Posts filed under 'Balance'

Monitoring the layoff rumor mill as a freelancer or contractor

Last week I asked if anyone wanted to weigh in on my ABC News column on how layoff gossip both helps and hurts office workers. (You can read the column here; it ran yesterday.)

But employees aren’t the only ones who grapple with layoff gossip. As a freelancer and contractor, I’ve recently had to temper my monitoring of the downsizing rumor mill about several of my clients. On the one hand, you want to stay informed of budget and headcount cuts so you can plan accordingly (save your pennies, find new clients, be sensitive to editors enduring employment upheaval). On the other, you don’t want to fall so far down the rumor rabbit hole that you can’t think straight.

In other words, you don’t want to be like the freelance journalist I interviewed for my column who said this:

“I get obsessed with the gossip to the point that I become unproductive. Instead of pursuing the work I have, I’m chasing down the latest choice tidbit on whether this other business is going to close. I’m on the phone with colleagues, I’m reading all the blogs, tuning in to the TV, to Twitter, you name it. It’s probably all a waste of time, but hope springs eternal and all that.”

I can relate to this. As a reporter, I love a juicy story too, especially when it affects my own life and livelihood. I’ve certainly lost a couple afternoons in recent weeks tracking the latest newspaper body count. But I’m trying to remember that if I don’t do the work that’s already on my plate I could be next in line to get the boot.

How about you? How do you deal with the layoff rumors swirling around your star clients?

3 comments March 13th, 2009

Ask the cubicle expat(s): How will you streamline your admin workload in 2009?

Let’s play a little game of open thread. Rather than talk about how we all want to land a pile of dream clients, sell more articles/photos/illustrations/tea cozies, and make buckets of cash in 2009, I thought we could discuss something that’s been near and dear to my heart lately: how to streamline the mountains of admin work that can plague self-employed professionals (as well as those working for the man or simply looking for that one decent gig that will get them back into the workforce after being laid off).

If you read my new book, you already know that I’m a spreadsheet junkie. A couple other things I’ve done recently to cut down on the thicket of admin work on my plate so I have more time to focus on writing:

  • Hired a virtual assistant to help with some of my book promo activities. This has been a godsend. Thank you, Jackie for saving my hide time and time again.
  • Hired a WordPress designer to make technical updates to my blog instead of trying to figure out the blasted code myself. (Duh. I should have done this ages ago.) Thank you, Liz of CMD+SHIFT DESIGN.
  • Added a somewhat strident FAQ to this site’s Contact page to cut down on the many, many requests I receive for free product plugs on this site and free career counseling. (It’s working so far — and may have even landed me a couple new consulting gigs.)

A few more things I plan to do in the new year to further streamline my admin work:

  • Hire a blog/social media intern. Stay tuned to this blog for the job listing. Or if you can’t wait, email me. (Note that this will be an unpaid position. For this reason, it may be best suited for a student.)
  • Have the fabulous Liz continue to improve this site — something I’ve been threatening to do for months now.
  • Finally automate my expense tracking (beyond the Excel spreadsheet I’ve been using) with a program like QuickBooks. (I know, I know. I’m old school.)
  • Set up more rules in my inbox so that every last press release, newsletter, and media list (that is, those I actually want to receive) goes to a special “to read later” folder far, far away from my inbox.
  • Finally read Gina Trapani’s Upgrade Your Life.

How about you? What tangible steps do you plan to take in the new year to optimize your worklife?

6 comments December 16th, 2008

Women vs. men: When it comes to self-employment, what can we learn from each other?

My email pal Ian Sanders and I are running simultaneous interviews with each other this week on how men and women approach the self-employed life differently and what we can learn from each other. Ian owns a creative agency in London and is author of LEAP! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free and Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life. He’s also a dad to two toddlers. Part 1 of my interview with Ian follows; part 2 headed your way tomorrow. You can read Ian’s interview with me on his blog.

Q. Do you think men and women are driven by different factors in business?

A. Essentially I think men and women are both driven by being enterprising; they may have different approaches but they want the same goal: success.

Q. What do you think self-employed women can learn from men?

A. As soon as we start talking about gender differences we are of course generalising! With that caveat, I would say women can learn something about having guts to “just do it,” which sometimes men posses to a greater extent. Having that self-belief to be bold. I think women are better team players than men, so when they are working for themselves it can be tougher if they are not part of a team.

Q. What do you think self-employed men can learn from women?

A. Self-employed men can learn a few things from women, as I think women can be more adept at juggling a mixed portfolio and have the bandwidth to handle the varied tasks. Men are better at one thing at a time (apart from me of course!). I think blokes can be good at going out and winning business but sometimes lack the ability to simultaneously be across everything, the trivial and the detail. Women can also be better team players – personally, I find working relationships with women co-workers can be more stimulating and fruitful than with men.

Q. Do you think either men or women are better (in general) at separating work and play and keeping a balance between the two?

A. I think men are better at separating work and play; women are used to mixing it all up. Incidentally I think that mixing it all up is the way forward, and I’m no good at separation.

Q. What is your single most important survival tip for freelancers and people making the leap to self-employment?

A. My single most important survival tip is Focus. Focus on building revenues; focus on one area of business at a time, then diversify and build once you have foundations in place; focus on delivery of a project. Because a project not executed is just an idea.

5 comments December 15th, 2008

Ask the cubicle expat: How can I freelance on top of a day job that requires me to be under my boss’ nose 40 to 50+ hours a week?

A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed by personal branding guru Dan Schawbel on his Personal Branding Blog. We talked about everything from getting started as a freelancer to using a pseudonym to the personal branding benefits of collecting bylines. We also talked about how on earth a person can start freelancing on the side when they’re required to be at a day job from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. Because I get asked this question several times a month, I’m posting the answer below. For the rest of my Q&A with Dan, click this here link.

Dan Schawbel asks: How could someone manage to write, while having a full-time job?

I answer: Because it can take weeks, months, or longer to build up a solid, full-time client base, keep your day job for as long as humanly possible. Some part-time freelancers do their writing and research before work, some do on the bus or train they take to work, some do it during their lunch hour, some do it evenings and weekends, and many do a combination of all these.

Last summer, I worked a part-time contract gig for four months because the opportunity and pay were too good to turn down. Fortunately I could do 75 percent of the work from home. But when I had to go in the office, I edited my stories on the commute (if I was bussing), came up with article introductions that I saved via digital recorder (if I was driving), snuck in interviews with sources during my lunch break (from the cafeteria, complete with Bluetooth and laptop), and worked again after dinner when I got home. When you cut back on “Law and Order” and lengthy phone calls with your BFF, you can accomplish a lot. You just have to be disciplined.

I hear single, child-free people lament all the time that they’re stuck in a cube from 9 to 6 and couldn’t possibly meet clients or look for freelance work. These people haven’t tried hard enough. I have yet to meet a majority of my clients, as many of them live 3,000 miles away, and we do the bulk of our business via email, not phone. If you can shop online, IM your friends, and update your Facebook status at work, then surely you can research new freelance job leads, hobnob with other self-employed professionals online, and email potential clients. Just make sure that you use your own computer or mobile device and that you do your freelance work during your lunch hour or scheduled breaks. If this isn’t possible, then you’ll have to learn to wake with the birds. It’s the only way.

Bonus answer: I can almost hear those of you who work 60 hours a week and spend every other waking hour tending to your children saying, “But what about me? How can I possibly freelance on the side with my schedule?” Let’s be realistic. You can’t. Unless you’re one of those rare freaks of nature who doesn’t require downtime or sleep. That old saw “You can do everything — just not all at once” applies here. The only way someone in your position can find the time to freelance is to reduce your hours at work (not always possible, I know, especially given the crappy economy) or find a less-demanding day job.

8 comments November 21st, 2008

Ask the cubicle expat: To blog or to pitch?

Trina Sargalski writes: I’ve been blogging regularly about local and seasonal food in Miami. I just went part time at my school so I could devote more time to my freelance career. I’m wondering how you decide as a freelancer what to blog and what to save to pitch to publications and websites. Should I be worried about other journalists pilfering my ideas to use for their own pitches? I’m really confused on this one and would appreciate any advice either by email or on the blog!

I answer: This is such a fabulous question. Let’s start backwards: There are rarely unique ideas in the world of pitching, just unique spins on old tales (like, a new study comes out, or there’s a pop culture tie-in). To see what I mean, subscribe to Peter Shankman’s If I Can Help a Reporter Out, and marvel at how familiar all the story ideas sound (Greening Your Office, Losing Your Home, How Greening Your Office While Losing Your Home Affects Your Love Life, and so on). Or just go to the newsstand and read a few magazine covers or tables of contents. Then note how the headlines are virtually the same as they were last year, only with a few more “belt-tightening” and “tough economy” tips thrown in.

That said, if you have a stellar story idea, do not put it on your blog before you pitch it. Why tempt fate? And why waste it on an unpaid blog when you might be able to get paid cash dollar bills for it?

Here’s how I decide between blogging and pitching (for the sake of argument, let’s pretend I’ve been blogging a bit more regularly than I have been):

Could this idea make an entire article (rather than just a one-paragraph blip on my blog)? Are there viable media outlets where I could sell this article (or, do I know editors that might like this idea, or could I use it in my paid columns)? If so, then I pitch first. If I sell the article, I can always mention an interesting aspect of it on my blog later, once its been published.

I had your dilemma — to blog or save my ideas for paid work — when I was writing my new book earlier this year, which, like this blog, is on freelancing. Because I wanted the book to be fresh, I shied away from blogging about the topics in my book outline. I, of couse, had about 50 little sections or sidebars that I didn’t have room to include in the book. Some will likely turn into articles (some already have), or blog posts, or possibly even another book.

Once you start selling articles, you’ll get a better sense of what you don’t mind “giving up for free” and what you’d prefer to sell (said the gal who’s been having a hard time keeping up with her unpaid blog of late). But as always, I’d love to hear what others think on pitching vs. blogging. If you have a completely different MO than me (make money from my writing, get more national bylines), you may have a different take.

8 comments August 23rd, 2008

When to breed, if at all

Unless you’ve downshifted even more than I have this summer, you probably saw the U.S. Census Bureau report that more dames are having kids later — or not at all — than ever before. Maybe now your Aunt Rudy will stop asking when you’re going to get knocked up.

As for having kids sooner or later (if you choose to have ‘em at all) and how that affects the ole career, thanks, everyone, who shared your tales with me. I crammed as many as I could into an column called Career Choice: Motherhood Now or Later. Here’s the top of it:

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it feels as if researchers are popping out press releases on motherhood and careers faster than women are actually birthing babies.

In July, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, told us that Harvard grads who went on to get their MBAs became stay-at-home moms at a higher rate than grads who went on to become doctors or lawyers.

Earlier this month, Cornell University let us know that mothers were 90 percent more likely to ditch their careers if their husbands worked at least 60 hours a week but that, if the roles were reversed, the husbands would likely keep on working.

And just last week, Cambridge University informed us that in the U.S., the percentage of people in favor of moms working full time dropped to 38 percent in 2002, down from 51 percent in 1994. In other words, if you believe that “family life would not suffer” if a mom has a career, you’re in the minority.

Others — like “Why It’s Best to Marry in Your Twenties” and “Parents: Tell Your Adult Children, ‘Don’t Delay Childbearing!’” — are so hideous that you just want to throw a baby blanket over their heads.

It’s hardly a news flash that, on average, women who choose to have kids do so later in life than their own mothers did. Nor is it news that more often than not, today’s moms are balancing a career in the process.

So rather than judge the breeding and breadwinning decisions of others — or dwell on the fact that no one’s scrutinizing every move men make with anywhere near the intensity — let’s look at the factors real-life moms consider when they weigh how and when to blend motherhood with their careers.

You can read the rest of this article here.

1 comment August 23rd, 2008

Motherhood earlier vs. later: which is easier on the career?

Hello. Happy August. Blogging will be back. Eventually. When I stop feeling burned out. Which I hope will be any day now. Especially since it’s my birthday Saturday.

In the meantime, if anyone would like to discuss the topic mentioned in the subject line, I’d love to hear from you. No, I’m not having a baby. But I am looking to write an article by the weekend on whether having kids sooner vs. later affects a woman’s career more — and how. There will be experts and stats, but I’m asking because I’d love to hear from “real” women who’ve pondered the question, regardless of whether you have kids now. If anyone cares to share their thoughts/experiences on or off the record (let me know which), email me here. The article is for a national news site. Thanks and have a lovely day.

1 comment August 5th, 2008

Gone beachcombing

Going offline till the 21st or so, on a much needed vacation. See you when I get back.

In the meantime, congrats to the lucky recipients of free BizJam passes, listed below, most of whom I had the pleasure of saying hello to at the conference yesterday. I’m sorry I didn’t have more passes to give away, but thank you all for emailing me.

Beth Martin Quittman, Samara Lectures
Jen Rotert, Lavish Design Studio
Jenny Zappala, freelance journalist

And thank you BizJam for an excellent conference. (If you’re in the Seattle area, I highly recommend checking it out next year. And if not, see Biznik, an excellent social networking site for indie professionals.) My favorite part of the event was talking to the other enterprising folks between sessions. I also loved that so many people had brought their laptops and were cranking out copy or design between sessions, on deadline. Hilarious. And so fitting.

Have a lovely week!

1 comment July 11th, 2008

What not to wear to work this summer

Workplace dress codes are a suprisingly big issue for small business owners — yes, even at that cute five-person creative agency you’ve always wanted to open. I wrote about this last week on The photo is well worth the click.

A small business owner I know was recently lamenting the fact that one of his employees constantly brought two friends with her to work: her “girls.”

“She happened to be very well endowed and thought it was a good idea to share her blessings with the rest of the office,” my buddy Joe explained, a bit bewildered.

When the 23-year-old administrator had interviewed for the position, she’d worn a business suit, he said. But after she got the job, she came to work dressed as though she was making the walk of shame from the nearest nightclub: Six-inch-high strappy sandals. Gauzy white skirts, complete with red panties showing through. Low-cut tops that revealed “the girls pushed and pressed, saying ‘howdy!’”

Worried that staff and clients of his four-person creative agency might be uncomfortable with his new hire’s sexy summer wear, Joe solved the problem by instituting an employee dress code.

But his predicament was no anomaly, as anyone who’s ever had a coworker or direct report under age 30 can attest. With “business casual” the de facto dress code in an increasing number of workplaces, and no one 100 percent sure what business casual means anyway, managers find themselves addressing more and more wardrobe malfunctions, especially during the sweltering summer months.

In fact, a June 2008 survey of nearly 2,800 U.S. companies found that 35 percent of employers have sent home an “inappropriately dressed” worker so they could slip into something a little less comfortable.

Everyone knows that in a casual workplace you can get a lot of summertime mileage from a clean pair of khakis and short-sleeved polo shirt (grads, are you listening?). But what if your personal style doesn’t lean toward Tiger Woods or Bill Gates? What threads can you get away with wearing to work when it’s so hot out you’re sweating 20 seconds after you step out of the shower? And which ensembles should you steer clear of no matter how high the mercury rises?

Read the rest of this article on

2 comments June 30th, 2008

Tats in the workplace: Yea or nay?

At Sara Champion’s previous job as a project engineer for one of the country’s top construction firms, visible tattoos for professional staff were against company policy.

She found this ironic — not to mention frustrating — given that her position entailed inspecting job sites filled with tattooed construction workers.

“I was out on site all day, and I wasn’t allowed to show any of my tattoos,” says the 28-year-old Florida native, whose six large tattoos on her arms and back include a brightly colored sunflower, a marigold and a rendition of a Dia de los Muertos bride and groom on her upper left arm. “Ninety-eight degrees and long sleeves is not so cool when you’re in Miami.”

After six years with the construction firm, Champion decided to move north and find an employer that wouldn’t needle her about her body art.

She found her “perfect job” in Danbury, Connecticut, as a project manager at a design and branding agency.

Now, “I have no problem showing up to meet a big client in a T-shirt and jeans,” tattoos in plain view, she says. “I wish more companies were like this.”

You can read the rest of this article by yours truly — complete with suggestions for scoping out a tat-friendly employer — on

Favorite tip(s) from the article:

“Visit the employee parking lot to see how they are dressed and whether many of the employees have visible tattoos,” says the workplace psychologist and founder of the career counseling site “Also ask colleagues and friends if they know anyone who works there who can give you some insider info.”

“The Web is also a gold mine of information,” she says, adding that the Web site, which is dedicated to body art and other modifications, features a database of companies reportedly open to tattoos.

To read the whole article, lookie here.

1 comment June 24th, 2008

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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