Not good timing for them, but I had already laid a few months of ground work for the launch of Design Elements, Ltd. While we lived in Lake Tahoe, Ca., Steve had a few different experiences with solopreneurship, but the industry he kept coming back to was restaurant consulting.

What has been your primary motivation in being your own boss?

Sherry: Really lots of things: Passion for interior design and helping clients realize they can, with my help, create a space that reflects and enhances their lifestyle; being my own ‘boss’ and driving my own ship and all the good and bad that goes with that; also being able to create a team around me that allows me the opportunity to grow and guide accordingly.

Steve: I always have been a leader. From a young age as a competitive athlete, I seemed to naturally fit the role of team captain. In business, my mentors have been people like John Maxwell and Tony Dungy, both men of faith and excellent leaders. So this leadership has driven me to my charge which nowadays, at the age of 52, is the calling to help others succeed.

I imagine having two solopreneurs in the family allows you to share some resources; how does that help you in your independent businesses?

Sherry: I believe one of our major resources is our ability to collaborate on any type of project that each of us is working on. Because we have three businesses/brands under one roof (Restaurant Rescue Consulting, Local Mobile Apps and Design Elements, Ltd.), we are often bouncing ideas and strategies off of one another – and that ultimately benefits our clients.

Steve: I must agree with Sherry. For me, having her as a strategist is very powerful and enables me to better serve my/our clients!

Does sharing resources ever cause issues or problems? How so?

Sherry: Well…I would refer to the answer above about collaboration. Both of us have a tendency to interrupt the other with our ideas, questions, or general need for feedback. This “sense of urgency” on one person’s part isn’t always shared with the other :). It isn’t easy being married and being solopreneurs, and we do struggle with when to wear what “hat.” We are all in, and our efforts are 24/7, and there is sometimes a blurred line with being “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and being solopreneurs. We value each other’s skill set and experience and know that we have a synergy together that does help our clients.

What would you say challenges you most about having two solopreneurs in the family?

Sherry: In addition to knowing when to be “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and when to be solopreneurs, I would have to say the challenge of establishing quality family time with our daughter. I need to be better at telling myself to stop working and to focus on family. That is extremely hard for me because there is always a list of “to do” items that continually grows an evolves.

Steve: For me I’m not very patient sometimes and tend to want “my answers” immediately. So respecting each others space and time is paramount.

What would you say are the biggest benefits of having two solopreneurs in the family?

Sherry: Flexibility.

Steve: Amen… time for our daughter!

Do you find it difficult not to get overly involved in each other’s businesses? How do you draw the line and not step on each other’s toes?

Sherry: No, not difficult. I think Steve does his thing well with Restaurant Rescue Consulting, and I do my thing well with Design Elements, Ltd. We respect each other’s expertise in these distinctive industries and usually use each other as sounding boards on any variety of issues relating to leadership, coaching, marketing, sales within our respective projects.

Steve: Yep…what she said!

If you could give just one piece of advice to couples who are thinking about running two independent solo-businesses, what would it be?

Sherry: Know each other’s goals and plans for achieving success in each other’s respective businesses, and then be flexible, because plans never go exactly like they are on paper. Ideally, give each other more grace, patience and understanding….on both sides of the track – in your marriage and in your business.

Steve: Respect and patience!

Anything else you think is important to share?

Steve: Legacy..What can we give? Who can we serve? How can we teach our daughter? This is what matters most!

Sherry SmithAbout Sherry Smith
Sherry owns and operates Design Elements, Ltd., a Lancaster, PA-based interior decorating/design, home staging & redesign company focused on creating solutions to fit clients’ unique styles and preferences. She originally started her business in beautiful Lake Tahoe, CA, and has brought that West Coast influence to Central PA. From color consultations to complete remodels, Sherry has experience with space planning, style identification, furniture and fabric recommendations, lighting and fixtures selections, and case goods and accessory options for homes and businesses. 

About Steve Smith
Steve is a founding partner of Local-Mobile-Social Marketing, a Lancaster PA firm that helps businesses understand Steve Smithhow to market themselves effectively with new technology in this new world. He also runs a successful consulting business, Restaurant Rescue Consulting. Over the past 30 years, he has opened and operated more than a dozen start ups in the hospitality industry. His experience includes working with recognizable brands including Intrawest, Vail Resorts, and TGIFridays. His laser focus on aligning marketing strategy with business goals and objectives has enabled him to deliver his clients results that make a stronger bottom line.

Solopreneur Startup Smarts: East Coast and West Coast Solos Share What Works

No matter where you live and work, you’re going to make some really smart – and some not so smart – choices as you start out as a solopreneur. My friend, Carrie Chwierut of Carrie’s Social, and I launched our businesses at nearly the same time back in 2010. Carrie’s a west coast (California) gal and I’m near the east coast (eastern Pennsylvania), but despite our geographical differences, we have a lot in common. Both of us have learned some valuable lessons as our solo-businesses have grown and evolved over the past 4 years.

We’ve compared notes and are sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with you via a synchronized blogging exercise. Here on the Insatiable Solopreneur, I’m reflecting on what we’ve found to be among our smartest moves as new solopreneurs. On her blog, Carrie is sharing what we might have done differently had we known what we know today. So, after you read my post, please do pay a visit to Carrie’s blog to read her post!

Solopreneurial Smarts

What this East Coast Solo would do over again…Dawn Mentzer, East Coast Solopreneur, in Lancaster County Pennsylvania

• Joining the local regional chamber of commerce on Day 1 – and sticking with it!

While it didn’t pay off immediately, over time it has paid for itself many times over. Not only have I gained new clients, but I’ve been able to strengthen relationships with existing clients through my membership.

• Launching a website

Even if you don’t focus on generating leads from it, you need a place for people to go to learn more about you. Websites – particular those that are professionally-designed – give you credibility. I’m amazed at how many freelance writers don’t have websites. Depending on what type of business you have, it’s possible your competitors don’t either. Get there first. It will set you apart.

• Using Hootsuite and Buffer for posting to Twitter

Twitter is a different animal from other social channels. You can’t tweet once or twice a day to gain traction – you need to be prolific! Using Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule tweets and keep tabs on my social media activity has helped me build my online presence. That in turn has helped me build awareness of my brand and connect with some key folks who have brought some great projects my way.

• Getting personal on Linkedin

Sending personalized invitations (rather than the generic option) and responding with a personalized thank you to people who invite me to join their networks has opened to door to opportunities. By making that little bit of extra effort to connect with people, I’ve gotten face-to-face meetings and landed new projects.

• Volunteering strategically

When I transitioned from my corporate career to freelancing, I knew I needed to make more connections within the business community, learn more about being a biz owner, and build my portfolio of writing samples. I became a volunteer with SCORE and a board member of my local Main St. organization. Both experiences helped me build my network, skills and experience. Although my workload from clients is a lot more intense than it was when I first started my business, I still volunteer – only not quite so much.

Carrie Chwierut-West Coast Solopreneur-in CaliforniaThe West Coast Solo weighs in on what has worked for her…

• Launching a website

I completely agree with Dawn on this one! Creating a website was one of the first things I did. It makes you appear more professional and provides potential customers with a broader look at who you are and what your business is all about.

• Announcing it to family and friends

You have to be a little careful here. While you don’t want to bombard your family and friends with countless emails asking them to mention you to their friends, it doesn’t hurt to do a mass announcements to family, friends, past business contacts, etc. telling them that you’ve started a new business and what the services are.

• Joining a Social Media peer group

Finding the right peer group is so important when starting your business. I was lucky enough to have a group approach me about joining, and I gladly accepted. These groups give you a platform in which to vent, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of others in your field of work. The group I joined had a requirement that members share each other’s blog posts on their platforms, too, so it was a great way to support each other.

• “Honesty with clients…always” became my motto

From the start, I felt it important to be totally honest with clients. Whether it was telling them that I didn’t feel I was the best person for the job, or a constructive criticism of their current platforms (if they asked, of course!). If you’re honest with people from the start, you build trust and save yourself some potentially embarrassing and damaging situations down the road.

East, West, North, South…No matter where you’re located, you’ll discover that some of your choices will help put you on the map, while others will get you lost for a little while.

Now, check out Carrie’s post with our self-admitted solopreneurial blunders!
What decisions and actions served you well as you started your business?
Carrie’s California Image (background) courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dealing with Small Biz Stress: How Solopreneurs Can Take Control and Get Better Life Balance

Solopreneurs come from all industries, diverse business backgrounds, and  with varied expertise and skills. I find it Yoga personfascinating to discover what other solo biz owners like most about being solopreneurs – and what they find most challenging.  Although we’re “solo,” we’re all in it together really. We can learn from each other and all become better small business owners as a result.

My Q&A with Solopreneur Dr. Ann Lee.

Ann owns Health for Life Clinic in Lancaster, PA. As a solopreneur in the healthcare field, she faces some unique business challenges, but there’s also a lot that she has in common with the rest of us. Within this post, not only does she share what she believes are the perks and pitfalls of solo biz ownership, she also provides some helpful advice on how we can all better deal with the stresses of solopreneurship.

As a solopreneur, what do you find most rewarding about owning your own small business?

Ann: The freedom and creativity you can have with owning your own small business . . . if you have an idea – you can implement it quickly and see right away if it works or not. You get instant feedback, and can work on improvements quickly. Clients can give you feedback, and they can see them incorporated the next day. You can really make a difference in people’s lives, and clients notice and appreciate the work that you do.

As a solopreneur, what do you find most challenging about owning your own small business?

Ann: Because your business is your lifeline, you will dedicate and sacrifice a lot of time and effort into it. It is totally rewarding in the end, but it is up to you to set your own boundaries and still have a ‘good work life balance.’ So the most challenging is setting those boundaries.

In your practice, what health complaints do you hear most from patients who are solopreneurs or professionals which can be attributed to the stresses of being in business?

Ann: The most common health complaints are those attributed to stress: high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive complaints, sore/aching muscles and joints, chronic fatigue and dependence on coffee.

What are some lifestyle changes business professionals could consider for alleviating stress and performing better mentally and physically when under pressure?

Ann: The most challenging thing to do, as I mentioned before, is actually scheduling time regularly throughout your schedule for mini-vacations or stress relieving activities. If you don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen. And if you don’t make it a priority, it doesn’t happen either. I find professionals who schedule relaxing activities regularly such as golf, yoga, meditation, perform better and are able to create better business relationships. There are many options available for relaxing activities that resonate with you and fit into your schedule.

A simple nutrition tip is to never skip breakfast, to start off your day with a full tank of gas.

To maximize restful sleep, it helps to unload your thoughts on a piece of paper before going to bed, or to have a to-do list always on hand so that it doesn’t stay on your mind to ruminate over while trying to go to sleep.

Ball’s in your court!

Some wonderful takeaways, right?! I think Ann hit on one of the biggest challenges we all face as solopreneurs. We put so much time, energy, and focus into our businesses, but we often neglect the bodies and minds our businesses need to succeed. I know I could definitely do a better job at getting enough sleep, stepping away from the stress, and living in the moment when with family and friends. How about you?

My thanks to Ann for sharing her experience as a solopreneur and for giving us sound, sensible advice. Now it’s up to us to use it!

Dr. Ann Lee of Health for Life ClinicAbout Dr. Ann Lee
Ann Lee, is a naturopathic doctor & acupuncturist, serving Lancaster, PA in complementary & alternative medicine, with a specialty in infertility (natural fertility). At Health For Life Clinic, Inc., she provides patients with comprehensive, personalized healthcare through acupuncture, naturopathic and holistic medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, herbs, and lifestyle improvement. For more information about her and her practice, visit her website.

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By Dawn Mentzer

Yoga Image courtesy of sattva / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Business Untruths Solopreneurs Need to Ignore

Don’t believe everything people tell you about running a business.

As you start and build your business as a solopreneur, you’ll discover that not everything people tell you is right. While whatTime for Truth image they tell you may be true in their particular situations, that doesn’t mean following their advice will be right for your business. I’m now in my fourth year as a freelance writing solopreneneur, and along the way I’ve discovered a few myths (which I believe truly are myths for nearly all solopreneurs) in need of busting.

 4 Business Untruths You Can Kick to the Curb

  • You need to have something other than a home office. – Unless your business depends on you working with clients in your office, you can do just fine with a home office. If you need to occasionally meet with clients, you can see them at their location (always convenient for them!), take them out for coffee or lunch, or book a meeting room at your local library or other facility that offers conference rooms by the hour. I’ve never had a client frown upon the fact that I don’t have an out-of-home office. And with the growth of freelancing as a career, working from a home office is becoming more of a rule than the exception. Just be sure you have a home office that is purely a business space where you have all the amenities you need and where you’ll be free from other distractions within your house .

  • Before you can include a particular type of project in your suite of services, you need to have done that type of work before. – Yes. You must have the knowledge and skill set needed to work on a project, but it’s not always necessary to have the same type of project under your belt to get the business and do the job well. As long as your talents are transferrable, there’s no reason why you can’t add a service to your offerings or take on projects clients inquire about. DO be honest with your clients and tell them if you haven’t worked on the type of project they’re asking about. Then go on to say why you believe you’ll be a good fit regardless. In my own case, it wasn’t until recently when I was approached about writing the audio for marketing-focused video scripts. I immediately disclosed to my client I hadn’t worked on those types of projects before, but that I had full confidence I could do a great job for him. He was more than willing to bring me onto the job – and since then we’ve worked together on those types of projects several times over the past few months.
  • You can’t walk away from business – You can. And you should when clients or projects don’t align with your goals, values, or available time. Know the warning signs of difficult clients – unreasonable deadlines, unresponsive when asked questions or for feedback on work, disrespectful of your “off hours” time, constantly changing the scope of work. Also, carefully consider taking on projects you will absolutely abhor or that are outside of what you want to focus on in your business. Nearly a year ago, I opted to no longer take on proofreading projects. Why? I don’t enjoy them. AT ALL! I had to forfeit a good client as a result and have turned that type of work from other prospects away since I made the decision. I also ran into a situation where I turned business away from what could have been a quite lucrative ongoing endeavor. After just a brief amount of time dealing with the client contact, I decided the interpersonal deficiencies (OK, that’s my very nice way of saying she was a total B to me!) were something I was in no way willing to put up with on a continual basis.No matter the situation, respectfully explain why you’re not interested in taking on the work or doing business with someone.
  • You won’t be able to grow your business unless you hire employees. – Payroll, turn-over, Obama-Care…No thanks! But just because you’ve decided to be a business of one employee (a.k.a. YOU), doesn’t mean you can’t grow your revenue or your suite of available services or products. Much of what you can do depends on how well you manage your time and resources. Take advantage of the free and low-cost productivity and business organizational tools available to you. A few of my personal favorites are Trello, Evernote, and Toggl. Save time and effort logging into the online networks you access with an online password manager like LastPass. Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite. Outsource a few administrative tasks to a bookkeeping pro or virtual assistant. And if you’re looking to expand your business offerings to clients, partner with other freelancers who provide complementary services.

The more time you spend as a solopreneur, the more advice you’ll get from others in business. Remember, not everything you hear will apply to you. When you receive well-meaning guidance, listen. Then consider how it meshes with your own unique business and aspirations before acting – or not acting – on it.

Your turn! What business myths have you busted in your solo-business?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Get Unstuck from a Rut

The Roller Coaster Ride of Being in Business

As fall fair season ramps up here in south central Pennsylvania, I can’t help but reflect on the parallels between being in business as a solopreneur and the thrills of amusement park rides and carnival games of chance. Starting your own businessRoller Coaster is exciting and invigorating. You meet twists and turns, and you often don’t know what’s around the corner waiting for you. It’s a rush!

But after a while, some of that adrenaline naturally subsides as you settle into the business of doing business. That doesn’t mean you no longer have passion for what you do; it means you’ve become more secure, confident and have a better handle on what to expect. Oddly, that positive sign of professional development can make you feel like stagnant and stalled.

Hitting “Refresh” To Regain Your Small Biz Mojo – Getting Out of the Rut

Recently, Carol Roth featured a post by Shanna Mallon that offers some great tips for giving the humdrum the heave ho and breathing new life into your entrepreneurial attitude.

My additions to the list:

  • Get out and learn something new in the name of professional development – There are all sorts of free and low-cost seminars and informative sessions out there that you can attend to stimulate your brain and broaden your knowledge. Check out programs at local chambers of commerce, SCORE chapters near you, public libraries, etc.
  • Experiment – Do you focus on a tight niche? Consider taking on a project that you’re confident you can ace, but that is outside of your normal realm of work. For example, a writer who specializes in blogs for business consultants might consider doing a feature article for a travel and tourism publication. Use your transferable skills to add some spice to your workload.

What about you? If you’ve found yourself in a rut, what have you done to beat the monotony and find the fascination again?

by Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

25 Worst – and Most Risky – Passwords that You Should NEVER Use

Secure Passwords Are Often a Passing Thought

Yes. As sensible solopreneurs and small business owners, we know we should create passwords that are long, random and Protecting your online passwordsdifferent for every online site we access so hackers can’t crack them so easily.

No. A lot of us don’t do that.

Why? It’s a pain in the @$#. Who has the time and patience to keep track of unique login info for ten…twenty…thirty sites? And what’s the point? With hackers using sophisticated techniques, does it really make a difference?

According to Kevin Doel, spokesperson for SplashData (developer of the popular SplashID password management software), although hackers have more and more tools at their disposal, they still look for easy targets.

In particular, hackers seek people who:

  • Stick with default or common passwords (admin, password, 12345, abc123)
  • Use the same passwords over and over again on different sites
  • Use short passwords of less than 7 or 8 characters
  • Don’t change passwords often
  • Write down passwords or put them in a spreadsheet or other unprotected document

The Bad and the Ugly in Passwords

Every year, SplashData compiles its annual list of “Worst Passwords” representing the most common passwords used on the Internet and posted by hackers. If you use any of these passwords, you’re among the most likely to be victims in future breaches.

On SplashData’s most recent list, “password” (uh…no comment!) reclaimed it’s #1 ranking.  But “Jesus” has made His debut on the list – giving hackers a reason to sing “Hallelujah!” And the hacker’s savior is joined by “ninja”, “mustang,” and “password1.”

The top three passwords on this year’s list – “password,” “123456,” and “12345678” – remain unchanged from the previous list.

Top 25 Worst Passwords:

1. password
2. 123456
3. 12345678
4. abc123
5. qwerty
6. monkey
7. letmein
8. dragon
9. 111111
10. baseball
11. iloveyou
12. trustno1
13. 1234567
14. sunshine
15. master
16. 123123
17. welcome
18. shadow
19. ashley
20. football
21. jesus
22. michael
23. ninja
24. mustang
25. password1

“SplashData compiled this list from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers,” explains Doel. “They advise consumers or businesses using any of the passwords on the list to change them immediately.”

By posting an annual list of frequently used passwords, SplashData aims to demonstrate that many people continue to put themselves – and even their customers in some cases – at risk by using weak, easily guessable passwords. The company hopes to motivate people to adopt stronger passwords. More complex passwords really can protect individuals, small business owners – and their identities – from criminals.

While the tools for hacking into accounts get more sophisticated, thieves continue to prefer easy targets.  That’s why even a just a little more effort in selecting better passwords will go a long way toward making you safer online. “These days, your most valuable asset is digital information,” says Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData. “Just think of the implications if someone got access to your usernames, passwords, email, and online accounts.”

And that happens all too often because hackers are skilled at discovering or guessing information that lets them log in to  people’s accounts and services on the web.

How can you make your passwords more secure?

SplashData recommends that you do the following to help protect your passwords from hackers:

  • Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters. To create longer, more secure passwords that will be easy to remember, consider using short words with spaces or other characters separating them. Some examples: “bake pie at 9!” or “car_drive_city?”
  • Don’t use the same username/password combination for multiple websites. Whenever you sign up for a new website, use a password you’re not using for any other website. Particularly risky is using the same password for entertainment sites that you do for online email, social networking, and financial services.

So how on earth can you remember so many different passwords? Don’t even try! Instead, consider using a password manager application that organizes and protects passwords and that can log you into websites automatically.

Given what’s at stake – your identity, client information, your bank accounts… – it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to strengthen passwords and protect yourself from hackers.

You’re turn! How do you manage your passwords? Please share about what’s been working for you to keep your passwords organized and secure.

Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net