Gifts Had, Shared, Multiplied.

In addition to being a stay-at-home mom and writer (as if that weren’t enough), I’m a musician. As I prepare to leave the Minnesota chill for our annual Christmas trip to Grandma’s House in California, I’m putting together a song list for a Los Angeles County drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility ministry I’ll be performing at on Sunday, December 23rd. This is my first time volunteering to provide a worship experience at this rehab ministry, or even a place remotely like it. I don’t know what to expect, if I’ll enjoy it, if I’ll walk away heartbroken or inspired by the people in attendance, if I’ll do it again. If… anything.

Regardless of those answers, I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause. No, not some self-satisfaction with my own generosity (how vain!), but a quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship—in knowing I am utilizing a talent built within me by God and offering it out to others in a way that only I uniquely can.

I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause: A quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship.

Perhaps that is part of what accepting Jesus into our lives is about: Not about accepting gifts from outside ourselves, but accepting, and using, the gifts within us that, in their use, gift others.

Pastor John Piper of Minneapolis implores: “lay down all your idolatry and false worship to find your ultimate satisfaction in a God who finds his glory in your satisfaction. Such a world have we been given.” Amen!

This season, I wish everyone a plethora of gift exchanges! Not only an abundance of blessings from gifts received from others, but also the intimate, private blessing, healing change, and quiet joy the use of personal gifts provide to ourselves.

Merry Christmas to all!


Thanks to the Beacon paper of Cannon Falls, MN for allowing me to share this message on my page.

Ref: Piper, John. “Worship: We Get Joy, God Gets Praise.” Desiring God, 26June2017,


It’s On: MOI Gets Credit on Copyright Page

Copyright pages are something most readers pass over immediately. But, if you’re an editor, writer, or publisher, you likely find this page that’s hidden between cover and main content and full of legal information as fascinating as I do.

As part of See Farther (MOI’s business motto for 2017) and 2018’s Baby Year concept, I creatively contracted with my latest client, real estate agent Rich Cordaro of Pennsylvania, to help move MOI forward and check off one of my writing bucket list items: having my name printed on a copyright page.

Of course, the ideal and perfect situation would be for the copyright page to be all about ME: me as the author, me as the editor, me as the illustrator, et cetera. To have my name on the copyright page of a book that is truly and completely all my own!? Ahhh… The dream!

But let’s get real. We’re working in baby steps, remember? So as part of the contract with Rich I offered a reduced rate in exchange for copyright credits on his book, The Essential Guide to Selling Your Home. I’m pretty strict when it comes to setting my rates–after all, I worked long and hard to earn the experience that enable me to justify the rates I charge!–but you have to consider that charging fees is not all about what you can get in money, but also about what you can get in benefits.

The Benefit of Barter

Not to beat a dead horse, but bartering really isn’t a dead concept! Some people even took bartering virtual and it’s a big hit (in larger, urban areas, that is).

Even though the typical method of payment nowadays is cash, there are still many businesses (and even governments!) that will exchange services for product, service for service, product for product, et cetera. It’s a great way to get goods and services that you otherwise couldn’t afford, or non-monetary and immaterial benefits that can’t be directly valued (like a copyright page credit).

This latest project with Rich is a perfect example of mutual benefit from a strategic barter. Sure, I could have charged my usual rate and made more money, but that wouldn’t have accomplished anything more for me in the long run. By negotiating a lower rate for copyright page credits, both parties got the best deal: Rich saved money and I got to check a box on my bucket list!

Richard Cordaro_Essential Guide to Selling Your Home

Rich Cordaro and I worked out a contract where I would be mentioned on the copyright page of his book in exchange for a reduced editing fee.

About Rich’s Book: A Well-Thought Real Estate Guide

Rich and I found each other via Upwork and I’m so glad we did! Working on this book with him was such a joy and it’s rare to have a client as open, flexible, understanding, and focused as Rich Cordaro.

He wanted his book to be easy and fun while still making sure readers would be able to understand and apply his real estate advice. Could I do that, he asked? Of course I could!

We brainstormed ideas during the first couple months. Once those were solidified we worked together to…

  • blend graphic illustrations into the text;
  • create worksheets;
  • develop an Index and Glossary of Terms; and
  • offer the book in both print and electronic versions.

Not only was Rich a pleasure to work with, but I was also able to gain some really valuable experience during the project, like…

  • Learning more about the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) requirements and process;
  • Learned about the 99Designs process;
  • Get hours logged using Adobe InDesign as a publishing layout tool; and
  • Get [more] hours logged for Adobe Photoshop (to turn hand-sketched images into digital graphics).

Good experience is hard to put a price tag on. Even though Rich has expressed his joy with the project’s end result to me more than once, I can’t help but feel like I got the better end of the deal on this one.

And THAT’S the proof of a great barter: When both parties feel like they got the better piece of the pie!

If you’re in the market for an easy how-to real estate selling guide, please pick up a copy of Rich’s book ($9.99 paperback, $3.99 Kindle). He really lays out his strategic–and proven!–selling methodology in an easy-to-read fashion (i.e. no confusing lingo!); the worksheets contained within the text can be immensely useful; and the graphics we put inside the text make it a fun and quick read. (And, no, I don’t get any portion of royalties. I just think it’s a great book!)

Baby Steps: Starting Out Anew

In January, I declared a new motto for Mountain Owl Ink in 2017: See Farther. You probably don’t know that when I created that motto I had no idea I’d give birth to my first child in a few short months. And, how appropriate, because I’ve come to realize there is little that makes you see farther into the future more than having a child.

Then, on November 17, just over a month after my son was born, I had recuperated from childbirth and gathered enough of myself together to reflect upon 2018, the year I’ve come to call The Baby Year. And, like my 2017 motto, I’ve just come to realize that the name takes on a double meaning:

Not only is 2018 the first full year of enjoying my literal baby, but it’s also a time for me, in my “baby” stage as a new mother, to reevaluate myself and make changes. It’s a time for Mountain Owl Ink, in light of those changes, to restart itself in infancy and move forward in baby steps.

Taking Baby Steps

When my son takes his first steps, it will be something new. I’ll be amazed at how he’s developing. I’ll be happy and proud and slightly afraid as I am faced with the reality that he’ll forevermore be increasingly mobile.

At the same time, to him his first steps may not be much of a shocker. He would have been working toward that goal for a while, his whole life, in fact. After all, before he stepped out, he’d have been working on looking around, at rolling over, at sitting up, at standing, all these things would have happened before he took that first step out.

So, while I, the outsider, may be shocked at the development, to my son it’ll be something he’d been (more or less) planning on and pursuing for some time. It will be exciting, I’m sure, but it won’t be a surprise.

His developmental leap, from my perspective, will be just another “baby step” for him.

What Baby Steps Mean

In this light, baby steps are those small leaps forward that we take that go largely unnoticed by the outside world. They can be internal (emotional, mental, or spiritual changes within us) or they can be external (physical changes or material achievements, like a diploma or accolade), just as long as they bring us closer to a preconceived goal.

As an example, when I decided to wake up every morning and get dressed as if I were going to an office (even though I worked from home), that was a mental change I made even though it materialized as me wearing different clothes. But, did it matter how I dressed to the outside world? No. Absolutely not. Nobody knew that I was in office wear while puttering around my house. Did anyone notice I wore heels while I did laundry or vacuumed? No! But I certainly did. That was an attitude change — an internal baby step — that brought me closer to a preconceived goal (that is, taking my business seriously and not just as a hobby).

Baby steps mean you’re working toward improvement, whatever “improvement” means for you. And, when you can track those steps, you’re better able to see how far you’ve come — and how much farther you have to go — to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself.

But that brings up the question…

Can baby steps backtrack?


When my son starts walking, he’ll undoubtedly fall down. He may just bump down onto his heftily padded rear end (thank you, fluffy cloth diapers!) or he may topple forward and hit his head on the floor.

After such disappointment (and pain), he may not think that walking is as great as it’s hacked up to be. Nobody really wants to face plant on the floor. Nobody wants to be disappointed after putting in so much work and effort.

But he WILL keep trying, because that’s what babies do. They don’t obsess about what happened last time; that’s a grown up thing. Babies just keep on keeping on.

And that’s what babies can teach us: To stop obsessing about “last time” and just keep on. Sure, we’ll face road blocks, disappointments, backtracking, bumps, pain… but those are ways to learn to baby step better, not reasons to avoid baby stepping at all!

Let’s Learn from Babies

So, 2018 will be MOI’s Baby Year. I’ll be starting over with a fresh perspective about what I want from me, about what’s important to me and how I might get there (a little of this I already shared in my last post).

As a result, MOI will be shifting gears. I already know that that’ll involve working more on my own projects and less on being hired out to work on other people’s publishing dreams.

I also know that Le Mieux will be taking a temporary pause while I create a clearer path for it’s development (can you say website and swag?) and movement forward. That’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes we need to backtrack in order to baby step forward. Nobody knows this better than writers, who sometimes have to face the difficult task of tossing a few pages in order to change the story and make the whole of the book better.

More to come… See you in the new year!

Is 2018 YOUR baby year? If so, what changes do you foresee making for yourself, your business, etc.?

Asking For Money: Why We’re Afraid To Do It and Why We Shouldn’t Be!

A contact of mine — let’s call her Nancy — mentioned something that happened to her:

A freelancer she’d hired with whom she’d become friends with during the course of a project started sending vague ‘What’s up’ texts.

“It wouldn’t have been awkward,” Nancy said, “if they actually had something to say or share, but it was just text-y small talk. You know, ‘What’re you doing?’ and ‘How’s things?’ We don’t small talk in person. Why would we small talk on text?”

Even though emotions are notoriously difficult to decipher in texts, “I knew something was up. I could just feel it.”

Turns out, she was right.

As a result of some recent life drama she’d completely forgotten to issue payment on the freelancer’s latest invoice. She knew she was the one to blame for the slip and apologized, saying she’d pay them right away — “I was mortified. How could I forget to pay them?” — but the freelancer was also apologetic… for bringing up the subject in the first place!

“That struck me as weird,” Nancy said.

And, I agreed: It is weird. But also, sadly common.

Why Are We Afraid To Ask For OUR Money?

Can you imagine your telephone company apologizing for asking you to pay your bill? Of course not! They’ve provided a service with the expectation that they’ll given money that is, in a way, already theirs.

So why are so many freelancers shy about asking to be paid? Just off the top of my head, maybe they’re worried they…

  • #1: Won’t receive future work from that particular client if they nag for payment.
  • #2: Will be told their work isn’t any good and that’s why they’re not being paid.
  • #3: Have a client who never actually intended to pay.

There may be others, but these three particular fears stand out. However, when broken down, they’re actually pretty pointless. Here’s why.

Worry #1: Fear of No Future Work

Has it ever happened that a client will not offer more work if you nag for payment? YES. However, the keyword here is “nag.”

There is a critical difference between professionally asking for payment (even professionally demanding payment) and nagging about it. The latter involves whining, complaining, pleading, insulting the client, and other annoying dialogue that will only manage to get you blacklisted and not respected (or paid).

If you’re sure you’re being professional and the client is still playing hard to get, consider this:

Do you want the kind of client you have to wrestle money out of at the end of every project? If your answer is “no” (and it should be!), then just get payment ASAP for what you’ve already done and let them go their merry way.

Then there’s this: If your fear of not getting rehired is getting in the way of you asking for payment, then freelancing simply isn’t for you. Sorry, guy.

But, if you’re willing to bravely face the “Pay me” discussion, there are

Ways To Reduce Your Anxiety Over Getting Paid

  • Write a Contract and include an arbitration clause.
  • Write a Contract and include terms for an upfront deposit.
  • Write a Contract and set terms for payment at project milestones, like:
    • Setting up an escrow account in a money handling service like PayPal, or
    • Directly arranging the work through a site like Upwork, where escrow is already a fixture in the system.

I mention WRITE A CONTRACT multiple times because doing business without a contract is just asking for trouble. Contracts are Freelancing 101 and, if you don’t have one handy to present to clients at the start of every job, I strongly encourage you to draft one now.


Incorporating details like an arbitration clause, upfront deposit terms, or payment deadline terms can help payments stay on track and on time and leave your worries to more critical matters… like just doing a good job on the project!

Worry #2: “Your work isn’t worth it.”

Let’s consider what “freelancing” means in the first place.

By definition, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

No commitment to any one employer? It sounds so… freeing, doesn’t it? ::wink:wink:: But that also means that the employer (or client) also has no commitment to YOU other than those terms they’ve agreed on and are legally held to (you know, via your contract).

There are two good reasons to nix this worry in the bud.

First, if payment is dependent on TIME (i.e. $/hour), you should get paid for work done even if the client doesn’t like the end result. This is part of the hourly arrangement: pay is largely independent of product (unless, of course, the product is grossly disastrous, in which case you should let the client keep their money).

Flat fee arrangements are tougher to negotiate, as they more strongly imply a product-dependent payment system (“I’ll pay you for 5 hours spent writing XYZ” vs “I’ll pay you $100 for an article on XYZ.”).

Either way, consider including one or both of the following in your contract(s):

A. Require an upfront deposit (e.g. 30% or 50% of the full fee, or the equivalent of 5 hours of work) before you even begin. This encourages the client to feel vested in you and the project and offers them the opportunity to show they’re serious about holding to their end of the bargain.

B. Use an Escrow service. Arrange escrow through PayPal or set up the job through a writing brokerage, like Guru, Upwork, or Servicescape (though, beware: ServiceScape demands a steep 50% commission!).

The main trouble with using a writing brokerage is that if the client hasn’t used it before they’ll have to set up an account and learn how to use a new platform, which they may not be eager or willing to do. In this way, PayPal is easier because the client doesn’t need an account to deposit funds into a PayPal escrow.

Finally, let’s say the client really did intend to pay you and they are dedicated to the project. What gives? Well, it’s time to ask yourself a hard question:

Is your work worth paying for, or not?

Either you produce a good product or you don’t. Unless the client can point out glaringly obvious reasons why they shouldn’t pay you (e.g. outlandish editing mistakes, blatant spelling errors, or an article that’s off-topic) clients may use the excuse “I don’t like it” to see if you’ll let them off the hook.

Why would they want to get off the hook? Two reasons come to mind:

  1. They changed their mind about the project. Maybe jumped the gun and hired you before thinking it through, or didn’t realize that a writing project is actually a lot of work (for them, lots of reviewing and approving your work). Or…
  2. They didn’t realize how much it would cost and are facing sticker shock. (See “Hard Truth #3” HERE.)

Don’t give in: Neither of these excuses are your fault and you still deserve your money! Be firm about receiving payment, about the amount due, and about your end product, especially if the client had many chances to cancel the job or make changes along the way that would have alleviated the above two problems.

Worry #3: The client never intended to pay.

Unfortunately, this does happen. And it doesn’t feel good because you realize you’ve basically been scammed. In fact, one of my first clients hired me to write a few product descriptions for $10 apiece. After I submitted the work, they fell off the map.


Look, some people will do this. Why? Because some people are jerks. And even with safeties in place to protect yourself, something as small as $100 due won’t get you much attention in small claims court or be worth the trouble of hiring an arbitrator. In my case, I wrote it off as a learning experience and a monetary loss on my taxes.


At the end of the day, a solid contract with clear terms and expectations from both parties will help alleviate anxiety over all aspects of payment, from initial deposit to milestone payments to final invoice.

Other than that, all you need to do is provide a product worth paying for.

Have you had any experiences with non-payment? Share your stories — and solutions — in the comments.

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. 



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, 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.


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); (2) Russell, Bertrand. “In Praise of Idleness,” 1932. WEB:

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); (2)

Journal Entry, July 14: Free the Elephants

You never know what people hear when you talk. You could be going on some long, well thought out diatribe about global warming and all they pick out is that one sentence on how monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles every fall. Forget about the ice caps melting, the polar bears, the whales, and the drowning of New York City. It’s the butterflies they’ll remember.

The same goes with passing mentions of odd little things between friends and strangers. For instance, a woman who plays the drums in my church mentioned in passing a few weeks ago about journaling and how the practice might be construed as a way to commune with God on a deeper level.

I’m a collector of empty notebooks, the kind that are bound with thick, decorative covers and delicately lined pages. I actually have to stop myself from buying them. (Hint: They’ll always be a great gift in my book!) On vacation recently to Nashville, Tennessee, I found myself coveting a shelf full of notebooks of assorted sizes for several long minutes. Some of the notebooks had little (albeit useless) locks on them, some had little brass hinges in place of goopy binding glue… oh, the temptation!

But, I digress. I have (had?) a couple of empty notebooks sitting around my house; others aren’t completely empty, but sit half written in according to their subject designation (one is for song ideas and music writing, another for sketches, etc). One in particular I recently received as a gift from a client with Psalm 118:24 inscribed on the cover and a new verse on the top corner of every right-hand page. So pretty and so inspiring, but I couldn’t figure out what to use it for.

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. — Psalm 118:24

Then this drummer lady mentioned journaling. Hm, I thought. Perhaps I ought to give that a go. So I did: On July 4, 2016, I made my first entry. On July 14, I made my second.

It’s the second entry I wish to share with you today.

Take into consideration that this is edit-free: no erasures, no deletions, just pure, train-of-thought writing, typed out just as it’s written (brackets and all). I hope you enjoy reading it and that it gives you something to think on as you go about your day. And, as you read, consider these questions:

  • What makes a person an “elephant”?
  • Are YOU an elephant?
  • What are the shackles in your life?

(Note: The verses mentioned are the ones listed at the tops of the pages I wrote on. Coincidentally enough, they’re applicable to my entry, though I didn’t plan it that way as you can see by my post script entry.)


A friend loves at all times. — Proverbs 17:17

Something about elephants. A few days ago while driving I had an epiphany but, of course, because I was driving I couldn’t grab a pen and jot it down, if only to remind myself later about the epiphany I had earlier.

But now it’s gone. All I know is it had something to do with elephants. Maybe if I talk (write) about it long enough it’ll occur to me again, an epiphany refreshed. But — yes — something about elephants with shackles on their ankles.

Funny how I can remember exactly where I was on the road when I had said epiphany. I was driving south on Highway 52, just past the farm that once had a herd of cattle but now no more (slaughter, I assume), at the crest of a hill with the anti-abortion sign on the right and the “sweet corn ahead – closed” sign on the left. The crest of the hill that’s lush with grass (no crop this season; a year of rest for the earth there? A sabbath for the soil?) and I looked out over it, pondering all matter of things in my radio-free (by choice, not because of radio malfunction) drive home, when–Ah ha! Enlightenment! But now all I have is “something about elephants with shackles on their ankles.


But the image [of the elephants] reminds me of a lesson in psychology. (I do hope you don’t mind me tracing my thoughts backward.) The lesson, or the story, is that a baby elephant being trained would be shackled and chained to a stake set in the ground. Being a baby, he wouldn’t have the strength to pull it out and this he quickly learned (elephants are smart). As the animal grew, it became settled to the fact that it could not break free of its chain. Then, by the time the creature was full grown — and well beyond reaching strength to pull a mere stake from the ground — it stopped fighting its chains, thoroughly trained and nigh aware it could break free upon a whim (but elephants aren’t that smart).

Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. — Isaiah 60:1

And something is coming back to me… Something about elephants with shackles on their ankles who don’t realize they could be free.

(P.S. Is it coincidence that the verses quoted on the pages of this entry are applicable to this entry’s content?)

Ponder with me, friends! Leave a comment below. 🙂