Work Smarter: Do Take it Personally

on February 28, 2012 in Productivity & Organization
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The following is a guest post from Cathy Miller of Simply Stated Business

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Some days it seems like everyone has an opinion on how you should work.

They tell you - don't take it personally, but you need to work smarter.

  • Well, do take it personally and they're right
  • But, ignore them if it doesn't work for you
Only you know what working smarter means for you.

Three Smart Steps

When I started my own business in 2008, I had a very simple goal - survival. I made (and continue to make) plenty of mistakes. Here's what I have learned - so far.

1. Know what you need.

We all have different reasons for our freelance business.

  • For some, it's a full-time career
  • For others, it's part-time until you quit your day job
  • And some freelance for pocket money

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Whatever your reason, you need to understand what you need from your business.

I define my needs in two ways - body and soul.
  • Body is your basics - to eat, pay your bills, survival
  • Soul is complex simplicity - what makes you happy?

It took me a while to figure that out. And it changes.

For example, when I started out, I lived and worked alone. I threw different projects at my work-board to see what stuck. I accepted plenty of gigs far below my targeted earnings (no, I never worked for content mills).

They fed the body, but starved the soul.
  • I felt desperate and pathetic
  • I hated many of the projects

I decided to pay more attention to my soul.

One of the nagging issues for me was personal. My dad had died the year before and my mother was living alone. We were in the height of the real estate fallout, so selling her house was not the best idea.

  • I packed up my laptop and moved in with Mom
  • I felt better about being there to help
  • And it helped me get my business off the ground

I discovered what I needed from my business.

  • Flexibility for my family needs
  • A base income that maximized my hours worked
  • Doing the kind of work I enjoyed

I had to learn to work smarter.

2. Know your bottom line.

I converted my corporate salary to my freelance salary – or so I thought.

  • I underestimated time spent on unbillable hours (e.g., marketing, computer problems, etc.)
  • I didn't factor in the change from working alone to being interrupted during the day

I had to go back to the drawing board on my bottom line fee. A great place to start is right here at All Freelance Writing. Check out the Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator. I found it to be a great tool.

Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. I didn't. You can always adjust it as you get more productive and learn to work smarter.

Do not compromise your bottom line.

When you start chipping away at your bottom line, you're taking body blows to your livelihood.

3. Cut out the fat.

My fee was not my biggest problem. I needed to cut out the fat.

  • Get a better return on my investment
  • Learn to maximize my productivity

Here are a few things I did that helped.

  • Narrowed scope of projects by cutting out smaller "one and done" projects and focusing on those with a better return
  • White papers that produce higher income
  • Case Studies that I love doing and have a good return
  • Ghostwritten articles where I contract for a series instead of just one
  • Blogging with a minimum of a six-month contract

Each year I expand the number of projects for my "anchor" clients. (Love that term - if I could remember who coined it, I'd give her credit). This is the first year I am working on a retainer with a guaranteed monthly income.


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Set an education budget – In my first year of freelancing, there wasn't a book I didn't buy or a webinar I didn't attend. It was a real time and money-waster.

By sticking to an education budget (which includes limiting time on FREE webinars), I get a better return on my investment.

Made Friday admin day – For me, Friday's a kickback day. I decided to do my admin work on Fridays. It's one less distraction during the week, allowing me to be more productive.

Love Yourself

Before we start singing Kumbaya, what I mean is don't beat yourself up and have fun.

Start simple and expandWhen you set unrealistic goals, you set yourself up for disappointment. Start simple and expand.

For example, first plan to increase your income X percent. The next year, add a target for new clients. After that, set specific targets for income, marketing, expenses.

Do work you enjoy – I found out that I hate copyediting. I simply do not enjoy editing other people's writing. So, I stopped offering those services.

I feed my soul through creative writing, my personal blog and taking time for family and things I love to do.

Working smarter means something different for each of us.
  • Lay the foundation by taking care of the body – Know your bottom line and cut out the fat
  • Then work on the soul – Reward yourself for your accomplishments and do what you love
Do take it personally.

How have you learned to work smarter?
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Cathy Miller has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal blog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer's Second Life.

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20 Comments

  1. Lori February 28, 2012 Reply

    Superb post, Cathy.

    I think that Knowing your bottom line point is the toughest to define, but Jenn’s calculator certainly helps.

    I think my Fridays are now admin days, too. :)

    • Cathy Miller February 28, 2012 Reply

      Thank you, Lori. Yeah, that bottom line tends to shift around. :-) I figure since I’m not terribly productive on Fridays anyway, I might as well handle those pesky admin tasks. Well, at least until I can find someone I trust to take those over. :-)

  2. Jennifer Mattern February 28, 2012 Reply

    Thanks so much for the guest post Cathy! :)

    • Cathy Miller February 28, 2012 Reply

      Definitely my pleasure, Jenn. Thanks for having me. :-)

  3. Jake P February 28, 2012 Reply

    Nicely done, Cathy. It is highly individualized as to what “working smarter” might end up looking like for each of us, but the basic principles that you’ve outlined here are universal.

    Interesting that you hate copyediting. My personal bugbear is PR–but I’ve got a couple of good folks who are more than happy to subcontract.

    Any day around here can be an admin day, or, like yesterday afternoon, 9 holes with my daughter. Learned the benefits of “randomly rewarding yourself” from my erstwhile entrepreneur dad.

    • Cathy Miller February 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi Jake – thank you for the kind words. I think knowing what you want from your business is a biggie. The goals I had in my corporate days are very different from what I want now. And, yes, I am positive that age has a lot to do with that. Maybe I’m finally growing up. :-) Okay, maybe not.

      I’m glad you enjoy the benefits of your daughter (and getting someone else to do the PR). :-)

  4. Matt February 28, 2012 Reply

    Nice suggestions, another one to throw up there besides trimming the fat is maybe what you could call axing distractions. Sometimes it’s amazing how much time you can find or things you can do in just an hour or two.

    • Cathy Miller February 28, 2012 Reply

      Isn’t that the truth, Matt? I’m the Queen of Distractions. Thanks for adding another great tip!

  5. Amandah February 28, 2012 Reply

    Fantastic post! I agree with Matt about minimizing distractions. I tend to get sidetracked by checking my email and social media. I need to stick to my 15 minute rule when it comes to social media.

    • LaToya Irby February 29, 2012 Reply

      I’m guilty of this too. The internet is the biggest distraction of all.

  6. Cathy Miller February 29, 2012 Reply

    Thanks, Amandah. I appreciate that. :-) That’s a good rule to follow and one I struggle with as well. Time on social media is definitely a fat that needs trimming. :-)

  7. Anne Wayman February 29, 2012 Reply

    Well done, Cathy, but I’m not surprised. ;) Take it personally and seriously, except of course, when it’s time to play.

  8. Sid March 3, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for the excellent post. When we like what we do, working as a freelancer or working as an employee, the results can have a positive effect on the body and the soul.

  9. Amelia Ramstead March 4, 2012 Reply

    Great post. I’m really starting to find my niche and figure out where I belong in this big ol’ freelance writing world. I’m sort of like you… I threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. I’ve actually been rather surprised by the results! The stuff that stuck, stuck HARD. The other stuff…. eh, no great loss.

    • Cathy Miller March 20, 2012 Reply

      Amelia: Sorry for the late response. I just saw your comment. Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on what’s working. Good for you! And great attitude about what didn’t work. Like I said, the great thing about plans is you can always change them.

      Thanks for commenting, Amelia.

  10. Zara March 13, 2012 Reply

    This post spoke clearly to me. I have just discovered that writing has become less enjoyable for me. Been observing this feeling for a while now and I realized that I easily get bored writing about several articles about the same topic. Now your article’s in my Evernote app and I’m planning to take the same steps as you did in finding a way to work smarter. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  11. Cathy Miller March 20, 2012 Reply

    Hi Zara: I know what you mean. Sometimes you have to step back and listen to that voice inside. We often try to squelch it. For me, it’s usually because it’s something I fear. You’ll find your passion if you keep at it. I wish you much success!

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