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?

 

 

 

Where Has The “Friend” In “Facebook Friend” Gone?

Social media has been an ugly place lately.Sad-faced emoji

 

Spewing of vicious insults.

 

Pointing of fingers.

 

Drawing microscopic attention to every flaw and foible.

 

Dragging of friends and family into the fray.

 

What’s that? You thought I was talking about Hillary and Donald?

 

Sadly, no. I’m seeing all of those things happening in my Facebook news feed and on the timelimes of friends, business colleagues, and casual acquaintances.

 

I’m seriously astounded—and sorely disappointed—by the show of intolerance of others’ rights to their own opinions on social media. Disagreement over who should be elected President should neither be a relationship deal breaker nor a free pass to trash others. The POTUS will be in office for four (or maybe eight) years. Disowning relatives and removing friends from your holiday party guest list in the heat of the moment could become lifelong regrets.

 

We all have to do a better job at accepting that people will disagree with us. And we have to do much better at realizing we can’t accurately make assumptions about someone’s personal nature when they see things differently than we do.

 

On social media, it’s not so much whether we support Trump or Clinton that shines a light on our true character; it’s how we treat and react to others—even those who have decided to vote for the candidate not of our choosing.

 

Are you fed up with the less than friendly way your Facebook friends are conducting themselves on social media? Have you had fallings-out with friends and family because of disagreements over the upcoming election? Please feel free to share (or vent) here—respectfully, of course!

Crappy Day? Consider These 18 Ideas To Make It Less Crappy.

These past several weeks have been tough. My freshman daughter took a hit to her self-confidence after making it to call backs for young-african-american-girl-with-thumbs-upthe high school fall play but not getting chosen for the cast. We rescued a sweet Staffordshire terrier/Pitbull mix (Loki) and discovered that the fit won’t be a good one with our resident female pitty mix. And my last remaining grandparent was diagnosed with esophageal cancer; it could be just days or weeks before she departs this earth.

Unable to make it all better for my daughter, grappling with the feeling of failing Loki even as we have found a new loving home for him, and losing my 91-year-old grandma—all at once—has tested my strength and coping abilities. Very little of what has come our way has been in my control. I struggle with that.

Feeling sorry for myself and unempowered isn’t an option. And while I realize I can’t change the present circumstances, I know there’s always a way to make any situation better by doing something that you feel really good about. So after experiencing the mental after effect of giving a homeless man a $5 bill in downtown Lancaster last week, I felt inspired to tweet this the other day…

Tweet by Dawn Mentzer

Staying aware of moments when you can do something nice, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, really can help restore some hope, happiness, and control when you’re at a low point.

And there are plenty of opportunities to make someone else’s day a little brighter or easier; we just have to listen beyond the noise and look beyond the dark veil of our own misfortunes to hear and see them.

Whether with friends, family, clients, colleagues, or complete strangers, you can help turn days around—for them and for you—with…

Simple and immediately uplifting random acts of kindness.

1. Buy them a cup of coffee.
2. If they’re sitting alone, ask them to join you.
3. If they drop something, pick it up for them.
4. Open the door for them.
5. Give them a sincere compliment.
6. Offer to push their grocery cart back to the cart return area.
7. Tell them you appreciate them.
8. Tell them you’re proud of them.
9. Help them with a chore or task.
10. Ask if they need someone to talk to.
11. Tell them they’re good enough.
12. Forgive them.
13. Listen with your full attention.
14. Tell them you understand.
15. Tell them they’re not alone.
16. Send a funny e-card.
17. Call them to just say, “Hi.”
18. Smile at them.

According to an article in Tech Times, research indicates people who perform acts of kindness may help reduce their stress level and improve their outlook.

Put simply, doing a random act of kindness can turn your crappy day around. And that’s a win both personally and professionally—for relationships, productivity, and ability to deal with whatever comes your way.

I’d say that’s a worthy investment of just seconds or minutes each day, how about you?

Your turn! What random acts of kindness have you done lately?

Image of young girl with thumbs up is courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Get Over It: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Using A Ghostwriter

It’s an ethical dilemma for some clients. Is it right to claim authorship for a piece of writing that you’ve hired someone else toGet Over It - Text write?

 

As a freelancer who ghostwrites blog posts and articles for clients, I find that’s prospects’ biggest hesitation about using a ghostwriter. They feel guilty about posting something as their own if they haven’t personally written it.

 

Does that sound like you?

 

Get over it.

 

There’s no shame in hiring a professional who can do the job better than you can. Many people simply don’t have the time or writing skills to craft a compelling, well-written blog post or article. And rushing to get to the finish line or forcing a skill that doesn’t come naturally can cost you in several ways.

 

  • Whether you’re submitting an article to a high-profile industry publication or posting on your own blog, creating a piece of writing that’s sub-standard can cause embarrassment and hurt your professional reputation. At best, prospects and customers will think you had a bad day. At worst, they’ll think you’re careless and incompetent.

 

  • Without the natural ability and skills, you might find yourself spending a half-day or more on a 500-word post. So much for productivity and effective use of your time! Yes, hiring a ghostwriter will cost you some money, but what’s your time worth?

 

  • You might miss out on valuable readership if your writing doesn’t have an attention-grabbing headline or doesn’t incorporate the information and keywords to help it become found by search engines.

 

Still not feeling comfortable about the idea of hiring a ghostwriter?

 

If completely turning over your writing to someone behind the scenes unnerves you, know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can still have a hand in the process when you hire a ghostwriter by doing one or more of the following:

 

  • Take an active role in brainstorming topics.
  • Contribute your expertise and experience by giving your ghostwriter specific key details you want to communicate.
  • Craft a very rough draft and let your ghostwriter flesh it out and refine it.

 

No matter what your involvement, make sure your ghostwriter understands your “voice.” The tone, wording, and style should sound like you, not the ghostwriter. Always review and read aloud what your ghostwriter has written and ask for a revision if the piece seems out of character. Even though you haven’t written it, the writing needs to genuinely reflect you.

 

So, don’t feel guilty about hiring a ghostwriter. It’s a wonderful way to eliminate the stress, preserve your valuable time, and ensure you’re presenting your very best professional image online.

 

Your turn! What has stopped you from using a ghostwriter for your blog or other writing? If you use a ghostwriter, what benefits have you gleaned from it?