Try Something New and Take a New Step Forward

try-something-newIt still amazes me how often I hear people not only say they are afraid to try new things, but they actually avoid trying new things.

If you’re a business owner (or want to be someday), there are so many things you don’t yet know about that you’ll have to learn. If you don’t want to learn anything new, being a writer and/own business owner probably aren’t paths you want to consider.

We’re all born with a blank slate. Every thing has a first time. Why weren’t we afraid from the very start to learn to communicate, eat, move until we knew how to walk? Because we didn’t know any better.

Each writer has different strengths and interests and we come about them in various ways.None of us woke up one day as successful writers. We had to learn how to:

  • print / write
  • spell
  • read
  • craft sentences/paragraphs/stories
  • learn writing rules
  • understand grammar
  • come up with ideas
  • type
  • outline
  • research – through the Internet or, old school at a library
  • use a printer or scanner
  • learn to upload and download
  • use e-mail
  • and so on

Our businesses didn’t create themselves out of thin air – there are numerous tasks we need to figure out how to do when we’re a business owner.

Every little bit and piece of our writing business started with learning something new.  All things are brand new to us — at first.

Deciding to be a writer is scary in itself, isn’t it?

Pursuing writing as a career has its own anxiety, too. 

And there will always be something that makes us sweat – even a little – when it first comes to mind.

Where does the fear come from? Why do we get afraid of a project that’s a bit over our heads?

I’ve been there many times, and expect to be there many more. Being a little afraid is how I know I’m continuing to learn, improve, and build upon my current writing (and business) skills.

If you have the basic skills for a project, you shouldn’t be afraid to use them as a foundation for new work. If there’s a certain type of writing you are passionate about pursuing, go after it however you can – online classes, workshops, webinars, writing groups….

We all start with a clean/blank slate. It’s up to us, individually, to fill the slate with the skills and experiences we want and need.

Being nervous is a good thing – it means we’re aware and open to possibilities. It means we desire to push ourselves further.

If you don’t feel a little scared, you aren’t stretching yourself.

I encourage you to embrace the fear and push out of your comfort zone.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? I bet you learned a lot from the experiences – good, bad, or otherwise.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

It’s Thanksgiving Week – What Are You Grateful For?

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and many people have the day off (and some even have Friday off for a 4-day weekend).

For the most part I’ll have the 4-day weekend to do what I want, including working on my NaNo novel (National Novel Writing Month). I’m a lot behind on the word count, but I’m determined to hit that 50,000 word goal by midnight on Nov 30th. Very grateful for the quiet time!

I enjoy this time of year, in particular, to take more time to pause, reflect on the year-to-date, and to give thanks.

  • I’m thankful for my family, friends, roommate, and exceptional business associates.
  • I’m grateful for my accountability system that includes tools, of course, but most importantly weekly, monthly, and annual checkins with fellow writers.
  • I’m thankful for new writing opportunities.
  • I’m grateful for variety in many things – music, friends, work, projects, exercise routines, places to work, adventures to try, and places to visit.
  • I’m thankful for my new place – its convenience to everything important to me, its newness, layout, accessories, and size.
  • I’m grateful for technology that enables me to work from anywhere at any time.
  • I’m thankful for this blog – my co-bloggers and you readers – I’m always learning something new!

If you’re traveling this holiday – I wish you the safest and smoothest travels and hope you make great family memories.

If people are coming to your home, I wish you many hands to make meal prep easy and that you can find a few minutes to take a breath and appreciate those gathered around you.

(I’m also thankful for fleece socks, flannel sheets, new journals to write in, and new books to read.)

What are you grateful or thankful for as we approach the end of 2016?

Special note: Over the next few days, we’ll be moving nhwn.wordpress.com to nhwriters.org. If you have trouble reaching us, please be patient as the new domain name resolves. Thanks for your patience! The NHWN Team.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Patreon for Writers – A Fascinating and Evolving Space

patreon-byrneMaking a living as a writer is not easy. In fact, for the vast majority of people, earning their keep with nothing but words is nigh impossible … a pipe dream … a long shot.

Even so, we writers are a hardy (read: “stubborn”) lot who tend to dig our heels in when it comes to our writing dreams. And, thanks to the hyper-connected world of the Internet, we are no longer condemned to live out our writers’ lives in cramped garret rooms or the basement meeting rooms of local libraries and churches. With today’s virtual information highway, we can send our work out into the world, collaborate and converse with others, and even – gasp! – make money. Through the magic of the worldwide web, we can reach larger, more diverse audiences in real time and without having to go through a middle-man gatekeeper.

I am super grateful that I’m able to support myself and my daughter working as a freelance content writer. Over the last decade, I have built up a sustainable business that has kept our single-parent household comfortably afloat.

But, I want more.

Today, I’m paid to write what other people want me to write, and at the moment that consists primarily of website copy, ghostwritten articles, and eBooks, etc. for a variety of businesses across a range of industries. Someday, I hope to get paid to write what I want me to write. I hope to get paid to write stories and essays that are based on the unique thoughts that I’ve grown in my own head.

This is why I am fascinated by all the different ways that creative, entrepreneurial authors are making money these days. It used to be that there was only one path for a writer to take: traditional publishing. Then we added the concept of self-publishing into the mix. Today, innovative writers are also taking advantage of crowd-funding, including Patreon.

patreon-logoI am still in the initial stages of exploring the Patreon model, so I don’t consider myself an expert; but I thought it was worth sharing a few of the interesting pages that I’ve found in case you find the concept as fascinating as I do.

I’ve known about Patreon for a while, but didn’t take a close look at the platform until I saw a blog post from author Monica Byrne talking about her Patreon. I had read Byrne’s debut novel, The Girl in The Road, and was intrigued to learn that she had set up a Patreon with the hopes of earning a “bare-bones MINIMUM WAGE” that would allow her to write full time. As of this writing, Byrne is earning $1,612 of her $2,000/month goal via monthly donations from 359 patrons who pledge anywhere from $1 to $250 each month to support Byrne’s writing. (Most patrons fall into the $1 – $5 range.)

The basic idea is that “patrons” (meaning anyone who wants to support an artist or writer) pledge to donate a recurring monthly amount via an automated payment. Typically, pledge amounts start at $1 and increase by small increments – $1, $3, $5, $10, etc. Each pledge amount comes with specific “rewards” – sort of “thank you gifts” from the artist/writer. These can range from access to patron-only content (stories, articles, behind-the-scenes posts, Q&A sessions, etc.) to early access to new work, to real-world items (Monica sends handwritten postcards!) to acknowledgment in a finished work or even the chance to collaborate on a project.

Intrigued by this business model, I cruised the Patreon site to see what other kinds of writers were using the platform to earn “real” money. Here are a few of the pages that I found most interesting:

  • Mike Bennett, author of the vampire series, Underwood and Flinch: $2,005/month via 599 patrons
  • Wait But Why (aka Tim Urban and Andrew Finn), creators and publishers of a unique, long-form, (not-a-blog) website that covers topics from happiness and human nature to science and philosophy to general observations: $13,204/month via 4,303 patrons
  • Writing Excuses, a fabulous, four-person podcast on the craft of writing: $1,542/month with 290 patrons
  • N.K. Jemisin, a prolific science fiction and fantasy author who has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times: $5,193/month via 964 patrons

As I said, I’m still just exploring this business model for writers, but you have to admit that it’s pretty intriguing. Patreon has a handy landing page just for writers if you’d like to get more of the facts. And if you have any first-hand experience with a platform like this, I’d love to hear your story.

Meanwhile, I’m pledging my monthly support to both Monica Byrne and the Writing Excuses team … and I have a feeling I may be adding to that list in the not-too-distant future.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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P.S. Fellow NHWN-blogger wrote a post about Kickstarter and the kerfuffle caused by one writer’s daring to ask her fans for money. Good For You, Not For Me is a great read by Lee Laughlin, and I very much enjoyed the reader commentary as well.

How to Handle Overwhelm

Getting overwhelmed can happen to the best of us. It can happen when we least expect it, but most often, I think, we at least have a glimmer of when it’s about to hit us.

Overwhelm can hit when, like Jamie recently and me back in December/January, your computer crashes in the middle of the workweek and it takes a while to get back ‘on track.’

Overwhelm can hit when you have slow periods with barely any work, then start saying ‘yes’ to any work opportunities that arrive, and within  days or weeks you find yourself with so much work you don’t know when you’ll sleep again.

Similarly, overwhelm can hit when you have a few projects (sometimes even one) that take much longer than you estimated, or that you consider ‘done’, arrive back on your desk needing rewriting or other fixes — and your schedule is full already.

What do you do when overwhelm hits you? My best advice is: step away. It sounds crazy when there’s so much to do, I know.

Step away from all of it. Breathe. Do something mindless or fun or at least not-at-all-related to your work. Re-focus. Re-prioritize. Develop a plan of attack. Move back into the work.

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

What made me think of this post was seeing an entire family of crabs wash up on the beach over the weekend. Two large crabs, some smaller crabs, and some incredibly tiny crabs all together washed up from a wave as the tide peaked. I imagine they had been swimming just under the surface, having a family day, and then they took a step into a current (perhaps rip tide) and lost all ability to control their own progress.

They became overwhelmed with forces outside of their control. They got left on the sand and struggled to gain their footing and regroup and just as they (almost) managed that, another wave washed over them, tumbled them around, pulled away and left them struggling again. This went on for many minutes. The struggle was real. The crabs weren’t going to drown, but they certainly were overwhelmed.

I thought that the couple of crabs that remained where they were each time the wave pulled and pushed against them – the ones that seemingly remained calm and let the water flow as it would – were the ones that were going to end the day on a good note. I felt the crabs that scrabbled for a grip on the sand and ran this way and that without any plan were going to end up bird food as soon as they exhausted themselves.

We can’t always let go or step away completely, but when overwhelm hits, we need to find a way to stay calm, focus, and develop a plan. Otherwise we’re struggling and may end up too exhausted to do anything at all.

What do you do when you sense overwhelm approaching?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Take 2: Thinking About Being a Self-Employed Writer?

This is a reworked post from almost exactly a year ago. The question is evergreen and the conversations it started were quite helpful then, as I think they will be now.

If you’re on the fence about making the leap to self-employed writer and how to make a living, perhaps something here will help you along.

My (former) home office

My (former) home office

About me: I only have myself to rely on for income. There is no alimony or child support or money from any non-client coming to me. I do not have any children to feed or any crazy-ridiculous expenses to worry about such as music lessons, sports teams, camp getaways, college tuition, etc.

I usually hear one of these two replies when people learn I’m an independent writer/editor: “Hey, that’s fabulous that you have no one but yourself to worry about! No money worries at all!” or “Oh, wow, if something happens to you, you might be up the proverbial river without the proverbial paddle. Does’t that stress you out?”

I don’t have a formula, but here’s what there is to know about how I am now 11+ years into being my own boss:

  • When I decided to leave the corporate world, I gave myself 1 year to get my finances in order and find affordable health insurance. It was/is important to me to have at least 4 months of savings to cover bills.
  • At the time I quit, I downsized (sold my house) and have been renting ever since, which is less responsibility and has more predictable expenses (to me), so I can save money as well as pay myself.
  • I am frugal – this means I minimize my bills, but I’m not lacking. I have Internet, a smartphone, use AC, and buy too much food when I go to the grocery store; I don’t work by candlelight to save on my electric bill or live in a library for free WiFi. 🙂 I always pay my credit card in full each month to avoid finance charges.
  • I maintain my older vehicle instead of having car payments.
  • I network to meet other solopreneurs and learn how they thrive in their business and try tips I learn.
  • I use LinkedIn to find contract opportunities.
  • I only take on jobs that interest me, which keeps me happy and lets me give my best to the client.
  • I absolutely love what I do and (literally) say “Thank you” out loud every day to the cosmos.

I don’t know of a magic bullet for self-employment success, but I know (1)  it’s important to love what you do and that you have to work at it. If you want it to work and approach it honestly, I believe you’re more than 75% to your goal.

And (2) having money readily available if monthly income checks don’t arrive when planned is quite helpful at keeping stress about money at under control.

What is your tip to someone thinking about becoming self-employed?

Or, what was your final hurdle before jumping into self-employment?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Organizing Your Writing Projects with Trello

I admit it: I’m  a bit of a software geek. I can easily spend hours researching and playing with different kinds of project management, tracking, and collaboration software products. I love the way these digital tools help me wrest order from chaos and streamline my workflows and communication.

At the moment, I’ve fallen quite hard for a combination of Asana/Instgantt/Google Drive to help me manage my more complex client projects (the ones with longer lead times, more moving parts, and additional team members). However, I was recently reminded of a simple but powerful software called Trello, and I thought it was worth sharing it as a simple, beautifully visual, and FREE way for writers to track and manage all kinds of information from product status and submissions to lead generation and story ideas.

Here’s a 5-minute video that will give you an overview of how the software works:

The ways a writer can use Trello are almost endless:

To Track Submissions: Move “story” cards through a series of lists that track a story’s progress through the development process:

  • New Idea
  • Pitch in Development
  • Pitch Submitted
  • Ready for Follow Up
  • Accepted
  • Edited
  • Delivered
  • Payment Received

To Track Networking/Lead Generation: Similarly, you might move “contact” cards through a series of lists representing the stages of relationship development with colleagues, editors, and potential clients:

  • Outreach Targets
  • Contact Initiated
  • Ready for Initial Follow-Up
  • First Meeting/Conversation
  • Ready for Second Follow-up
  • Project Initiated/Assignment Secured
  • Back-burnered

To Track Project Status: However you break your projects down, you can use Trello to track progress on each element by moving task cards through workflow step lists:

  • To Be Scheduled
  • Scheduled
  • In Progress
  • First Draft Complete
  • In First Revision
  • In Second Revision
  • In Editing
  • In Proofreading
  • Complete

To Capture Reference Materials: Though I generally prefer Scrivener for this, many people like to use Evernote or even Pinterest to collect and organize story-related reference materials. Trello can be used in a similar way if you create cards for each story element and then organize them into category-based lists:

  • Characters
  • Locations
  • Time Periods/Time Lines
  • Style Guide
  • Artifacts and Props
  • Themes
  • Miscellaneous Details

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Introduction to Style Guides

Style GuideAs a professional writer, style guides are part of the job.

Clients may have their own guides, or at least their own ideas for guides. Clients may be willing to defer to you and whatever your style is. Whichever scenario, it’s good to know what a style guide is and to have one for your own business.

The focus of a style guide is to provide guidance on usage when more than one possibility exists; it isn’t so much for distinguishing between correct and incorrect grammar.

Business can choose style guides and dictionaries to follow for most word inquiries, but there are always words or phrases – do I capitalize this or not? Does this need to be hyphenated? – that come up over and over. Individual style guides track these types of things.

I generally follow Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster Dictionary. A majority of my clients go with what I recommend, but I do have a few that use the AP Style Guide and prefer the Cambridge Dictionary.

With your own style guide, you present yourself (your brand) in a consistent way. And when you have staff, or other writers helping you with content, the style guide helps ensure that everyone uses the same tone and remain consistent with your writing. A style guide saves time and resources by giving answers to questions that come up about preferred style.

Even though clients may go with your preference, every company is different – their branding, their voice, their tone – everything is unique to each business.

Style guides are for the ‘exceptions’ – those things that fall outside the chosen manual of style and dictionary (or to clarify which reference to use).

Examples of items in my style guide — regardless of what CMS or Merriam say, I go with “Internet” vs “internet” and “Web site” vs “website”. Some clients prefer the lowercased options. I’m also in favor of the Oxford (serial) comma – meaning a comma after every item in a list.

Other things to include in a style guide are specifics about:

  • Headings in general — how they are capitalized
  • Lists — whether they are capitalized at the start and if/how/when they are punctuated
  • Numbers — when they should be spelled in full, in particular
  • Rules for headings of chapters, figures, and tables — as well as how to number them

Style guides are not long documents — as most rules and examples are found in the dictionary and manual of style chosen. A good rule is 4-5 pages, max – Arial, 12pt font, double space between items. Keep it clean, simple, streamlined. As you add to it, you may reorganize it — if you have other people use it, you’ll find more items to add quickly.

My style guide a simple Word do and is only a couple of pages long, as are the ones created for clients. I bold terms I want to leap off the page, but otherwise it’s simple text on a white page. (Nothing says it has to be typed, either.)

Do you have a style guide for your writing? Have you created one for a client before? Do you think a style guide is a useful document for your business?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Word of Mouth and Other Marketing Options

I see this statement on the back of business cards all the time now:

WordOfMouth

“The finest compliment I can receive is a referral from my friends and past clients.”

Personal referrals are definitely (the most?) powerful when it comes to  building a business. And when referrals become the driving force that brings you new business, well, it might be time to have a staff!

However, word of mouth marketing can’t start until you’re established, so having it be your only method of marketing probably won’t work well. I mean, people can’t refer you until they know you can deliver what they need when they need it, right?

So, what other marketing options do you have? You want to use the best method(s) for getting the word out about your writing service that enables people to get to know, like, and trust you — with the goal of them deciding to work with you.

A great place to start is to think about a recent purchase you made – especially for a service – how did the business owner attract you? What captured your attention enough to pursue picking up the phone (or e-mailing) for more information? What did you find most important and particularly appealing?

  • Website
  • Newsletter
  • Blog
  • LinkedIn / Facebook / Twitter / Other social media
  • Print ad you received through the postal service
  • You met and spoke with the business owner at an in-person event
  • Article you read written by the business owner
  • A webinar or other online event you participated in
  • A book you read
  • Business card

You can also look at a competitor to see what marketing methods they use for attracting business. Ask yourself these questions and how they relate to your target market:

  • What is it that I like about what they are doing?
  • What is it that I don’t find particularly appealing?

These are just some overall questions to ponder and ideas to consider to get you started in marketing your business.

It’s insightful to realize what pulled you in enough to ‘make a purchase’ — and a great way to start connecting with your market, since what you find attractive is probably what your target clients will find appealing.

What is one of your go-to marketing methods that works well for you? (mine is LinkedIn)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Productivity Tip: Meeting-Free Day

Meeting-free dayManaging your own business takes a lot of discipline.

As business owners, we wear many hats because there is a lot of daily work that needs to be done. Multitasking becomes a norm, and delegating is (usually) a dream.

If you work for someone, you agree to show up at a certain time, put in a certain number of hours, and focus on specific tasks. As your own boss, you quickly discover that you are the Jack-of-All (or Jill-of-All) Trades and having to do ‘it all’ requires a lot of time.

We have our calendars and fill in appointments and meetings without thinking twice since they are business related and need to be done.

In the early days of my business, I felt that spreading meetings and appointments out over the week worked best – the days were less cramped and I was productive (I thought).

But I’ve discovered that having a ‘meeting-free’ day each week makes me more productive. On occasion I’ll have a day with back-to-back meetings and appointments, but mostly it averages out to 2-3 meetings per day and one day a week where I have no appointments (not even phone interviews or online meetings).

Having a day of uninterrupted time results in high productivity. Of course there are emails and phone calls, but they can be managed (or put off). Not having to drive somewhere, or sit on a webinar for a certain block of time, allows the workday to flow and the To Do list to be attended to properly. My meeting-free day is the one where the most tasks are completed.

Of course not every week can work out having a ‘meeting-free day’, but I’d like to recommend giving it a try if you find yourself needing to be more productive during the week.

How do you balance meetings within your weekly schedule? Do you spread them out, try to pack them all into one day? What works for you?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

What Do Your (Writing) Clients Really Want?

Do you know what your (writing) clients want? What they really really want?

Does your client prefer a high five?

Does your client prefer a high five?

If you know the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”, sing along with me for a moment:

“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want”

Okay, smile break over; back to the business of running your business!

What is it that clients really want?

Or maybe she prefers the fist bump.

Or maybe she prefers the fist bump.

Think about what you want when you seek out a new service provider – auto repair, home repair, hair stylist, etc.

Like your client, you want competence. You want to know your money will be well spent on someone who can provide what you are looking for. In some cases you may even want to pay extra for someone you know will deliver above and beyond what you need, right? It’s no surprise that your client expects the same, then, right?

Also like your client, you want the business service to be convenient. Whether it’s a service done all online, or if you have to drive to a brick and mortar location, the business service needs to be convenient to your needs. Again, if this seems reasonable when you are seeking a service, it’s true for your client.

If you (or your client) finds the above two qualifications, the next most relevant one is confidence from the service provider. I mention this because finding someone convenient to work with and competent in what they can do are important, but when the time comes to deal with the person face to face (or on the phone or through a video chat of some sort), if you’re unable to feel comfortable speaking with them, it probably won’t be a successful partnership.

I’m not talking about someone being shy, it’s more about the person being uncertain that he can deliver what you are asking – if they are unable to answer questions they should know the answers to. If you say, “How about this?” and his reply is, “Hunh?” That isn’t a confidence booster. When seeking a service, you know the basics of what you want, but you aren’t the ‘pro’ – which is why you are seeking someone – you don’t know what you don’t know, right?

When a client comes to you, he may know he needs writing services, but isn’t quite sure exactly what he needs. This is where you confidently explain your writing process and the options available to him. When he asks “What about this?”, you say “Well, it’s X, Y, or Z.”

Be confident in your offerings and always be honest with the client. Think about how you want to be treated when you are shopping for a service provider, and know the person asking you questions is seeking the same.

What other aspects are important to you (or your clients) when you are seeking a business service provider?

(The images are meant to be cute examples to reflect how we all want something different.)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.