I Dumped Simbi. Here’s Why.

Not too long ago, in February, I signed up for Simbi, a services website designed to connect individuals through the power (and draw) of the good ol’ barter system.

Some people really seem to love it, but, for me, joining Simbi was pointless.

Here are three reasons why…

#1. It’s benefits are highly location-dependent.

I live in a rural area and I felt like that really excluded me from cashing in on the greater benefits of the Simbi community. Not that I expect greatness (hey, I chose the rural life for a reason: Disconnection!), but I did expect to at least get more than opportunities for remote, video-chat palm and tarot card readings.

#2. The services offered weren’t worth much (to me).

As a stay-at-home wife (and soon-to-be stay-at-home mom), I’m looking for services I can use to help me reduce the workload for things I can’t do. Much of that involves finding people who can help reduce the “honey do” list so my hubby can relax when he returns from a long day at work, bringing in the dough.

On Simbi, I was looking to exchange my writing and editing services to people (and companies) who did things like plumbing, electrical, landscaping, pet-sitting, and other hands-on stuff. More specifically, I was looking for freelancers like myself who were in need of further advertising their business via blogs, logo design, et cetera… things I do as part of my usual business.

Unfortunately, the people I found were hobbyists who “could” do stuff in their spare time but who weren’t completely vested in what they were advertising on Simbi. To me, it was like having a neighbor you don’t really know well who’s a banker in real life who “could” help you organize your garage… if he can do it from a remote location. Like, video chat with you and tell you where to put stuff.

Yes, I’d love to organize my garage with a pseudo-drill instructor on my laptop issuing orders. Fun.

#3. I feel like I misunderstood the premise.

In a Google search, Simbi offers this summary of their site: “Trade skills for skills, and services for services. Join Simbi, a talent-exchanging network of people striving to create abundance outside the dollar economy.”

To me, that sounds like I can trade my services — which just happen to be transferable over the internet — for real life, in-person help, like getting an electrician to fix my breaker box.

But the great number of Simbi offerings are virtual — they aren’t material at all. By that I mean almost every person I saw on there was offering a virtual service for trade: online PC help; business adviceonline psych sessions; and, the one I found the most obscure, “a friend to talk to”. What the…?

Writing and graphic design are two skills that overlap the physical-virtual barrier. They’re services easily provided over a long distance (i.e. online) that result in a material, actual product (like a book, advertisement, blog, or logo).

However, writing and graphic design services were numerous in Simbi-land. This presented two problems: I had a lot of competition in a marketplace that (1) didn’t need me and (2) I didn’t want.

shaking-hands

“Long Live Barter!”

In the end, Simbi was a nice concept but unfulfilling in execution. Virtual services only go so far until you need a real life person to come to your house and fix your sink.

I still believe in the value and power of the barter system. In fact, I’m currently formulating a proposition for a grant request in order to fund the creation of a Simbi-type directory (the online AND paper kind!) for my small town next year.

I don’t know what I’ll call it yet, or even if it’ll be a success, but I have plenty of time for figuring all that out since my current grant project — under my singer-songwriter identity — is still ongoing until the end of September.

Then, in October, I’m having a baby. So… let’s just say, the rest of 2017 is pretty booked!


Have you tried Simbi? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, what do you think about my reaction to the service?

My “Wild Things” Soup: Morels & Nettle

It’s springtime in Minnesota, and that means sunshine, greenery, and tackling outside chores. SO many chores.

They add up over winter, so everyone is out using all the muscles they forgot they had during winter in order to do what they need to do now that good weather has arrived: clear fallen branches, refinish decks, mow lawns, plant gardens, et cetera.

That’s a lot of muscles!

For me, springtime means the wild edibles are growing. The first weeks of May are when the morel mushrooms start popping out with haste. Those babies don’t wait and will soon disappear, either going to feed the deer or maturing, dropping their spores, and then shriveling up.

So, let the hunt begin! (And quickly, because I’m hungry!)

Ingredient #1: Morel Mushrooms

After an afternoon working on the house, Hubby joined me for a hike up our back hill

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That’s a big ‘un!

where we found some hefty morels growing in the sun-speckled shade. We picked a few that were nearly palm-sized and almost (almost) too pretty to eat. But, into the sack they went!

Our total gathering amounted to about a half pound of delicious mushrooms. I was disappointed we couldn’t find any Pheasantback mushrooms (aka Dryad’s Saddle) while we were out, but I’m hoping some of those meaty morsels will pop up over the course of summer when the morel season is long gone.

Back at the house, I poured out the collection for the count: 10. Not my best harvest numbers-wise, but surely best in overall size. I’ll be returning to that collection spot next weekend with high hopes (we’re expecting a bit of a rain mid-week, so hopefully more will have grown by then).

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The Final Count.

Ingredient#2: Burning Nettle

A wild edible that pairs fantastically with morels are burning nettle leaves.

Being 18 weeks pregnant, I’ve been having a hard time eating my veggies (or my meats). Even though I was a veggie-meat fiend pre-pregnancy, the smell and taste of them now is… unappealing.

However, the thought of butter-sauteed nettle (very high in a multitude of vitamins and good-for-you stuff) is one veggie that isn’t at all off-putting! Hooray!

I’m pretty good (I think) about keeping our many acres of land free of noxious growth, but since I like the taste of nettle I intentionally maintain a “crop” of the greenery near the house, ripe and close-by for fresh picking.

I gathered about 3 cups of nettle leaves — of course remembering to wear good gloves while doing it! — and stored them with the morels in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight.

I dreamt of having morel soup for breakfast.

Preparing & Cooking My “Wild Things” Soup

The next morning (err… this morning), I made coffee — one cannot cook breakfast without a coffee in hand! — and pulled out my bag of mushrooms and nettles. I filled a sink with cool water and dumped the bag’s contents in, making sure there was plenty of space to swish and slosh the ingredients around and wash all those dirty bug feet germs off.*

(I like to let the nettles and ‘shrooms soak a bit, to soften up and loosen any caked dirt and to encourage any bugs hiding in the crevices of the morels’ caps to skedaddle.)

I also prepped my other fresh ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
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Garlic and onion getting their saute on.

I pulled out a saucepan and melted about 1 tablespoon butter in it over LOW heat, dumping in the garlic to let the herb warm and release it’s deliciousness. Once softened, I added in the onion and gave the whole bit a good stir.

Since the pan was on LOW, I could confidently walk away and let the flavors gently blend while I tended to washing my nettles.

Back to the sink, nettles are top priority. Donning a pair of thick dish gloves so as not to get stung by the still-active toxic hairs, I removed the morels from the sink and set them aside.

(No, they’re not done being cleaned. I like to take out the morels before agitating the water to prevent any excess breakage. While delicious, morels can be crumbly before they’re cooked and thus require tender, gentle care.)

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Washed nettle, ready for cooking.

I agitated the nettles in the water to shake off any debris. Then, by the handful, I gathered and squeezed the water from them, setting the clean nettle leaves in a colander.

By this time my onions and garlic were nicely softened, so I dumped the full batch of nettle in the pan, added about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt, and gave it all a good stir.

IMG_20170508_110456_edit.jpgThe nettles filled the pan at first, but they reduce pretty significantly upon cooking, like spinach does, so I knew I’d have have plenty of space soon for the morels and broth that will follow.

Back to the mushrooms…

I drained the dirty water from the sink and refilled it with clean water. I dumped the pre-soaked morels back in their bath and, this time, prepared to do a thorough cleaning of my fungus finds.

With a paring knife, I cut open each morel in half for TWO GOOD REASONS:

  1. To make sure they are actually morels — with their hollow stems & crowns and non-furry insides — and not any one of a few kinds of dangerous morel impostors; and
  2. To get a good clean. Bugs like to hide in the folds of the external cap, but they also find ways to make their house on the inside. (Nothing like biting into a whole morel and crunching on a bug. ICK!) So, I slice open the mushrooms and make sure I don’t have any hitchhikers on the inside that will be going to the pan, too.

(A bonus this time ’round: Because the morels we found were nice and big, I didn’t end up feeling like I’d be cooking morel bits instead of full-on mushrooms. Woot!)

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Cleaned & halved morels.

Once clean, the morels went into the colander for their trip to the pan.

On the stove, the nettles had reduced nicely, but they’d need to be relocated while the morels sauteed. So I dumped the nettles out of the pan into a bowl, and in went the mushrooms (as well as another tablespoon of butter).

I cranked the heat to HIGH and let the mushrooms do their thing for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they cooked on all sides.

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No water added. Just the morels, making their own broth…

The mushrooms make their own sort of broth (which you can see a bit of in the photo on the left), but don’t dump it or drain it out, as it adds a great flavor to the soup broth!

It didn’t take but a short while for the morels to reach that tender, ‘shroomy chewiness that all mushroom lovers love and, once they did, back in went the nettles along with the 2 cups of chicken broth I’d prepped earlier. (I use a powder bouillon at half strength, because I like to taste more of the nettles and ‘shrooms than a salty broth.) The broth should just about cover the nettles and morels.

I put the lid on the pan and reduced heat to MEDIUM to let everything simmer together for about 5 minutes.

The Finished Product: Ah, SOUP!

All this took less than 15 minutes (not counting the morel and nettle gathering, of course), and now I had a delicious, hearty, vitamin-packed wild soup breakfast to enjoy with (my second) cup o’ joe.

Since the dandelions outside my kitchen window were calling to me — and since my soup was looking less than colorful — I picked 4 dandelion flowers to garnish my meal. The flowers have a mild flavor, easily overpowered by the dense aromatics of the nettles and morels, so I wasn’t worried about them affecting the flavor. But they did look oh-so-pretty atop the deep colors and earthy textures of my soup!IMG_20170508_120213_edit.jpg

Sided by a couple slices of store-bought garlic bread (alas, garlic bread trees do not grow wild in Southern Minnesota), this was the perfect meal to start my day.

I hope you get the chance to get outdoors and find yourself some morels and nettles to make your own Wild Things Soup.

If you’ve missed morel season, you can sub for another mushroom variety and, if you don’t have nettles in your area (or if they’re out of season), spinach works well in its stead for a more delicate, mellow vegetable soup.


 

Wild Things Soup recipe

Ingredients:

  • ~1/2 lb fresh morel mushrooms, halved and washed
  • ~3 cups fresh nettle leaves, washed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, or beef — your choice!)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 TB BUTTER on low heat. Add garlic and onions.
  2. Thoroughly wash nettles and morels.
  3. Add nettles, salt, and olive oil to pan, stirring thoroughly. Let cook 5-10 minutes or until nettles tenderize and reduce. Remove from heat.
  4. To same pan, add REMAINING 1 TB BUTTER and morels. Increase heat to HIGH. Let saute about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are firm but tender. Do not drain.
  5. Return nettle mixture to pan and add broth. Reduce heat to MEDIUM and cover; simmer approximately 5 minutes.
  6. Serve hot.

Tips:

  • For an extra special “wild” treat, add some pre-cooked wild rice to the soup.
  • Morels and nettles can be substituted with store-bought mushrooms and spinach. It’s less wild, but still delicious!

*An ode to my mom, who always preached about thoroughly washing fruits and veggies because of “dirty bug feet.”

Putting My Mouth Where My Money Is: Setting A Fair Rate & Sticking To It!

I wrote recently about drawing lines when it comes to money in freelancing. And, today, I had to put those brave words into practice.

Today, I sent off a well-formed quote to a potential client.


As a freelancer, I have a history of erring on the side of self-doubt, which often left me working hard for not much pay.

That’s not a fun place to be in, ever. Seasoned freelancers know that charging fair rates — fair to both you and the client — is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when learning how to operate your business.

I spoke to a long-time freelancer friend last year who does graphic design. She’s GREAT at it. She’d been working in the industry as a freelancer twice as long as I had been at the time we talked, maybe even longer, and she admitted she still undercharged clients on a regular basis. We vowed to keep one another in line when it came to charging properly for our services.

I didn’t really work — I mean, it did at first, but the novelty of having a money angel on my shoulder soon wore off and I went back to my old habits of undercharging.

But, now, I’ve finally come to the stage in my career where I’m taking myself seriously. Seriously.

You see, I wrote those articles in April for ME as much as I did for YOU.

I needed someone on my side who wasn’t distracted by a client’s dangling carrot, the job that I “could” have but maybe wouldn’t because “What if I charged too much?”

I needed a voice of reason, spoken from a place of neutrality, to bring me back to center.

I knew what I knew, but I was hesitant to apply that knowledge whenever it came time to actually tell clients what I wanted to charge. Instead, I’d doubt myself (again) and fall into the trap of bidding what I thought my clients wanted me to charge.

Stupid. I know.

So I read a ton of blogs on how to bill clients, how to estimate a job, about how undervaluing your work actually does more harm than good… I read a LOT on the subject, but I still didn’t want to take the leap.

I was still afraid. Why?

We live in an age of cheapness. As a culture, we love discounts, sales, clearances, coupons, and finding the lowest price. Paying full price is thrown around like a status symbol — “Oh, look what could afford!” — whereas buying something for a discounted rate is, for the rest of us Scrooges, something to brag about.

However, as thrifty consumers, we also know that the lowest price doesn’t always equal the best value and can so often mean less-than-mediocre work,

Sending that quote out today was uncomfortable, yes, but only because I’d been drastically undercharging clients for far too long.

What does drastically undercharging look like?

Undercharging looks like a my fresh-out-of-high-school, year-2000-minimum-wage (that is, $7.50/hour), even though I have a Bachelor’s Degree, four years of experience, and multiple projects and happy clients under my belt.

Undercharging looks like Textbroker basics (500 word articles for $5 each) on a full-time basis, as a necessity and not as a supplement when I’m bored or a quick daily writing exercise to get my brain warmed up.

Ultimately, undercharging looks like making myself look cheap and my work look cheap because I’ve mentally displayed it on the discount rack instead of front and center, on a fancy end cap, with the premium goods.

I am not a low-end writer.

There’s a market for low-cost writers who’ll pop out content for pennies on the proverbial dollar just like there’s a market for discount clothes, tech equipment, and kitchen tools. Heck, I used to be in that market when I was just starting out, needing experience over money.

But I’m not in that market anymore.

Now I’m here to provide quality goods at a fair price. Yes, my clients may have to come to expect bigger numbers on the bill, but they’ll also notice the quality I provide is worth it. Unless they aren’t looking to spend the money…

In which case, I’ll suggest they find someone on a freelance brokerage site like Upwork, Textbroker, or others where there are plenty of discount writers available for hire at discount rates.


What are your experiences with pricing your work as a freelancer? Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

Drawing the Line: Conclusions

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

It’s Wednesday, April 26th. I’ve purposely waited to publish this post today instead of Tuesday, which is the day I’d been posting previous blogs of this series this past month.

What makes today special? Well…

admin prof day

It’s a special day for secretaries, admin assistants, and all you freelancers out there tackling your insane list of to-do’s on a day-to-day basis. I know you’re often underappreciated for all the crap you juggle, so here’s a hat’s off to you crazy folk for hanging in there. (If you’re wondering how this relates to the blog topic, visit my first post.)

But, to get to the real subject…


Hopefully you’ve done lots of line drawing in the past three weeks.

By now you know how important it is for both YOU and your BUSINESS that you draw lines (that is, create boundaries) for yourself and your clients.

Here’s the recap:

  • On TIME…
    1. It’s the only thing nobody can make more of and the single most valuable asset you have. Spend it wisely, and be frugal with giving it away.
    2. Learn to take breaks. Working too much can have a negative impact on your health and reduce your creativity.
    3. ACTION PLAN: Establish your office hours, post them, and, most importantly, ENFORCE them. Nobody will respect your hours of operation if you don’t either.
    4. If you work from home, get out of your PJs and put on some adulting clothes. It’ll help your brain get into gear and out of that at-home-and-lazy lull.
    5. Creating time boundaries comes down to RESPECT.
  • On MONEY…
    1. Time is your biggest asset, money is your second.
    2. “What do you charge?” is the toughest question a client can ask. Be prepared to answer it and stand by your answer.
    3. If you don’t take your money seriously, no one else will. People are naturally cheap, so don’t let a client swindle you into thinking your price is too high or let your lack of confidence make you question your rates (which you hopefully set within some reasonable guidelines). If the client wants your services, they’ll pay for them. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s that simple.
    4. NEVER work for free! Don’t let anyone act as if your time isn’t worth something. Nothing is “quick”, nothing is “free”, and people will either see value or they won’t.
    5. Start with a base rate, post it, then stick by it (with some flexibility). Remember: Bartering is also a form of payment. If a client can’t afford to pay you cash money, perhaps there is something else they can offer you that would be worth your effort.
    6. In the end, setting your value is about RESPECT.

Did you notice a common theme with those final points? That’s right: RESPECT.

In the end, drawing lines comes down to RESPECT. 

rooster.jpg

BWAAAK!

Without a strong sense of self-respect and a respect for your business — and an expectation that clients will also respect you and your business — you’ll be hard-pressed to find satisfaction in your work. (However, be sure to distinguish between self-respect and cockiness. Nobody wants to work with a rooster!)

Everyone, in every business and occupation, freelance or not, needs to know what they’re willing to do for a paycheck and where they draw the line. 

So, yeah, this serie’s lessons on applying boundaries to business can and should be applied to life, too. Surprise! #Lifelessons #HappyWriting


This entry is the final part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

Drawing the Line: Money

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

Last week I talked about how time is your most precious resource.

This week I want to address the thing we spend our time chasing: Money.

Hopefully by now you’ve established some good boundaries for yourself and your clients in regard to when you’re available. If you haven’t, read (or re-read) last week’s post.

Again, you either have lines, or you don’t.

If you don’t want lines, that’s fine. Some people don’t care for them. Maybe you feel like boundaries negatively impact your creativity, or prevent you from doing your best work.

But if you’re resisting drawing time lines for yourself because you’re a workaholic, maybe consider that studies show taking breaks increase productivity, information retention, creativity, focus, and overall happiness.

Time off doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Still, while

Time is your biggest asset, money is your second.

That’s right: Money isn’t only a goal, it’s also an asset.

The adage “It takes money to make money” rings true, especially for freelancers who have to spend it on things like office supplies, fuel, and marketing efforts in order to keep business going. (Psst… a bookkeeping program like GoDaddy Bookkeeping can help keep track of expenses and incomes for only $9.99/month. I’ve been using it since 2013.)

At the end of the day what freelancers reinvest in our business will (or should) earn us more in the long run than if we get sticky fingers on all of it now.

Another thing about money: It’s a touchy subject. Discussing fees and negotiating rates is one of the most disliked tasks of freelancers, and some think “What do you charge?” is the toughest question a client could ask.

If that’s where you’re at, prepare to step up, get tough, and set yourself a money line, because

If you don’t take your money seriously, no one else will.

One of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered is people asking me to do work for free, for the “exposure” or “experience”. Even jokes about this make me boil. It’s like someone saying, “Well, you only write as a hobby, so would you mind looking this over? It’ll only take a few minutes.”

It’s insulting to my business. It’s insulting to me as a professional. It’s insulting to my dream and all my efforts.

It’s just insulting.

I have an even harder time expressing my emotions when a friend or family member asks me to do something and give them “the family discount”.

Sorry. I don’t do discounts. (Although I do barter.)

That’s why I’ve learned over the years to say bluntly “I charge $45 per hour” to anyone who might be implying that I do something “quickly” and for no charge.

First of all, nothing is “quick”.

I’ve never edited anything — not an email, not an ad, not a 250- or 500-word article — and had it take only a couple minutes. The quickest job I had was editing an email with notations in 15 minutes. At my standard rate, that’s an $11.25 bill.

And if $1 is worth McDonald’s charging for a soda, then $11.25 is worth me billing over.

Second of all, nothing is “free”.

Admittedly, even my offer for a “free consultations” aren’t free. Maybe in the sense that no cash is directly exchanged, but they aren’t free for me or for my potential client, because we’re both spending our time on it.

A free consult is essentially a time barter. It’s still an exchange of valuable assets, even if they aren’t obviously monetary.

Thirdly, either there’s demand or there isn’t.

Either the person asking you for help wants your expertise or they don’t. Either they’ll think it’s worth it the money, or they won’t. Either they respect your business, or they don’t.

If they’re the latter, pass up the offer. Do it professionally, of course, but do it swiftly and clearly. Stop that little spark from turning into a fire that says, ‘Well, they didn’t say no, so I assumed they were going to do it!’

Don’t let anyone assume anything. Don’t let them assume you’ll work for nothing and don’t let them assume you have a “friends & family rate”. And, most of all,

Don’t let them assume your time isn’t worth something.

You drew boundaries on your time because it’s your most valuable resource. Now it’s time to draw boundaries on the VALUE of your time because YOU are valuable.

In the end, drawing lines is about valuing YOURSELF.

This video says all you need to know about what it means to work for nothing except “exposure”. It may be funny to watch, but if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur who’s had to live this scenario you know the humor only lasts for those first five seconds when you think the person needing the work done is joking.

How To Draw Your Money Line

#1: Start with a STANDARD FEE or BASE RATE…

This is your minimum rate. You can say per hour, per 500-word article, per page, per-whatever, but set it and let it be.

Not sure what your rate should be? Consider peeking at the Writer’s Market’s “How Much Should I Charge” document. It’s outdated, sure, but do some calculations to factor in your experience and inflation since 2006 (according to the US Dept of Labor, $1 in 2006 is like $1.22 in 2017) and you’ll have a good starting point.

#2: …then POST IT…

Like with hours of operation, make your standard fee (aka base rate) obvious to potential and current clients. Post this rate on your website or social media page, or on any ads that you might put out.

(TIP: If you’re a member of freelancing brokerage sites like Upwork.com, be sure your posted rate there is the same as the rate posted on your website. Then smart clients who check out your background won’t think you’re trying something fishy by charging a premium to customers who contact you directly through your website.)

Mountain Owl posts standard hourly rate and others in a table format via a link on our Services tab.

#3: …then BE FLEXIBLE.

Get this through your brain: Your base rate is just a starting point. If a job requires more time than usual, explain to the client why you need to charge more than the usual BEFORE starting the contract.

For example, I once received a job offer to edit ESL (English as a Second Language) manuscripts that I knew would take me longer to work through and would be more difficult. Therefore, I charged the ESL client more, because it literally took me longer to edit ESL work than it does to edit work written by native English speakers.

It’s a matter of time = money, not social discrimination.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, honesty pays off here. Clients like to know why you charge what you charge, especially when the rate they’re being charged is more than standard. They may not like it or be happy about it, but at least you can give them solid logic to back up your rates.

If they don’t like the logic, thank them for their time and move on. If they’re reasonable, they’ll understand and be willing to pay up.

Either way, it’s a win-win for you.

~ ~ ~

In the end, drawing the money line comes down to RESPECT. 

That is, respecting your business, respecting your profession, and demanding that those you work for and with respect it as well.


Join me next week, April 25th, as I conclude this Drawing the Line series. This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

External related articles: (1) Owais, Samar. “5 Brutal Truths About Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates.”

Drawing the Line: Time

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

One thing about time: It’s the only thing nobody can make more of.

Nobody can give you more time. And, contrary to popular belief, you can’t save time either. Saving something means you’re putting it away to be used later. Like a squirrel saves acorns by burying them in the ground. Or how I save a half bag of Skittles so I can munch on them after dinner…

*Snort* Okay. That’s a lie. I’ve never saved a half a bag of Skittles in my life.

Either way, you can’t tuck away five minutes here, ten minutes there, put them away in a special bag and pop up later with twenty hours and say, ‘Hey! I’m gonna spend this on a trip to the Bahamas!’

Uh, no. It doesn’t work like that. (I wish!)

The only thing you can do with time is SPEND IT WISELY. Whether you spend it lazing on the beach or typing ten billion emails to people who may not care about what you have to say, the time will tick away at equal speed.

In this series’ introduction, I spoke at length about the Administrative Professional (the AP). I use AP’s as primary examples of line drawers because they have to be in order to do their jobs well AND with joy.

One can do the physical task of secretarial work without expressing joy while doing it (we’ve all met that secretary). Equally, one can be incapable of fulfilling the job’s requirements and seem strangely happy with themselves. Weird.

However, both these types suffer a lack of lines: they either don’t care to have lines or know where their lines should be and yet allow people to smear, move, ignore, or erase them.

As I’ve said before,

You either have lines, or you don’t.

Everyone’s line is drawn in a different place. We’re all willing to go a certain distance without feeling like we’re teetering on the edge of our personal ethics. But beware: Once you step over that edge, unhappiness sinks in.

Which is why it’s so important to know where your lines are. Only you know where your line lays. Everyone else will demand something of you until they learn — by YOU telling them — when they have asked for too much.

Until you tell them where to stop, they will keep pushing, demanding, and asking. That’s why I say YOU must know where YOUR lines are in order to enforce them.

If you don’t know where your lines are, figure it out NOW. Not later, not tomorrow. TODAY. Right NOW.

Why?

Because the longer you go without knowing where or when to tell people “No” the longer you’ll live pleasing others while giving up on your own ethics and not understanding why you feel unhappy in your relationships, ignored by your boss(es) and co-workers, or dissatisfied with your work.

Above ALL things,

Time is your biggest asset.

People think knowledge is their greatest asset, but knowledge must be maintained (through continued training) and can be lost (e.g. dementia, simple forgetfulness).

Experience — the combination of knowledge and time — is a great asset, too, but it can quickly fall to the wayside, as anyone who’s been out of the workforce for any amount of time can tell you after trying to get back in.

Time is the only thing you have that people can’t give you more of and that nobody can take from you. Period.

It’s been said that people show what matters to them by how they spend their time. I believe that’s 110% true.

Drawing a line in regard to your time is the most important line you can ever draw. Don’t draw it with a pencil, or a ballpoint pen. Pull out one of those super-wide black Sharpies and mark the shit out of the wall and say, ‘Hey! This is my time line, and it will not be crossed!’

I can’t tell you where your time line should be drawn, but I can tell you it took me a while to figure out how and where to draw mine.

As I mentioned before, freelancing is something of an administrative professional position. The only difference is that instead of acting as a buffer to protect my boss, I have to be the buffer to protect myself.

Instead of being able to say, ‘The boss is unavailable right now,’ and passing blame onto the absent bossman, I have to say ‘I’m unavailable right now,’ which can sometimes result in the client asking why can’t I be available? Aren’t they important enough?

But I’ve learned not to ignore the whining. Why?

Because when the clock crosses the time line into MY time — not my client’s time, my business’ time, a project’s time — I’m done. Finito. Checked out. Unavailable.

I can’t count the number of clients I’ve had (and still get) who expect me to answer the phone during dinner hour; respond to an email or text immediately; or work on weekends (or during a pre-announced vacation!).

I’ve had to put my foot down, say “I don’t work weekends” firmly and without apology. (I used to say “I don’t work weekends, sorry,” but quickly stopped doing that once I realized what I was really saying!)

I’ve learned to ignore work emails during MY time. Yes, I’m possessive of it. Yes, some people don’t understand. And, yes: I. Don’t. Care.

As a freelancer, you have to tough up and remember your line, even at the risk of sounding unaccommodating to your clients. If they don’t get it, it’s only because somewhere along the way they decided their needs are more important than you are.

And, if they threatened to find someone else to do the job, those aren’t the sort of clients that I’d care to chase after. So, here’s my easy 1-2-3-step plan on

How To Draw Your Time Line

#1: Establish your office hours.

Much of drawing your lines is simply understanding that, although you are a freelancer, you’re also an office. When you “go” to work, you should be dressing as if you’re going to an office (which puts your brain into working mode) and clock in when you get there.

If your office opens at 9 AM, you’re available starting at 9 AM. If you’re a part-time freelancer like me and your office opens at 12noon, you’re available starting at noon. (By the way, this doesn’t mean you only work four hours a day. It just means you’re available to clients for calls, emails, conferences, etc for those four hours. Trust me: I work much more than four hours a day!)

The same goes for closing time: If you clock out at 5pm,  you’re unavailable after 5.

If you run the kind of office that is only available by appointment, then make that clear. If you think of yourself more like a 7-11 service station, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, then make that clear.

Basically, treat yourself like a brick-and-mortar store front. When the doors open, you’re open; when they close, you’re closed. You don’t see a retail business opening its doors for a customer after closing hours, do you? So why should you open your doors after you’ve clocked out?

#2: Post your office hours.

When you finally decide upon your hours of operation, post those hours in an inconspicuous location so people can see them. Businesses usually post their hours outside their front doors; if you have an office you work from where you invite clients to come, this tactic can work for you. If you don’t have a physical office, you’ll need to find another way to publicize your availability.

I encourage posting your hours on your website, social media page, or printing them on your business card.

Mountain Owl posts our hours on our website homepage, near the bottom right next to our contact page link (“Give a Hoot”) as well as the top of our contact page itself.

#3: Enforce your office hours.

Many freelancers are inundated with the concept that they have to give up their personal lives in order to be successful in their work. I firmly believe that line of thinking is quickly going the way of the dodo. Younger generations (and science) are realizing the negative impact working too much can have on our health.

This is by far the most difficult part. As I’ve mentioned, some clients believe their project and needs should come before your personal time, but don’t give in to the guilt-ridden adage “The customer is always right.” They aren’t. In fact, many times they’re flat out wrong and — yes — it’s up to you to correct them by enforcing your own rules about how you should spend your precious, precious time.

~ ~ ~

In the end, drawing the line comes down to respecting yourself. 

That is, respecting your needs as a whole person and realizing that, as a whole person, you have emotional, physical, and psychological needs that require you take time away from work (even work you love) to spend in leisure.


Join me next week, April 18th, as I talk about Drawing the Line: Money. This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

External related articles: (1) https://paydirtapp.com/blog/the-effective-guide-to-setting-boundaries-as-a-freelancer; (2) Russell, Bertrand. “In Praise of Idleness,” 1932. WEB: http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html.

Drawing the Line: An Introduction

This month, Mountain Owl Ink celebrates it’s fourth year.

WOW. It’s hard to imagine I’ve been freelancing that long. Seriously: I’ve held this job longer than any other position on my resume. Ever. That’s impressive!

In light of this milestone, I’m going to blog-share my thoughts with you on one topic that I feel is absolutely CRITICAL to longevity as a freelancer: Limits.

That includes both the limits we put on ourselves and the limits we put upon others (ie our clients). It means setting boundaries for all kinds of things.

And this three-part blog (not including this introduction) titled “Drawing the Line” will be published as follows over this month of April:

  1. April 11th: Drawing the Line: Time
  2. April 18th: Drawing the Line: Money
  3. April 25th: Drawing the Line: Respect

But, first, I want to explain why drawing solid, clear lines — not implied, hinted-at, fuzzy, or hazy ones — is so critical…


Wednesday, April 26, 2017, is Administrative Professional’s Day.

Anyone who has ever been employed as an administrative professional knows it’s no easy job. As an AP, you often get blamed by both sides of the desk — your boss and the customer — for things you have no control over.

AP’s are undoubtedly the delectable cream holding the cookie together (and bosses realize this only when their secretaries take a well-earned vacation or sick day), yet AP’s are all too often treated as some kind of human shielding that protects the executives and their offices from the dangerous wiles of the < gulp > PUBLIC.

According to the Western Journal of Education, Vol. 28, page 14 (published Jan 1922):

“The secretary, acting as the buffer between the businessman and the public, represents a very necessary, desirable, and efficient type of citizenship.

That was in 1922. Here we are in 2017, almost 100 years later, and the Western attitude about secretarial jobs has changed from one of high respect to one of pity.

Nowadays, secretarial work is largely considered low-level, menial, and base-pay employment, something that only new high school grads or empty-nesters do because they (supposedly) lack job skills or are bored. Secretaries are often considered easily replaceable and their positions undervalued where wages are considered. People who spend their working years in secretarial positions are dubbed “underperformers” and the skills required to be a good administrative professional go largely underestimated because, you know, it’s a “basic” job.

It’s like people thinking being a housewife is “easy.” The insult is hardly worth arguing.

But, I digress…

I used to be an admin professional. In some ways, I still am.

My first experience as such was as a secretary at a law office during college. One dreary week, I ended up having to tell a number of the office’s clients that the firm’s senior attorney had died unexpectedly. To some of the less empathetic clients, the attorney’s passing was somehow my fault and now their case would go down the shoot all because of me. How dare I.

Then I was a retail clerk for various companies during college. Being a retail clerk is a different breed (maybe even a hybrid) of administrative professional but the position still maintained the essence of secretarial work: severe multi-tasking, lots of computer knowledge, and, most of all, serving as the almighty buffer between executive and customer.

Then I was an HR Assistant, just a bit different from the Front Desk folk but I still proudly held tight claims to my admin professional roots. After all, I still had to deal with irate customers (i.e. job applicants) over the phone (or in person… *shiver*) and handle all manner of administrative tasks (“How many copies do you need again?”, “How many orientation packets am I making today?”, “What meetings am I scheduling for you?”).

After HR-ing for a bit, I dove into freelance writing. And, in some ways, I consider freelancing to be an administrative professional position. But more on that later…

Why do I single out Administrative Professionals? Because the people in that field are one of two sorts: They’re either experts at drawing lines and love their jobs or they have no idea how to draw lines and feel hopelessly at the mercy of bosses and customers alike.

For AP’s, there is no in-between. You either have lines, or you don’t.

The latter don’t last long as AP’s and end up either…

  1. …seeking new employment (sadly, many times as an AP at another company because they fail to realize why it wasn’t working out with their former employer), or…
  2. …getting fired because the work has driven them mad, disorganized, unsociable, and therefore unable to perform their job requirements.

AP’s who fail to draw lines quickly burn out, feeling unappreciated, disrespected, and downright trodden.

The former type, however, thrive. They understand and accept — nay, revel! — in their roles as Administrative Professionals. They know when and how to say “No” to both boss and customer, and when they say no they know to stick to it.

They refuse to do anything that is against their work or life ethic. For some, that means saying no to running errands for the boss after hours to gain their favor. (Psst… You’re already getting paid. Consider that an expression of their favor! You don’t need to do extra credit to earn your way!)

For others, that means not taking work calls on a personal phone (or responding to messages sent to a personal email), or ignoring text messages from the boss who decides that texting you at 10pm is an appropriate way to communicate. (Hint: It’s NOT.)

But this concept of lines stems from a single, critical point of understanding and self-awareness. That point is this:

The Administrative Professional must know where their lines are in order to enforce them.

Which begs the question: Do YOU know where YOUR lines are?


This entry is an introduction to an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the next post, click HERE.

External related articles: (1) https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2014/05/12/i-will-do-not-how-set-boundaries-your-clients; (2) http://freelancetofreedomproject.com/10-client-boundaries-to-have-in-place-as-a-freelancer

Great Expectations… Unreachable.

IMG_20150716_233816_editLast week I had an unsavory experience with a freelancer I’d hired to do some short article work for me.

But, first, a little background…

Upwork.com (previously Elance.com) is a website where freelancers of all types can register and bid for jobs. After doing work, you get rated for your performance, work produced, communication, et cetera.

For many beginners, it’s important to get those good ratings, sometimes at the expense of being underpaid, because good ratings make you more likely to win higher paying gigs down the road. Plus, experience is experience, and that’s worth something, too.

When I joined Upwork in 2013, I took a few underpaying jobs for the ratings and experience. As I got better, so did my reputation and, ergo, the pay.

This is the freelancer circle of life.

Recently, I had a project for which I needed several short (<500 word) journal-type essays written, from various points of view and on various topics. I knew I couldn’t write these myself, but also the budget I had to work within wasn’t much. All I could offer was $2 per article.

I knew this was an underpayment, but I needed these articles and my experience told me that there would be beginning freelancers or hobbyist-writers willing to do the work. Besides, the articles didn’t need to be perfect; I’d take them with misspellings and bad grammar because it was the content and viewpoints I was after, not literary perfection.

So I posted the job requirements and waited for applicants.

I got several. Two ended up wrote material for me (the others either backed out or were unresponsive).

Last week, I ended contracts because I’m no longer in need of material. I left my reviews of the freelancers as is standard Upwork procedure and moved on.

But one freelancer didn’t.

When “Perfection” isn’t achieved…

What I received was a bitter message about how unfair my review of them was and how they’d wished they’d never taken the job because it didn’t pay well and they didn’t even get a perfect 5-star review out of it.

So, basically, ‘Thanks a lot for nothing, you ungracious dolt!’

I didn’t understand what had happened.

I reviewed my review and found it satisfactory and accurate. On a 5-star scale, they’d rated an overall 3.33, within the “good” to “very good” range. Was this person not happy with being rated good or very good?

They were not.

What they wanted–what they expected–was a perfect 5, and nothing less would do.

But could I rate that in good conscience? Absolutely not. They’d produced good work, a couple times very good, that fit my needs. I had to ask for a revision early on, and even those revisions needed adjusting, but at a $2/article rate I felt it was unfair to continue to ask for the freelancer to invest more time into the work when what they were giving was just fine.

So in this bitter message they sent, they insulted my rating saying it was “unfair and unacceptable,” complained about the pay (to which they had agreed on in the first place, so that completely boggles me), and then–get this!–asked if I would reconsider the rating I’d given them.

Umm… no. Absolutely not.

Why? Because attitude is everything, and this freelancer absolutely failed.

…maintain your professionalism!

Had the freelancer expressed themselves in a more professional manner–that is, requesting I reconsider my review for x, y, and z reasons without insulting me or the job–I would likely have raised their score.

As it was, their attitude made me want to go back and reduce their rating by docking points for professionalism and communication.

But, I didn’t (lucky them). I left things as they were and simply explained (1) why I had rated them “good” to “very good” as I had, and (2) suggested they make it clear to future clients that a 5-star rating is not only hoped for, but demanded.

This freelancer was unable to accept my reasons for offering a 3.33, and said so as much in (another) spiteful message, but it became clear to me that this person was simply unprofessional, and throwing a temper tantrum at me was their way of getting what they wanted.

Who knows how many of their past clients were bullied into changing their ratings to reflect perfection? It makes me wonder, because every single other rating on this person’s profile was a five.

It makes me skeptical.

But, I let it go. In fact, I blocked the freelancer from contacting me or bidding on my jobs ever again.

I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, in my work. Nobody does. negativity

Beware the “Perfect” rating.

Long story short: Nothing in life is perfect, so beware 5-star ratings on anything: Amazon products, freelancers, restaurants, whatever.

Likelihood is that those ratings are either faked, paid for, or downright wrong. A dining experience may be wonderful, a hotel may be awesome, a freelancer may be great, but none is perfect. THAT I can guarantee!

Seek a smidge of criticism.

I think I’m pretty darn good at what I do, but I know that I’m not perfect. Sure I want happy clients and customers, but I want a little criticism, too. I’m actually disappointed when I receive a 5-star review because that leaves me nothing to work on and offers an unbelievable and unrealistic perception for future clients.

I hope that freelancer is able to grow in their attitude about what 3, 4, and 5-star ratings really mean and accept that less than perfection is perfectly acceptable.


Here’s an article on what 3-star ratings mean to an avid reader, Jessica of Bookish Serendipity. Do you agree with her analysis?

Movies That Give Me Mojo

Some days I wake up without much gusto in my step.

Today is one of those days.

Einstein_napping

My rabbit, Einstein, having one of his many mojo-less moments.

Unlike my pet rabbits, having little drive to do anything all day won’t fly. I have contracts to fulfill, projects to do. There is work to be done, sure, but I just don’t have the enthusiasm to do it. At least not today.

So what’s a girl to do?

I usually let a music station play in the background, but sometimes background music doesn’t provide the umph I need — i.e. the inspiration I need — to get up and get ’em.

That’s when I have to go big. That’s when I have to put on background movies.

The Beauty of Background Movies

Background movies are those movies you’ve seen a bajillion times so you’re not glued to the sofa waiting to find out what happens next. For me, my list of background movies is short, but dedicated. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find them already playing on television, so I can just turn on the TV and walk away with it playing in the background.

It’s like I’m in an office (kinda): I hear other familiar voices in the room with me, I can “eavesdrop” on what’s happening with them, even make director’s commentary in my head while I’m working.

Here is my list of background movies:

  • Knight and Day
  • Avatar
  • Ever After
  • Seabiscuit
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Chicago
  • A Knight’s Tale
  • Sex and the City (the first movie)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (for Christmastime only, obviously… mostly…)

Today, I’m adding When Harry Met Sally to the list. I’ve never seen it before, but it was on this morning on TV and the heated banter between friends Harry and Sally was enough for me to reminisce about my own office banterings way back in Human Resources land pre-MOI days.

Ah, good times (the bantering… not so much the work).

After a healthy session of Harry and Sally and now a good dosing of Knight & Day, I feel just mojo’d enough to tackle my day’s work.


What ways do you get yourself hyped when it’s hard to get started? Do you have a list of background movies? Share them with me… maybe I’ll add them to my list, too!

The Tragedy of “Think”: How Word Mentality Changes Your Actions

I’m in a Facebook group that sells random stuff. Couches, clothes, cars, knick-knacks… pictures of things get posted and people contact one another to buy them.

It’s pretty sweet.

Yesterday I was cleaning house and finally gave in to the fact that I’ll never play tennis or racquetball again. I dusted off my two rackets, took a photo, and posted them for sale.

A woman responded, asking for more details. She ultimately declined to purchase them. Of course I didn’t mind, but it was precisely how she declined that got me thinking. She typed:

“Thanks Jessi. I think I’ll pass.”

Maybe you did’t realize it right away when you read it, but I did: There’s hesitancy in that statement. Some may say an apology, an embarrassment, a shyness. Whatever you want to call it, it’s absolutely unnecessary.

I’d even say it’s detrimental.

Me and Think have a sour history.

When I was in high school (pre-cellular phones) my parents signed up for the *67 service on their landline. It meant that if you dialed *67 before the number, your number wouldn’t show on the other person’s caller ID.

Or maybe it was so your number would show on their caller ID?

Even today, I’m not really sure.

All I know is that we had this service when I went to a school dance.

Sometime during the dance I discovered my ride (a friend’s parent) would be unable to drop me home. Another friend told me his dad could take me home instead, since he had to come to get him anyway and they lived near me. What a great solution!

I needed to let my parents know I’d be riding with someone else, so I dropped quarters in a payphone and proceeded to dial *-6-7-9-2-4…

But no one answered.

Had I blocked the number and the dreaded “UNKNOWN” flashed on the caller ID box, and that’s why nobody picked up? We didn’t have an answering machine, so I couldn’t leave a message and let them know it was me calling, and why.

I must have dialed wrong, I thought, so I dropped more quarters in and dialed again, this time omitting the *67.

Endless ringing. Panic ensued.

I’ll summarize this horror story by saying I called, with and without the *67, several times until I ran out of quarters. Then I tried collect calling, but couldn’t tell the operator whether she should use the *67 or not.

I never got through.

My friend’s dad arrived late to pick us up and, when we were finally on our way to my house, one of my own parents was rushing toward the school in a certain panic to locate me. We eventually collided at home and I was punished for not letting them know my whereabouts.

The next morning was the sit-down-at-the-table routine where I was expected to present my case. I did, but all they heard was “try” (as in, “I tried to call…”). How do I know this?

Because as I spoke they wrote in big, dark blue ballpoint letters on a napkin: TRY.

Then came the “There is no trying, just doing” speech.

Since that day, I’ve hated that saying — “There is no try” — because, dammit, there really is.

Words: Tools of Good & Evil

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with using “try” and feeling good about it. I’ve come to realize that using that word is a privilege, not a punishment.

Using it — saying “I tried” — means you understand that failure is an acceptable option. It means you may continue trying until you succeed or (and this is okay too) until you decide that this thing you’re trying for isn’t meant to be had.

But without this understanding, saying “I tried” is an excuse. And a landmine.

It’s this distinct difference in the mindset of the person speaking that makes the statement acceptable or not.

Like guns, money, or books, words are only tools. It is how we use them and our intention in their use that makes them tools of good or tools of evil.

GE’s CEO, John Rice, says this about failure:

So you have to create a culture where [failure] is OK… If you fail because of some external event that you couldn’t control, if your logic was right, if your execution was good and you fail for some reason that couldn’t have been foreseen, I think that could be a reasonable reason for failure.

In business, it’s perfectly acceptable to try. For Mountain Owl, I’ve tried (and failed… and succeeded!) at a number of things in efforts to grow and improve my business.

Trying and failing doesn’t mean MOI is doomed or that I’m incompetent. It just means I need to rethink my strategy!

In MOI’s beginnings, the phrase “I’m going to try” came up a lot in my vernacular. Sometimes I’d say it to myself while I was (justifiably) trying new things, other times I’d say it to other people when I was talking about my business plans.

But, eventually, I stopped saying it because nothing was working. That hateful word made me feel like anything I Tried would eventually end up in pain and disappointment.

Try made me feel hopeless.

So I started using a different word.

But what Try morphed into was much trickier, much more subtle… and even more dangerous. The change was simply this:

I started saying “I think I’m going to…” instead of “I’m going to try to…”

Think is Tried’s Clever Cousin

Using Think made me feel (falsely) empowered because, hey, I wasn’t trying anymore, I was doing! Think overtook my life. I felt capable, strong, certain. I was going places, man!… Wasn’t I?

Not really, because I wasn’t actually doing. I was only thinking of doing. When I became frustrated that stuff still wasn’t happening, I further analyzed my business, myself, and my actions.

It didn’t take long to realize that Think was a saboteur. 

Come to find out, there weren’t many actions to analyze. It was all thinking! I had become so engrossed in thinking that I’d failed to follow through with action.

Think had become my favorite go-to phrase, to my own detriment.

Worse, I realized Think hadn’t only infiltrated my business, but it has also been lurking in my personal life, possibly for years. Instead of answering a “yes” or “no” or even a solid “maybe” to a question, I’d say “I think so,” “I think not,” or (horrifically) “I think, maybe.”

I used Think to mask my uncertainty, guilt, or fear. When I was nervous about giving a friend bad news, I’d say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea” even when I for damn well knew it absolutely was NOT a good idea!

Use it often enough, and the Power of Repetition causes your brain to associate anything “think” with negative feelings: guilt, shame, fear, worry, etc. So, eventually, when you say something like “I think I’ll exercise today,” your subconscious will keep you from your supposed goal… because it’s not really a goal at all, but something to be avoided.

Omit Think, and Be FREE!

Like Try, Think is merely a tool. Used without understanding will result in subconscious excuses and avoidances. Ergo: Tragedy.

But, when recognized and understood for what it is and how it works, you can use it effectively and in ways that truly empower you!

So, part of me wishes that woman would have said, “I’ll pass” and omitted the “I think” altogether. It would have given me the impression she was confident in her decision and happy, and fulfilled, about her choice.

And, being fulfilled, whatever that means, is really what we’re all after.


Are there words other than Think and Try that sabotage our lives? Share them with us so we can avoid them, too!