built by women: an interview with Haushala Zimba + Amanda Brown, social impact entrepreneurs

Image Courtesy of CYF.

Over the past ten years, I’ve come into my feminism. I’ve felt a more urgent need to not only mentor young women coming up in the ranks, but to celebrate women who were always breaking them. Up until ten years ago I never thought to question why all of my mentors were men, why there existed few women in powerful leadership or entrepreneurship roles. And although, to quote an old advertisement–we’ve come a long way, baby–there’s always more we can do. There’s always more women we can sponsor, mentor, support and applaud.

It’s no secret that I’ve embarked on some remarkable and substantive life changes over the past two years: I left a job (and life) I hated, I wrote a book, and I now live thousands of miles away from the place I called home. Yet it felt odd to only turn the lens onto me because in my darker moments I sought comfort in watching other women work. I grew stronger and more hopeful for the world by seeing kindness shared between strangers. And it occurred to me that I could use the small patch of online real estate to promote the women who inspire me: women who challenge, teach, nurture; women who are builders and makers.

Every month, I’ll share a handful of interviews with women who are breaking ranks across continents and industries. Perhaps their work will inspire you, or at the least make you pause.

Today I’m privileged to have you meet Haushala Zimba + Amanda Brown, social impact entrepreneurs and an example of some of the most dedicated and selfless women I’ve ever encountered. I encourage you to want to do something after you read this post–whether it be supporting CYF or another cause dear to you with your money or time. –FS

Amanda Brown + Haushala Zimba
Amanda Brown + Haushala Zimba. Image Courtesy of CYF.

Haushala, I never grow tired of reading how founded Life Vision Academy, a progressive boarding school and refuge for abused orphaned children, and CYF (Children and Youth First), the NGO that funds it, was founded. Can you share the story behind the LVA, the role of the U.S. arm, and your vision moving forward?

Haushala Zimba: LVA was founded by Prema Zimba, who has always been the backbone of CYF. Since the day my friends and I rescued 14 children from an abusive orphanage in 2008, she gave our kids shelter and food at her school. Since that day we have working together. After shutting down this abusive orphanage and enrolling the kids in LVA, my friends and I founded Children and Youth First as an NGO. CYF funds LVA, and LVA provides CYF with the platform to enact our vision of education for underprivileged children.

Our U.S. arm was formed almost 3 years ago by Nepali students based in the US who knew about the work of CYF. Several of our close friends like Sajan Suwal and Smriti Suwal played an important role in registering CYF USA as a 501c3 nonprofit. The role of CYF USA has been to support the parent organisation CYF Nepal’s activities and projects. It has been over a year now with a young energetic woman Amanda Brown on board as the President of CYF USA; she has utilized her own personal skills of networking the organisation’s work and is giving students in America an opportunity to be a part of this mission for education. The CYF USA arm is currently helping CYF Nepal fundraise for the construction of our new 200-student boarding school, and has helped us introduce merchandise from our Haushala Women’s Cooperative to the US market.

“My definition of impact is solidarity. It’s not for a spotlight, a salary, or even to feel good: it’s about being an ally, shifting your priorities away from yourself, and helping others who want your help, simply because you can.” –Amanda, I loved this quote from your HuffPo essay. How did you come to impact work, and how did you come to be involved with CYF?

Amanda Brown: I’ve never heard of impact work, that’s such an interesting title! I think any work can make an impact, regardless of its field. I became involved with CYF when I was in Nepal in February 2014, studying human rights and conducting fieldwork on girls’ education. I was randomly placed into a homestay with Haushala; it didn’t take long for us to realize how perfect this coincidence was. When she brought me to her school, I was instantly captivated by the students’ confidence, self-expression, and creativity. I felt a deep-rooted desire to do anything I could to ally with these incredible young people. One night Haushala and I had stayed up late talking, and she mentioned that CYF had a 501c3 registration in the USA without a full-time team running it. I told her I would. We had only known each other two weeks at that point, but the CYF board brought me on, and it’s been quite the journey ever since!

It wasn’t until I watched a BBC World Asia report while in Singapore that I realized the magnitude of the recent earthquake in Nepal, which killed 9,000, injured over 23,000. The devastation of entire villages, UNESCO sites, and surrounding areas was staggering—all of which went nearly unmentioned in U.S. media. Can you talk about the challenges you face in terms of raising awareness and passion for CYF in the U.S., and how the U.S. media aggravates or helps in this effort?

HZ: The relationship between the media and its audience has always been a love-and-hate relationship for a long time. I had always seen it, but I saw it more with the earthquake that devastated Nepal (not all of the country, but part of it). This was all over the news for a few weeks — until media had something else to cover. The surprising part is even the local media has started differing its news from its own earthquake tragedy. I personally feel US media covered the story immediately after the earthquake happened, and did give the world a wider picture of what happened in Nepal. But, it would have been better if they connected stories of people who flew in from the US to help in Nepal, or covered more stories of Nepali youths who went out to help their villages.

Image Courtesy of CYF.

In raising awareness about CYF and explaining our vision to people, the biggest challenge I’ve found is that there is never “enough” story or emotion you can show people to convince them to donate a little bit more. But with Amanda on team, we have been able to connect our vision to people who care about such issues. But again, I have ethical and moral values that my team and I share: our children and our cause are not a product on a shelf to be sold.

AB: The lack of media attention – and subsequent lack of popular awareness – has been very frustrating since the earthquake. April 25 was not simply a day that came and went, but the media allowed it to become that for most of the world. We barely even see that #NepalQuake hashtag anymore, and there have been literally hundreds – hundreds! – of earthquakes recorded in Nepal since April 25’s 7.8-Mag. The absence of media attention on Nepal throughout the last few months is normalizing the destruction, danger, and trauma.

Instead of letting media tell society what’s important enough to talk about, we’re constantly working to tell the stories that you won’t find on the news, and encouraging them to spread the word themselves. People will usually skim past quantitative data about destruction. But if you can get someone to watch a video or hear a story, and you replace those analytics with real individual stories, they’ll usually listen. For instance, I wouldn’t just say, “A lot of schools were destroyed.” I’ll tell them about Maan Kumari Tamang, the incredible female principal who lost her whole school facility just weeks after it was constructed. Her classrooms were completely filled with rubble, desks piled under fallen ceilings and walls. Her students have been having class outside in the fields, and the school isn’t getting any aid from the government. We’ve been supplying her school with temporary shelter, school supplies, and rebuilding materials, so that they can return stability and education to these children’s lives. If someone is compelled to donate after hearing about her school, that’s great. And if they’re not, at least they know a little more than what they’ve heard on the news.

Image Courtesy of CYF
One of the greatest obstacles facing non-profits and impact brands is fundraising. Most people feel disconnected from the causes to which they donate. Talk about how you’re trying to disrupt the traditional donation model.

HZ: CYF as an organisation is youth-led vision. For 5 years, we never had long-term staff, full-paid staff, or even a proper office space. My house was my office, our school was our work, and our friends were our volunteers helping with everything from fundraising to accounting. CYF now has any more followers, donors, and supporters because of the 6 years we went through without any grants, organization partnerships, or company sponsors. We survived, and we were able to support the education first of 14 children and now 45 children – all with just individual people and groups of friends supporting the cause. And people saw this!

At first, we mostly had Nepalese living abroad helping us, and then people from all over the world were helping us. People from all over the world knew about CYF because of recommendations from friends or families who knew CYF, and who knew that this cause is about “IMPACT – CHANGE – LOVE.” Our donation model is “Connect with PASSION.” We connect people to the cause via social media and even give people opportunity to come and help in CYF.

Image Courtesy of CYF.
Image Courtesy of CYF.
AB: Connecting individuals to our mission, school, and children is definitely a crucial part of CYF. Because most international supporters can’t make it to LVA, we want to bring LVA to them. Right now we are fundraising to build a bigger, safer, more sustainable boarding school for our students, which will open its doors to 200 children once complete. This is a huge project, and we don’t want our donors to feel discouraged or disconnected by just putting a drop in a bucket. We want people to feel engaged with our students and our school construction, because this is an incredibly exciting stage of our growth story, and we want people to be involved!

We are disrupting the disconnected and boring standard of charitable giving: for instance, we’ve created a donors’ store on our website where anyone can browse through and add items to their cart, as if online shopping on any other site. Then, we follow up with the donor to show them exactly how their impact manifests and grows. For instance, one person purchased our new soccer field in honor of a friend who loved soccer. She will receive emails, photos and videos showing the construction of our field, our kids’ first tournament, etc.

The whole process is personalized, transparent, and authentic. We want to share this experience with them and enable them to participate in a way that makes them feel ignited and involved. This also humanizes our students: they are individual people, happy young leaders with brilliant dreams. We don’t want anyone to send a check out of pity or sadness and turn a blind eye. Even though we’re a charity, our kids are no charity case, and we want the world to know that.

Image Courtesy of CYF.
Image Courtesy of CYF.
Have you endured any challenges in your work with CYF, as an impact entrepreneur, specific to your gender? If so, how have you overcome them? Can you share any specific anecdotes?

HZ: I have never endured any challenges within CYF because I am a woman, but I have had to fight to get men to let their wives or daughters or sisters come and work with CYF. I have felt the demeaning words that a few guardians of our kids have said to their daughters just because they’re girls. So those are my challenges. I have overcome them by proving to them that education is the tool for educating the mind. When their daughters go back home and educate their guardians, saying, “Don’t judge me because I’m a girl” — when their own child speaks up, then we know we have done our job well.

AB: Part of how I’ve worked to kick-start CYF’s stateside presence has been through the realm of entrepreneurism, and I’ve absolutely found that my gender can impose challenges. As a social entrepreneur, some people already look down on us for being a nonprofit venture –- I get a lot of “Aw, that organization sounds so nice!” or “Good on you for that work!” There seems to be some stigma that nonprofit social entrepreneurs don’t grind as hard, don’t know much about business, or can’t talk money. Sometimes, being a woman in that space doubles that stigma.

For instance, this summer I received an entrepreneurship grant that placed me in an intensive 6-week accelerator where I was the only woman. All the guys I worked with were amazing and never treated me differently (I also destroyed most of them on the office ping-pong table) — but a couple older male mentors did bring some sexism on their visits. While they engaged my male friends in critical business discussions, they’d give me a pat on the back or a glance at my legs. I wasn’t going to start changing my outfits, so I changed how they looked at me by sitting them down and giving them the facts. When I made them listen to the hard results of our work, they finally stopped looking at me like a nice girl and started seeing me as an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, dedication and results don’t have any octave to their voice – they speak for themselves, no gender identity attached.

What has surprised you most about running a non-profit? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?

HZ: Running a non-profit is full of surprises, especially when you’re running it for the past 6 years without any grants or support from organisations. You have challenges everyday, but I have never given up because of amazing people: for instance, our team members Prema, Anurag, and Lucky; our kids; and my friends who were my support pillars. I knew this cause will move ahead, be it with challenges or without challenges. Big organisations want administrative overhead costs to be larger than the cause itself, and we don’t believe that’s right. Our administrative cost should and will always be less than our cause. As an NGO we weren’t prepared for “numbers,” but that’s what big organisations wanted to hear if we wanted their support. I do understand you need large numbers if you want to say “a thousand children,” but let’s not forget the cause behind the numbers. When we start running behind the numbers, there will come a point where you will forget about why you started first of all.

Now when I recall moments of CYF, I think, “What would we have learned if we didn’t have those challenges?” I am glad they came and glad we learned so much more, both personally and professionally.

AB: I’ve been most surprised by how often people genuinely want to help and contribute. When you’re relying on donors’ support and everyone in the world has a million things to care about, it sometimes can feel like yelling into a soundproof room. Then you find someone who actually cares about your mission, believes in your ability to execute, and wants to learn more about how they can support our kids. It happens a lot more often than I expected, to be honest. But, I wasn’t prepared for how much systemization you need to do on the administrative side to keep up with all that support. I always want to give my full attention and gratitude to each of those amazing people, and I don’t think I was prepared for how organized you have to be to juggle all of that.

Image Courtesy of CYF.
Image Courtesy of CYF.

Who has inspired you along the way and why?

HZ: Along the way, the children whom I am working for everyday have inspired me every day. Their dreams keep changing and I need to make sure I know what they might like to do in future. This inspires me because I remember there is A LOT to do and you just don’t give up. With that, my parents have been my biggest inspirations, who have guided me along this path from the day I rescued the 14 kids till date. As parents they never forced me to get into a job I didn’t want to do, and they never gave me negative support saying I should think about myself too. They always told me, “You’re on the right path.” They told me, “Daughter, you will not earn money in the path you’re walking. We have a house that will be your assets, but you will definitely earn a lot of courage and grace for yourself, and there will be thank you’s. Remember in the end we take nothing with us. Not even a strand of our own hair. So when you die, be a good memory. That’s it.” I have lived by that advice my parents have given me, and I have driven my passion towards educating and helping as many children as we can.

AB: The biggest inspiration for me has come from within CYF: Our kids and team at LVA inspire me every single day, even though I’m not even there on the ground with them. Haushala inspired me to jump into CYF in the first place, and she continues to encourage and motivate me every day. She’s truly my biggest role model; I’ve never met anyone with more selfless dedication, more concentrated passion, better creativity and leadership, or better balance in her conscious lifestyle. The LVA kids inspire me by their bravery, creativity, and confidence. One day they want to be a dancer, the next day a gardener, the next day a social worker. I try to be like them in never limiting my own potential and in always believing I can do anything, despite how unconventional it may be. Our team on the ground also inspires me through their tirelessness and engaged compassion. Our caretakers, teachers, and staff are really the wind beneath these 45 sets of young wings, and I so admire the huge daily impact they make.

What are the three things that people who are interested in starting a non-profit should know?

HZ: 1. KNOW YOUR PASSION. 2. Non-profits are always about a cause. Do you CONNECT with the cause?? 3. If you believe you can help someone or a certain issue by starting a nonprofit, go for it! START IT NOW!

AB: 1. You will never be ready; nobody is ever “ready” for anything. Don’t wait for that magical, illusive feeling of “readiness.” You’re here, you’re alive, you can do this! 2. Know that you have no idea what you’re doing — but nobody else did either! Ask questions, lots of questions, and take the answers to heart. It’s not easy at the beginning, but being able to step into a room and authentically say, “I don’t know what I’m doing” is one of the most courageous and important parts of starting anything. 3. You should know how bad non-reusable K-Cups are for the environment! You’ll probably need a lot of coffee, and there are much more environmentally-conscious ways of staying caffeinated without giving into the Keurig!

What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day?

HZ: 1. A mobile set with internet! 2. A quote I carry everywhere in my purse, and see it when I need to so that I motivate myself. 3. My mini writing note pad

AB: 1. Messaging Apps! Haushala and I are in constant contact, and chatting online allows us to reach each other around the distance and time differences. 2. My journal. My brother once told me that writing is like putting fireflies into a jar; adding something small may not feel or look like much, but you’ll come back later to find great light. 3. My amazing parents: they constantly push me forward and hold me up. My mom is always cheering me on, and my dad makes sure I wake up to a text of encouragement every day.

Image of Amanda Brown Courtesy of CYF.
Image of Amanda Brown Courtesy of CYF.

Recently, I read On Kindness, and this particular passage remained with me: “We are never as kind as we want to be, but nothing outrages us more than people being unkind to us. There is nothing we feel more consistently deprived of than kindness; the unkindness of others has become our contemporary complaint. Kindness consistently preoccupies us, and yet most of us are unable to live a life guided by it.” What you do is rooted in a humane sense of kindness; we exist to mutually belong to one another. Can you share any anecdotes—large or small—of kindness you’ve seen since you’ve started CYF? Reminding us that in darkness there always exists light.

HZ: I saw kindness when the children we supported collected their own old clothes, shoes and toys, and told me they wanted to donate it to children in villages who didn’t have any. We’ve seen, heard and read about kindness, but have you done any kindness yourself? Ask that once to yourself and the reward of kindness is much bigger than money.

AB: This summer, Haushala and I went to a meditation session to talk with members of the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in Tisbury, MA. We sat down near a woman who had one of those beautiful energies you just notice. Within the hour, this incredible woman named Mai had invited us over to her house for dinner. She insisted on cooking us a homemade meal that night and introducing us to her family and friends. She shared with us her vision of building a school for kids back in her home country of Thailand; “Your dream has touched my dream,” she told us. Her compassion astounded me, and we all shared a beautiful night of laughter, storytelling, inspiration and light. It keeps me going sometimes to think that there really are people like Mai out there, waiting to meet you around the next corner.

Image Courtesy of CYF.

All Images Courtesy of CYF.

freelance life + careers

freelancer files: people are funny about money

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:

1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).

Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.

Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.

Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.

After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).

One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.

Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.

Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.

See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.

This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.

If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.

freelance life + careers

freelancer tip: sometimes you shouldn't fake it (until you make it)

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In my line of work I deal with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They have an iPhone, a blog, and Warby Parker eyewear, and suddenly they’re a “strategist.” Suddenly they’re parroting a thought-leader’s latest blog post–a geyser of words that, when assembled, means nothing. However, the words sound smart enough to alienate those who are not in the know, so for a time people get by riding the wave of jargon–a language that requires a compass, two dictionaries, and a mime to translate. They ration that they’re a consumer, they have a Facebook account, and they’ve seen brand campaigns online, and magically, poof!, they’re brand architects and social media marketers. Because, as you know, marketing is easy.

You can’t possibly begin to understand how much this frustrates me, and how incompetence not only hurts me but the industry as a whole. I’ve run into a lot of clients who’ve been burned and now they’re skeptical. I’ve come across freelancers who are quick to quote the latest social media stat or blurb from Gary Vaynerchuk, but when when their logic or pedagogical approach are challenged (what’s your methodology? rationale?), they go mute. I’ve seen consultants steal decks and someone else’s work only to manipulate it to a point where the ideas are garbled, the methodology flawed and confusing. I’ve spoken to a host of experienced peers who feel they have to compete on price because the cool kid down the block (shiny object syndrome) can undercut them. Easy.

There are times when it’s appropriate to “fake it”–when you have an existing foundation of real (and by real I don’t mean reading Mashable) experience, and you’re challenging yourself by taking it to the next level through self-education, mentorship (direct/indirect), and learning through experience based on the guardrails and guidance provided by your mentors + team. Sometimes you have to dive into the deep end to see if you can make it out to the other side.

When it’s not appropriate to fake it: you have zero experience in the industry, or you inflate/invent your experience. Let me break this down real slow: there’s a difference between confidence and competence.

Last week, my peers delivered sound advice on breaking into freelance. There are so many ways in which you can make your dream happen without deceiving your clients or using them as a means to pay for your sentimental education. Side hustle during your main hustle. Volunteer. Apprentice with someone who knows what they’re doing–or barter your services so you can learn the fundamentals of your industry while providing a service for someone who needs it. Take classes, online and off. Offer to help out on a project in another department in your place of employment. Take a job in a company and listen and learn and leave when you’re ready to move on. Be humble about what you don’t know, listen and learn.

Because having an active Facebook page does not a strategist make.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career–it’s this: have the confidence to admit that which you don’t know. It’s not about you not knowing, rather it’s about how you go about getting the answers. It’s about how you learn the fundamentals and discipline to make what you’ve learned your own.

freelance life + careers

want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you I’m privileged to have such good people in my life? If you would’ve known me 10, 15 years ago, you would’ve met a paled-down version of me–a woman who was anxious, defiant, focused on quantity over quality. But I guess that’s what happens with age, you come into your own so beautifully and acutely, that people have a tendency to cleave to that which is calm and good.

To that end, imagine my joy to discover that so many of my friends and peers were so generous with their knowledge and time in helping readers of this space get the answers they need should they want to pursue a freelance life. I’m humbled by their generosity, the fact that the time it took to read and respond to your great questions took them away from billable work. So I’m grateful for that, and I think part of being a successful freelancer is to know when you should give your time and to whom.

So thank you, dear readers, for your questions. As I was preparing to chime in with responses, I realized that my peers were so eloquent and so helpful, that I would only be parroting versions of their words. I hope you find value here, or at least inspiration to give of your time and pursue that which you hold dear and love. –FS

Question #1: This is going to be the newbie-est of newbie questions and rather embarrassing to ask, but…how does one start freelancing? In particular, how does one break into freelance copy editing, especially if one does not have many, many years of solid experience in the field? Honestly, I have no idea how to start! My background is mostly in academia, but I am in a situation in which I need to look for employment elsewhere, and I am thinking about freelancing as I navigate my way through the rough seas of job hunting and relocating. Well, thank you, Felicia and everyone else, for offering this great service! –RINE

Lindsey Tramuta: Great question! I would first start small and see if anyone in your immediate network could use copy editing services. If you can seek little projects on the side initially, you’ll build up your portfolio and get more comfortable applying for freelance gigs or connecting with potential employers once you have the experience under your belt. For me, I had an idea that I thought would fit in nicely with a magazine so I asked a friend who had previously written for the magazine if she would be kind enough to share her editor’s email (she was no longer writing for the outlet and didn’t cover the same beat) and she did. That doesn’t work every time but in this case, she opened the door for me, I reached out to the editor and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Also, if you’re looking to actively veer your career in a new direction, make sure you update your close friends and contacts with personalized emails (or phone calls!) so that they know to keep an eye and ear out for opportunities that would fit with your interests.

Amber Katz: My advice is to network beyond belief. Find some people doing what you’d like to do, in this case, freelance copy editing, and email them and ask them if you can take them to coffee for a 20-minute meeting. In the email, ask if a phone call would work if they’re not able to meet up and come to the meeting/call with three questions you’d like answered. Another thing I’d recommend is simply emailing your network and let them know you’re taking on freelance copy editing work if anyone has any leads. You may have to offer your services for a small fee (never for FREE, unless you really don’t have any related experience, in which case you may need to do a project or two gratis) so you can put together a portfolio. Good luck!

Leah Singer: I would suggest doing a few things. First, if you have experience doing copy editing (or any of the freelance skills you want to do) in your current job, make sure you highlight that on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. Even if your job in academe is not a copyeditor, if you’re performing that work as part of your job, it’s relevant and should be promoted.

Second, start finding organizations that will use your talent in a volunteer capacity. For example, see if your church, synagogue or kid’s school or club needs a copyeditor for their newsletter, and volunteer to do the work. When you’re well established, I don’t always advocate giving away your time and service for free. However when you’re starting out, you need to get the clients and experiences to build your business. And remember, nobody knows the work you’re doing is volunteer or paid!

Third, harness the power of social media! Find a few friends or post something on Facebook that you’re starting this service and want to do some copyediting for people’s blogs, articles, etc. Then make sure to get testimonials for your LinkedIn profile and future website!

Matthew Sharpe: I’m a freelance editor and writing coach and I started freelancing somewhat by accident. I taught creative writing in the evening at a local university. Some of my students were grown-ups working on novels, and they got in touch after the course was over to see if I’d continue helping them with their novels. Same thing happened after I attended a few writers’ conference over the years. I confess I’m not great at advertising and marketing my own services, so most of my work has come to me via word of mouth.

As for copy editing: okay, so you don’t have many, many years of experience. Do you have any? That will certainly help. I’d get in touch with the copy departments of all the major book publishers and magazines and let them know you’re available, and what your experience is. If they have an opening, they’ll give you a test. If you do well on the test, they’ll start giving you some work. If you do well on the work, they’ll give you more. Etcetera.

Cariwyl Herbert: No need to feel embarrassed at all! We all must start somewhere, and most endeavors begin with asking questions. If you are ready to take clients, put the word out to your network. Email your friends and family to let them know what you are offering. They’ll gladly hire you when they need copywriting, and they will tell their friends as well. You can also post your services on sites like elance.com and odesk.com; both are portals catering to freelancers.

Alexandra Ostrow: Good for you, Rine! Depending on your role in academia, you likely have more related experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. Take a look at the projects you’ve worked on, and make a list of the times when copyediting played a role. This list is the beginning of your portfolio. Also, let your network (colleagues, friends, family) know that you’re beginning to work as a freelance copyeditor and are looking to take on new clients. If you’re open to it, offer discounted services to new clients for a limited time period. This will help grow your portfolio. Bottom line, if you’re gravitating towards freelance copyediting, this is either a passion or an innate skill of yours. Believe in yourself and go for it. The hardest part is often just putting yourself out there.

Kim Brittingham: Years ago I worked as a legal assistant and I used to wonder the same thing. How do these freelancers get work to begin with, so they can eventually work only for themselves? And I’m still not sure I have the answer! I have friends who write full-time, and they get non-stop work just pitching ideas directly to publications. But I think that requires a lot of persistence, and you have to be good at coming up with a lot of different ideas all the time (enough that you can afford to have the majority of them shot down). I also suspect it takes time to establish relationships with editors who will look forward to your pitches and respond to you quickly, or even reach out to you and offer an assignment.

I also know of some writers who get work through eLance.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com, but I personally haven’t used those sites because I think most people who go there seeking writers and also looking for a bargain, so you wind up making really insulting money.

My path to becoming a full-time freelance writer was a little unconventional. It started in the ‘90s when I published a ‘zine called Café Eighties. I did a lot of interviews with entertainers, and after a while, people came to know me as a writer. Eventually, someone from a local publication reached out to me and said, hey, would you be interested in writing something for us? Then when the Internet came about, I was completely fascinated. I wanted to tinker and figure out what I could do with this thing. I had a really early website, I was on message boards, et cetera. I remember posting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to write what we call “web content” today, although I don’t think that term was being widely used back then. I got some responses. I wrote articles about personal safety in the context of dating for a telephone forwarding service; I wrote about novel ways to propose marriage for a diamond company. One thing led to another. Eventually I sold a book to Random House, in part because I had built a following with my personal blog and stuff I posted on social media. I was extremely lucky in that I didn’t have to work hard to get a literary agent to notice me; my agent approached me first.

Then I had some more skills in my pocket, like the social media, blogging, et cetera. I had even more to offer as a freelancer. Then one day I got a call from a guy I’d taken a class with at Media Bistro. He asked if I’d be willing to ghostwrite a book for him. I signed a contract that made it possible for me to quit my job as a legal assistant. Since then, I’ve taken some part-time jobs here or there to get by while doing the freelance writing thing, but I’m happy to say I haven’t had to do that in the last three years. Most of the work I get today is repeat business and referrals. People also find me on LinkedIn. For example, I occasionally publish a blog post to their content platform “Pulse”, and people have reached out to me with work after liking what they read. I think it also helps that I’ve carved out a niche for myself, working with executive coaches, management consultants and thought leaders. When you specialize in something, you have a better shot at winning business than if you try to be everything to everyone, in which case you disappear into a vast sea of other Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades. I do still take outsourced work from marketing agencies, though, because I enjoy the variety. One day you’re writing blog posts for an insurance company that caters to teachers, the next you’re creating mildly crass Facebook memes aimed at 20-something heterosexual men who gamble. It’s fun!

Question #2: Thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions! I’ve been working as a freelance editor part-time along with my normal day job in academia. I’m currently looking to grow my business. I’ve been wondering about keeping regular clients happy, yet still being able to take a week or two off throughout the year. –EGEORGIAN

Amber Katz: There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a week or two off throughout the year. It’s all about sending your freelance clients an email 2 weeks before your vacation and letting them know you’ll be off the grid for a couple weeks and could they please submit any requests for work by X date so you have time to finish up before you leave. Then, use an Out Of Office notification to let people know you’re away and not checking email until X date and to contact you in case of an emergency using a special email subject line.

Cariwyl Herbert: Everyone is entitled to time off—even freelancers! It isn’t difficult to take a day off here and there; put an out-of-office alert on your email if you’re worried. For a longer vacation, simply give clients a couple weeks notice so they know what to expect.

Leah Singer: For me personally, it’s been hard to take chunks of time off and not do any work (although I know people who do it well). I usually always check email or have client work that needs to be done in some way. However, it can be done and it just requires a lot of planning and working in advance. If I know I need to take a few days off, I schedule time on my calendar to do work ahead of time. I also let my clients know I won’t be working on those days. Also, some seasons are slower than others. December always seems to be less chaotic, which is great since my daughter has the last two week of the month off of school. I also take advantage of holiday weekends since the rest of the world tends to slow down during these times.

Matthew Sharpe: I think just give them a lot of advance notice about your time off. If feasible, offer to do extra work in advance of your vacation so they won’t be stranded. Everyone needs time off. People generally accept this, in my experience.

Kim Brittingham: One thing that helps me is flat-out refusing to work with unreasonable and/or demanding people (FS note: Hallelujah!). I have a pretty good instinct about people, and usually after just one conversation, I can sense whether or not they’re going to be a giant pain in the rear. Life’s too short for that. Just say no. BACK AWAY FROM THE NUTJOB. That’s why I never have issues with clients calling me at odd hours or expecting me to be available 24/7 to discuss things that are in no way urgent. Also, I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Tell your client how many hours you have available to them, when you take calls and when you don’t, when and how often you will meet via Skype or conference call, et cetera. Put it in writing.

The work I take allows for a lot of flexibility. For example, I have clients to whom I provide the same amount of content every month. I know when my deadlines are, so if I want to go away for a week, I just work extra-hard to get everything done early. But I do make sure I’m available by e-mail while I’m gone. If that’s not possible, I let all of my clients know in advance when I will be out-of-reach. I also accept longer-term projects, like ghostwriting books, but when I accept those projects, I also accept that I won’t be doing any extensive traveling until the gig is over.

Alexandra Ostrow: It’s all about setting expectations. Just like you, your clients are likely looking to take a vacation (or three), and should understand you need some time away. It’s unlikely to be an issue as long as you let them know ahead of time about your plans, and then work out an arrangement where either a) you complete all deliverables prior to takeoff or b) you have a trusted colleague cover your role while you’re away. If it is still an issue, I would personally question whether that particular client is worth sacrificing work-life balance.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

(more…)

freelance life + careers

I must write: when a woman finally finds her vision

Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre
Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world. –Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

When I was small I used to watch my mother knit; her thin fingers mastered the tango between two needles as they warred to create a scarf, shawl or blanket. For years I took up mimicry like a kind of cross-stitch, but I failed because the complexity of patterns and needlework subsumed me; the chink of cool metal forever eluded me. Here I was, a child composing haikus likening my mother’s voice to thunder, yet I couldn’t thread a needle. My thread always grazed the eye but never dared plunge through it. And I worried about this. A lot. If I couldn’t conjoin cheap yarn how could I possibly tell stories? How could I step into a world and inhabit it so completely? Words belong to one another, and a writer’s job is to sit amongst spools of thread and weave. Their work lies in creating tapestry, silent symphonies.

I think about the movie, Heat, specifically the “face-to-face” scene between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

These are two men who are what they go after. Two men who don’t know any other work than the work in which they do; their life is their work, no going back. And although the work is risky–it’s like risk versus reward, baby–the action is the juice. The work, the life, is the reward. Even in moments that feel like plague, when the ground gives way and the fall seems infinite, bottomless, we press on. We carry the weight of the dark on our backs in the journey into the light because all of it, the depth of it, the darkness of it, is worth the stretch.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. —Anne Dillard

A WRITER? Why do you want to be a writer? Writers don’t make any money, said a woman to me once. I remember the way she said writer, as if it were tinged, sullied, a word not worthy of the letters that comprise it. Maybe she thought herself as someone who could wash the stink off me, scrape away at the plaque that had begun to harvest its way into my heart. Because finance will make you clean again. This woman was a managing director at Morgan Stanley and I sat in her office discussing my resignation. I’d just been awarded admission to a fancy writing program and I was jubilant. My work until then had become a blanket intent on smothering me, and all I wanted to do was fucking breathe. For a time I relegated writing to a hobby state while I managed the serious work, my vocation, off to the side. Because I was an adult now. I had student loans now. I had an apartment now. I had a bone-crushing subway commute now. I had my mid-day Starbucks run now. I had happy hour now where everyone was on the road to ruin, night drinking until they saw black, now. I had to wake up now. I had to Monday moan now. I had to do this all over again now. I had to measure my own grave now.

The days had become repeats of themselves with minor variations.

I go through this a lot–trying to deny writing as something serious and true in favor of the work over there. And I always, invariably, come up short. I always end up working myself into a place of despair because while I’m good at what I do–marketing, projections, budgets, brand positioning and planning–it’s not the only thing I’m meant to do.

What I’m meant to do is write. Plain and simple. Although, in reality, not so plain and definitely not so simple, but give me a minute with this.

Illustration Credit: Elle Luna
Illustration Credit: Elle Luna

Over the weekend I read a book in one sitting, an exposition off of a widely-read essay, “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. I remember reading the essay with a considerable amount of interest and passing it along to my friends. I remember being inspired by Elle Luna’s words but untouched. Perhaps I wasn’t primed for confrontation because I was still sorting out the nuances of this freelance life, but now, right now, I’m ready to drive my car off the road.

I’m good at compartmentalizing things, brilliant even. When I resigned from my last job I talked a lot about having room for all my children to play in the proverbial sandbox, that none of them would be considered changelings. That I could practice my writing in one space, my affection for food in another, and finally, the marketing–the bill-paying stuff–in another silo, far over there. Never once did I consider how I could merge the three. How I could seamlessly move from one state of play to another and even imbue my life with play! IMAGINE THAT! Never did I think that three simple children could morph into one complex child.

Never did I realize that I’m now in the midst of my own needlework.

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about my life. That might sound dramatic and it probably is, but when you’re inching your way toward 40 and you’re still in student loan and credit card debt maybe it’s a good idea to take a step back and take stock. I did the 8,760 hour mind map. I read a slew of books. I got angry all over again about shit blogger books getting published while I’m told my strange, beautiful writing will never find a large home (fuck this and the horse you rode in on). I thought about my move to California and the role a foreign place would have in the grand scheme of things (more alone time, more space and less distractions). And after all this noise and mess and thinking (all that yarn!) I asked myself a really simple question:

What brings me joy?

I started to look at everything I did over the course of the day and I realized that my joy lies in writing. Whether I’m working on a brand voice guide or a blog post or a short story, the art of weaving words together challenges and excites me. The art of reading and constantly absorbing information so that I can keep the knife sharp as it were, feels like home.

Writing is home to me.

It’s taken me 39 years of denial to admit that I have to put writing front and center. I have to design a career, a life, around my ability to take up wordsmithing like cross stitch. And I’ve finally landed on an idea that I’ve been sharing with friends over the past few weeks–a consultancy focused on storytelling.

Now, this isn’t about creating content or some other bullshit reductive term that looks fancy on LinkedIN or gets you penning articles for trade publications–as you know I don’t care about exposure or popularity. By default, I’m unpopular and far from mass market. What I’m talking about is the ability to hire me (and down the road, others) to help you create a world or tell stories. From product naming to brand architecture to helping you write your book, I want to be able to practice what I love, what I must do, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Will I fail? Probably. Will I get to connect with talented artists? Absolutely. Will I get better at what I do? You better believe it. Will it take the sting and weight off of having difficulty publishing my own experimental fiction? For the love of god, yes. Will I freak out? Probably once a day, on a good day.

But it’s like risk versus reward, baby.

Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigues, I have had my vision. ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

I’ll unveil the official name + all the fireworks in the coming weeks, but for now know that I’ve set down my brush, as Lily Briscoe once did.

Know that I’ve found my vision.

freelance life + careers the gathering kind

the one lesson you need to know in business + in life: be good to people

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In a serendipitous turn of events, I’ve been reunited with a former colleague on a project. Although I don’t have many fond memories from my time spent at an agency, I’ve been privileged to know and mentor an exceptional group of women–women who have gone on to build companies, build brands, and break ranks. It’s been a joy to witness their bloom, and I feel humbled to have played a smart role in their career. Often I’ll circulate project and job leads to former members of my team because I can vouch for their work, and more importantly, the strength of their work ethic and character.

Recently, a dear of mine (and now client) was on the hunt for a temporary social media lead for some of her clients, and I recommended an old colleague of mine. Not only is she a perfect cultural fit, but she’s managed to get up to speed in a manner in which I can only describe as lightning. And then my friend asked me to step in and play a larger role in strategy, and what do you know, reunited and it feels so good.

So…here’s the punchline. Remember the story I shared about how I snapped at a direct report during a meeting? And this direct report confronted me privately (and rightly so) to let me know that my behavior was not okay? And remember how I spoke of humility, how it was important to admit when you’re wrong, to accept, and act upon, constructive feedback even when the words feel like wounds that will never close?

Fast forward a few years and now this former colleague and I have been reunited on a project. Now we’re older, wiser, demonstrably different than the two women facing one another, shifting uncomfortably in our seats, in an airless conference room. We write one another in hashtags, #reunitedanditfeelssogood, and trade stories about our former selves. And all of this put me to thinking of a lesson learned:

ALWAYS BE GOOD TO PEOPLE. NO MATTER WHAT.

My mentor once told me that karma has our direct dial–we can’t escape it, so why not be kind to those who inhabit our world, regardless of title, rank and file. Of course we’re human, prone to outbursts, minor connivery, and indiscretion. We may snap and misstep, but it’s important to breathe, take a walk around the block (or five), and return to a place where you’re able to view a situation a little more objectively, with a bit more clarity. It’s important to right wrongs and treat people with the kindness that you yourself would expect from others.

Now this is not to say that this works for everyone in your life. Some people will be unkind; there are those who will be undeserving of your love and friendship. Admittedly, it’s been my work to let go of my anger towards certain people who have been cruel, conniving, and petty–people who have tried to make me feel small. But while I work on that (work in progress, work in progress), I keep reminding myself that the world is smaller than we think. That people have an uncanny ability to weave in and out of our lives when we least expect it, and wouldn’t it be easier if we were simply good to people because it was the decent thing to do?

Because we can be two women on a new project laughing off that time we spent in the conference room, angry. Could barely remember that time having existed.

freelance life + careers

feeling the freelance life but you have all the questions? we've got the answers: a roundtable

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you that I wish I had a SWAT team of consultants with whom I could confide when I left 18 years of office life behind? People who understood the abject terror that was email radio silence and project drought. Peers who expertly navigated clients who thought they’d come cheap because they were no longer backed by a company. People who were the architects of their own days since they’d abandoned all semblance of office structure.

Two years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to price projects and I didn’t even know what sort of projects I wanted to pursue. And while I’m a creature of habit and had no issues with cultivating routine and structure, I still cringe at the notion that I could go months without a project or that I have to deal with college graduates with cell phones trying to compete with me on price. I learned a lot about myself, my worth and my work over the two years, and I don’t hesitate when I send my rates because I calmly remind prospects that they’re buying experience, agility, speed and creativity instead of a hungry kid who can navigate the latest newfangled technology. Comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges and I’ve often had to turn down projects because they weren’t in line with my worth or my vision.

This week a friend and fellow freelancer called me with contract questions. Another friend inquired about how she should price herself–what should be my rate? And as the questions accumulated, I thought it fitting to round up some of the smartest people I know–across industry, experience and perspective–to tackle the questions we’re sometimes frightened to ask publicly.

So here we are. A roundtable of pros who are so generous with their time because I suspect someone was once generous with them. You’ve got an incredible FREE resource at your fingertips so ask the questions. About money, family, balance, clients, competition, work–ask it all. Be shameless, be inquisitive, be bold. We’ll post our answers in a follow-up post next week And I realize that some people may be contemplating career changes and are frightened to comment publicly–no sweat, look to the right of your screen and you’ll see my email. Shoot me a note, preface that you want your question published confidentially and we’ll answer accordingly. Or, tweet me your questions using the hashtag, #feelingfreelance

All of us made a choice to go out on our own. I’m sure we’ve made the BIG mistakes and the BIG leaps, so we’re here to impart some of our wisdom (and failures) so you have the tools you need to make smart decisions.

And now…meet your team of EIGHT!!!:

Kim Brittingham Kim Brittingham is the principal of Kim Brittingham & Co. Content Developers. She’s been working as a full-time freelancer since 2014, and started part-time in the late ‘90s. She’s the author of the memoir Read My Hips (Random House, 2011) and Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGO, 2013). She also teaches How to Blog for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

FS note: Kim is a bucket of awesome. Not only is she such a witty writer, she’s adept in: ghostwriting books, ghostblogging/business blogging; writing web copy, white papers/special reports, newsletter articles, video scripts, podcast scripts; social media management.

Cariwyl HebertCariwyl Hebert is a freelance web marketing consultant specializing in SEM and SEO. She is also the founder of Salon97, a non-profit that makes classical music accessible to all via live events, a podcast, online articles, and more. Cariwyl resides in San Francisco with her author husband and an orange cat.

FS note: I had the pleasure of meeting Cariwyl through her husband and my dear friend, Kevin. I remember a day in particular when I attended a salon she hosted, and how I was so nervous amongst so many new people but fell to quiet when she played selections of classical music. I’ve so much respect for Cariwyl, for her passion for the arts as well as her adeptness in marketing.

Amber Katz Amber Katz is a freelance writer, consultant, copy writer/editor and founder of rouge18.com, a pop culture-infused beauty blog featuring everything from skin smoothers to hair spray to body scrubs. A former financial copy writer, Amber started her blog in 2006 as an outlet from which to rave about her favorite lotions and potions to fellow beautyphiles–instead of her non-target audience of middle-aged (straight) male auditors at the office. Amber writes frequently for Allure.com, LuckyShops.com, Refinery29.com, TeenVogue.com and Yahoo Beauty. Find her on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram

FS note: Amber is not only one of my dearest friends but she’s an incredible writer–an artisan with a pen. She’s a pro copywriter, copyeditor and I’ve never met anyone who knows the innards of the beauty industry quite like Amber.

Alexandra OstrowAlexandra Ostrow is a strategist and marketer for social impact and innovation. She is the founder of WhyWhisper Collective, a network of independent consultants serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and impact-focused brands.

Prior to venturing out on her own, Alexandra worked for two social media marketing agencies, where she managed the global and local accounts for a wide variety of brands, including Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Medtronic Diabetes, The Michelin Guide, and Pepperidge Farm. She also spent two years working in the Communications Department at Cardozo Law School.

Alexandra’s passion for the impact sector first began while volunteering for a local animal rescue. After visiting an AIDS orphanage in India and establishing a nonprofit consultancy in Jamaica while still employed full-time, her path became clearer. Today, her clients address issues within the areas of health, human rights, education, and conscious consumption.

FS note: Alex is one of the good ones. I’ve worked with her, and she’s one of the most passionate and smartest women I know. Alex is a force of nature, and everytime I see her I’m reminded of the fact that she’s changing the world.

Matthew Sharpe Matthew Sharpe is a novelist, professor, and freelance editor. In his capacity as editor, he works one-on-one with authors of fiction and nonfiction who are writing books or shorter pieces. His own novels include You Were Wrong, Jamestown, and The Sleeping Father. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Fiction and The Sleeping Father was featured on The Today Show Book Club. He teaches part time in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

FS note: Matthew is one of the most extraordinary writers I know. In another life I had the pleasure of reviewing one of his books and I remember comparing him to Don Delillo. Not only is Matt an exceptional writer, I’ve heard rave reviews from some of his clients whose books have been transformed as a result of Matt’s editing.

Leah SingerLeah Singer helps businesses and entrepreneurs tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients. She specialize in writing and marketing strategy, and works extensively in higher education, and with attorneys and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments.

She writes regularly for The Huffington Post; Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor); Edible San Diego; Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and many other national blogs and websites.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

When she’s not working, she can be found reading books and blogs; cooking and baking; taking photos; drinking coffee; browsing bookstores; and walking her dogs. She also blogs at Leah’s Thoughts where she writes about motherhood, books and writing, and the everyday nuances of life. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, very extroverted daughter, two dogs, and a cat.

FS note: Can I tell you how excited I am to finally meet Leah when I move out west later this year? Not only does she love food and animals as much as I do, we both have an affection for books and marketing.

Lindsey TramutaLindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based food and travel writer (New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar) and social media consultant. After over three and a half years working in-house for Proximity BBDO in Paris, she works with brands big and small to master their tone of voice, to develop their social media strategy and presence and create content to enrich their identities. Find her on TwitterInstagram.

FS note: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lindsey, albeit virtually, for the past two years. Oddly enough, I discovered her site whilst looking for places to eat in Paris. I’m delighted to not only know her as a writer, but also as a pal in the industry. She specializes in content creation, social media strategy and copy, digital copywriting, food & travel writing.

And me, naturally! You know my story, but here’s my LinkedIn profile if you want to learn a little more about my professional background.

freelance life + careers

on defining your dream: the couch vs. the cubicle…or something other?

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

There are two paths in life: Should and Must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And each time, we get to choose.Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small. Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. –Elle Luna’s “When You’re at the Crossroads of Should and Must”

Rarely will you hear me talk about the usefulness of Facebook. I have a presence on the platform simply as a means to keep in touch with friends who don’t understand social media or have an inclination to use it. These are friends with whom I went to college or people in my world who don’t “get” blogs, and they rarely have the time to read mine. Strangely, I like this sort of disconnected connection; I enjoy being a voyeur in lives demonstrably different than my own. On any given day, I’ll scroll through engagement photos, pet pictures (brief parenthetical: my friends have excellent taste in furry, and not so furry, creatures), literary, social and political diatribes, where a battle of wits and words are common–but it’s a passive connection, and I walk away from the platform much as I entered it, undisturbed.

However, something recently put my heart on pause. I was reminded by Facebook’s fancy algorithm of a post I shared a year ago, and it put me to thinking about the way in which the meaning of words have the capacity to change based on when you encounter them. The word is the word, really, but its meaning changes form at varying points in our lives.

Well, let’s see. After you decide that I’m depressed, or whatever, you’ll put me on meds, right? Well I know hundreds of people on them and they’re all doing just fine. Really. I’ll go back to work on my new anti-depressants, have dinner with my parents and persuade them I’m back to being the normal one who never gives them any trouble. And one day some guy will ask me to marry him. He’ll be nice enough. That’ll make my parents very happy. The first year we’ll make love all the time, and in the second and third less and less. But just as we’re getting sick of each other, I’ll get pregnant. Taking care of kids, holding onto jobs, paying mortgages, It’ll keep us on an even keel for a while. Then about ten years into it he’ll have an affair because I’m too busy and I’m too tired. And I’ll find out. I’ll threaten to kill him, his mistress… myself. We’ll get past it. A few years later he’ll have another one. This time I’m just going to pretend that I don’t know because somehow kicking up a fuss just doesn’t seem worth the trouble this time. And I’ll live out the rest of my days sometimes wishing my kids could have the life that I never had. Other times secretly pleased they’re turning into repeats of me. I’m fine. Really.–Veronika Decides to Die (film adaptation of Paulo Coehlo’s novel)

Ours was a generation taught to draw an outline and spend the rest of our lives coloring in the lines. Our dream was a photocopy of a bland original with little variation, and we lived under the illusion that we had choice. Choice was really a series of selections within the confined space of how we would define our lives. College. Career. Marriage. House. Children. After a time, we realize we’ve boxed ourselves in, and the dreams we once fastidiously pursued have become internal prisons. Because what happens when you’re 40 and you haven’t found the great love? What happens when your womb doesn’t ache to be filled? What happens when you’ve been sitting in this one chair in front of another chair for the whole of your life, and you wake up one morning and decide instead that you want a view. You think maybe you want to hurl the chair out the window. What then?

Have you failed because you didn’t follow the plan and achieve your dream? Or maybe you had the wrong dream all along and you didn’t know it. Or perhaps you wanted something different but felt pressure to conform to what you should do, what is logical, what makes sense.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I’ll tell you the dream I had when I was 19. I was going to graduate college with honors (I did); work in an investment bank (I did); marry by the time I was 30 (oops); buy a house, but not in Long Island (still renting); have a child, possibly two, please not a girl (oops, again); press play, repeat and watch my children do the same (not likely). Never once in the narrative did I ask myself what kind of person I wanted to be. Never once had I considered there was nobility in living a life of your own design and making. Never once did I allow for a deviation, a margin of error. What I’d written down were facts and my job was to architect a roadmap to get me to varying points on a map, to the facts.

And then something happened. I hated banking. Like, really hated it. Like brawling with my manager during a performance review, hated it. I was good at it, found it easy, but I’d come home from work and feel…empty. At 24, I did the equivalent of pulling off the road and nearly crashed into a guardrail. I told myself, I’ll make a tiny adjustment to the plan. Different career but the rest will stay the same. This is okay, I thought. I’m fine.

And then I met a man before I was thirty (so close). We fell in love, looked at rings and spoke of our life together. For a time we were awash in sepia, we were our best photographs. And I think we fell in love with the idea of love, and as quickly as we’d come together, we unraveled at the seams. I loved him but I never let him in, all the way. Not the way he wanted me to. Our break was a photograph worth shredding and I haven’t loved anyone in that way since. I’ve met people but no one who challenges me, takes the breath right out of my mouth and holds it in his hands. My once great love is married now, has two beautiful children, and I’m happy for him. That he found the love he was looking for. I’m still searching, and that’s as far as I’ll go with it here.

So I returned to the career narrative with a ferocity which, in retrospect, was frightening. I published a successful literary magazine, a well-received memoir, and, within four years helped build an agency from the ground up. I was made a managing partner in this company, given a fancy title, a credit card, and equity. I made a lot of money and bought fancy things, but how was it that I felt, at 37, the same way I’d felt at 24? Empty.

I looked at my outline and thought, what the fuck happened?

I resigned from a job that had been slowly killing me and felt like a failure. After, I was offered more jobs like the one I had and I kept turning them down. The idea of sitting in a confined space for five days a week, the reality of being shackled to a desk and forced to endure an endless parade of meetings, conference calls and emails where no one believed in removing everyone from copy, was unbearable. I got sick just thinking about it.

What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings? –Elle Luna

Last year, when I read Elle Luna’s piece it occurred to me just how much I was compartmentalizing my life and how it wasn’t working. I thought, well I’ll have this writing thing over here that doesn’t make money and I’ll have this food thing here because I enjoy it and it keeps me sane, and then I’ll have this marketing thing over there because that’s the ticket. That’s the stuff that’ll make me money and keep my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Obligatory photo of said cat:

felix the cat

I realized I was pursuing the wrong dream. And not only that but the strategy I’d employed to pursue this new dream was also wrong.

I realized that all I wanted to do was WRITE. All I wanted to do was work with people who were insatiably curious and cool. All I wanted was to be itinerant. I started to realize that creativity can’t be found in the confines of an office or holed up on a couch. I had ideas while walking in the park or having brunch with my best girlfriends or alone at home or sometimes in an office surrounded by smart people. Good ideas percolate everywhere and I’m finding it’s my job to move where the good energy moves. And I’m still trying to sort out this writing business as it pertains to the pragmatic I have real bills that need to be paid but I want to create ALL. THE. TIME.

Do you know that I actually get EXCITED to write posts for this space even though I don’t get paid for it? Even though I don’t have sponsors or a donation bucket or anything that will bring me money even though I know it costs A LOT of money to publish stuff here. But I don’t care because I enjoy it and it allows me to exercise another kind of writing apart from my fiction, apart from my brand work.

Right now I’m trying to piece it together. Trying to draw a new map. From scratch.

I’m 39 and I don’t want to own a house. I don’t want (or need) a lot of money. I don’t want to have children but I want to fawn over my friends’ children. The great love? Working on it. Offline. The great life? I suppose I’m still working on that too.

After I torch the outline.

freelance life + careers

on feedback: there's a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

Untitled

Believe me when I say that I had a plan for today. After having finished Toni Cade Bambara’s astonishing story collection, Gorilla, My Love, I’d plan to share parts of it here, weaving her words throughout the post and allowing them to settle. I’m privileged to be able to be home on Thursdays, so I typically spend the day decompressing from the office, doing all of the errands that were once relegated to the weekend, and working on a freelance project for a financial giant located in the Midwest. Thursdays are my quiet time. I cook and photograph food to share on this space; I watch old films, read books, magazines and blogs.

And all was well with the world until a few clicks landed me on a fashion/lifestyle blog, and then the rage blackout ensued.

I hadn’t intended on reading the comments of this particular post–one that featured a series of pretty dresses from an affordable clothing brand–however, I found myself scrolling through notes left by many disappointed readers. While I read scores of blogs and know that sometimes what one writes won’t always appeal to the common denominator, I was startled to see just how many people were heartbroken over how the author, who was once effusive, creative and relatable, had quickly devolved into someone who peddled sponsored posts like cheap trinkets. Long-time readers of this particular blog expressed frustration over the forced shill after shill (after reading through some of the most recent posts I’m inclined to agree), and instead of accepting this constructive feedback with grace, the blogger TORE INTO her readers in the comments section.

Awkward.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts that espouse the notion of playing nice; bloggers parade out the old adage if you can’t see something nice, don’t say anything at all, and talk about uniting to create a kinder, gentler community. I’ve seen comment wars where people who leave heartfelt constructive comments are immediately devoured, called bullies and haters. Many toss around the term, mean girls, without realizing the weight of the words they’re using.

Let me make something crystal clear. There’s a difference between someone who routinely stalks another person’s site and social channels in an effort to terrorize them versus someone who leaves a snarky comment. There’s a difference between someone who ridicules someone else’s appearance, gender, age, or sexual orientation versus someone who expresses despair over the fact that the business of blogging has changed the blog they used to love. There’s a difference between being cruel and constructive. There’s a difference between vitriol and the tough words you may not want to hear.

Over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve had to shoulder some tough conversations about my attitude (I had a problem with authority early on in my career, among other things). I had to sit through annual performance reviews where my weak points were spelled out in excruciating detail. I’ve had direct reports who’ve told me that how I managed a situation was not okay. For four years my mentor (now, dear friend) routinely called me into his office to give me feedback on how I could have managed a meeting, call, staff member, or crisis, better. A friend once told me I was impenetrable. A great love told me, point blank, that I was a nasty drunk. My yoga teacher once told me that my ego was getting in the way of progress in my practice. Must you hold on to your anger so hard, my dad once said. Another time, he shook his head and regarded me with sorrow. Always with the hangovers, the damn wine lips.

Over the years I’d cry in bathrooms or sit in front of the television, catatonic, clutching a box of pizza. Words are like barnacles–they have the propensity to bind and sting. More than once I’d complained to my friends. Fuck them. They don’t know the whole of me. Not really.

Actually, they did.

If I’d only perceived feedback coming from a place of hate versus help, how would I have been able to grow personally and professionally? If I’d ignored the advice from people who wanted my success, yet felt it important to show me that sometimes I put myself in my own way, how would I be where I am now? People who care take the time to deliver constructive criticism because they want you to be the very best you. You will never move forward if you’re constantly tending to your ego. You will never progress if shut your eyes to words you don’t want to read simply because you find it hard to read them. Criticism isn’t meant to be painless–it’s a bandaid you need to keep ripping instead of inching it off ever so slowly. The sting eventually goes away. Once it does, be honest with yourself, really honest. Why is it that you felt the need to respond so defensively instead of with calm, compassion and presence? Is it because there there’s a kernel of truth to what people are saying, and you don’t want to admit it because admitting to it will require a shift or change for which you’re not quite ready? Or maybe you don’t know how?

I remember snapping at my mentor once to which he responded, laughing, I don’t have to invest in you. I can use my time on someone who’s willing to work on becoming a better manager, an effective leader. His words remained with me and I’m grateful for his feedback because it is an investment. In me. Another time, I received anonymous feedback from my team that my early morning emails made them anxious. They felt compelled to respond to my 7AM requests lest they be penalized. I was shocked, actually, because I simply sent emails in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. I never considered the effect of my actions, and instead of snapping at my staff I thanked them. I told them while I won’t be able to change overnight, I am listening and I will make changes.

If your blog is your business, you have to treat it like one. You have to be prepared to accept feedback in order to be successful. Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens. This is the real world and in the real world people will criticize your work. If it’s constructive, comes from a good place, and is meant so that you can get better at what you do, take it seriously. Suck it up. Have humility. Set your ego aside. After the dust clears and the emotions pass, allow yourself to digest what is useful and make small, measured changes in response.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t act like a petulant jackass in the comments section.

In other news, while I was chatting about this post to a host of friends this morning, I managed to make some incredible almond flour-crusted chicken cutlets and this extraordinary saffron herbed rice.

INGREDIENTS: Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio + mixed herbs from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar (I used currants)
1 ounce dill, coarsely chopped
2/3 ounce chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered or crushed pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan, the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the rice pan from the heat. All the water will have even absorbed by the rice. Pour saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority of it white. Cover the pan immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, leaving a few to garnish. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t over mix, you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_1078IMG1231A

freelance life + careers

five tips for freelancers: because some of you are doing it wrong

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Over the past two years of being a consultant*, I’ve seen it all. I’ve cringed during uncomfortable conference calls when counterparts waged a financial war over 30 minutes of billable work, and I shook my head when another freelancer told my client, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t big enough to be a priority. I’ve had to bear witness to freelancers loading a gun and shooting off every limb until there’s nothing left. Freelancing isn’t for everyone–some prefer the structure and rhythms of a traditional office environment, and that’s totally fine–but for those who have made the leap it’s important to know that there are nuances in handling client relationships and managing yourself. I’ve read through Copyblogger’s exhaustive list of all the mistakes one could possibly make as a freelancer (all 53 of them), but I keep seeing the same excruciating five over and over again.

TIP ONE: GET RIGHT WITH YOUR LOVE. Nothing says you’re not my priority than telling a client you can’t manage their request because you have other deliverables…for other clients. I’ve seen scenarios where a freelancer would tell a client they couldn’t answer their question (which was actually a simple one) until the following week. I’ve seen countless instances where people would be too transparent with their workload (I’m so slammed with other client work, can I get back to you on this? is a constant refrain). Let me let you in on a little secret: your client doesn’t care about your other clients, obligations, or workload–they only care about what’s in front of them. Clients care about their own problems, and they hired you for solutions.

And I get it. You need to juggle multiple clients because of the uncertainty of deal flow. You need to save for the drought. Sometimes your clients ask stupid questions (and they do, often) and you just don’t have time to answer them. Sometimes you read through your emails think, are you kidding me with this? However, let me be clear about something:

The fact that you can’t manage your workflow is your fault, your problem. Right now, I’ve three very active clients and they barely know that one another exists. And that’s how it should be. Want to know how I got to this place? Simple:

a. Be clear about your work arrangement, hours allocation and response time for “fires” in your contract. I go through the pain and bloodletting during the contract process. Contracts are critical because you’re not only negotiating the deliverable, IP, warrants, and all that other nonsense, but you’re also stipulating how you will work with the client and their expectations on your time. You’ll go through so many rounds on the contract that your client will have your availability committed to memory. In all my agreements, I define the hours or days allocated to a project, how we’ll mutually manage overages, and I even have clauses about how I’ll manage fires and normal response times on off-hours, and how I can be reached in an emergency. I hired a lawyer to manage my vendor agreement, and usually use a lawyer for 1-2 hours if I’m working off a client’s standard MSA/vendor template so I can ensure my language is covered, however, there are amazing affordable resources like Upcounsel, where lawyers can help you in one-off agreement negotiations.

b. Maintain your agreement (because there is the reality of the slippery slope) but be open to flexibility: Be thoughtful and strategic about managing client requests during off-hours. Is this an urgent request and can it be completed quickly? Is this just a one-off question that won’t take more than five minutes of your time? Then manage it. Your client will be grateful. If the request is substantial, be open with your client and remind them of your terms but suggest a midway point if the request is urgent, i.e. I’m sensitive to the request, and although I’m not available at the moment (I never say why because they know and don’t want to be reminded!!!), how about I come back to a solution at [insert later point in time]? Or, offer an alternative resource internally, or someone you trust who can supplement the work. Notice how I’ve address urgent inquiries. Use your best judgment in determining what’s truly urgent. If the situation is not urgent, kindly remind your client of your terms.

c. Manage your time: The hardest part of being a freelancer is establishing your own structure amidst a day without guardrails and routine. Establish a routine. Use productivity tools that are best for you–click here and here and here and yes, here, for some excellent resources. And, more importantly, be honest about what you can manage, because while I understand the need to squirrel away cash, at one point you will face diminishing returns and your performance will suffer, which will affect your performance and future referrals. Personally, I can only take on one “big client” in a 3-6 month time frame, and then I can take on other clients where the workload is no more than 10-15 hours a week. I usually have 1 big client and 2 smaller projects cooking at once and that tends to work for me. Yesterday, I read this interesting post where a freelance web designer takes on projects sequentially. Not right for me, but figure out what works for you and the services you’re offering.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

TIP TWO: RIGHT-SIZE YOUR APPROACH. Because consulting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A few years ago I bemoaned a client to a dear friend and peer. I prattled on about how my start-up client wasn’t doing things the right way, they skimped on the essentials of branding and marketing, to which my friend responded that I was doing the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. She continued and said that startups don’t have the time, luxury or money to do everything according to plan, that I had to rethink my approach and focus on the essentials for the client. I had to deliver what my client truly needed at that point in time, as opposed to what they should have.

That advice has lingered with me since, and now I’m able to shape my services to all sorts of client sizes and budgets. What I would deliver to a billion dollar electronics giant would be markedly different than my deliverable to a start-up clothing brand. Usually, the latter is leaner, tighter and execution-heavy. Yes, there’s strategy in both but the strategy for an established brand or business is demonstrably different than the needs of a burgeoning brand, whose positioning and value proposition may change over the course of refining their product or service.

What you think your client should do might not really sync with what they need, and you have to be prepared to be a consulting chameleon. Assess your client’s objectives, evaluate their resources and budget, and deliver what works best for them now, even if it’s a phased approach. I LOVE a phased approach because it gives me the flexibility to add and refine over time while offering the client a more risk-averse approach (and they can see your BIG THINKING!). All too often I see startup founders shake their head when reviewing a proposal, with a that’s nice, but that’s not really feasible when I’m still trying to get my product in shape.

In short, be flexible, be malleable. Realize when you’re fitting square pegs into round holes.

TIP THREE: DON’T GET SURGICAL ABOUT EVERY BILLABLE HOUR. No one believes in getting paid on time more than I do. If you expect me to deliver at a specified time, I expect to be compensated for my work at a specified time. However, we live in the real world not an imaginary one, and sometimes in this world people in accounts payable go on vacation, people forget to submit your invoice for processing or the direct deposit might take forever and a day to set up properly. Give your client the benefit of the doubt and don’t roll in acting like a collection agency if your check is under 5 days late. Client service was invented for a reason, people.

While I establish late fees in my contract (usually when payment is over 30 days), I also specify and negotiate payment terms in my agreements. Few companies pay N30 and even fewer pay on receipt. Most companies pay N45 and I’ve even seen N60. Luckily, most of my clients pay N30, and I have a few different gigs happening at once so the cash flow feels continuous (although I admittedly have to get better at budgeting–WIP!!!).

I usually wait five days after the payment due date before I send notes of inquiry because I try to exercise the belief that most people have good intentions and want to pay for the work you’ve delivered. And while I’ll send out the troops for clients who are clearly being egregious with late payments, don’t issue the brigade if the payment is a few days late and exercise compassion for when clients have good reasons for delays.

Also, while it’s important to track your project hours, don’t get crazy over every billable hour. I’ve actually seen emails where freelancers nickel and dime over a 1/2 hour. I’ve read emails where a consultant underdelivered on a project because they didn’t have enough time in the hour allocation. Umm…that’s your fault. As a consultant, it’s critical that you price right, profile right, and allow for flexibility in the contract when the deliverable changes or you encounter scope creep. Delivering subpar work and telling your client you’re doing so will ensure that you will never work for them, or anyone they know, again.

In general, you’ve noticed the constant, quiet refrain of flexibility. While I have iron-clad agreements and I’m pretty direct when it comes to how, when, where I work, I allow for a degree of flexibility for the times when I know being flexibility is an investment in the relationship and future business. Be smart. Don’t think in the billable moment.

TIP FOUR: DON’T ALWAYS BE PITCHING. There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

I’ve created education guides (e.g. social media best practices, worksheets for branding exercises, etc) that I use as investment products and soft-sells. Once I’ve established my value with a client, I’ll often send guides that are relevant for their needs/business, with no explicit sell. I’ve done mini education sessions (or the clients have used these guides for internal education), and I’ve almost always secured MORE business because of it.

Be strategic about the sale and offer additional services when you’ve established trust and value, and have some back-pocket tools that you can offer than can bring you closer to a sale.

TIP FIVE: HAVE A PLAN FOR RECIPROCATING/COMPENSATING FOR LEADS. Can I tell you how many people have received project leads or jobs because of my network? Can I tell you how many people have thanked me or issued a % compensation for their completed project as a result of my introduction or lead. Believe me when I say the former is greater than the latter. I continue to be shocked by the fact that people feel entitled to connections or leads. Every single time I get a lead, I thank the person who made the introduction, because although the project might not come to fruition I have someone new and valuable in my network. If the project comes to fruition, I offer a % referral fee on final payment. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do even if people refuse it.

At the very least be humble and thankful for any lead, even if it’s beneath you, not appropriate, not in budget, etc. I’ve experienced ingratitude that’s prevented me from sharing leads or referrals, moving forward. Every referral speaks to my brand and my integrity and I won’t risk either over an ungrateful/entitled referral.

*Bit of Advice: I accept LinkedIn invitations from people with whom I’ve worked previously and prospective clients. If we don’t know one another, please make an effort to pen an introduction to your connection request. Otherwise, it feels like the equivalent of you walking into my home, uninvited.

freelance life + careers