Is Fear Putting The Freeze On Your Small Business Dreams?

One of the biggest hurdles to accomplishing anything is gaining the confidence to get started. That’s certainly true for launchingMarie-Curie-Quote-Green-background-black-text your own business.

I was ‘fortunate’ when I started out as a freelance writer seven years ago. The corporation I had worked for (for 17 years) was acquired and my position was eliminated, therefore forcing me to buck up and make a change. What started out as a career upset has led me to this fulfilling career that offers flexibility and an opportunity to shape my own professional destiny.

But had I not needed to make a change, I honestly don’t know that I would have taken the leap. The prospect of self-employment was scary to me. Having been a SCORE mentor several years ago, I’ve talked to other aspiring entrepreneurs who have found it scary, too. So scary, in fact, that they failed to launch. They gave in and gave up before they got going.

Is fear standing in your way of starting your own business?

  • Fear of being laughed at
  • Fear of not knowing enough
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of wasting your time
  • Fear of other people’s criticism
  • Fear of not making enough money
  • Fear of hard work
  • Fear of letting other people down
  • Fear of letting yourself down

These fears aren’t to be downplayed as insignificant or silly, but they are to be overcome.

How can you do that?

  1. Assess your skills realistically, not through the lens of self-criticism.
  2. Do your homework to find out what’s involved.
  3. Prepare by making a plan.
  4. Start.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” ~ Marie Curie

 

Your turn! What fears are you facing in your business pursuits? What fears have you overcome and how have you done that?

4 Tips To Help Solopreneurs And Freelancers Survive Tax Time

stressed business woman with hand on head looking down on desk

Another tax season wrapped up for Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC.

 

[Sighs with relief.]

 

Over my past seven years as a self-employed freelancer, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ve learned some lessons—some painless, others excruciating.

 

I’ve listed them here, in hopes they might help you and other solopreneurs avoid stress (and distress) through your tax preparation process.

 

Four Tax Time Survival Tips For Freelancers and Solopreneurs

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Unless you are an accountant or professional tax advisor, I recommend getting help. Reputable professional tax preparers/advisors are on top of the latest changes and rules. They know what business expenses are deductible and whether you’ve categorized them appropriately. Having someone with that knowledge to guide you and raise red flags on bookkeeping that’s amiss can potentially save you from falling into hot water with the IRS and state. And recognize that bigger doesn’t mean better. I used a larger accounting/tax preparation firm, but after a few years of not getting timely responses to questions and being treated like just a number, I switched to a solopreneur tax adviser/preparer. He has been far more thorough and attentive—and less expensive.

 

  1. It pays to keep your act together all year long.

The more organized you are year-round, the more painless the tax return filing process will be. Track your income and expenses when they occur rather than allowing deposit slips and receipts to pile up. For my business, I use QuickBooks online, which I’ve found to have intuitive software with the intelligence to automatically categorize expenses correctly through ‘remembering’ what I’ve entered in the past. Regardless of what system or software you use, you need to put forth effort to make sure you haven’t missed anything that will impact your taxes. Good luck to you if you ignore that responsibility until tax time is upon you!

 

  1. Yours and your clients’ records might not match.

It happens. For example, I discovered a client mistakenly included a payment they made to another vendor in the amount on my 1099. I also had a client who included payments made in the new tax year on the 1099 for the tax year prior. To make incidents like these less of a hassle, consider confirming 1099 amounts with your clients before they send their forms to you. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to verify their records match yours in advance of when they or their accountants prepare and submit their forms. By doing so, if you find discrepancies, you and your clients can investigate and correct them right away. If errors are in your clients’ records, you’ll save them the trouble of issuing a corrected 1099. If the errors are in your records, you’ll be able to make the correction and ensure you’re including accurate income amounts on your tax return.

 

  1. What you don’t know could hurt you.

Twice—that’s right, twice—in my seven years of self-employment, I underestimated my revenue and I failed to pay enough tax. As a result, I had to write a substantive check to Uncle Sam upon filing my taxes for those years. That hurt—especially because I had to also cut a check for my quarterly estimated tax payments by April 15. Double whammy! My suggestion to you is to watch your net income closely and adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments if needed so you’re not stuck owing a bundle at tax filing time. In my case, I’ve found checking in with my tax advisor mid-year has helped. I send my profit and loss statement and other info as requested to him at least once during the tax year, so he can let me know if I should increase or decrease my quarterly payments.

 

Keep Calm: And Make Tax Time Less Taxing

Paying taxes is not the most glamorous part of having your own business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a massively difficult ordeal. I hope considering these lessons learned along with getting the help of a qualified tax advisor will help you minimize some of the stress that accompanies tax time.

 

Your turn! What tips can you share with other small business owners to help them make tax time less tumultuous?

5 Ways To Screw Up Working With A Freelance Writer

Nothing can put a damper on your marketing and corporate communications mojo more than not having a consistent and clear Orange text box with white font "OOPS! Don't Do It Again."brand voice. We all know businesses that struggle with that—maybe you’re one of them.

 

Consistency builds recognition and customer trust. Every brand—small and large—depends on those things to succeed.

 

So when you find a freelance writer who understands you, you won’t want to let her (or him) get away! You’ll want to do what you can to build a long-term working relationship and avoid pet peeves that might drive writers away.

 

Five Ways To Ruin Your Working Relationship With A Freelance Writer

 

  • Waiting Until The Last Minute

Contrary to what some people believe, a career in freelance writing demands managing time carefully. A well-established freelance writer will have a full project schedule that doesn’t allow much (if any at all) bandwidth to work on rush assignments that pop up out of nowhere. While true writing ‘emergencies’ might occasionally happen, most often we-need-it-yesterday projects happen because of poor planning. Get your act together so you can give your writer enough time to do the job well without undue stress.

 

  • Not Providing Enough Direction Or Information

Even though you should expect a writer to bring the element of creativity to assignments, you still need to share some details, expectations, and guidelines. Are there word-count constraints or requirements? Who is the target audience? What purpose will the piece of content serve? Is there a subject matter expert at your company whom the writer can call with questions and to draw out more information? What key details should the writer incorporate in the content? By providing as much information and direction as possible up-front, you’ll allow your writer to focus on producing great content rather than pulling teeth.

 

  • Not Responding With Feedback

Nothing is more disheartening than busting butt to accommodate a client’s deadline and then receiving radio silence after sending a draft for review. If your writer has pulled out all the stops to meet your schedule, do her the courtesy of responding with your feedback and change requests in a timely manner. At the very least, acknowledge you received her work and let her know if you won’t have time to review it until later.

 

  • Starting…Stopping…Then Restarting A Project

I’ve been a part of several projects that seemed to live on forever because clients didn’t make them a priority or even a passing thought. Starting, stopping, and then restarting a project after it has been on hold for months or years demands more time and effort than a writer has bargained for. It requires re-visiting every detail and getting up to speed all over again. That’s frustrating and infuriating. If you begin a project, be prepared to see it through on your end.

 

  • Habitually Not Paying On Time

Because freelancers can only handle so many clients simultaneously, getting paid on time is essential to their business success. If you constantly make a writer shake you down for the money you owe, you’re hurting her cash flow. Ouch! And that will hurt your chances of having that writer work on future projects for you.

 

Freelance writers are an adaptable lot and realize s*&% happens, but frequent offenses that create a difficult working situation will eventually take their toll. Fortunately, with some planning and common courtesy, you can do your part to build a mutually beneficial client-writer relationship—one that will last long-term and facilitate a consistent brand voice.

 

Your turn!

Are you a freelancer who has struggled with any of these issues? How have you overcome them with your clients?

Are you a client who has built a long-standing relationship with a freelance writer? What tips can you share about creating a successful working relationship?

Freelancers And Small Business Owners: Being Great At Your Craft Isn’t Enough

You’re an experienced and talented [insert professional specialty here]. That’s a fabulous selling point, but it may not be enough Black text Value Is Everything on blue backgroundto attract your ideal clients or keep them happy for the long-term.

 

Sure, when you excel at the work you do, you have a competitive edge. To sharpen that edge, however, you may need to demonstrate other important skills, too.

 

Besides seeing yourself as a freelancer/professional extraordinaire doing your craft, strive to fulfill other roles, as well, to make yourself an invaluable resource to your customers.

 

Three Personas To Improve Your Professionalism

 

Competent Project Manager

Some clients have it all together—others not so much. If you have project management skills, you can fill a critical void for customers who lack the ability to organize efforts and keep projects on track. I was fortunate to have had the experience of working as a telecom product manager in my past career. Tasked with managing time lines and deliverables across various groups, the competence I developed in coordinating projects has become one of my biggest value propositions as a freelance writer.

 

Kick-Ass Communicator

Describing products and services, proposing rates, setting expectations, confirming responsibilities, explaining processes, and so on—things every business owner needs to do almost daily—all require communicating clearly. Concentrate on organizing your thoughts and getting to the point in conversations written and spoken. As an accomplished communicator, you can more effectively avoid misunderstandings and ensure you and your clients will be on the same page.

 

Intuitive Listener

Listening so you absorb what clients are saying, recognizing the motivation behind their words, and going a little above and beyond to understand their challenges can really set you apart. By getting to the heart of your clients’ issues rather than simply treating symptoms with Band-Aid solutions, you will earn trust, respect, and hopefully long-term business relationships. For example, I regularly have prospects come to me thinking their websites’ existing content is why they aren’t generating online leads. But after listening to them, reviewing their content, and looking at the big picture, I often find content alone isn’t their problem, and my services independently wouldn’t significantly improve their outcomes. In those situations, I refer these customers to other professionals who have the ability to fill the voids I cannot (like website design/development, SEO, and social media strategy).

 

The Value Of Being More

By developing these identities within your professional persona, you become more than just a service provider—you become an indispensable asset to your clients.

 

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” ~ Warren Buffett

 

Give them value and you’ll gain trust, respect, and loyalty.

 

What will you do to be more today?

What if? “La La Land”-inspired Food For Thought For Small Business Owners

If you wander back in time through my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll find evidence I fell in love with the movie “La La Land.”

I’m often skeptical when a film gets obscene amounts of accolades, but this one deserves every single ounce of the kudos heaped Screen shot of Dawn Mentzer's Facebook post about movie La La Landupon it.

It’s a story of chasing dreams, the sting of reality, love found, hopes dashed, and fresh starts.

It’s also a story of “what ifs.” It’s a story of looking back and wondering how life and career would be different if we had done just one thing differently.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? Personally and professionally we wonder what our lives would be like if we had made other choices.

What if I had said that more tactfully?

What if I hadn’t lost my temper?

What if I had gone to that networking event?

What if I had quoted a different rate for that project?

What if I had said “no”?

What if I had said “yes”?

What if I had taken my time?

What if I had been more careful?

What if I hadn’t jumped to conclusions?

What if I had told the truth?

What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?

What if I had spoken my mind?

What if I had tried to be more understanding?

What if I had tried harder?

What if I had been more caring?

What if I hadn’t given up?

Every decision we make, every action we take—no matter how seemingly insignificant—affects how the future will progress. Turning down a coffee meeting, posting a contradictory comment on someone’s social media post, deleting an email before reading it…you never know when something you decide to do—or not do—will make or break opportunities and shape how your relationships develop.

What if we all put a little more thought into the little decisions we make every day?

Your turn: What “what ifs” make you wonder how things might be different today if you had made some other choices yesterday?

The Satisfaction Of Creating Doesn’t Pay The Bills

Some people would have you believe if you want a profitable business in a creative field, something’s not morally right with you.Words "Reality Check" In blue and yellow on white background

Sadly, in certain social circles there’s some stigma attached to wanting to make money so you can afford nice things and take part in the recreational pursuits you enjoy.

 

As someone who is self-employed in a creative role, I’ve sometimes questioned my motivation, purpose, and the rates I charge upon reading articles and social media posts that hint we’re misguided if we’re looking out for our bottom line.

 

Enough already.

 

Starving Artist Reality Check

There’s no shame in wanting to come out ahead and have the means to provide for yourself and your family.

 

Not every creative professional finds glory in “starving artist” status. While the creative process is enough to satisfy some writers, painters, photographers, and other artistic sorts, others of us want to make a decent living and have a little extra for our trouble and talent, as well. We want not only the satisfaction of creating, but we also aspire to achieve and sustain a desirable standard of living.

 

Don’t let anyone fool you. Wanting to do well financially in your business of being a creative doesn’t make you greedy, self-centered, or unethical.

 

To the contrary, it demands you must be even more fair, customer-focused, and responsible.

 

Running a profitable business in a creative field doesn’t mean you’ve sold out. It instead shows you have the heart, soul, and determination to not only survive but also thrive when doing the work you love.

 

Think and share your thoughts: Have your love of creativity and desire for profitability ever collided? How have you struck the right balance?

My New Year’s Resolution: Take More.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I figured, “Why not?” Focusing on making ourselves better and doing Write it on your heart quote showing woman looking out to seaour work more effectively doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. I certainly have room for improvement, so I think laying out some strategies to become the person and solopreneur I strive to be makes sense.

 

In thinking through what I’d like to achieve in 2017, I discovered a theme.

 

I realize I need to “take” more.

Take stock.

Why is it we tend to dwell on what’s not right or what’s lacking in our personal and professional lives? I intend to start and end each day on a note of gratitude, taking stock of all I have to be thankful for.

Take 5 more often.

I’ve learned that overextending myself and cramming too much into too little time doesn’t benefit anyone. Not me. Not my family. Not my clients. Not my friends. When I need breaks, I’m going to take them. None of us can sustain a schedule that doesn’t leave room for rest and recovery.

Take a deep breath.

It seems as though we’re always jumping. Jumping to conclusions, jumping to judgment, and jumping at chances. But leaping before looking can lead to poor decisions and destroyed relationships. I vow to allow myself the time to take a breath and listen and think before offering opinions and making choices. I don’t know anyone who has ever regretted or suffered as a result of carefully thinking before speaking or acting on something, do you?

Take care.

Rushing never yields quality results. By consciously and methodically taking care, I can better avoid making those stupid little mistakes that gnaw at the core of my being for hours on end. Doing it right the first time saves time and sustains self-confidence.

Take a chill pill.

I’m a worrier. Not so much about myself but about others who I care about and who are going through difficult times. That’s not productive. Worry helps no one. What does help is keeping a cool head, giving a shoulder to lean on, providing guidance, and offering a helping hand.

Take it with a grain of salt.

Constructive criticism from trusted advisors and other people who care about you can serve as valuable feedback to move you down a more successful path. But naysayers offering unsolicited advice or making disparaging remarks about you or how you do something typically don’t have your best interests at heart. I intend to take their words with a grain of salt and consider their motivation. If someone offers harsh words that aren’t in the spirit of helping you improve, then it’s likely they’re driven by jealousy, rivalry, or by an inherently mean disposition.

The Overarching Plan For The New Year

So, my plan to take control of 2017 is to take more. What have you placed on your list of resolutions? Could you benefit from taking more, too, in the New Year?

 

Six Ways Running A Small Business Is Like Raising A Rescue Pit Bull

I started my freelance writing business in 2010. My family and I adopted an adolescent pit bull mix from a rescue organizationYoung black and white pit bull with family on adoption day in late 2015.

 

Although the two endeavors may seem unrelated, I’ve discovered many parallels exist between being a “mom” to our pittie, Lulu, and running my business. Both have brought their fair share of challenges and triumphs. And in many ways, they’ve required a similar mindset and methodology to move things in a positive, productive direction.

 

What launching/running a small business and raising a rescue pit bull have in common:

 

  • You need patience.

Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight, and there are often setbacks along the way. Similarly, gaining the trust and respect of a rescue pup may require an extended time frame. When I transitioned from a corporate job to starting my own business, it took a couple of years before I went from “feast or famine” mode to having a consistently full plate of work from clients. After adopting Lulu one year ago (she had two homes and was in residence at a rescue twice prior to coming to us), we’re still working on some trust and behavioral issues. Patience isn’t optional when raising a dog that has been through disruption and disappointment—nor is it optional when building a business.

 

  • You can’t get lazy.

Starting and running a business requires your energy and attention nearly all of the time. Likewise, pit bulls are of a breed that typically needs A LOT of exercise and mental stimulation. You need to stay motivated and put forth constant effort to make things work. Lulu needs miles of brisk walks each day, bouts of play when she can go “all out” to expend pent-up energy, and training exercises to stimulate her brain. Without those things, she becomes mischievous and less obedient, akin to a naughty toddler.

 

Similarly, your business will retaliate if you ignore its basic needs. Unless you tend to every aspect of running your company, you’ll eventually lose control.

 

  • Bad behavior, if not corrected, could come back to bite you.

I don’t mean that literally. Pit bulls get a bad rap even though they ranked 4th among 122 different canine breeds in temperament testing by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. But I digress.

 

With Lulu, I’ve learned that consistently reinforcing good behavior and discouraging what isn’t desirable has helped her gain more self-control and confidence in stressful or overstimulating situations. Mixed messages don’t work when training rescue dogs—and they don’t work in business either. If you pick up bad habits and don’t make the effort to follow through on what you begin, you’ll either miss—or screw up—opportunities. Exercising self-discipline and setting ground rules are the keys to accomplishing your goals.

 

  • You might bite off more than you can chew if you don’t do some research first.

Although I’ve always had dogs as part of my family, Lulu is my first pit bull. Because her breed is so widely misunderstood, adopting her brought with it a higher level of responsibility than if we had rescued a different type of dog. Thankfully, we took some time to educate ourselves about pit bulls before jumping in and bringing her home. Oh, we still met some surprises and challenges, but having a foundation of knowledge and understanding has definitely helped us.

Similarly, if you don’t prepare yourself with some self-education before starting and running a business, you could find yourself overwhelmed. With legal, accounting, marketing, sales, and every other responsibility to manage, you need take stock of what you know, what you don’t know, and what resources you’ll need to cover all the bases.

 

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all system for success.

Some training techniques that have worked for other pit bull owners have not worked for us. Some popular approaches to thwarting undesirable behavior either excite Lulu, putting her into crazy overstimulation mode, or they have no effect at all. We’ve had to go through a long process of trial and error.

 

Running a business successfully also requires experimentation. What has worked for other business owners won’t necessarily be the right M.O. for you. While it’s to your advantage to be open to advice from others, consider that your situation isn’t the same as theirs.

 

I’ve also discovered that to some degree I need to adjust my working style to accommodate individual clients’ needs and preferences. Although I have some standard rules of engagement that I’m not willing to comprise, I’ve found it’s extremely beneficial to exercise some flexibility. For example, with some clients I collaborate and exchange information predominantly via email, attaching content via Word documents. With others, I share content via Google Drive. And then others prefer using Trello. The point is, you’ll likely find your clients will have their own way of doing things, and you’ll add value and gain loyalty by accommodating them. Before you agree, however, make sure their approach will work efficiently for you and won’t add unreasonable amounts of time or cost.

 

  • It’s well worth the hard work.

There’s satisfaction in seeing positive results after you’ve put mind, body, and soul into an endeavor. This is true when your business is thriving and when raising a rescue dog who becomes well adjusted in your care.

 

When I think about how I went from “zero” customers and feeling as though I had to grab whatever work I could find to now having loyal, quality clients who often max-out project schedule, I’m thankful and fulfilled.

 

As for Lulu, I feel pride and a sense of great accomplishment at how far she has come in so many ways since we brought her home a little over a year ago.

 

Assuming the “Leader Of The Pack” Role

Whether you’re running a business or raising a pit bull, to make it work you must pledge your commitment to putting forth the effort and not shying away from the challenge. You’ll have good days when the world is all belly rubs and off-leash romps. You’ll have crappy days that feel like long, long walks on a short leash.

As the pack leader, it’s on you to make the most of opportunities and overcome obstacles.

 

Your turn: If you’re a entrepreneur and pit bull (or other breed) dog mom/dad, what parallels have you drawn between running your business and raising your rescue dog?

And for those of you just considering making a pet a part of your family, remember to “adopt don’t shop”!

Are You Squandering Your Time And Energy?

 

I can’t recall any event in my 52 years of existence that has distracted people more than this current presidential election.Alarm clock with blurry man's face behind it

 

Friends, family, acquaintances, and business contacts are on what appears to be a never-ending social media crusade to voice their disbelief, disappointment, dismay, and fury.

 

It’s their right.

 

We live in a country that allows and encourages free speech and free will. Amen.

 

However, I can’t help but wonder: How are they accomplishing anything at home or at work?

 

With vast amounts of energy spent:

 

  • Complaining;
  • Scouring the Internet for articles to support their viewpoints and confirm their suspicions; and
  • Arguing with others who don’t agree with them;

 

Are they able to capably focus on anything else?

 

None of us has limitless amounts of time or energy—especially freelance professionals and small business owners.

 

Every day, we have to choose on what tasks and which people we will spend our hours and effort.

 

If we don’t choose wisely, we don’t have anyone else to blame when we fall short on our goals.

 

I’m thankful for the freedom to spend my time and energy as I please. And I vow to exercise common sense in how I use those precious resources each and every day.

 

Squandering is not an option.

 

 

Forget More Cowbell; Your Blog Content Should Have More Of This Instead

Thanks to the flawless comic delivery of Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, “More cowbell,” has become one of the most recognized modern one-liners.

 

While more cowbell might solve some problems, unfortunately, it won’t do much to help your marketing efforts succeed. You can bang out more cowbell until…ahem… the cows come home, but it won’t make your audience more impelled to read and engage with your content.

 

What does your content need?

 

Put down your bell and do more of these two things instead:

 

Let Your Personality Sing

Unless you’re writing a technical manual, an academic piece, or something that otherwise demands a heightened degree of stuffiness and formality, relax a little. Writing in a conversational tone helps readers stay tuned in and makes them better able to grasp your message. Write like you speak so your content sounds natural and genuine. In the process:

 

  • Include references to things readers can relate to (e.g., cowbell).
  • Share relevant personal experiences to help your audience connect with the topic and to you as the author.
  • Avoid too much jargon, and don’t use fancy-dancy words to demonstrate your intelligence.

 

Approaching your writing in a more casual, conversational way doesn’t mean you will forfeit professionalism. To the contrary, you’ll improve your professional image by putting out content that readers will want to consume and share.

 

The “You” Factor

“You” is one of the most powerful words you can use in your marketing content. It instantly makes your readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.

 

Work more “you” into your writing rather than using third person references.

 

For example, if I had written the first two sentences under this bullet as shown below, it would lose its direct connection to the reader, “’You” is one of the most powerful words business marketers can use in their marketing content. It instantly makes their readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.”

 

And “you” becomes especially important when you’re writing about your services and products. Rather than dominating your content with sentences that begin with “We can…” or “We will…” or similar “we” wording, shift the focus on the reader and the benefits they can expect. For example: “If you…” or “You will find…” or “You’ll discover…” bring your readers into what otherwise might sound self-centered and pushy.

 

Final Notes (“Notes,” Get it?)

While more cowbell won’t make your small business marketing efforts smash hits, paying attention to how you approach the voicecow with cowbell around neck of your content can help give you star quality. Infuse more of your unique self into your writing style and speak to (rather than at) your readers.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks have helped you connect with your readers?