Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How To Rock The Freelance Lifestyle (When You Have Real Responsibilities)

One of the great things about being a contractor and a writer is that I can work from wherever I want. If I want to travel up the coast, I can. If I want to even go abroad, I can. I am limited only to wifi - but I was never a big camper anyways.

If you’re like many Americans and find that you’re given lots of flex time, or have even started working from home consistently, you too can rock the freelance lifestyle. However, I won’t say that it doesn’t require some foresight and planning - especially if you own property, have a spouse or children, or are committed to any other responsibilities. But it can be done.

To be clear, I’m not specifically advocating that you travel if your lifestyle doesn’t allow it - in fact, quite the opposite. This post is written for anyone who works from home, most especially those who are contractors or have a large amount of autonomy in their workflow. There are certain things that are just, well, difference for us than for your normal office employee, and it's time to talk about it!

Here’s what you need to know to rock that freelance lifestyle without neglecting responsibilities or stressing out:

Invest In Social

No, I don’t mean social media - though that definitely is important as well for most businesses. As a freelancer, you have so many benefits that office workers don’t have, but there’s one thing that you miss out on that I find myself pining for an embarrassing amount: the office water cooler.

Whether literal or hypothetical, there’s a lot to be said for having guaranteed social time, every day, without having to have an “occasion” for it. Find what works for you - that may be a friend that lives nearby that you can chat with a few days a week, or striking up conversation with regulars in a local coffee shop (if you’re braver than me). The only wrong way to invest in your social life as a freelancer is to ignore it until you feel like you’re turning into a hobbit.

Outsource Maintenance

A big challenge for travelling or even spending several days away is staying on top of home maintenance. I’m a big proponent of outsourcing as much as I can, both at work and in my personal life - which is why I find reliable workers to help me when I want to spend some time away from my property.

Depending how long you’re gone, and how much real estate you own, this may be a simple cleaning crew to reduce some of the load on your spouse (especially if you have several children), all the way to a part time manager if you and your family will be gone for a few months.

Even if you aren’t planning on travelling much, outsourcing banal tasks will improve your quality of life immensely, especially if you’re a contractor. As most entrepreneurs know, some months will be slow, but some months will be so busy you feel like your head is spinning - so waking up to a clean home and your laundry all in order can help you celebrate those months as victorious, instead of just stressful.

Set A Schedule

The third and last piece of advice I’ll impart on you is that even though you don’t have to set a schedule, you really should. Believe me, I’ve gone through waking up whenever I feel like it, and going to bed whenever it's convenient, and it really loses its appeal after a month or so! Not only is it difficult to get quality sleep when you’re going to bed at a different time each night, but it’s hard to get focused in the morning when you don’t have a solid routine.

As you embark on your new lifestyle, keep tabs on how you’re feeling - and know that any reaction to your new habits is fine. It’s understandable to feel lonely, or disorganized or even chaotic at first - just make sure you address the problem head on. With a little planning, your life will be infinitely better than when you were tied to an office desk all day.

4 Ways To Be More Productive

As the lines between work and our personal lives become increasingly blurred, it’s easier to become overwhelmed with assignments and professional communications that never seem to end. If you’re comparing yourself to your star coworker or your role model and wondering how they get so much done in the amount of time it takes for you to just get your brain started that day, you’re not alone.

Whether you’re looking to go farther in your career or just make time for your hobby, up your game and get more done today with these 4 tips for increasing productivity:

Find The Music That Works For Your Brain

If you’re trying to work but find that the distractions of your home office, workplace or the internet (or, let’s be real, all of the above) are making it impossible, experiment with different kinds of music. It’s proven both by science and by my own personal life experience that the right sounds can help center you into a task, either by helping you drown out everything else, or set a rhythm your brain can latch onto that helps you work better.

Think Inside The Box

Keep falling flat on creative work? Whether you dub it “writer’s block” or have another name for it, it’s all the same - you can’t think of a new idea without lots and lots of effort. If this is holding back you work, consider if you really should be trying to think of something totally different, or if you can build on what you’ve done before.

There’s a significant body of proof that shows real creative ideas are almost always built on prior experiences and successes, instead of pulled out of thin air. Game of Thrones? Based on the real life Wars of the Roses (House Tyrell forever!), and seasoned with some traditional dragon lore. Cell phones? Inspired by the communicators in Star Trek decades prior.

When you reach into your mind, look for stepping stones that will lead you to the path of success, instead of trying to forge through a thicket of new territory with no direction.

Write Down All Of Your Tasks

You already have plenty to do - don’t make remembering it all one of them too! Writing down everything that needs to be done not only will help you keep track of what’s left, but it will also help you prioritize your list.

If you find that you have more than can realistically get done in a day, start ranking tasks in order of importance. What really needs to be done? What can wait until tomorrow? Even better, what can you delegate or nix entirely?

Writing it all down and ordering it will make even the most hectic schedules a bit more manageable.

Create Deadlines - And Keep Them

It’s really, really difficult to get something done if you don’t have a deadline. While this may not be a problem if you have too much to do, if there’s a project (especially a personal or optional one) you want to get done but keep putting off, maybe the problem is a lack of urgency. For most of us, there’s always some other small task that should get done beforehand, from cleaning the house to making your next doctor appointment to… the list goes on. Once you’re through all the little things? Man, you’re so tired you couldn’t even think of doing more!

If you’re struggling to be more productive, the key may just be being honest with yourself. From acknowledging you have too much on your plate and you need to ask for help, to forcing a deadline on yourself to accomplish a goal you’ve been procrastinating, the best thing you can likely do is question what’s really holding you back.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to Build a Simple Social Media Strategy for a New Small Business

For some, starting a small business is a dream come true. It’s one of the most exciting times in an entrepreneur’s career, getting what you’ve imagined and scribbled down on paper into a living, breathing entity. Now it’s time to share this with the world, but where do we begin?

Some small businesses live and breath online. Take online food businesses for example, which use social media as their primary channel for advertising. Even starting a podcast can be a great way to get your business off the ground (all the while earning extra cash).

It’s true that not every avenue available is the best one to go down, but today we’re going to go over a few key examples to getting your social off the ground and running.

Start Out with What You Know

To begin, look at the social channels you’re already using. Does your brand/company fit in these places? Sure, a local bakery might work great on Facebook or Instagram, but promoting their creations on LinkedIn might not be the most advantageous place.

It’s important to figure out where your product lives in your potential customer’s feed, as well as how you want them to behave with a post. Sometimes a simple “like” or “comment” is enough, but in other instances, we might be after a different type of engagement, such as discussion and sharing.

Finally, it’s important to note that before you go out spending on advertising for these platforms, make sure you know what’s been successful for your business before. Advertising on platforms such as Instagram can genuinely drive sales if there’s a proven strategy implemented first.

It’s Okay to Use Familiar Tricks

A lot of the strategies we use for small businesses on social media are many of the same for advertising in general, only in just a different medium.

An excellent example of this is the power of social proof. As social proof is the valued opinion of our peers, there’s no better place for that than social media. Not only are you provided metrics of success in real time (coming in the form of likes, comments, etc.), you’re additionally able to have celebrity or tastemaker endorsements in a genuine place. People are more likely to believe that their favorite celebrity is a fan of your product if it comes from their personal social channels, which also gives you a much larger reach into their audience as well.

Another great example of traditional advertising used on social is product features, promotions, and events. As these are core marketing points for small business, they’re especially crucial online.

For these, my best advice would be to let them come naturally as business occurs. If you know you’re going to have a new product drop this week, set up a photo shoot ahead of time and plan out/schedule your posts around it. Additionally, any events coming up can be promoted in this way, as well as when new/exciting stuff happens in your business or community.

Finally, I’ll note that sometimes traditional networking might be your best way of engaging online. While yes, it’s stupidly simple, it’s also one of the most effective ways of interacting with your user base. Take the time to scope out the types of individuals you want in your store and follow them while also leaving comments/posts they can actually respond to.

A lot of brands fail when it comes to direct networking as they tend to come off as “ingenuine.” We’ve all seen it before where a company tries to “talk with us” by commenting “nice shirt!” on a picture of something we just picked up at Belk. We know Steven’s Burgershack doesn’t really care about our shirt, they just want us to visit their page. Does it work? Well, we usually visit the page, but visiting their shop? That’s another story.

Keep It Authentic     

Whatever you decide to do with your social channels, the most important strategy of all is simple: keep your branding as authentic as the work you’ve put into it. People want to be friends with your brand, which means they want to be friends with the people behind it. Invite them into that world without fear, because they could not only become fans, but a community as well. While it may seem like a daunting task, a successful social media channel is one that drives the conversation. Once you achieve that, you’ll be able to build relationships that will last a lifetime.