September 1, 2014

Guest Post: How to De-Clutter Your Home Office

By Angela M. Taylor

The popular image of bloggers and freelancers isn’t particularly flattering—the idea is that, without the discipline of an office environment, bloggers sort of revert to a wild state, slouched over a computer in their underwear, surrounded by pizza boxes. But even if nobody sees your home office but you, it’s still nice to maintain a professional, clutter-free environment. You’ll feel better, create better, and make more money by following these tips to professionalize your home office.

  1. Have a place for everything in your office
    Whether in drawers, boxes, or trays, designate a space for everything you use in your home office. Writing utensils, scrap paper, staplers, small electronics—everything should have a place. One of the biggest offenders in your home office is likely bills and other things you have to take care of—you don’t want to store them or throw them away, because you’ll forget about them, so they just pile up on the desk and get in the way. To solve this, buy a filing cabinet and an in/out box, just like you’d find in a commercial office space. Things you need to handle go in the inbox; things you need to send out go to the outbox; and once you’ve finished, everything goes in the file cabinet under “utilities” or “invoices” or whatever categories you decide on. If you don’t know where you’d file something or what you’d need it for, shred it on the spot. You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner your desk becomes.
  2. Whenever something comes in, try to send something else out
    It’s just like losing weight—the only real way to permanently reduce clutter is to get rid of more than you take in. If you buy a new appliance, get rid of the old one—thrift stores will gladly take these, and you might just help out some fellow struggling small-business owner. If you’re like me, you tend to hang on to packaging for big-ticket items, in case you want to return them, so set a deadline for how long you’ll test-drive something before you decide whether or not to keep it. After about a week, you should know whether that new digital camera is a good fit, and you can probably throw the old box away.
  3. Go paperless whenever possible
    Managing the flow of paper in and out of your office is good, but cutting out paper altogether is better. Set up direct deposit billing (and payroll, if you have employees). Instead of covering your monitor with Post-Its or scribbling ideas on old receipts or whatever is at hand, invest in a clean, classy glass whiteboard—your notes will be in big, bold script, prominently displayed on your office wall, and you’ll never have to dig through a pile of old papers to find them
  4. Eat only at your kitchen or dining room table
    This is a tough rule for telecommuters to follow, but it’s a good idea for several reasons. It’s easy to get into a groove on the job and watch plates and bowls start to pile up around your computer, but for your health, your sanity, and your family, you need to take breaks. Telecommuters, far from being lazy or undisciplined, are often tempted to work way past normal business hours and burn themselves out. Meal time is a good excuse to get away from the computer, make eye contact with a real human being, and give your brain a rest. As you probably know, your keyboard is already a wildly unsanitary thing, and eating while you work will make it worse, and possibly get you sick.

Angela is a writer, guest blogger, loving wife, and mother of two beautiful twin girls and a standard poodle named Morty. She graduated with her Master of Arts Degree in English from the University of North Carolina. During her time at UNC, she wrote a number of children’s short stories that focus on a set of curious twin sisters and their dog (go figure).

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.

Image courtesy of Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Writer’s Love Letter to the Library

New Books @ Your LibraryEven before I could read, I loved libraries. All the pretty pictures and nice, smiling librarians reading stories aloud! I still love the endless shelves brimming with possibilities, but I rediscovered my love of libraries when a friend and I decided to spend an afternoon working from the new main branch of the Cambridge Public Library last week. If you’re local and you haven’t been yet, do not pass go, do not read this blog post, go directly to CPL!

For the rest of you, here are three reasons to rekindle (with or without electronic reader) your own relationship with a local library branch. An NPR writer recently predicted that libraries will be the next pop culture phenom, but these are my own reasons and they specifically apply to writers.
  • Change of scenery.
    There comes a time in every freelancer’s career when loafing around the house in your PJs or yoga pants gets old. And when that time comes, you could always camp out at your local coffee shop and buy over-priced lattes and pastries (I admit it: I do this sometimes, too). Or you could migrate to a library, where nobody gives you dirty looks for only buying a small coffee and there’s no threat of spilling said coffee on your laptop. Most libraries have a variety of little nooks, crannies, and private rooms available depending on your preferred environment. Many also have free Wifi. (Score!)
  • Endless inspiration.
    There’s something thoroughly inspiring about being surrounded by books and magazines. Each one holds loads of ideas ripe for your reinvention or re-interpretation (I even got an article idea by glancing through the library’s event calendar!). But the inspiration isn’t just for you, it’s also for your readers. Think of all the young people who fell in love with reading thanks to a savvy librarian or a fortuitously placed book cover. Libraries help ensure that authors and other kinds of writers will always have eager readers. And often, they’ll host book readings and set up special sections to help promote local authors.
  • Research.
    Thanks to the library, you can often read several years worth of back issues for a given magazine, request books from other locations, or enlist a librarian’s help in uncovering the perfect piece of background material. Even if you’re an internet-only kind of researcher, you’ll still find something to love about a library. Many give card-holders access to huge databases like LexisNexis and an increasing number let you download eBooks and podcasts through their website.
There you have it. My three biggest reasons to love a library. Do you agree or disagree? Maybe you can think of a few more reasons? Do tell!
Flickr photo courtesy of Walker Library @ MTSU

Why You Need a Freelance Resume

FreelanceSwitch.com recently posed the question, “do you use a resume as a freelancer?” I answered yes, and I wanted to expand on my comment here, since I was shocked to be in the minority. Yes, your portfolio says more about you than a resume ever could, and yes, many clients never ask for a resume, because they’d rather see your portfolio.

Here’s why, in my opinion, you should have one anyway.

  • Keep track of accomplishments.
    As freelancers, we juggle lots of different projects at once. Some of us forget to update our portfolios, and some of those projects never make it into the portfolio. That’s where a resume can come in handy. Say you’re talking to a prospective client on the phone, and she asks if you’ve ever written a grant proposal or designed a bumper sticker. You’d probably remember if you had, but your answer might be kind of vague (“yeah, I did a grant for some nonprofits a few years ago – gosh, I wish I could remember those names!”) With a resume listing all your major accomplishments, you’ll have dates, names, and other key points right in front of you. Now, of course, you aren’t going to list every single project you’ve ever done. I have several different versions of my resume for blogging, copywriting, and journalism. I also have a version that highlights my nonprofit experience. Part-time freelancers should also consider having multiple versions of their resume depending on the situation.
  • Respond quickly when clients request it.
    There’s a first for everything, and I suspect that, eventually, you’ll run into a client who wants to see your resume. Based on my anecdotal experience, it’s likelier to happen when you’re dealing with a creative staffing firm or a company that is more used to hiring full-timers than freelancers. But as the economy rebounds and companies hire contractors to fill some of the responsibilities left by laid-off employees, it’s bound to happen at some point. And when it does, you don’t want to hastily throw something together or make them wait for a week while you get your butt in gear. You want to wow them by responding within a few hours with a polished and current version of your resume.
  • Prepare for a possible re-entry into the workforce.
    Some people start freelancing after a lay-off. Other people have that entrepreneurial spark and want to freelance forever. I happen to fall into the latter camp, but I wouldn’t rule out a return to the workforce if my circumstances changed and the right opportunity came along (as in, a fat paycheck, flexible hours, and a company I loved). If you ever need to apply for full-time jobs, you’ll need a resume and you’ll need to show that you haven’t spent the last few years sitting in your PJs watching daytime TV. When I left my job and suffered momentary doubts, one of my mentors reminded me that as long as I documented all my projects during the time I was freelancing, I’d be fine.

Confession: although I think resumes are important, I don’t like writing them. There’s so much conflicting information out there that it truly boggles the mind! I helped my mother revamp her resume as a Christmas gift two years ago, and she got so much contradictory feedback it was impossible to reconcile everything into one coherent document. It seems like the “right” way to do your resume really depends on who’s reading it. And it doesn’t have the creative freedom you’d get with a product description or a blog post. That’s why I’m not posting my resume as an example.

Here are some resources to help you get started (or polish your current resume):

What do you think? Am I crazy? What are your go-to resources for freelance resumes?

Flickr photo courtesy of Brymo

5 Tips for Handling a Crisis of Confidence

Earlier this week, I started a new project that was a bit of a stretch for me stylistically. For a few moments, I even wondered if I could pull it off.

As freelancers, our confidence is essential. If we don’t believe in our abilities, then why should anyone else? Still, I know that many of us struggle with this from time to time, especially when we’re tackling something new.

Here are five ways to handle a crisis of confidence.

1. Reread testimonials. Keep an email folder with praise from clients, editors, or readers, and refer back to it when you need a boost. You can also do this with the testimonials on your website or recommendations on LinkedIn.

2. Read for inspiration. I keep a stash of magazines and marketing materials for when I’m feeling low on inspiration. Sometimes reading great copy helps wake up my own muse!

3. Phone a friend. Ideally, you’d talk to a fellow freelancer who can attest to the fact that confidence issues are completely normal. But even if you call or email someone who doesn’t know how freelancing works, at least they can remind you of your successes and what a kick-@$$ person you are.

4. Get some distance. Sometimes if you’re really stuck, the best thing to do is step away (assuming your deadline allows for that). Last night I took a break from copywriting to make dinner and as soon as my food was in the oven, I sat down to pound out more copy. It totally worked!

5. Power through. If you’re on deadline, then you may not have the luxury of calling a friend or reading other work for inspiration. If that’s the case, then set a mini goal for yourself (say, two paragraphs or 400 words) and keep plugging along until you reach that goal. Then set another goal until you’ve worked through the entire document.

Oh, and that project I mentioned above? The client just approved the first round of copy this morning, so now I’m on to the next assignment.

What about you? Have you ever suffered a crisis of confidence? How did you handle it?

Flickr photo courtesy of Phoney Nickle