A Freelancer’s Garden

When I visited my garden today, literally harvesting the fruits of my labors, I couldn’t help but compare gardening to freelancing.  Maybe that seems like an odd simile, but I think the two have a lot in common.

Think about it.  A garden starts with a piece of ground that needs cultivation and care to become productive.  You dig up the ground, till it, and prepare it for planting.  You add compost, peat moss, or other materials to make the soil rich and fertile.  You decide what to grow in your garden and what to leave out.

Once the ground is prepared, you plant seeds, water, and fertilize.  Soon, tiny shoots of green miraculously break through that soil, and you feel like you have personally given birth to those tender little sprouts.

You’re not done yet, though.  Now you need to weed out the bad, eliminating the negative elements.   Most importantly, you need to be able to tell the difference between the beneficial plants and the undesirables.  There are weeds that are lovely to look at, but they don’t belong in my garden, taking up valuable space and smothering the seedlings.

You have to be vigilant to protect your garden from pests, too.  If you don’t pay close attention, the vulnerable produce could end up riddled with worm holes that leave the food unusable.

Growing a garden is a slow process.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  In the end, though, you get the great pleasure of harvesting the vegetables you’ve worked so hard to produce.  Yes, you may have to throw away some pieces because, despite your best efforts, they were flawed, but what you end up with is the freshest, tastiest, fruits and vegetables to be found…and you did it yourself.

Writing and other freelance projects are much like gardening .  You start with the inspiration to produce something positive and select where you should sow your idea for optimum results.  In my case, it’s on a blank page.  I prepare the soil by doing research, making notes, and gathering my thoughts.  I decide what to keep and what to eliminate.  When I edit, I’m weeding out stuff that just doesn’t belong and getting rid of harmful pests so I reap the best quality I can generate.

As I watch my freelance garden grow, I get the same sense of satisfaction as I do when I watch my vegetable garden develop.  When it’s finally time to gather the harvest, the rewards are sweet.  Nothing tastes better than a tomato still warm from the sun as you bite in and savor the rewards of your hard work.   I get that same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I see my articles in print.  The harvest has come in.

Whether you’re a writer, a graphic design artist, a photographer, or other freelancer, plant your garden.  Water it, weed, it, feed it with thought and care, eliminate the negative, and nurture the best parts.  Like gardening, freelancing takes time, patience, and hard work, but the harvest is truly bountiful.

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Strategic Online Reputation Management Tips for Freelancers Part 1

If you’re new to freelancing, you may not clearly understand the importance of online reputation management or even what ORM is.  You might believe that reputation management is for big companies with public relations departments or celebrities and their publicists.  The truth is that, as a freelancer who relies on the internet to find and communicate with clients, online reputation management is vital to your success.

Why Reputation Management is so Important

Okay, you have a website.  You make sure there is only good stuff on there, so that should take care of the reputation management angle.  Right?  Wrong.  Your online reputation is created from both what you say and what others are saying about you. Now that you use the internet as a business tool, you need to take proactive steps to guard you most valuable asset – your good name.

No matter which skill we use in freelancing, we need a strong online presence as well.  Unlike big companies, we can’t run television commercials or buy full-page print ads to promote our services.  We must rely on the internet to help us find clients and make money. We must be our own best salesperson, and the best sales people know buyers often base decisions on whether they like, respect and trust you as a person.

Even though many of us will never meet our clients fact-to-face, we must still gain their confidence and trust.  One of the best ways to do that it is to maintain a first-rate online reputation. You need to start by finding out what other people can discover about you online.

Check Yourself Out

Have you ever used Google to run a search for your name?  Try it and see what you learn.  You may be amazed to find that, along with your website, social media accounts are now coming up in some searches.  Think about some of your comments or status reports on FB.  Have you complained about dimwitted clients?  Did you tweet about how chintzy your pay is or how overworked you are?

Even worse, you may find comments from a former client who wasn’t truly satisfied and is now bashing your services online, or some disgruntled person you know could be tweeting about your secret sleazy sex life…even if you don’t have one.

If that is happening, you need to know about it.  You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.

Take Advantage of Free Online Monitoring Tools

It’s important that you continue to keep up with any mentions of you online. The best way to keep track of new articles, blogs, or posts that refer to you or your business is to use the convenient tools available online.  Google’s newest tool, Me on the Web, lets you set a search criterion and when something new appears, it emails you.  You’ll find it on the Google dashboard.

Other tools let you monitor social media sites.  There’s a list of 20 of these free tools you can take advantage of at Socialbrite.

There is expensive software or professional monitoring services available to help you keep track, but most freelancers don’t need (or can’t afford) to invest that kind of money.  By using free tools and running a search of your name once a month, you should do a good job monitoring your online reputation without added expenses.

Now that we’ve seen a bit about monitoring online reputations, we’ll talk about how to improve those reputations in the next post.  If you have any questions, please feel free to send them in and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Do You Freelance or Are You Self-Employed?

A freelancer salutes the time clock!

I went to a party the other day and saw several people I hadn’t seen in some time.  One of the women asked me if I was working and I tried to explain that I am a freelance writer who writes articles, blogs, etc. for the internet.  She looked at me in confusion and said, “Is that one of those work at home jobs?”

How do you answer that question?  Yes, I do work from home, but no, it’s not the kind of “work at home” job she was implying.  It was hard for her to grasp the concept that I’m a freelancer and don’t work for any one company.  I seek out and work for a variety of clients and I work for myself.  It wasn’t until I used the term self-employed that she began to get the picture.

Is There a Difference between Freelancing and Self-Employment?
In my opinion, there are some differences between self-employment and freelancing, but they are minor. Some believe that what sets self-employed people apart is that they maintain an office or workplace somewhere other than at home.  In many cases, that’s true.

A bigger difference may be that freelancers often have a more flexible schedule.  Because our offices are usually in our homes, if we want to go to work at midnight, it’s easy to do.  I don’t have to change out of my jammies, or warm up the car and drive somewhere, and I don’t have to let myself into a dark, empty building.  I just commute about twenty feet down the hall to the office.  Of course, the disadvantage of this is that the work is always near, calling your name, and you may find it hard to walk away from it.

Freelancers don’t have to keep store or office hours.  I don’t have to worry about being somewhere at a certain time to let employees and customers in. If I want to schedule a doctor’s appointment or go to my grandson’s ball game, I work around it.

Freelancing or Self-Employment – Which is Better? 

There is no right or wrong answer to that question because only you know which is the best fit for you.  I love the flexibility and versatility of my freelancing lifestyle.  If I want to grab my laptop and go work at the park, I can.  I can do laundry, cook dinner, and work at the same time.

There are disadvantages to freelancing, too.  People knock on the door and call on the phone, the dogs bark and want in and out.  Friends and family ask you to do favors for them because in their opinion, if you are at home, you’re not really working.  Domestic chaos can ruin a day that was supposed to be productive.

Some people relish the more controlled side of self-employment.  They like a more scheduled day.  I know freelancers that also adhere to a more ironclad work schedule, entering their office at 9AM and exiting it at 5PM, with weekends and holidays off.  Somehow, it usually just doesn’t work out that way for me.

Freelancers and self-employed people do, however, have one critical point in common; we are both responsible for creating our own income, for organizing and controlling our work and records, and accomplishing tasks to our clients’ satisfaction.  Whether you’re a freelancer or self-employed, if there is no profit, there is no paycheck.  It’s as simple as that.

So what do you tell people when they ask what you do?  Do you say you’re self-employed or do you tell them you freelance?

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My Road to Freelancing

As a blue-collar baby boomer, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of traditional employment. Admittedly, I brought some of my struggles upon myself. I didn’t earn a degree, I chose not to go straight from high school to the local auto factory for 30 years of guaranteed good wages and benefits (silly me, I thought I could find something more intellectually stimulating) and I never took responsibility for living my dream. I let life sweep me along, knock me around, and pin me down.

My Decision to Freelance

What I really wanted to do was write. I even had jobs where I got paid to write. I wrote and produced radio commercials for several years. Small market radio is no place to make money, though, so I ended up in sales.

A few years ago, I was laid off… again…but this time I ran into a wall. Although I’d never had much trouble finding a job before, it suddenly became much harder. I might get an interview, but I didn’t get a call back. Was it age discrimination? I wondered.

The economy crashed and jobs were scarce. There were dozens of candidates for every job opening and I simply wasn’t making the cut. There were many valid reasons that could be the explanation, but the suspicion of age discrimination loomed like a thundercloud.

I began to doubt myself and question why anyone would want to hire me. Though I had years of experience in sales and customer service, I didn’t have a college degree and the college classes I’d taken previously were woefully out of date. Worst of all, I was over 50 (gasp!). Why would anyone want me to work for them when they could hire someone younger, lovelier, and fresh out of school?

Well, I couldn’t do anything about my age, but I did go back to school. If I was in school, I thought I’d feel like I was doing something to help myself.

Baby Steps Towards the Future

Now, here it is, five years later. Believe it or not, I’m still going to school. It’s taking me longer than usual because I’ve had to earn a living along the way, but I should graduate in December with a degree in Professional Communications.

That’s not the only change I’ve made, though. Four years ago I took my first baby steps towards becoming a freelance writer. I’m finally chasing my dream.

I’m not a big success yet, I’ve been learning as I go, but I have now been paid to write hundreds of articles for the internet. Oh, the pay’s not much to brag about. I haven’t been able to do this full time yet. I’m working hard to keep up my grades in school, I did find a great part-time job, and my partner, Darrell, had a major heart attack; almost everything was put on hold during that crisis. There are struggles, but I face each of them as they come at me and keep moving forward.

Most importantly, I’m discovering that life as a freelancer is good. It’s hard work, risky business, and requires focus and determination, but the emotional benefits are great. I love being my own boss and saying goodbye to corporate bullying. I enjoy working from home, wearing what I want to wear, and setting my own hours. Most of all, I relish the sense of accomplishment I gain from freelancing. It’s a big responsibility, taking my financial future in my own hands, but I finally feel like I have more control of my life.

How about you? What brought you to freelancing and what do you like best about the freelancing life? Feel free to leave your comments and share your thoughts.

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Your Secret Weapon Against Age Discrimination

When I was laid off a few years ago, I wasn’t too worried. I’d always managed to find a job when I needed one and though the economy was tightening up, I didn’t expect to have much trouble locating employment. After all, I have years of experience, I’m articulate, and conscientious. Why should I have difficulty finding employment now?

Age Discrimination is Alive and Well

Then reality set in. I sent out applications, both online and via snail mail, and usually there was no response. If I did manage to snag an interview, there would be no call back afterwards. Before long, I began to suspect I had become a victim of age discrimination.

I wasn’t the only one, either. My brother and sister-in-law were both pushed into taking early retirement from the company they worked at and were struggling to find work. Then, my longtime partner, Darrell, was laid off and faced similar problems (and he’s nearly 7 years younger than I am). It was happening to other friends in our age bracket as well. The problem of age discrimination seemed to be rearing its ugly head.

We all know age discrimination is illegal, but it is nearly impossible to prove when it comes to hiring employees. So what’s a boomer who wants to make some money to do?

Freelancers Can Overcome Age Discrimination

Although many employers hesitate to hire an older person for a fulltime position, far fewer object to benefiting from a boomer’s experience and knowledge. Freelance consulting is one possibility you may want to investigate.

And don’t forget…the internet is blind. If you have skills you can offer online, no one needs to know how old you are. Oftentimes, freelance jobs such as writing, graphic design, sales, marketing, and others, require no face-to-face contact at all. There really is no way for a client to know your age if you keep your resume strategic. If you post a picture of yourself on your website, there is no law that says that picture had to have been taken yesterday. Use a photo that doesn’t look dated and captures a sense of vitality.

If you’ve been thinking of going back to school to refresh your education, do it. When a potential client is looking over your resume or profile, seeing that you’re a college student immediately sends the signal that you are intelligent, active, and have current knowledge about contemporary subjects.

The truth is, you are your own secret weapon for protecting yourself from age discrimination. The best way to fight  age prejudice is to take your experience, maturity, and wisdom and use it to your advantage. Learn about strategically marketing yourself, playing up your skills, and downplaying your age. Make staying in touch with current trends and topics part of your day, every day. Do your best to stay healthy and energetic. Finally, don’t let other people make you believe you are old and past usefulness. Your state of mind is the most important weapon in your arsenal in the battle against age discrimination.

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