My Elevator Pitch – Extended Version

What do I do? It’s a question I’m often asked and had a chance to recently answer

Most business advice guides suggest that you need an “elevator pitch”. This is a short statement that descsribes your job, your business or whatever you are known for in just a couple of minutes. In the online world, this can be the sort of brief description that appears on an “About Me” page or widget but it’s named for the sort of description you can deliver to somene during an elevator ride. It’s short and direct.

Last night I had the privelege of talking about my work as a freelance journalist to students from my daughter’s school as part of their annual career’s fair. I thought I’d share my notes with you so you can get an idea of how I describe my work. It’s a bit longer than an elevator pitch but I was asked to address some specific questions.

What your job involves, what a typical day might be like

  • A typical work day starts at about 9.00 AM. I work from home and have a dedicated home office with all the stuff I need. It’s not part of the house so I can separate work from home (important if you’re self-employed)
  • I have a workflow system so I can track work that I have coming up so that I can prioritise what’s coming up. At any one time I may have up to 20 tasks in the queue. 
  • Depending on the day I might spend the day writing, interviewing people either on phone or in person or putting some time into boring stuff like office admin (accounts, etc)
  • I usually finish working between 5 and 6 but take time out to pick up kids from school or meet with friends to break things up

 Your journey into your career (some take interesting and unusual paths)

  • I got my job sort of by accident – it was never planned
  • A friend was freelancing for APC and was too busy to hit a deadline so I subbed in (I’d been doing some work for free on a couple of websites to build a reputation)
  • Then I started to pitch my own work
  • Made contact with other freelancers and expanded my network 
  • Some of my friends in the business came to the job through traditional university/cadetship paths. That works well and equips you with the skills you need. I had to learn on the job.
  • For the first few years I had a full-time job and freelanced on the side

 What you like about your job, what attracted you to into the area

  • I meet interesting people
  • I write about stuff I’m interested in
  • Because I write about technology I get lots of cool toys to play with
  • I have a lot of freedom
  • I get to travel

 What the challenges are

  • Cash-flow: you don’t always know where your next job is coming from
  • Prioritizing and time management: when you’re on your own schedule you need a lot of self discipline (and that takes time and practice)
  • Loneliness; although that might depend on your personality type
  • In some niches, pay rates are falling (the global economy is a huge factor) 

The types of skills/personal attributes you think are important for you to be effective in your role

  • You have to like writing. There’s no point doing a job where you’re not going to enjoy the main activity
  • Motivation and self-confidence: if you can’t sell yourself you’ll starve
  • Organization so that you don’t miss tasks or deadline
  • As a freelancer, if you can’t solve your editor’s problem then you’re not doing your job

Any advice you would give to someone considering this career

  • It’s not for everyone.
  • It can take a while to establish your reputation 
  • Listen to all that stuff your english teacher tells you about grammar, construction, spelling and language
  • Read a lot so you expand your vocabulary

 Career opportunities available

  •  Lots but go in your eyes open

Overcoming the loneliness of freelancing

There are some great benefits in being self-employed. A whole stack of advantages came out of a recent post on the best things about freelancing and the comments.However, it’s not all plain sailing. One of the benefits of a normal nine-to-five job is the contact with other people. In another recent post I mentioned that loneliness is one of the potential disadvantages of the freelance life.

I’m a fairly gregarious person by nature. While I’m OK with my own company, there are days when I thirst for some human contact. At the moment I’m doing a contract job that puts me in an office with other people for part of the week but I’ve also had to come up with some strategies for the days when I work at home.

One thing I do is schedule a social/work day every couple of weeks. In my home city of Melbourne, there’s a social media breakfast every Friday morning. So, I plan to get to that every couple of weeks or so. As well as breaking the week up a little, it’s an opportunity to meet and network with new people. On that day, I also make a point of setting at least one other meeting with a potential client, interview subject or other business contact.

Email lists are also a great way to expand your network and keep in touch with people. Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn are great places to look for discussions on topics of interest and for contacting new people.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are excellent as well although you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of self-discipline so that you don’t waste time on them.

Finally, I use the phone a lot. Rather than just emailing or tweeting my contacts I get on the phone a couple of times a day so that I hear a human voice and get a chance to interact more directly.

What do you do to overcome the solitude of working alone? Have you come up with some special tricks to help you through the day? Please share your ideas through the comments.

The 5 worst things about freelancing

Freelancing sounds like fun but there a times when it’s no picnic. Here are our 5 worst things about being a freelancer.

After yesterday’s The 5 best things about freelancing I thought some balance was in order. So here are the 5 worst things about freelancing.

1. The constant pimping

Most freelancers need to continually sell themselves in order to get more work. That can mean time spent at “networking opportunities” (what the rest of the world calls drinks or socialising), cold calling potential clients and looking for new places to sell your business. Some folks don’t mind it but for many it’s a real drag.

2. Chasing money

THE thing I hate most about freelancing is that you need to often chase clients for payment. I recently had an invoice out with a client that took nine months to be paid. That meant lots of phone calls, countless emails and, eventually, the involvement of a debt collector. It’s not always that bad but staying on top of outstanding debtors is a serious energy sapper.

3. Administration

When you work in someone else’s business they look after all the stuff that you need in order to keep a business ticking over. Things like monthly or quarterly tax paperwork, invoicing, banking, payroll, filing – all those little tasks that end up sapping your time and energy.

4. Loneliness

For many freelancers, the ability to work from home is countered by loneliness and missing people to bounce ideas off. I’m fortunate that I have a client at the moment that needs me in the office for part of the week but when I was at home all the time, I missed the human contact.

5. The need for self-discipline

I am not, by nature, a very self-disciplined person. When I’m working at home I can find lots of reasons to not work. There’s always a dishwasher to unload, a coffee to make, a snack to eat or some errand to run. At least with this one, you can work at it and create good work habits so that you get the most from your work time.

What are the things you don’t like about freelancing? How do you work around or overcome them? Let me know in the comments.

The 5 best things about freelancing

Freelancing is great. Here are 5 of the best things about freelancing.

One of the questions I get asked the most about freelancing is “Why?”.

Here are the 5 reasons I freelance.

1. Work/Life Balance

Truth be told – this is biggest reason I gave up the nine-to-five life. Being able to take my kids to school, pick them up, have lunch with my wife, sleep in occasionally… being able to do these things and still make a living is, for me, the best thing about freelancing.

2. A great boss

I don’t just mean me. Sure, I might be self-employed but being able to work for a wide variety of clients means that I’m able to expand my professional network in a way that working for a single company just can’t match.

3. Variety is the spice of life

In any given month I’ll deal with at least four different clients, talk to tens of people and write about several different topics. I’ve got a short attention span but being able to have such a diverse workload keeps me well and truly interested.

4. Being able to choose my work

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to build a decent freelance practice with a solid client base. That means that I can be a little choosey when it comes to who I work for. I get to work for people I like. If I get a client I find hard to work with I just don’t pitch to them any more.

5. Time management

One thing all freelancers need is to have good time management skills. Without them, a few minutes of procrastination can easily become a lost morning, a lost day and more. However, not being tied to a clock-watching corporate culture (and all the companies I’ve worked for were clockwatchers whether they say it or not) means I can work on a task for as long as it takes. If I hit my week’s deadlines by Wednesday then the rest of the week is easy.

So – why do you freelance? What’s the best part of it for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Dress for work – the freelancer’s dress code

One of the great attractions of working for yourself is that you’re immune from all the petty office politics and seemingly arbitrary rules. In an office with dozens of people, those rules are what’s used to maintain a set of standards to ensure that the “corporate image” is maintained. But when you’re self-employed you can set your own rules. One of the first rules to go is the idea of an office dress code.

When you’re working for yourself from a home office, it can be a challenge to remain motivated to do some of the less enjoyable tasks required when running your own business. Things like reconciling bank accounts, chasing slow payers and other administration are an important part of running a business but are rarely a focus when your real job is about putting words on paper, taking great photos or selling some other part of your experience and expertise.

Dress for a business office – even at home

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that the clothes I wear make a difference. On the days I’m more casual my productivity is invariably lower than days when I get dressed up. Also, being dressed more “businessy” helos me when dealing with other folks and it means I can be ready faster if something comes up – like a press conference or media event – at short notice.

I’m not suggesting that you put a suit on to work at home, but a decent shirt and shoes might be enough to get your brain thinking it’s a work day and not a play day.

Dress up for meetings

When you attend meetings with clients, networking events and other out-of-office functions  – dress up.

For me, this means a decent pair of dress trousers, a nice shirt and clean shoes. I’ve shown up to events in both casual and more dressy clothes and I always get better networking opportunities when I’m less casual. By dressing up, it shows the organisers and other attendees that you’re serious about what’s going on and not just there for the free food and drinks.

The safest bet for men is to wear a decent suit. Current fashion seems to suggest that it’s OK to wear an open shirt and no tie. There’s no need to spend thousands on the latest Armani. A decent, fashionable suit can be purchased for around $200 on sale.

For ladies – the rules are less clear as women’s fashion seems to be far more variable than men’s. However, I’d suggest super-mini skirts, exposed mid-riffs and really deep, plunging necklines are probably not “serious business” attire.

Read the invitation and do your research

Often, event invitations include some dress code advice. I recently was invited on a tour to Japan. The event itinerary included a dress code for each session in the tour. In some cultures  – and this can be either corporate or local – what you wear is a big deal.

On that tour, many of the attendees didn’t follow the advice. I did and was quietly complimented by the organisers. I’m certain that this little bit of attention has made a positive difference to the relationship I have with the organisers.

What’s your advice?

So – what do you think? Does dressing up in the home office matter? Is what you wear with clients important? What’s your freelance dress code? Let me know by commenting.