free-lance writing


I am a corporate refugee.  I got laid off from a corporate job in September, 2001.  I decided to take some time off to decide what my game plan was.  I flew to the Canadian Rockies from Chicago to relax a bit.  That was on Sept 10, 2001.  Luckily, I was in no way directly impacted by 9/11….but the horrible events DID confirm my desire to be an entrepreneur.  Life is indeed short, I thought.  Now was my time to really explore my passions.

Amazingly, almost eight years have passed.  I did become an entrepreneur.  And, on the most part, I truly love it.  When I get asked the question by either my VocationVacations or Brian Kurth + Company career consulting clients if I think they should become an entrepreneur, I always “answer” them with a set of questions.  I will share them with you now.

5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Becoming An Entrepreneur

1.  Can I live like a student again?

Seriously.  I’m not talking about downgrading one’s car from a Mercedes to a Suburu.  We’re talking about driving your existing car into the ground.  I’m talking about a night out on the town is a $10 Thai dinner with a $4 beer versus a high-end restaurant and an evening at the symphony or going to an NFL game.  Vacation?  Your business is now your vacation.  Rather than booking a trip to Hawaii in January, you’re going to need to simply take a day off from your business and find a wonderfully, relaxing thing to do much closer to your hometown.  The bottom line is that you need to cut back ALL expenses if you are going to become an entrepreneur.  Regardless of how much money you have in the bank.  Because you know what?  Being an entrepreneur takes a minimum of TWICE as long and TWICE as much money/savings as you will ever plan.  Trust me on that.  I know first hand.

2.  How strong is my relationship with my spouse, family and friends?

You need support.  On the days where you can feel your hair falling out, turning gray, or both, you need your cheerleading team.  If your spouse is not on board with you, you have a HUGE problem on hand (one that may require a relationship therapist versus my dime-store, non-professional assessment here).  That’s a show-stopper, in my opinion.  I don’t know a successful entrepreneur who has a nay-saying spouse.  So, get your cheerleading squad together.  I have mine.  They come and go as to who’s cheering the loudest at any given time but I know I can count on not only my partner, Wade, but also my 85-year old Dad, my siblings and friends such as Gwen, Carolyn, Glenn, Anne, Heidi and Curtis.  They have been there for me since Day One.  They don’t pretend to have the answers or solutions along the way.  They simply LISTEN and tell me that no matter what, I will succeed.  It works.

3.  Is “resiliency” my middle name?

Get ready to get slapped down.  And I mean SLAPPED in the face.  Hard.  Like when Cher slapped Nicholas Cage in “Moonstruck’.  You might be slapped down by a banker saying “no” to your loan request.  You might be told by a prospective angel investor that your ideas suck beyond belief and that you might as well go back to your Dilbert cubicle now.   You may be slapped down and rejected by a potential business partnership that could have really grown your business despite your kick-ass proposal to them.  You might be turned away from the biggest media appearance ever that could have driven a ton of business your way because there was a communications snafu (true story on my end — I’ll share with you if you buy me a beer sometime).  The point is that you MUST be resilient beyond belief to be a successful entrepreneur.  Soak in the rejection.  Take it.  Acknowledge it.  Learn any key take-aways….but MOVE ON.  I invite you to find a successful entrepreneur who hasn’t struggled through rejection.  Resiliency is key.

4.  Can I hold positions in the following “departments”?  IT.  Legal.  Accounting.  Operations.  Marketing.  Sales.  Business Development.

This is near and dear to my heart.  Almost every day I want to pick up the phone and call the IT department.  Or general counsel.  Or accounting.  But, I then realize.  Damn!  I (!) am all of those.  I am my own IT on the most part with the able assistance of Melissa Townsend.  If it weren’t for Melissa over the years, this technophobe clearly would have somehow mistakenly clicked on some wrong button and would have dropped a bomb on North Korea or something.  Meanwhile, although we don’t have accounting and legal in-house at my companies, I must make phone calls to those INCREDIBLY important people in my life on a regular basis.  Honestly, I love my accountant and attorney.  As I should.  They’re expensive people to call.  Since you have to spend the big bucks on these two people to make your business run, you have to respect them and feel their advice is sound.  You do NOT want to cut corners when it comes to your accountant and attorney.  Now, it just so happens I really like both of mine.  That matters too.  You want them to be on your cheerleading team even though you are paying them to be on it.  Meanwhile, operations is something I want done and I want it done right.  But don’t make me cut payroll and vendor checks.  Well, guess what, at ANY time in the process, an entrepreneur needs to know how to cut checks, for example.  It may be the responsibility of your (future) operations manager but you too need to know how to pay your people.  They depend upon you.  My personal strengths generally lie in sales and marketing so I’ve been able to take on those on the most part.  But you get my point.  An entrepreneur wears ALL of these hats.  You need to be prepared to manage it ALL at the beginning.

5.  Is my business my child?

Yes, it is.  If you answered “no”, you’re getting your first slap as an entrepreneur.  From me.  Starting, growing and managing a business runs much like the growth of a child.  At one year, it still needs constant nurturing.  At three years old, it runs….but falls down and scrapes a knee or two and comes crying back to you.  VocationVacations, for example, is a very precocious five-year old.  It’s gaining independence but in doing so, it will at times surprise me with a need for a “time out”.  For example, this week we have been battling with our web hosting company (which will remain nameless) regarding some serious email server issues.  I want a break.  I don’t want to be dealing with it.  But, I must.  The five-year old demands it of me.  You get my point.  You MUST think of your entrepreneurial endeavor as a child and how you will raise it or, in my opinion, it won’t grow up.  But the good news here is that it DOES grow up.  And when it does, you will have earned financial security, time flexibility and overall independence.  And it’s worth it.

After asking myself these questions, would I still become an entrepreneur or does the fluorescent-lit cubicle look better to me now?  Oh, I’m still the entrepreneur.  For sure.  But I’ve had to work really hard along the way.  Entrepreneurialism is not for the faint of heart.

So, if you’re thinking about opening a bakery…becoming a free-lance writer…starting a dog-daycare center…starting your own marketing firm or whatever your passion is, I am a huge proponent and cheerleader for you.  But DO ask yourself those 5 questions before you forge down the WONDERFUL journey of entrepreneurialism!

GOOD LUCK!

Brian

www.briankurth.com

www.vocationvacations.com

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Job search is hard.  And it can get expensive.  Times are tough enough right now so the last thing you should do is incur debt, or more debt, in your job search.

So, here are my 5 Tips To Keep Your Job Search On A Budget:

1.  Join a networking organization

Join a networking organization (or two, if your budget allows) that does not cost an arm and a leg.  Now is NOT the time to join that expensive business or athletic club in the spirit of networking.  No.  Pace yourself.  Instead, this is the time that you should join or renew membership with your university alumni association.  And/or, it’s the time to join a trade organization such as PRSA, AMA or ITAA.  Join one organization.  Two if you can afford it.  Prioritize your purchase (it IS a purchase so think of it in those terms!) based on which organization will give you the most bang for your buck.  How many members does the group have?  How often do they meet face-to-face?  How close to your home (include travel, gas, parking costs into your equation)?  What’s their online presence and level of activity?  You want to join an active organization – both “offline” face-to-face and online via the Internet.

2.  Upgrade your LinkedIn account for $50

Upgrade your LinkedIn account for $50 (yes, their prices have gone up…but I still feel it’s worth it).  In doing so, you will be able to directly contact ten people you have targeted in your desired field regarding networking, meeting for an informational coffee and/or establishing a mentorship relationship with them.  These are people you’ve found via researching on LinkedIn by company name, city or vocation type…but to whom you have no direct linkage.  The $50 gives you that direct connection to them.  You know me, I stress the value of mentorship every chance I get and this is an ample time to stress MTR: Mentorship > Transition > Reinvention!  That extra $50 may change your life by linking you with exactly the right person who may help you network and may mentor you – all the way to the point you land your dream job.  MTR is the crux to the proven 8-Step Process for a Successful Career Transition I use day-in and day-out with my clients.

3.  Go to the library.

Sorry, Barnes & Noble, Borders and my beloved Powell’s here in Portland and Strand Books in NYC (let alone, my own publisher).  But you’ll be back shopping there when you’ve landed the job and have more money!  For now, check out the latest career search and business-related books from your local library.  They’ll be happy to see you and you’ll be happy to have just saved some money.  That being said, IF you find a book or two of great value after checking them out at the library, then go to the bookstore and buy them so you have them for long-term reference and you can mark it up all you want.

4.  Write Your Personal Biography

In addition to updating your resume, write a biography of where you’ve been, where you are today and most importantly where you want to go.  This is YOUR brand you’re creating.  It tells a story that a resume simply cannot.  Then have a graphics person create a nicely formatted one-page PDF for you including the content you’ve written.  The formatted PDF should not cost more than $50.  For more on how this fits into the mix of your career search, checking out Step #6, Branding, in the 8-Step Process.

5.  Negotiate Your Terms.

Get a career coach or consultant.  BUT….negotiate with them.  They may not negotiate on their price, but they will (should) work with you on establishing a payment plan.  To be honest, I find it frustrating to hear that some of my career-consulting colleagues insist upon a client signing a one-year agreement and/or a minimum of ten or twelve sessions.  That’s overkill.  A lot can be accomplished in as little as five sessions, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Once you’ve found the right consultant or coach, ask them to establish a payment plan.  For example, I offer my clients the ability to split their payments in two.  They also can either pay by check or by debit card (Avoid using your credit card unless you know you can pay it off in the next payment cycle).

One last point:

Talk to an accountant and save your receipts for everything mentioned in all five tips.  Most, if not all, should be tax deductible.

Now, get out there and find that job….AND STAY ON BUDGET!

Cheers,

Brian

Career Consultations:  www.briankurth.com

Career Mentorship Programs:  www.vocationvacations.com

Test-Drive Your Dream Job:  A Step-by-Step Process To Finding And Creating The Work You Love – Hachette, 2008

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What are you doing to stay sane these days?  You don’t know?  Instead, you ask what am I (!) doing to stay sane through these challenging times, Mr. Dream Job Guy?  Fair enough….touche.

As an entrepreneur, it’s really difficult to stay one step ahead of the times — but, so far, I’m doing it.  It ain’t easy.  And I suspect it’s not easy for you either.  You’ve been laid off.  You worry about a loved one being laid off.  Or you perhaps you have “layoff guilt” — your coworkers have been laid off, but you’ve survived with a good job and benefits.  And you feel guilty.

Now, I’m not a psychologist….and I’m sure not a psychiatrist, but I do feel there are, what I call, “Simple Things” that we all have to do to remain sane during these crazy times.  Yes, HAVE to do.  A mandate, folks.  Now, the Simple Things are completely up to the individual — different strokes for different folks.  You may think that this Cheesehead from Wisconsin has gone all West Coast Woo Woo.  And maybe I have.  But, I’ll tell you what, my Simple Things are helping me to deal with this recession and keeping me sane.

Here are my 7 (my lucky number) Simple Things:

1.  Smile, damn it!  Regardless of how crappy my day might be going and how depressing the news is, I make myself smile.  Even if it hurts.  Make yourself smile.  Fake it to make it, baby.  Just as a frown is contagious, so is a smile.  In fact, you might even force yourself to laugh at something.  I did this morning.  I was walking to the VocationVacations office and a truck was going by with its stereo playing loudly….the news was being read, “This is the worst recession since the Great Depression,” the news reporter said.  I felt like I was in a movie.  Did I just hear that correctly? Were those words really coming from a random truck just driving by?  Why, yes there were.  I smiled and chuckled to myself.  Yes, times are surreal.  Smile, Brian.  Laugh.  Fake it to make it.

2.  Turn off the news!   At least limit your intake.  Now I love watching Anderson Cooper on CNN with the best of them…..but I’ve completely cut back my intake of the constant bad news.  A bit of burying my head in the sand?  Yep.  And I’m damn proud of it.

3.  Make love.  Yep, you read that correctly.  If you’re in a relationship, show that person how much you love him or her by having some good old fashion sex.  Didn’t think you’d hear that coming from Mr Dream Job, did you?  Well, I’m not suggesting you go out on a sexual rampage or anything (um, I’m nearly 43….I’m not having sex every day, believe me), but studies have proven that sex is a great stress release.  So, be a good, loyal American and have some great love-making/sex with your partner.  If you’re not partnered, well, I’m not going to suggest what you do….but I’m sure you can figure something out.

4.  Get some physical exercise.  I’m not a gym rat — far from it.  I was always the last kid picked for a sports team in gym class. But, about 5 years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to get some sort of exercise every day so I would stop doing my own imitation of Jabba the Hut.  If it’s not the gym, then take a walk.  Go for a run.  Take a hike.  Yoga.  Stretch and do sit-ups on your living room floor.  Anything.  As the folks at Nike say, just do it!

5.  Treat yourself to something nice each day.  Keep it under $5 or $10, or whatever.  For me?  This morning I had a killer work out (see #4) — I even bench-pressed 110 pounds.  That’s a big deal for this geek from Mt. Horeb (Wisconsin) middle school.  So, for $10, I treated myself to my favorite diner breakfast at Fuller’s in Portland.  I just love the folks there.  The owner, Suzy, is the best.  I’m set to be in a good mood for the rest of the day after seeing Suzy and her smile (see #1, once again).

6.  Don’t sit in the dark.  Yesterday the sun was pouring into the office to the point I couldn’t see my computer screen.  I shut the blinds.  And then I was reading CNN news online (see #2)….and I started getting bummed out by what I was seeing on video and reading online…while sitting in the dark.  So, I quit CNN.com and opened the blinds again.  I needed the sunshine — especially here in Portland.  So, yes, I sat at my desk wearing sunglasses so I could see my computer screen while letting the sun shine in.  No, I’m not crazy.  In fact, I’m staying sane.

7.  Help a friend or family member.  We all are feeling stressed these days.  We need each other.  We need community.  My partner (Wade)  my Dad, my siblings, friends such as Carolyn, Anne, Gwen and Glenn (and many more) have all been amazing to me during this last year when I’ve had some difficult decisions to make in order to keep my dreams alive.  I hope you’ve experienced the same from family and friends.  Repay the favor.  Just the other day a friend of mine who’s been laid off was having a difficult day.  I took the time to drive to her place to have a cup of coffee with her — and gave her a hug.  Did I solve her problems?  No way.  But she knows I’m there for her.  Help a friend or family member in need.  They know you don’t have all the answers or their mortgage payment or their kids’ college tuition, etc.  But it’s amazing what that smile (see #1 AGAIN) and a hug can do for someone.

So, there are my 7 Simple Things to keep me sane.  What are yours?  I’m really anxious to hear.

Cheers!
Brian

Brian Kurth is a sought-after career planning and mentorship expert and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few. Brian founded VocationVacations (www.vocationvacations.com) in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love  – Hachette, 2008.  

I was telling my freelance journalist and author pal, Michelle Goodman, about how we are getting more and more inquiries from people thinking they want to be freelance writers.  Some of the folks have been laid off from corporate jobs and dream of the autonomy and freedom that freelance writing work brings.  Others are stuck in a rut and are dying on the vine at their current job and are considering career change despite the fact they might have a secure position right now — they simply hate it that much.  

Michelle has offered up some great answers to the most frequently asked questions about becoming a free-lancer.   I want to share with you….a very realistic approach to considering freelance writing!  (PS, she really knows her stuff….check out her books, My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.)

By Michelle Goodman:

1. Do you think that pink-slipped folks who can’t find jobs in their desired industry should freelance? What should they do to get started?

If you like working solo, can crack your own whip, and know how to be flexible when projects take a left turn, then, yes, I do think you should give freelancing a go. (If not, try temping.)

To get started as a freelancer, create a killer online portfolio or website (it can be all of two to four pages), whether you’re an aspiring writer, web designer, producer, or dog walker. WordPress make this simple. So do websites like VisualCV. A website not only shows you mean business as an independent professional, it saves you loads of time in that “So tell me about your experience” dance. If you don’t have relevant work samples, you may have to do a couple of freebies (don’t give away more than a few days of your time though) to flesh out your portfolio/resume.

Send out an email and Facebook blast telling everyone you know you’re now accepting freelance projects and link to your shiny new website. Be specific about the type of work you’re looking for. If you’re not on LinkedIn, Biznik, and Twitter, time to get there. Ditto for industry-related events and happy hours. The idea is to meet as many people in your field as you can, online and off. Learn from them. Trade ideas with them. Charm them. Spread the word about your knowledgable, talented self and your services.

Finally, learn to run a business. Half of working for yourself is wooing clients, negotiating contracts, managing projects, paying taxes, and making tricky judgment calls. So if you don’t know the first thing about running your own shop, now’s the time to learn. Read blogs and books on freelancing (ahem), take a workshop at SCORE (they’re usually under $100), and pick the brains of freelancers a few years ahead of you (you buy the coffee and come to our neighborhood, okay?).

 2. What can people do to hone in on a specialty and make their skills stand out?

Pick two or three topics that interest you most (for example, sustainability, social networking, and mobile technology), and run with them. Make sure these subjects intersect with skills you’ve already begun to cultivate and markets that are still hiring. Read everything you can about your pet topics online and off. Go to industry talks and volunteer at trade shows (to get in for free) — and don’t forget to network while you’re there. Essentially, become an expert. Clients want to hire someone who knows a lot about their MO/cause/business model. Don’t just be a writer — be a business, health, or women’s issues writer. Don’t just build software –build games, ecommerce sites, or social networking apps.

If you’re not blogging yourself, or not blogging about anything other than what your dog did on the carpet, time for a new plan. Use blogging as a tool to show clients how much you know about your pet topic. If you’re unemployed, you have the time, so no excuses.

Finally, if you don’t know how to record a podcast or make a video, time to get schooled. The better your digital skills, the more valuable you’ll be to potential clients.

3. How do you recommend that workers who flee the cube learn find colleagues and learn about industry gossip and job leads?

It’s imperative you connect with others in your chosen field and that you rinse and repeat on a weekly basis. Pick five freelancers in your neck of the woods whose footsteps you’d love to follow in. Check their social network pages and blogs to see what professional events they’re attending and online communities they belong to (as well as what books, blogs, and sites they’re reading). Then follow suit. Find out what free email lists pro freelancers in your field belong to, too, and sign up. These places are often where you’ll find the best job leads, insider gossip, and professional tips. And if you’re not finding the online or offline industry meetups that resonate with you, start one of your own. Banding together with four or five or fifteen aspiring freelancers can teach you a lot. Freelancers Union makes it easy to organize your own face-to-face meetup.

4. How long do you think it would take new freelancers to start making enough money to live on? 

That depends on how much money you need to live, which you should definitely figure out right now if you’re not sure. It also depends on where you live, what field you’re in, how much time you have to look for work, and how hard you hustle. Some new freelancers line up a full schedule in a matter of weeks. This is not the norm, however. For most it takes months, if not a year or more. To be safe, expect that you won’t have a full workload and you won’t have enough money to live on your first year, and expect to spend at least 30 to 50 percent of your time looking for work, unless you’re taking longer-range projects.

Ideally, you want at least six months’ living expenses (if not 12) before striking out on your own as a freelancer. (Admittedly, I only keep about four in my savings account, but I have a lot of employment options.) I realize saving even two months’ living expenses for someone who’s barely scraping by sounds next to impossible, which is why I suggest keeping your day job as long as you can and freelancing on the side at first. If you do find yourself freelancing without a net (due to a layoff or the fact that you never had a day job to begin with it), you may have to rely on temp work or odd jobs to supplement your income during those early lean months or years.  

5. Anything else you want to add?

To beat the recession as a freelancer, diversifying is key. Don’t let any one client dominate more than 30 percent of your workload, and don’t limit yourself to one type of project. Maybe you want to write personal finance stories for the mainstream media. But writing copy for creative agencies and newsletters for business associations too helps ensure you have more clients (and checks) to line your bank account with. Ditto for writing for both print and digital outlets, especially now, when the print media is suffering such heavy layoffs. The more toes you have in the client pond, the more work you’re have access to.

Likewise, the more skills you can offer, the more employable you’ll be. The freelance writer with translation, proofreading, editing, tutoring, or production skills has more job security than the freelance writer who only knows how to write. Likewise for the graphic artist who can also code and host her client’s websites, or the virtual assistant who knows a thing or two about web research, social media marketing, and SEO. 

 

Brian Kurth is a former “Dilbert” who worked for the phone company in Chicago.  After realizing there was more to life than telecom calling plans, he founded VocationVacations in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love – Hachette, 2008.  Brian is a sought-after career planning expert, strategist and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few.