Category: Home Business

Don’t quit your day job

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You’ve heard this advice before, right? I definitely have, especially when I decided to start my own business. There are certainly those who can handle jumping into entrepreneurship headfirst, but the reality may be that you need to have a regular job while you grow your business.

Recently I started substitute teaching, but I found that market a little over-saturated. So I finally decided to work full-time, and made a serious effort to find a good job.

If you’ve been reading Crayon Writer over the years, you know that staying home with my daughter was a huge factor in deciding not to work full-time as an employee. Now that she’s three years old, I’ve found that we both enjoy time apart.

My new job as a secretary at an accounting firm is a perfect fit! Having a steady income also makes me more at ease, so I’m able to think about freelancing without the panic of, “I need a client NOW!”

Getting used to this new routine has taken some time, but I’m finding it incredibly enjoyable. At the same time, I’ve gotten requests for my freelance and blogging services…self-employment will make a nice side income.

Bottom line: as you start or advance in your entrepreneurial venture, continue to evaluate how things are working for you. Then make necessary changes, and see how that works out. Nothing is set in stone.

Have you re-evaluated your business lately? What kinds of changes have you made?

Maintaining Productivity in a Home Office


(Thank you to Jon for such a wonderful guest post!)

You’ve taken the plunge and decided to join the growing number of men and women who work at home. You’ve redesigned your work-space, updated your computer system, and put in a new phone line, and maybe a fax as well.

These are all important steps, but whether you’re a consultant, a freelancer, a student engaged in online education, or a contract worker doing something like medical billing, there are certain patterns you’ll need to set in order to remain productive when your commute is only a few feet, or a flight of stairs.

Here are some tips for staying in “work mode” during the work day, and maintaining your focus as well:

  • Keep Regular Hours: “Regular” in this case does not necessarily mean 8:00 – 5:00, unless you have a spouse or child who needs to follow that sort of schedule, in which case doing so may be easier for you. It does mean keep your hours consistent. You can work from 6:00 AM – 3:00 PM or 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM, or any other set of hours that works for you, but you’ll be most productive if you figure out a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.
  • Get Dressed: There’s no doubt that one of the more attractive elements of working from home is the ability to work in your pajamas, but you’ll be far better off if you actually get dressed every morning. Unless you’re meeting with clients or colleagues, you don’t have to dress in corporate drag, but you should make the effort to put on real clothing – it puts you in a “working” state of mind.
  • Make Lists: Whether you keep a simple list of goals for the month, week and/or day, or plan each hour of your day, keeping a list will help you stay on task, and account for your time, which is especially necessary if you bill per hour. If you forget to make a list in the morning, do it before you stop work for the day, and include things you already accomplished, then cross them off. It will help keep you feeling productive.
  • Close the Door: Even if you live alone, closing your office door when you’re working can help reinforce that “work mode” mind set, by preventing you from seeing the living room rug that needs to be vacuumed, or the big screen television that is calling you name. If you do have a spouse or children hovering, it reminds them – and you – that you mustn’t be disturbed. At the end of the day, closing your office door behind you also helps signal that you are “leaving” work, and reinforces the necessary separation we must all learn to make.
  • Turn Off the Phone and Instant Messaging: Text, Twitter, IM, and even normal phone calls are all time-eaters. If you routinely have calls to return, designate “call back” hours, during which you return messages, and list those hours on your outgoing voicemail messages, so you’re not constantly answering the phone. Keeping the text and internet messaging/social messaging tools turned off also keeps you focused on work. Give yourself a limited amount of time to interact online during the work day, rather than having things open all the time.
  • Music Helps: When you’re working without the buzz of water cooler chatter and other people’s conversations in your ear, the quiet can feel oppressive at times. Pop a CD in, or fire up iTunes and set it to shuffle, or even just turn on a radio. It will help you stay motivated, and also help make you feel less isolated. If music doesn’t do it for you, consider listening to podcasts, or talk radio.
  • Keep things Tidy: We may joke that clean desk is the sign of a sick mind, but the reality is that tidying your workspace at the end of the day, makes things seem much less overwhelming the next morning. Coming into your office to a clear desk allows you to get right into your work each day. Make end-of-day clean-up a habit. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Exercise: A little bit of physical activity during the day helps boost energy. Whether you go to the gym before you begin working, or take your dog for a walk around the block during lunch, be sure to get some exercise in every day. This will also help you feel less antsy about being inside the rest of the time.

As we adjust to this economic downturn, many of us will be working from home, either to form our own niches, or to add secondary income streams to our existing jobs. Remembering that it’s still a job, even if the boss is you, and setting schedules and limits, will help you maximize your work hours, and minimize any stress.

Link love

rusty chain

Subscribing to others’ blogs is a great way to keep up with your interests, make new online friends, and learn new things. I’m subscribed to several, but hadn’t made the time (until today) to read through them.

As I peruse my feeds, I’ll let you know when I find some interesting articles.

There’s a wonderful list of resources, for any type of entrepreneur, over at Cath Lawson’s Tips for Success in Business & Life. I’ll be regularly checking her blog, since I seem to need lots of motivation to get my business(es) off the ground.

Stay tuned for more!

The Roadmap to Become a Blogger

Folded map

Okay, so after my last post, you’ve decided that blogging is your cup of tea. Perhaps you’re even serious about making your blog (future or present) into a money-making tool.

But one thing I’ve noticed in my short time blogging is that everyone has a blog now. There’re millions of them, about every conceivable topic. Along with tons of blogs, there are also lots of social media sites now. I’ve finally joined Facebook (look me up, add me, and make sure you tell me how I know you), and also Twitter. (I’ll put the appropriate links in my sidebar later.)

My point here is that there’s so much out there, it’s hard to figure out where to start if you want to carve out your piece of the blogging-for-money pie. And there’s a lot of competition. One thing that can work out for you, though, is that a lot of people give up on their blogs. I’ve had a few that have come and gone, for instance.

I just got my hands on a very detailed report about blogging. It’s a free download, The Roadmap to Become a Blogger, and the authors also have free videos to teach you various blogging tools. Whether you want to start a blog from scratch or take your current blog to the next level, take a look at the report or the videos and see what you get from them.

I learned that I have some soul-searching to do, and that I can use Facebook and Twitter to really skyrocket my blogging business. I don’t make a ton of money here at Crayon Writer, but it’s definitely a nice addition to my pocketbook.

If you’re serious about blogging, you have to keep learning or you’ll fall behind fast. Read everything you can and change with the times.

After you read the free report and/or watch the videos, leave a comment here to let the rest of us know what you thought.

How do you get there from here? Goal update.

find the way

A couple of weeks ago I shouted from the mountaintop that I had a goal and a plan for my freelance writing business. So how’ve I been doing?

Truthfully, I haven’t been as successful as I wanted. I couldn’t carve out 2 hours each day for making contacts, finding myself home only when me or my daughter was under the weather.

Am I giving up? NO!

Instead, I’m going to change my plans, though not my goal. It’s important to recognize when your plan may not work out. Otherwise you just spend day after day beating yourself up about your failure, and you find yourself no closer to the goal.

Imagine you’re taking a trip from your house to a nearby park. You plan to take a right on Main Street, a left on 2nd Avenue, a left on Park St., and then drive straight for about 10 miles. But you find construction at various points along the way, and realize there’s no way you can take that well-planned route. Do you just turn around and go back home, sulking while you eat a bag or two of chips? Of course not (I hope)!

You map out a new route and try again. It might take you longer, and you might get lost, but at least you’re still trying.

So, my new plan is to contact at least 10 prospects each day, via cold call or cold email. My goal is the same, though I realize it may take a little longer to get there. We’ll see.

Have you made changes in your entrepreneurial plan? Share your story with us!

From the mountain top (shouting it)

Achieve 1

A couple of days ago I announced that I was setting a course for my freelance copywriting business’ success.

Rather than reveal my plan all at once (besides, it’s still a work in progress), I figured I’d just start with each baby step that I’m taking.

One thing I figured out is that it’s not feasible for me to jump in, head first, with all the other daily responsibilities I have. That’s a pretty important point for everyone. A plan, to be achievable, has to be realistic for your particular situation. It can’t be too pitiful, like paying just the minimum due on your credit card with the goal of paying it off anytime soon.

But goals also can’t be too farfetched, or you’ll never even try to reach them. Like, say, planning to make a million dollars on the first day.

Here’s my goal: Initially I will make at least $2000 per month from my writing activities, not counting expenses and such. My timeline for this is within 3 months from today.

There! I said it out loud. Whew! That was hard!

How do I plan to make this income? I am primarily a business copywriter, focusing on tasks like press releases, web/blog copy, ads, annual reports, sales letters, newsletters, and brochures. I also do proofreading and editing.

I know I mentioned magazine writing in a previous post, but after some research I realized magazine writing isn’t best the way (for me) to achieve my goal.

Now that I’ve revealed my goal, let me tell you my first couple of steps.

In order to write for companies, I have to contact them, right? And in order to contact them, I need to have their phone numbers and/or email addresses. So my starting point is to compile a list of prospective companies. I’m using a free database that lists pertinent information, oftentimes including key players in the company. It’s a bit time-consuming, but I’d like a hefty list so I have no excuses.

My next step is to start making cold calls to my prospects. Basically, I ask for the person or department that probably hires freelancers, and then I ask that person if they do, indeed, ever outsource. Sometimes I get to the key person, and sometimes I have to settle for voicemail. Invariably, I get an email address and send them my intro letter and a link to my online portfolio. A lot of my procedure was gleaned from Peter Bowerman’s book, The Well-Fed Writer. I highly recommend it.

When I can’t make cold calls (like when it’s too late at night, for instance), I’ll still make good use of my time by cold emailing prospects. I may still call them at some point, but with working during the day I won’t always be able to make cold calls.

Because my days aren’t structured yet, it’s hard for me to give myself a set number of calls/emails to make each day. I’ll have to play this by ear, but I will commit to spending 2 hours each day making contacts. I might be able to set different goals for the different types of days I have (days where I work vs. days that I don’t), but I’ll get back to you on that. If 2 hours is too easy, I’ll increase it, of course.

So that’s it for now. I’ll be making a lot of calls this month. So far my list is over 2000 companies long, which will definitely keep me busy.

Now…how am I going to organize all of the information I get? Outlook’s contact management program? Excel? Index cards? Stay tuned, and feel free to offer your prospecting hints.

Working at your best

Arizona Sunrise

I often claim that I don’t want to work a 9-5 job because I’m not a morning person. But that isn’t quite accurate. I actually find that I’m most focused and energetic in the morning hours.

For instance, right now it’s almost 10 a.m. and I’ve cleaned my fish tank, cleaned up my daughter, done some research, caught up with my Facebook account, edited a few blog posts, and now I’m writing this post.

In the late night hours I’m beginning to find that I don’t concentrate as well as I used to. During my college years, I spent a lot of time doing my best work in the midnight hours, sometimes pulling all-nighters. But if you got a chance to read over my last few posts (all written at night), you might have noticed some unforgivable errors. (Hopefully I caught them all this morning).

While I do have more time in the evening, my mind can’t focus on details so well. Perhaps it makes sense to write drafts at night, editing them in the morning. Or maybe the midnight hours should be reserved for tasks that are no-brainers (like household chores).

When do you do your best work? Does it depend on the type of work? Has it changed over time for you as well?

Time to rearrange

wireless home office

Brady Bunch fans might remember that old song…something about changing and growing up.

In my case, I finally realized one reason I’m not as productive as I’d like to be. My laptop was kept right in front of the couch, in the living room, in full sight of the TV.

Besides the obvious TV distraction, the couch is too comfortable, the laptop too far away (can’t keep it on my lap and I didn’t have a decent table), and my daughter constantly wants my attention when we’re in the same room.

Yesterday I finally moved the laptop to my makeshift office, which is also my daughter’s playroom. It’s housed on a real desk, with a real office chair I was given, and it faces the wall. No more distractions, unless, of course, my daughter is home and needs me.

I even plugged in my Skype headset and made some cold calls (part of my action plan).

Have you moved your office equipment to a place that’s more conducive to work? Did it work for you? Share your ideas!

What’s the plan?

Garden Path

The other day I watched a speaker talk about how important it is to have goals. But even more important, he said, is having a plan to achieve that goal.

That really hit home for me.

I’ve been talking about being a successful freelance business writer for years now, and there are times when I give it my all. But truthfully, I realize I haven’t done my best yet. I haven’t made a good plan, I haven’t taken the necessary steps, to get to the 6 figures I know I can make with writing.

But better late than never, right?

This month I’m renewing my efforts with a passion. Having worked for myself makes me hungry to really make a living on my own.

So what makes a good plan? For me it’s quantifiable steps that I complete each day or each week. I know there will be times, like this week when my daughter had to stay home, when the plan doesn’t go…well…as planned. The point is to work like heck to put my foot on each step, knowing that there’s no way to reach the destination if I don’t. I can’t magically teleport to the goal.

So here goes! I’ll post my goal and my plan a little later.

In the meantime, tell us about your goals and your plans of action. Are you an aspiring writer or a part-time entrepreneur also?

Just ask

One of the life lessons that I keep relearning is to just ask.

When I had a problem with paying a bill on time, I called the company and just asked for an extension. When I was given a replacement laptop after my first one broke (before the warranty ran out), I just asked for an extended warranty (for free).

Now I just have to apply that fearless asking to my entrepreneurial efforts…and so should you.

How can you get new clients? Call or email them and just ask for their business. Or just ask your friends, family, and colleagues for referrals.

How can you get a magazine to take your story? Well they certainly won’t say ‘Yes’ if don’t ask them first.

What’s the worst that will likely happen? You’ll hear, “No.” Or maybe, “No!!” Personally, when it comes to most things I don’t take no as a final answer, but there’s always a point where you have to let it go.

My three-year-old daughter has certainly mastered the concept. She asks for things all the time, or for situations (like getting picked up instead of walking), and she’s rather successful. Hearing “No” doesn’t deter her much either.

So get out there! Don’t hold your tongue. Especially when it comes to everyday issues like bills and such. Just ask. You’ll be surprised how easy it is.