Freelancing is a Business, So Act Like It!

I’ve run this company for nine years. It’s been successful in that I can pay my bills and get the things I need. However, I haven’t approached it exactly how I should’ve all these years.

I haven’t always treated it like a business.

Do I hear shocked gasps from the peanut gallery? Sadly, it’s true. I haven’t always treated my freelancing writing career like a structured business as I should have. I took to it with an air of freedom. I work for myself! I can do what I want! La, la, la, tra, lo, lo! 

If only my office looked like this... Source: edgeplot

If only my office looked like this…
Source: edgeplot

This was a mistake. A big one, at that. Yes, freelancing comes with certain advantages. You get to set your own hours. You work for yourself. You pick and choose what clients to take on. However, you also need to make time for your work, be accountable to your clients, and bring in enough money to pay the rent.

See what I’m talking about here? You work for yourself and run the show how you like so long as it doesn’t interfere with making your clients happy and making money.

Sometimes, I let the balance slip. And I think if most freelancers were honest with themselves, they’d admit to the same. It’s way too tempting to become an over-scheduled social butterfly in the face of so. much. free. time. But that’s just it: you don’t have that free time, you just have the flexibility to not work when you choose. And that’s dangerous.

Because eventually, you’re going to have to work. You’re going to have to sit down at your computer and do the thing that brings in the paycheck and if you live footloose and fancy free (whatever the hell that means) all day and start your work day at 9 at night, you’re in trouble.

Pulling all-nighter after all-nighter to catch up puts you on the fast track to burnout.

A lot of this might seem obvious, but I stand to bet quite a few other freelancers out there struggle with similar issues. So, I’ve put together a list of things I must do to be a productive and successful freelance business owner. Who knows, maybe some of these tips will help you? 

Wake up at the same time each day

Bummer, huh? You thought being a freelancer would mean sleeping in until 11 every day, didn’t you? And yes, it does certainly lend you the freedom to do that, but you shouldn’t necessarily approach your business this way. Instead, set your alarm just like everybody else and get up for the day at the same time. “Get ready” for your day at the “office.” That is, follow a similar routine each morning that fully prepares you to get in the working mindset, whether that’s taking a shower, grabbing a cup of coffee, or working out.

Eliminate distractions

The Internet! Dear God, the Internet. It’s my biggest distraction, what’s yours? I mean, I have to use social media for my business but that can quickly spiral out of control. A few cat videos here, a few comics about cats there, and suddenly five hours have gone by and I have no work to show for it. Cut out the distractions when it’s time to work. That means, post a few tweets, check a few websites, then close your browser and social media apps. Turn off the TV and head to a secluded spot. Wear headphones, if you need to, to block out ambient noise (like your spouse, kids, pets, or loud people at the coffee shop) and get down to work.

TIP: I use a timer to allow myself structured distraction time. I set the timer for 20 minutes, write like the wind, then take a 5 minute break. Rinse, repeat. 

Make a to-do list

This one probably sounds very obvious but you’d be surprised by how many people (myself included) sit down to work thinking, “I know what I need to do,” only to realize at the end of the work day that you’ve completely forgotten something or failed to prioritize properly. Each week, preferably Sunday night, sit down for 5-10 minutes and write out everything you need to do the following week. Break that list down by day and assign approximate lengths of time required to complete each. You’ll likely find having such a structured to-do list on hand come Monday (or any) morning extremely helpful. When you sit down to work, there will be no question as to “what should I do?” One glance at the list will tell you.

freelance writing

Nice and tidy. Again, not my desk.
Source: Librarian By Day

Build organization into your systems

That’s probably the most awkwardly phrased subheading I’ve ever written but I’m going with it. Why? Because it’s broad enough to encompass any possible thing that needs organizing in relation to your business. Have a filing cabinet? Keep it organized. Use a home office? Keep it organized. You get the picture. It may be tempting to toss everything into a pile to “deal with later,” but that will invariably cause your desk to look like mine. And trust me. You don’t want your desk to look like mine.  If you’re a chronic clutterbug, check out UFYH* for some real-world motivation.

TIP: Keep your virtual desktop organized as well. If I added up all the hours I’ve wasted looking for a document, contact, email, or what have you due to a lack of proper filing, it’d be alarming. Create a place for everything and put everything in its place.

*Profanity alert!

Follow up with clients

Working freelance, a lot of the time, means getting a project, completing it, getting paid, and moving on. But this is such a mistake! You should never let a client walk away without at least trying to secure additional projects with them. Prepare a list of additional services to provide to remind them of any possible needs they might have missed. The worst they can say is no, right?

Maintain a professional image

If you work from home, there’s no reason why you need to wear a shirt and tie or a dress and pumps to sit at your home office desk. However, that doesn’t mean slumming it in your PJs and slippers is the best idea, either. Yes, you can wear your jammies all day. No one will see you, after all. But maintaing that level of comfort 24/7 can have a negative impact on your output. Pajamas signal your brain that it’s  time for relaxation and/or sleep. Do you really want to tell your brain that as you begin your work day?

That’s all I’ve got for the moment. Fellow freelancers, what do you do to get your body and mind ready for the workday? How do you self-impose discipline to treat your work like a “real” job? Please share!

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“A Reason to Get Out of Bed” at Yahoo! Voices for Mother’s Day

I recently signed up to be a contributor over at Yahoo! and they post some very interesting assignments. These articles don’t pay (they’re performance-based, meaning I only get paid for how many times people click to read them) but that’s not the point. Rather, the prompts get my brain pumping. Recently, I claimed an assignment just in time for Mother’s Day: What does being a mom mean to me?

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This article, A Reason to Get Out of Bed, is what resulted. Go take a look and leave a comment there or here. I’d appreciate it. I know you’re probably all sick and tired of hearing how grateful I am for my little girl. But she’s changed me for the better in more ways than I can name. Truly, I am a better person right now than I was the day she was born and it’s only been 7 1/2 months. I already owe her a million things.

Besides. Look at her. She’s perfect.

Dear September (Or, Now That You’re Five Months Old)

It’s your mom here. You don’t know me by that name yet. I don’t think you have any sort of name for me other than the outstretch of your arms, the grin on your face when you see me, and the furious way you stick out your tongue when you’re near my breasts. You know me as these things now at five months old. I know you by your brownish, blondish, reddish hair with the bald spot in the back. I know you by the way you grunt in your sleep and “eh, eh, eh” when you’re getting frustrated, or want to be held, or are getting hungry, or have a dirty diaper (or, or, or.) Funny. When I used dictation software to write and you make that “eh” sound, the computer writes it out as “or, or, or.”

I know you by your deep blue eyes and long lashes, a combination that is bound to make some boy or girl fall in love with you one day. I know that you like to nap without any pants on and that you’d much prefer to be hanging out in your diaper than deal with any pesky clothes. I know that you think it’s hilarious when Daddy runs your hand over his goatee and when I nibble your fingers and toes. You blow raspberries all day long and love the sound of your own voice, making new noises that test the range of your vocal abilities.

I know how warm you feel tucked in my arms. Already, you hang off my lap when I feed you. Just five months ago, the entirety of you fit on my lap, folded into the length of one arm. Now you’re big and getting bigger. I’m starting to understand how fast time rolls past us. While we’re caught up in the day-to-day struggles, trying to snatch as much sleep as we can, we forget to stop, breathe, and look. You’re growing up already. You’ll always be growing up. The thought of it fills me with pride and a bittersweet pang of letting go. One day. One day, I’ll have to let you go from my protective arms.

But not today. You are my sweet little baby. You’re perfect as all babies are perfect. You’re healthy and covered in rolls. Your thighs and neck are areas your dad and I love the most.

Most of all, you fill me with such joy. I want to hold you close and treasure you. Already, you want to get going. You want to explore. When you were born, you were pushing away from my chest, trying to lift your head. You were so strong. Still are. You’re trying to learn how to crawl now that rolling is no big deal. You want to move to everything you can, touch everything, put everything in your mouth. You’re my little explorer, fighting to capture the entire world all at once.

I’m just trying to keep up and trying not to let the damage of my past affect our future. I want to be a good mommy. I want to be someone you look up to, not run away from.

But those are concerns for another day. Today, I celebrate hugging you, kissing you, and discovering new ways to make you laugh and wave your arms in glee.

Love,

Mommy

The Things I Can’t Say

Mom.

Do you know how many years I wasn’t very fond of this word? It brought up all sorts of negative connotations for me. It’s not a positive word. It symbolizes anger, frustration, and irrationality. It symbolizes criticism and madness.

It was everything I didn’t want to be.

I held onto obscure hopes for a while. Maybe having a grandchild would change her, make her more open. Maybe it would make her forgive me for whatever perceived wrong I’d done to her. Maybe it would make her love me for who I am.

I was wrong.

When I was in tears three days post-partum, who did I call? Not my own mother. I called my mother-in-law. She was there. She listened.

You know the saddest part? I didn’t even think to call my mom. Not once.

If I call my mom, my dad picks up and I can hear her in the background telling him to say hello and that she loves me. But she never picks up the phone. Too busy rearranging piles of junk. Can’t be bothered with the sound of her own daughter’s voice.

I brought this up in a conversation with my dad recently. “Why doesn’t mom talk to me on the phone? She doesn’t even care,” I said.

“She cares,” he said. “She cares about you and loves you, but I understand why you think she doesn’t.”

Umm. Yeah. She has a funny way of showing affection. In the off chance I actually see her, she’s all smiles and hugs and wants to give us presents. But when there’s physical distance, she can’t be bothered. If there isn’t a “Thank you mom for being so thoughtful and buying me this stuff,” to be doled out, she’s not listening.

So the day after I gave birth, my mother-in-law came over and helped me learn how to breastfeed. I sat there, in a pretty vulnerable position, and she helped get my baby to latch on. I mean, this isn’t something I would have ever dreamed happening. But motherhood changes things. It forces you to be more open. To let your guard down. Emotions bubble up to the surface and you have to find those you can trust, otherwise you’ll just be lost.

I never once thought to call my mom. Because she couldn’t help me. I couldn’t even talk about the birth with her. Her experience was so horrible, I guess she couldn’t bear the thought mine was positive. Maybe if I’d been torn to pieces, I’d have gained her approval.

I wonder if she’ll ever know these things, the things I can’t say to her. I wonder if it would help if she knew.

But experience tells me the truth is something she likes to hide from. It’s something she doesn’t want to know, and when faced with it, lashes out in anger at me.

Always at me.

Because I was the only one in that house that ever spoke the truth. Maybe that’s why the sound of my voice offends her so. She’s afraid of what she might hear, and worse, that she might actually listen.

Motherhood is…

I regret not writing more when September was a newborn. I was in such a haze of sleep deprivation, frustration, and sadness that I barely had time to shower, let alone sit down and string coherent sentences together. Still, I wish I could have found a few minutes to chronicle the most challenging two months of my life.

Writing about it now, with some distance, isn’t the same. But I suppose it’ll have to do.

So, for the next few posts, my lovely writing blog will turn into a mommy blog. I hate that term. “Mommy Blog.” It has such an air of dismissiveness to it, doesn’t it? Like, oh hey, it’s just a mommy blog, it doesn’t really matter. But I digress.

Motherhood is fucking hard. And wonderful. And terrifying. It’s beautiful and soul-wrenching. It’s everything people said it was and more. It’s everything people didn’t say, too.

Lessons I’ve Learned:

  1. Everyone said I’d never sleep again. I brushed them off. How bad can it be? I thought. Ha. Hahahaha! That’s my cackle-filled laugh. It’s slightly evil and more so delirious. I’d never really experienced sleep deprivation before. Not really. Now I’ve seen it’s face. We’re old buddies. Turns out, sleep deprivation is a surly old man named Captain Tiggins.
  2. You Will Think You’re OMG The Worst Mom Ever. Chances are, you’re not. In fact, it’s much more likely that you’re doing a damned good job considering the circumstances. In the beginning, I cried just about every day. I was convinced I. Could. Not. Do. This. It was horrible. Why did we have a baby? God, why did we do this to ourselves? What were we thinking? Then it got better. Not all at once. Not overnight. But it got better. And I realized I was normal. I didn’t have PPD or anything like that. I was just mourning my former, childless self. It took me time to grieve for that old life. Now I’m a mom and I’m still all those old things, too.
  3. My baby is the prettiest baby in the world. That motherhood thing makes you love that screaming ball of poop and spit-up unlike anything you’ve ever loved before. You get crazy protective. You cry because of commercials for minivans with young couples and toddlers and puppies with gray muzzles because, oh lordy, the feels!
  4. Love isn’t an instantaneous thing. Some people may fall in love with their newborns as soon as they’re placed on their bellies but I think for most people it develops over time. I felt protective of my baby the moment she was born and I held her wriggling, wet body. But I didn’t fall in love with her until a week or so later. And let me be clear here: THAT’S OKAY. I had to get to know her. She had to get to know me. She was terrified of the world and screamed non-stop. I had no idea what having a baby was going to be like and I had quite the rude awakening. Then snuggling her close filled my heart and I knew somewhere deep down that it was going to be alright in the end.
  5. Baby smiles are the best. Things got better when September started smiling at about 4 weeks. Now that she’s almost five months old, her personality is blossoming and it’s impossible not to love her. She’s adorable and everyone who meets her falls in love. I’m a proud momma.

Still, it’s fucking hard. But it’s lovely, too. And if anything, she’s made me a better person already. I want to be sure she knows that one day, too. “Mommy got her shit together because of you, sweetheart. She certainly wasn’t going to do it for herself.”

New blog, new perspective

I realize it’s been forever and a day since I last posted here. Since my last post, I had a baby and I’m still struggling to find the right balance between taking care of her, getting work done, and pursuing my own creative endeavors. I’m not even going to pretend like I have it all figured out right now because I don’t. However, I am starting to feel a bit better about things now that the little one is over four months old. Getting past that newborn stage was rough but I think we’re all stronger for it now in the Barron household.

One thing that I am starting to do is pursue more personal writing. Yes, I have written about personal subjects here at The Inkwell, but there is a specific aspect of my life that never felt appropriate to discuss here. So, I’ve started a new blog to deal specifically with that topic. You can find it at There Was a Shopping Cart in My Bedroom. This blog goes into detail about my childhood and growing with hoarders. It will also cover some of the anxiety issues and other problems I face as result of my upbringing. At the moment, I anticipate to be posting more on that blog than here. However, I do have some new and exciting content lined up for The Inkwell as well. This has always been first and foremost a writing blog and I am endeavoring to keep it that way.

So, if you’d like to follow the more personal side of my life, feel free to leave a comment over there. I’d love to hear what you think about this new direction. I’m also considering writing some essays and trying to sell them to publications. I really don’t know why I didn’t feel like I could write openly about this subject before but I think having my daughter made something click in my brain and I’m feeling more confident about being myself. I think I owe that much to her.

Rolling Over When Pregnant, Or the New Hardest Thing To Do Ever

If any of my readers are pregnant out there (or have been pregnant), you’re likely familiar with the drama that is rolling over in bed. I should rephrase that–attempting to roll over.

If you’re not familiar, let me acquaint you. A task that used to be as easy as breathing, as second nature as the REM cycle, becomes a process of gargantuan proportions. At 38 weeks and 5 days (but who’s counting?), it’s become impossible.

Here’s me as I clutch the source of my insomnia.

Let me paint you a picture: I get ready for bed. I situate a myriad of pillows–one for my head, one for my shoulders, and one long body pillow that rests between my knees. I lay down on one side, the left, because that’s the best apparently, and cram and shove pillows all around me. I grunt, groan, and curse. Once I find some semblance of comfort, I breathe a sigh of relief, exhausted.

If I’m lucky, I fall asleep. Let’s pretend I’m lucky. I doze off. I’m asleep, praise Cthulhu! Two hours later, I awaken due to one of a few scenarios: I have to pee, my leg is twitching, my arm has fallen asleep.

After lying still for so long, my body has stiffened into a corpse-like slab. There’s no way I’m falling back to sleep like this. I have to roll over. It starts with a scooch. That’s all I can really manage. Lifting my top leg sends shooting pains down my leg and up my back. Dammit, I curse beneath my breath and try not to wake my husband. I pull the body pillow up over me and shift to the left. I’m on my back like a downed turtle.

At this point, I’m winded and struggling to keep blankets on me while doing all of this shifting, sliding, and pulling of pillows. To get on my right side, I have to slide backwards, lest me and my body pillow tumble off the bed. I take a deep breath and ready myself for the effort.

Oof! I lift my hips and push my body backwards. My hip groans, my legs creak. My belly is so heavy it just sags there onto the bed like a feed bag hanging from a horse’s face. Much more adjusting follows. I align the pillows and try to find a place for my arms. After what feels like forever, I settle and try to relax. Now it’s a race to get back to sleep before my body aches and demands that I roll over again.

It’s a sleepless, whiny battle and I’ll be happy to have this part of the motherhood experience over. Sure, I love feeling her wiggle in there but I think I’m ready for her to be her own separate entity in the world and for me to have my body back under my own control. Because this is just getting ridiculous.