Friday, February 27, 2015

You are Your Business

For most people, the line between their professional life and their personal life is clear: what happens at the office is professional, and everything else is not.

For entrepreneurs, and especially solopreneurs (people whose business employs only themselves), those lines can be much more fuzzy. When you are both your brand and your product, when do you stop being on the clock? Are you ever really not working?

Everything we as solopreneurs put into the public sphere is a representation of ourselves as both people and companies. Every blog post I write, every call I make, every event I attend reflects my business, even if the blog post is about my family, the call is setting up a doctor's appointment, and the event is a gardening class. I'm still my business, everywhere I go, and in everything I do.

This blending of the personal and professional has its benefits. When we represent ourselves authentically, we draw to us the kinds of people we work best with. The vulnerability we create by inviting our customers and clients to share in our story enriches those relationships and helps people relate to us. Our natural energy attracts those with similar interests, whether we're salsa dancing, sitting on the beach, hosting a murder mystery party, or riding horses on a wooded trail.

Yet we must also ensure we are being careful and responsible. Am I taking proper care to consider the people in my life when I interact with the public? Am I looking out for those I do business with? My friends and family? What is comfortable for me may not be comfortable for others, and in business, mismatched comfort levels can have devastating effects.

We must equally always be as open and honest as possible with our partners, clients, and customers. Concealing from those we do business with what we're really like can result in their feeling misled and taken advantage of. No one likes a bait-and-switch.

Thus, we as entrepreneurs must find a balance. We must walk the line between being openly expressive in showing our true natures to the world, and being carefully conscious that our true natures may reflect on those we work with and for. This balance isn't always easy to find. Sometimes, we will learn only too late that our careless actions caused harm: a lost opportunity, a disgruntled client, an angry collaborator. Sometimes, we can see the consequences of our decisions before we make them, and choose the action that is best for ourselves and our business.

Readers: how do you ensure you are both authentic and careful in your interactions with the world?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Joys I've Found Lately

I realize this blog has been all doom and gloom and panic lately, so today I want to share with you some of the good things that have been happening in my life and career lately.

Ling in her natural habitat.
First, I am getting to spend lots of quality time with my cat Ling. Not to be all crazy cat lady, but this actually is very important to me. Ling has been with me for more than twelve years, making our cat-owner partnership the longest non-familial relationship of my life. She's normally active and vibrant, but over the past few years she's battled a chronic illness, which nearly cost her her life last September. Thanks to the fact that I now work from my couch, I am superbly kitty-snuggled, and it does wonderful things for my heart and mind.

Another great aspect of freelancing full-time has been the fantastic people I am meeting as a result of what I do. I spent an hour on the phone this afternoon with Roxanne Hanna of Sunscribe Publishers. I felt a real connection with this woman who is building a brand around the principles I already believe in. She values partnership among those working together to create something worthwhile, immediacy of action when an idea is coalescing into a reality, and fostering a community of creative professionals supporting each other in their business endeavors. We clicked on many levels, and our conversation turned my dull, gray day into something shining and lovely.

I've also been able to spend an unprecedented amount of time outdoors (for me anyway) during Texas's best season: winter. What northern states call summer quite resembles the weather we're currently experiencing—temperatures in the 60s and 70s, lots of sun, cool evenings—and I couldn't be happier to be drinking it in. When I worked in a lab I was lucky to glimpse the sun through a window sometimes. Now I'm a veritable vitamin D factory, I'm outside so much.

I am so glad to have treasures like these in my life. Now, please excuse me. I have a kitty to cuddle.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Terror of Money

I'm going to talk about something today that nobody likes to talk about: money.

Not how to make a bunch of it, or how to spend it wisely, or any of the kind of trite advice you can get from a zillion sources.

I'm going to talk about the fear money (and its lack) creates, and the way this affects everything we (read: I) do.

I'm having a snack today of fresh strawberries. This feels so indulgent, so ridiculously extravagant, that I feel ashamed.

That, folks, is pretty fucked up. I know it, but I can't stop feeling that way.

Why do I feel ashamed about snacking on strawberries? It starts with money. I currently have little to no income, having just lost my full-time job and not yet having picked up the difference in freelance gigs. It doesn't matter to my lizard brain that I left that job with a huge severance and that before that I had amassed a big chunk of savings. All my emotion-led self knows is that I have no more paychecks.

So there I was, at the grocery store last week, with a fistful of coupons and an eye on every generic and sale. Strawberries, as it happened, were on sale. But only if I bought two pounds of them. 'Sure,' I thought to myself, 'I can eat two pounds of strawberries before they go bad. I'll get some yogurt and granola and have that for breakfast. It'll be a nice treat.'

Before I was even to the checkout lane I was already feeling guilty. Yogurt, berries, and granola is a far more expensive breakfast than my usual bagel and cream cheese. How could I justify spending so much on something just because I wanted it?

And now, a week later, I still have more than half of those berries, and they're reaching the end of their shelf life. And my lizard brain has gone into panicked overdrive. If I don't eat them now, before they spoil, I will have wasted all that money (and food!). So I need to eat them anytime it makes sense.

I don't make a habit of snacking. Yet here I am, midafternoon, snacking on strawberries like royalty and feeling like a complete financial failure.

This is the sort of irrational, unjustifiable fear we let ourselves build up around money. My issue is strawberries. Other people have other fears that they let rule even the smallest decisions in their lives.

Right now, it feels like hedonism to do even one thing because I want to rather than because it will help me make money. Like eating strawberries in the afternoon.

Why do we keep making our decisions out of fear? Why do we spend our whole lives doing things we hate just to keep that fear at bay?

I wish I knew how to change this. Do you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Scary Reality of Self-Employment

Today is the first day of my full-time self employment.

Although I had been building my business and working toward a goal of full-time freelancing, the final decision was actually someone else's. On Friday I was laid off from my manufacturing job, along with dozens of others. I'm now totally on my own.

It's a difficult transition. I've been employed full-time for my entire adult life. Before my manufacturing job, I worked in academic research, a job I had obtained as a student and continued after graduation. I've spent the past twelve years answering to bosses, counting vacation days and sick leave, taking home regular paychecks.

All of that is no more. From now on I will be answering to clients, working when I need money and taking nothing but unpaid time off. My pay will be sporadic, coming as I finish projects rather than every two weeks.

And that's when I have work to do and money to be made. The harsh reality of freelancing is that jobs are incredibly difficult to get. The few clients I've had were all obtained through friends and family. What I'm making now is nowhere near enough to support myself. I spent all morning today sending out inquiries to people I've worked with, people I'd like to work with, and people who know writers, editors, and publishers.

I may have to learn to cold-call businesses to gain their interest. Although I realize it may be necessary, I really loathe the idea. I hate talking on the phone under the best of circumstances, and interrupting someone to peddle yourself to them is far from the best of circumstances. While I recognize the potential value in it, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it yet.

For now, I'm just trying not to panic at the thought of not having enough income. I know it will improve. I know countless people have done this before me. I know I can do it too.

But damn, is this hard.