Category: Home Business

My Guilty Pleasure Revealed

Life is stressful. If you’re me, you’ve got a kid, you’ve got a business, you’ve got appointments, and you’ve got to deal with people on a regular basis. It is critical that you take time to unwind. Take time for yourself. Get your head out of the real world. At least that’s what I have to do to get through each week.

Allow me to admit my guilty pleasure. Brace yourselves! I watch TV series in marathon sessions, thanks to instant video streaming. That’s right. I’m a Netflix junkie. And Amazon.com. And whatever else works.

I’ve watched Breaking Bad in a shockingly short period of time, Dexter, Melissa & Joey, and Star Trek. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, all the seasons, more than once. More than twice. Okay, okay. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched it. But living in these fantasy worlds, day in and day out, gives me something to do on a regular basis that has nothing to do with my life. It’s a relief, even when the subject matter is a bit…extreme.

Clearly I don’t work and watch my shows at the same time. That would obviously defeat the purpose. But I will break out my crochet hooks or knitting needles, and even sometimes my exercise bike, and settle down for mindless entertainment. And with Smartphone technology I can even take my shows with me wherever I go. Not necessarily a good thing, but if I’m waiting for my daughter to get out of a homeschool class that’s too short for me to get actual work done, I have something to pass the time.

I’m sure we all have our guilty pleasures. What’s yours?

Make your own marketing materials

Having a successful business means successful marketing, as we all know. Along with cold calling, cold emailing, and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s just as important to have professional materials that you can physically hand someone. Lately, while out and about doing day-to-day errands, I make it a point to talk about what I do. What always follows is a request for my business card. I love my business cards, but I know I also need something more.

When I contact new prospects, I need to be ready to send them a brochure as well. Sure, my website is a brochure of sorts, but everyone has a website these days. Anyone can make a cold call or send an email. But a freelancer who uses a variety of marketing materials, both online and on paper, will stand out in the crowd.

Luckily, there are lots of options for getting printed materials for your business. You can hire a graphic designer and then hire a printer, you can try printing things from your own home, or you can use an online document producing and printing company.

You can create your own documents right on their site. Making your product is simple, and you can type text, add pictures, and move things around quite easily. You can also upload a finished project or use one of their templates. When you’re planning a major marketing campaign, details are important. You can get an idea of the paper types by ordering the samples ahead of time. I like to know the weight, the texture, and how light affects the paper when I have a serious project.

As a freelance writer, I sometimes run across clients who need printed materials as well. A reasonably-priced printing service is a great complement to my business. Besides brochures, you can try magnets, calendars, catalogs, window clings, envelopes, and a whole host of other marketing materials. And yes…even business cards.

Have you ever used an online printing company?

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

Time for a change – What’s next?

question mark 3

For the past seven years, ever since my daughter was an infant, I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona. I can’t say that it was “home,” but I lived there for a chunk of time. I’d actually moved to Tucson from Atlanta, Georgia. Tucson made more sense at that time, when I was a new mother and I wanted to stay at home with my daughter.

Thank goodness Georgia didn’t mind me too much. Crayon Writer’s new home is back in Georgia. We drove across country and we’re starting over. How exciting and scary all at the same time!

What lessons did I learn in Arizona? I’m not afraid of spiders anymore, cactus can be beautiful (who knew that they have such wondrous flowers?), and the desert is nice year round…for the most part. I got to know the mother I became, and my daughter grew up in one of the most unique places in the country (nature-wise). I also learned that diversity isn’t just a good thing in nature. Tucson lacks racial and cultural diversity, so it was time to move back to a place that thrives on diversity.

On the horizon for Crayon Writer is pretty much what I’ve always said I wanted. I will homeschool or unschool my daughter, I will continue to work at home and grow my writing business, and I hope to hire an employee in the next 12 months. I’ve updated my business’ website, and I’ve created Facebook pages for this blog and Theda K. Communications. LinkedIn is also something I’m going to become best friends with.

Change is inevitable. Change is exciting. Change is renewing. So join me on my new adventures in a not-so-new locale.

The Great Cloth Diaper Hunt 2012

A few years back I posted about the Great Cloth Diaper Hunt, an online scavenger hunt. Several small businesses, especially work-at-home-mom companies, sponsor the event by hiding a GCDH icon somewhere on their site. Thousands of hunters look for the hidden icons on the various sites, hoping to win the grand prize or even smaller daily prizes.

While the name of the hunt focuses on cloth diapering, many of the sponsors have other types of businesses. I’ve seen soap makers, knitters, jewelry designers, and more in the past.

Theda K. Communications, my writing company, is a sponsor this year! Please show your support by registering for the hunt, which starts May 1 and ends May 31, 2012. You can register anytime before it ends. Make sure you tell them that Theda K. Communications sent you (I might win free ad space if I refer lots of folks).

The hunt is really fun, and you learn a lot about cloth diapering and other small businesses. I remember fondly how much I learned while my daughter was still a baby (seems like a lifetime ago). I hope you register and enjoy the hunt! And if you have a small business, consider becoming a sponsor when the next hunt starts.

5 Tips for an Extrovert Working Alone

Are you an extrovert working from home or in an introverted field? That’s exactly what I’m doing. I think out loud (really…I talk to myself if I have to). I feel sluggish when I’m alone too much. I’m a “people person” in general. As a writer, however, I spend a lot of time alone. And it’s not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Lucikily, I’m more of an introverted extrovert, so I can take alone time in semi-long doses. But being alone daily tends to make me off-focus.

Do you consider yourself an extrovert? I’ve come to this conclusion about myself by taking several tests based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, and I pretty consistently score as an ENFP (the “E” stands for extroversion).

I also really enjoyed this article about introverts, which really made it clear to me that I am, indeed, an extrovert.

So what’s an extrovert working in an introverted job to do? Here are some tips I’ve compiled from “expert” extroverts I know.

  1. Recharge your battery every couple of hours. Call a friend, go for a walk, or chat online with a friend.
  2. Find a buddy who has a similar need. Make time throughout the day or week to chat in person.
  3. Consider working in a new location with new people around. If you work from home, try working at a local coffee shop a few days a week.
  4. Go grocery shopping. You’ll be sure to find someone who can help recharge your battery.
  5. If you can’t find someone to talk with or hang out with, try listening to talk radio or watch a short clip of an action-packed movie.

What tips do you have for other extroverts who work alone?

Freelance Timekeeping

vintage parking meter

So you’re a freelancer. Maybe you write for businesses. Maybe you’re a graphic designer. Whatever kind of freelance work you do, it’s essential that you keep track of your time. You need to know how long it takes you to finish a 3-panel brochure. Otherwise, the next time you quote your project, you may estimate incorrectly. You might also need to work on an hourly basis from time-to-time, so of course you’ll need to know exactly how much you should charge the client.

The wonderful thing about freelancing, from your client’s perspective, is that they pay you only for time on task. You’re not paid for phone breaks, laundry time, or the 20 minutes it took you to wash your dishes. If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.

Now, how fancy do you want to get? There are lots of cool tools you can use on your computer. Check out this list from Freelance Switch. Or you can use a stopwatch that allows you to stop it for breaks and restart it from the last time when you’re ready. You can download a stopwatch application for your smartphone also. Or you can just take note of the time on a piece of paper, and write down when you stop, and write down when you start again. Later, you just add up all the time.

After you’ve done timekeeping for several projects, you probably will need to have some system in place to keep a log of total time spent. This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records (in case anyone ever asks).

What methods for timekeeping do you use? Have you tried one method, only to realize it didn’t work? Share with us!

Crayon Writer Facebook fan page

According to Facebook’s press room, Facebook is a superpower. Well, I’m paraphrasing, but that just about sums it up. Active users number over 500 million, the average user has 130 “friends,” more than 700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook (each month!), and users share more than 30 billion pieces of content with their friends. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So it makes perfect sense for businesses, especially small businesses who have a tougher time reaching their markets, to get very involved with this online powerhouse. I started out with just a personal page. At first, I used it for keeping in touch with friends and family across the country (and the world). Later I expanded into connecting my blogs to my page, so my friends get instant updates whenever I post content on them.

Recently I took the plunge and started fan pages for this blog and my other blog, Marana Unwrapped.

What is the benefit of a fan page? There can be several, actually.

For one, you have a quicker way to interact with your fans. A blog post is usually a few paragraphs, and for me, it takes a bit of thought. Twitter is a useful mini-blogging platform, but there are so many tweets from others that your users have to read. I have a Twitter account, and I follow around 500 people, so I get multiple tweets in just a few minutes. There’s no way I can keep up unless I’m constantly looking at my Twitter stream.

But with a fan page, I can write shorter posts than on my blog, but longer than via Twitter. And unless your fan’s friends post constantly, your post will actually be noticed and read.

Exposure to new people is another benefit. When your fan first “like”s your page, it is announced to all of their friends on that user’s feed. You now have instant exposure to lots of new potential fans. And if your fan comments on your page or, even better, decides to share a post, you’ll get added exposure.

Facebook also has a built-in analytics feature, so you can find out how many impressions each post has received.

And your page doesn’t have to look just like everyone else’s. With Facebook Markup Language (fbml), you can personalize your page and make it stand out. If you’re so inclined. You can add applications and tabs, and even have new users land on the tab you want them to. Building lists can be done also, because you can request that users fill out contact forms when, say, joining a contest you’re running on your page.

The possibilities are almost endless. Harnessing the power of this social media giant is still in its infancy – Facebook has only been around since 2004.

Look to the sidebar on your right. You may have to scroll a bit. You’ll notice a nifty little rectangle right under the Donate box that mentions my Facebook fan page. Just click “like.” Or, if you’d prefer, head over to the Crayon Writer Facebook fan page directly. I haven’t done much with it yet, but like I said, the possibilities are endless (almost).

Do you have a Facebook fan page? How has it worked for your business or blog?

Cold Calling procrastination

Bus Stop

I’ve been learning a lot of cool things from watching the replays from International Freelancers Day (replays are only available until October 31, 2010). One of the messages I took to heart is that it’s crucial to prospect in order to get business. While that’s obvious, it still bears repeating. In order to make money doing any kind of freelancing, you need to let potential clients know you exist.

One of the best ways (in my opinion) to prospect is to make cold calls. Whenever I do a cold-calling campaign, I get new qualified leads (which, when handled correctly, may turn into paying clients). Whenever I stop making cold calls, my business grinds to a halt. According to Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-fed Writer (and also a presenter on International Freelancers Day), this mostly has to do with the low volume of calls I’m making. He suggests doing a full-force cold-calling campaign with hundreds of calls (and follow-ups once you get leads). Then you’ll never have to do such a huge number of cold calls in the future after that initial push.

Knowing what I know, and having heard the message repeatedly, why is it still so tough to pick up the phone? I actually like cold calling. I’m very much a phone person, and I love to talk to people. I don’t get discouraged when I get a ‘no,’ and I don’t even mind the occasional abrupt secretary. I’m good at cold calling.

But for some reason, the hurdle of that initial call is huge for me. So I start avoiding it. I make long Excel spreadsheets with prospects to call, I color-code the columns, I research more prospects to add to my list (which is easily over 100 already), and I start to negotiate with myself the best day and time to start calling. I write out my script by hand, then I re-write it on the computer and print it out for a neat copy, and I practice saying it (over and over).

My next procrastination step is thinking about the ideal location to make the calls. I check the batteries on my phone, think about whether or not to use Skype so I can use a headset, I research how to cold call, and then I’m finally ready.

Or not.

Now comes the hard part. I start deciding which company to call first. Surely I can’t call the first one, because they probably won’t need a freelance writer. So I look at their website. Yeah, I’m probably right. So on to the next one.

You get the idea. By the time I am really and truly ready to call, days or weeks have passed with absolutely no action being taken.

My advice to you (and me)? Skip most of the steps. The most important one, which I didn’t mention above, is to pick up the phone, dial the number, and ask for the name of the person in charge of hiring freelancers. Then ask for his/her email address so you can email your portfolio. Easy, right?

How you do handle your prospecting? Do you make cold calls easily, or do you procrastinate too? Any advice for the rest of us?

International Freelancers Day – Replays

If you missed out on International Freelancers Day in September, don’t fret. Until October 31, 2010, they have posted a few replays for free. If you like what you see, you can sign up to see the entire conference (also for free)! Just go to the International Freelancers Day replay page and get started. But hurry! It only lasts until October 31, 2010.

I did get a chance to see a few of the presentations, and they were simply wonderful. You certainly can’t beat the price. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out. But do let us know how you liked them. I can’t wait until next year!