Helping business owners, freelancers & other self-employed creatives succeed… and have fun doing it. It can be overwhelming at times, but there’s nothing like the privilege of working for yourself – making your own rules, owning your time, and trusting your instincts to make the right decisions. With short episodes that get straight to the point, this podcast is about the common issues we face in business, along with solutions that work for other creatives like you. Aardvark Girl is a producer, project manager & business specialist with 20+ years of experience managing companies & helping people in creative industries. She helps you get a handle on the business side of things so you can focus on your talent. Let's get to work!
Monday Feb 07, 2022
How to Be a Good Client
Monday Feb 07, 2022
Monday Feb 07, 2022
I spend a lot of time talking about building relationships with clients and how to approach things from the vendor perspective. But many of us who have clients also ARE clients, because we hire other contractors to do portions of our projects. So I’m wondering how many of us put as much effort into being a good client as we expect our clients to do for us. It’s that whole idea of treat others how you want to be treated. It’s simple in concept but for some reason it seems trickier in execution.
For me, I like to think I’m consistent across the board. It’s important to me to treat all people well, regardless of whether they are paying me, I am paying them, or there’s no money involved. Kindness is my own form of currency, and one that matters a great deal to me. I wish that sentiment was shared more often, but it seems everyone has their own way. I also think it’s easier for those of us who have done freelance work ourselves to know what not to do. Most of my clients who started out as freelancers are the ones who pay the fastest and show the most appreciation for the people they hire.
There are a lot of ways to be a good client, mostly by just being a good human, but I think there are a few behaviors that form a strong foundation. Those are related to compensation, communication, respect, appreciation, and the obvious one, paying people on time.
Let’s get the money conversation out of the way first because it does matter. When you hire someone, you’re relying on their talent and expertise to do things you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t have time to do yourself. This comes at a cost, just as you’d expect if someone was hiring you. To be a good client, don’t insult your vendor by balking at reasonable rates or trying to beat them down for a low price. It’s one thing to negotiate, but it’s another to undervalue someone’s services. They say “you get what you pay for” for a reason. You can pick cheap or good, but not both. You won’t settle for less than what you’re worth, so don’t expect someone else to do that for you.
We all know how frustrating it can be when you think you’re on the same page with a client but then it turns out they were hoping for something different. Spare yourself and your vendors that problem by communicating properly from the beginning. Make sure to discuss what you expect in terms of hours, deadlines, and deliverables. If you have a contract, give them time to review it. If they have a contract, read it and ask any questions you may have. Everyone understands that sometimes changes are needed, but don’t be that client that asks for “one little change” 18 times and then act surprised when they bill you for that time. You probably know how it feels to be on the other end of that conversation, so you don’t want to do that to someone else.
Also, remember that communication goes both ways. You expect them to deliver on time, but you need to hold up your end of the deal as well. So if they ask you to clarify something, or they need something from you in order to move forward, don’t make them wait. Yes, you’re busy, but they’re trying to help you. If you need to send them a document, or weigh in on something, you’re only hurting yourself by not responding quickly. Every hour you delay on your end is an hour delayed on their end as well, and there’s only so much time before a deadline. You don’t want them rushing at the last minute, increasing the chance for mistakes. This is such an easy situation to avoid, but it happens all the time. Be a good client and communicate!
Boundaries. You know how I feel about them. You probably feel similarly. It drives you crazy when a client texts you at night or during the weekend or any time outside of your normal working hours. Or when they want to have a bunch of meetings but aren’t productive during those meetings and end up wasting time you could have spent getting the actual work done. Work-life balance is important to you and you make it a priority, so you should understand that the people you hire do the same. If you had that proper communication from the beginning, you should understand each other’s work schedules and work within them.
Emergencies happen, and when you have good relationships, people will be willing to help you through them. But that should never be the norm. And it shouldn’t be because of what I mentioned before – that you waited until the last minute to do your part and now you expect them to use their personal time to get things done. You chose to work with someone because of what they can do for you, so don’t be the client who pushes away good people because you’re difficult to work with.
How often do you feel like you put in a ton of effort to do great work for a client and they don’t seem to care at all? And how meaningful is it when one of them takes a minute to send a simple thank you or in some way acknowledge what you’ve done for them? Yes, you’re doing your job and getting paid is the compensation, but doesn’t it matter a whole lot when someone actually tells you how much they appreciate you? I know it does to me. As a vendor, I don’t expect it, but it’s always nice to hear. So when I hire someone to work for me, I make sure to let them know I’m grateful for what they do. This is something that seems to be overlooked everywhere in the job world, whether you’re employed by someone or work for yourself, it seems people are quick to criticize when something is wrong, but they don’t think to praise what’s going right. When you’re the client, it’ll benefit you to make that effort and let people know that what they’re doing matters.
Pay on time.
Yes, we’re back to money, and this should seem obvious, but paying people on time is important. You hired them for a job, and they did that job for you, so don’t make them chase you down for the money they’ve earned. You don’t want to do this in your business, so why would they? And if you want to be an extra good client, pay them right away. Sure, net 30 is standard and acceptable, but how great does it feel when you send an invoice and within a few minutes you receive the confirmation that payment has been made? Remember, especially when you’re hiring freelancers, they often rely on each payment and have to carry an extra burden any time one is late. But regardless of their circumstances, you have a responsibility to pay people for the work they do for you.
One thing that has always driven me crazy is when a client uses the “I’ll pay you when my client pays me” approach. Sadly, this is common in my industry and many others, and it pushes payments back much further than it should, especially when you’re the last person in a chain. For example, a production company might hire me, but they were hired by an agency, who was hired by the end client. So if each one of those is waiting until they get paid, each delay means I’m waiting even longer. Now, if I hire a voice talent and I wait until I get paid, now they’re 4 tiers behind and is it fair for them to have to wait 60 days or 90 days or longer? No. If I hire them, I’m responsible for paying them. They can’t go to my client or the ad agency or Nike’s marketing department and ask for their money. Their deal is with me, not with them, so I need to pay them on time.
Part of running a business means being able to uphold your responsibilities. So if I hire someone, I’m paying them as soon as possible, regardless of when my client pays me. Now, fortunately, I don’t have clients who make me wait like that, but I hear horror stories all the time. I won’t do that to someone else, and hopefully you won’t either. If your financial situation is so tight that you can’t cover your bills, it’s time to work on your budget. If you can’t afford to pay someone, you shouldn’t be hiring them in the first place. There is no excuse for being a client who doesn’t pay on time. No excuse.
Be the client you’d like to have.
Businesses rely on clients. It’s kind of the way it all works. You provide a service and people hire you as a vendor because they need those services. When you need support or additional services, you hire someone else and become the client. When that happens, you can’t automatically forget your etiquette and start doing all the things you hate when your clients do it to you. Treat them like your ideal client treats you. Compensate them fairly, communicate your expectations, respect their boundaries, express your appreciation, and pay them on time. Be the client you’d like to have and you’ll have excellent working relationships with people who will make your business better and your life easier. It’s really that simple.
Monday Jan 24, 2022
How Many Clients Should You Have?
Monday Jan 24, 2022
Monday Jan 24, 2022
I was asked an interesting question the other day: How many clients should you have? I’ve never really thought about that before and I’m not sure there’s a concrete answer for that. But I thought it was worth exploring here. I don’t think it’s so much about a number as it as about balance, factoring in workload, income, and other needs. I suppose the easy answer is “enough.” You need enough clients to keep your business healthy, but not so many you can’t keep up. Let’s talk about what that really means, starting with some general ideas. Then I’ll share what my plan was when I started, how it’s changed over the years, and how I feel about it now.
In general, I wouldn’t set a number of clients as an expectation. I say that because clients vary so much in what they bring to your business. You could have a large number of clients who bring you one job each, a few clients who bring you several projects each, or some combination of the two. Some of that might depend upon what type of work you do, how you market yourself, or how you prioritize your decisions. Your short-term and long-term goals are factors as well. You might be looking for one big account that will offer more stable income, or you might be looking for some smaller jobs to fill out your available time. There is no right or wrong way to do any of it. It all depends on your personal strategy. And that’s what I’d focus on instead of the number.
I never formed a proper written strategy, but I had ideas in my head. I did prepare a business plan in the beginning, but I don’t think I looked at it once after it was completed. I’m pretty sure I found it a couple years ago and it made me laugh, but even now I don’t remember what was in it. I tried to dig it up to reference, but it’s probably on an old backup drive somewhere and I didn’t want to lose any more time searching and getting distracted with other things I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m sure you know how that goes. Squirrel!
When I first started my business, I thought I was going to move away from production entirely to focus on consulting for other small businesses. The fun had fizzled out in the work I was doing, and I felt more drawn to helping others. I had spent so many years learning the best ways to run a business, and the best ways not to, and I saw a trend amongst my friends who owned creative businesses - many needed some guidance but not necessarily a full-time manager. I didn’t want to work full-time for anyone, so it made perfect sense to me. Of course, this was out-of-the-box thinking, because traditional companies assumed management was full-time and in the office back then.
I actually had a marketing agency that had reached out to represent me at that time wanting to promote me as the “part-time CEO.” I thought it had a nice ring to it, but at the same time, I don’t like it when solopreneurs call themselves the CEO of their company. This is only an opinion, and I understand that many don’t agree with me, so I won’t get into it much further, but it feels like an ego thing to me. And I was so burned out on the corporate world, that I didn’t want to try to bring in that kind of structure in terms of a title, and I didn’t want to present my company as anything bigger than what it was. I just wanted to be me.
The first test to my plan came while I still had my regular job. My first client was a referral from a makeup artist friend – it was a photography business with a small staff of other photographers, retouchers, and admins. The owner was also the primary photographer, so it was important that he spent his time out shooting and not doing the day-to-day work at the office. But they were lacking structure and he knew things could be running more efficiently. So I went in, reviewed the systems, talked to the staff individually, and got a sense of what was happening. I made suggestions, helped implement new procedures, and trained the staff. A big part of how I wanted to differentiate myself from a typical consultant was to help in a way that the existing staff could maintain when I was done. So no, that wouldn’t lead to consistent work for me, but the hope was that they would then refer me to someone else who needed similar help. Again, that was considered out of the box. But that photographer is still a client to this day. I took over the bookkeeping so I could keep an eye on the business and make suggestions as needed.
My second client also came along while I was still at my job. One of my favorite production companies to work with was looking for some short-term help for a few months while they were busy. I had planned on reaching out to them anyway, so I jumped on the opportunity. Even though it was doing the production work I wanted to get away from, it was a good chance to build my new business further and let others in the industry know I was available outside of that company. Luckily, by doing that work I quickly realized I didn’t need to veer away from production, I just needed to work with different people. That wasn’t in my plan, but I’m sure glad I listened to it because the bulk of my business remains in production.
And that’s the thing with plans. Whether they’re simple outlines, detailed steps, written down, or all in your head, sometimes you have to veer from them and go with where the work takes you. For me, I ended up somewhere much better than what I could’ve controlled anyway. Plans are fine, but it’s important to be flexible so you don’t get so focused on where you think you should go that you miss a better opportunity that comes along. I believe plans need to be written with a metaphorical pencil, so they can be erased and rewritten as necessary.
That few months turned into a couple years, and that was my first retainer client. We agreed on a monthly rate and an average number of hours per month, and that gave me a good starting point to launch into my business full-time. One thing I remember the owner of that company saying was that it was good to have a mix of low-volume/high-income clients and high-volume/low-income clients. That means you’ll have some clients whose projects have smaller budgets, but they have a lot of them and some who have bigger budgets but not as much work. It’s a perfect way to balance time and income and keep work steady, so that’s something you may want to consider as you continue building your business strategy.
My third client, still while I was working my regular job, was another referral from a production friend. Do you see the pattern here? I’ve mentioned before how powerful network referrals can be, and this is why. It’s how I get the bulk of my business. I hadn’t worked with anyone on the team before, but was offered a 9-month position working as a project manager for the 2016 Presidential Debate. This is another element of strategy, taking on longer duration projects that will keep you busy for a time, but are unlikely to repeat. These can be nice to build some steady income for a bit. That job in particular was a great networking opportunity. Not only have I worked with that client a handful of times over the years, but other people I worked with on the debate became new clients as well.
At that point, I had enough business on my own and my time at the job job had run its course, so that’s when I put my full-time focus into Aardvark Girl. Just in working with those first three, I had a lot of realizations about how I wanted to move forward, and this is still what I do today.
- Retainers are important for stability. When you work for yourself, income can be unpredictable, so it’s nice to have some kind of foundation where you know you can count on a certain amount each month. My goal now is to make sure I have enough monthly retainer work that my expenses are covered, so even if I didn’t get any other jobs that month, I wouldn’t have to worry about paying any bills or pulling money from another account. It is important when working on retainer, to make sure the deal is outlined and agreed to by both parties. You have to be careful about how many hours you’re committed to and how flexible those hours are throughout the month. I currently have about 12 retainer clients, ranging anywhere from one to 35 hours per month. They keep me busy but still leave plenty of time open for bigger projects.
- Multiple Revenue Streams. Multiple revenue streams are important for balance. If you only do one type of work, if the industry is affected by something, let’s say a worldwide pandemic, it makes it harder to stay afloat. But if you’re able to make money doing different things, you can cushion some of that blow when it happens. For me, I started by doing production and consulting. But even within the production work, I found multiple options. My experience had been primarily with commercials and video, but working the debate introduced me to a lot of people in live events. I quickly planted one foot in each world because it seemed that if one area was slow, something was going on in the other. That helped a lot. On the consulting side, I also added online business management and bookkeeping for select clients. All of my services are related, so it’s not about being all over the place with different offerings, it’s about sticking to your niche but expanding on what you can do within it.
- One-Off Jobs. In the production world, I’m often working on projects that are only going to come around once. Each one is different, and it’s often unpredictable when they’re going to come up. These are the jobs I take with the time that isn’t tied up in retainers. They could last a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. It all depends on that specific client and that particular job. These aren’t necessarily projects I can count on, but I know that I have loyal clients who will continue to hire me when they do come up and that’s why it’s important for me to maintain flexible schedules with everyone. With these jobs, I go for quality over quantity. I’d rather have a small number of loyal clients than a large number of clients I only work with once. With those relationships, you get to know how to best work together so you avoid the learning curve that comes along with a new client. I’m always happy to expand my network, but my hope is always to have lasting partnerships.
- Long-Term Projects. Working on long-term projects can be great for financial growth. The Debate gave me 9 months of income when I was first starting out. That peace of mind at that time was immeasurable. And that continues. Working on Intervention for nearly a year and a half propelled my business forward in a whole new way. I would be grateful for another season or any similar arrangement any time. Even when you know these jobs have an end date, chances are something new will come along to fill that time when it opens up. I usually can only take on one of these at a time, although occasionally two will overlap. I’m always careful to make sure I don’t take on more than I can handle.
With the combination of monthly retainers, multiple revenue streams, one-off jobs and long-term projects, I never find myself in a place where I’m panicked about not having enough work. If one area is slow, another may be busy, and if nothing else I know I can count on my retainer clients. Not to mention the variety keeps my brain active and prevents me from ever getting bored with my work.
None of that really answers how many clients should you have, because I think that’s different for everyone. The strategy I just outlined is what works for me, balancing different types of clients and jobs to fill the time in a flexible manner. I have a lot of voice actor friends, who get a ton of one-off jobs and only have a few volume accounts, but they are constantly working. If you recall my interview with Aiden McFarland, he talked about how he built his business with just two clients. So it’s not about comparing a number or strategy to what anyone else is doing. It’s about finding what works for you and what supports your overall goals.
For me, I value loyalty, consistency, and quality of relationships more than anything. Income is great, and obviously something I need, but it’s not my primary motivation for what I do. Others place more importance on financial growth, which is perfectly normal for a business owner, and there’s nothing wrong with making money a priority. Some might be chasing recognition or the ability to work with bigger brands or opportunities that will allow them to travel. There’s no right or wrong goal here. The key is to figure out what is important to you, what steps you can take to start moving in that direction, and then make the decisions that will lead you all the way there.
What is the perfect client scenario for you? I’ll be posting about this episode on social and would love for you to add your perspective. Or feel free to start your own conversation and tag me. You can find me @aardvarkgirl across all platforms. Talk to you soon!
Monday Jan 10, 2022
Setting Boundaries without Being Defensive
Monday Jan 10, 2022
Monday Jan 10, 2022
We all know I have a lot of favorite things about being self-employed. On that list is being able to set your own rules for how you run your business. You get to choose your hours, your location, how you communicate, which systems work for you, and everything else. It’s way better than having to fit the mold that someone else controls and might not align with what is right for you. But, that doesn’t mean that you get your way all the time. If that’s what you are expecting, and you get defensive when someone needs you to do something differently, you will end up creating challenges that don’t need to exist.
Two important skills I talk about a lot are communication and setting boundaries. I call them both skills because there is a nuance to doing them correctly. Everyone can communicate, but it doesn’t mean they can do it well. Same with setting boundaries. When you’re dealing with people every day, whether they are clients or vendors, you have to be able to communicate effectively and set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and make sure those relationships are in a good place. One of the best ways to do that is to keep your negative emotions in check and don’t use them to fuel your interactions. It’s much better to go into discussions from a neutral place, listen to what the other person says, and explain your point of view in a more logical way.
For the record, this applies to non-business relationships as well.
I’ll use a common occurrence to explain what I mean by keeping it logical vs emotional. The client wants you to attend a meeting at their office. You know that it’s a waste of your time to drive all the way there when you can accomplish the same goal in an email or phone call. So how do you respond?
Response 1: Not setting a boundary would mean you go anyway but the whole time you’re thinking about how you don’t want to be there and how much time it’s taking away from everything else you need to do. Chances are your client will pick up on that demeanor and interpret it as a behavioral issue.
Response 2: Reacting emotionally would be sighing at the request or going into a diatribe about how you don’t like in-person meetings and how you have so much to do and it would be an inconvenience to you. Basically making it all about you instead of considering what’s good for them. And since they are paying you, they probably won’t appreciate that.
Response 3: A logical, client-friendly response would be to explain that the time it would take to travel to and from a meeting at their office would take away from the work you need to do for them. Offer the solution of discussing their agenda at the same time, but on the phone or Zoom instead, assuring them that you’ll be able to accomplish the same goals without hindering progress on their project.
With the logical response, you’re making it about the client and helping them see that you are looking out for them. They might not have considered the extra time it would take you because they’re already at the office. Or they might work better in a group setting and assume you’ll find the same value in a situation that will actually slow you down. Or they might just want to see you because they like you, so they think offering the invitation is a nice gesture.
You might even ask them if it’s important for it to be in person, or why they feel it needs to be in person, and see what they say. I find that nearly every time, that’s just what they’re used to and they hadn’t put any other thought into it at all. I usually hear, “Oh, no reason. A call or Zoom is fine.” You never want to assume you know the intention behind a request, or react negatively based on an assumption. It’s always better to just ask.
So, not setting a boundary would mean you’re doing something you don’t want to do, and maybe didn’t even have to do, and you’ll possibly end up resentful for it even though you didn’t try to help yourself. Responding emotionally can make it sound like you don’t care about your client and are just being stubborn. But communicating logically can help you understand where they are coming from, help them understand where you’re coming from, and can often land with a win for everyone.
One mistake I keep seeing, usually with those who are newer to business, but also with some who have been doing it for a while, is this undertone of defensiveness when a client wants them to do something in a different way. It’s that emotional response that comes across almost like a tantrum. “I don’t want to do it this way.” “I can have rules, too.” “I’m allowed to do it like this!”
I see this in business groups on social media all the time. Someone asks for advice and a lot of the comments end up being something like, “It doesn’t matter what your client needs. You can do whatever you want because it’s your business.” And then others jump in and are like, “Yeah, you do what you want and they just need to accept it.” It’s meant to be encouraging, because so many people do struggle with saying no or having conversations where they don’t give in to what the client wants. But it’s not always helpful. It is true that you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. At least not in every situation.
This attitude most likely stems from resentment we have from our old jobs, where we weren’t respected or valued or had to do things a certain way even when we could do it better if the people in charge would just offer a little flexibility or trust. I know all too well how that goes. It’s easy to feel like you have to overcompensate once you’re out on your own. That you need to put your foot down at every turn so no one takes advantage of you again. Once you have that freedom, you don’t want to give it away. It makes sense.
But sometimes we can be so stubborn about wanting to do things our way that we don’t realize that our way is actually getting in the way. You won’t become successful without compromising sometimes. There must always be some give and take, whether you have the client or are the client. You build those positive relationships by working together to reach your common goals.
The trick is to choose when to stand firm and when to give in. Think about why you don’t want to do something. Is there a logical reason for it or are you just being stubborn?
If you prefer email but you have a client who hates it, what do you gain by refusing to take a phone call? Is it so much of an inconvenience that it’s worth losing business? And I say this as someone who doesn’t like talking on the phone. I communicate my preferences with my clients, but ultimately I need to meet them where they are. I don’t need to be defensive about it because I understand that it isn’t a personal attack on me that our methods are different. My own feelings aside, I prefer email because it’s a written record I can go back and reference any time. But there’s no reason I can’t let my client express his needs on the phone, take notes, and then follow up with an email recapping our discussion. That’s actually a good practice to be in anyway because it ensures you are on the same page and nothing gets misinterpreted or forgotten after the conversation.
If your client needs you to invoice using their platform, but you prefer to use Quickbooks, is that worth arguing about? Many bigger companies have internal payment systems and your choices might be use it or don’t work with them. That’s not the time to be stubborn. I’ve said this many times, but you always want to make it easy for people to pay you. Their intention isn’t to make your life difficult, and it’s not a criticism of the way you do things.
On the other side of that, though, there are times when you do need to push back. If you have a CRM system you use to manage the entire process of a job, something you’ve built through your time and experience because you know it keeps everything running smoothly, that’s something you want to explain rationally to a client who says she doesn’t want to use it. Some people are hesitant to learn new software, but if you can help them see how it will benefit them, they might be more open. In some cases, you may need to let them know that if they are unable to utilize your system, you won’t be able to move forward with them. And these are discussions that should be had before the contract is signed, not after. Manage expectations from the beginning and you’ll avoid more of those uncomfortable conversations later.
No one wants to lose a client over something they feel is silly, but if you can’t perform at your best because someone is unwilling to trust your system, it’s better to walk away. Be confident enough to do that, but still don’t take it personally. That client might not be the right fit for you, and that’s okay. It’s better to know up front than to ignore the red flags and get stuck with a bad client.
It’s important to set boundaries, but do it without being defensive. You’ve earned the right to do things however you see fit, but don’t overlook the benefits of considering your clients’ needs as well. It’s all about building long-term relationships where there is mutual respect. You help them, they help you, everyone is happy and making all kinds of money. That’s the dream, right? You can have that. You’ve already taken the biggest step by starting your own business. So don’t let the past derail you.
Compromising is not failing. Clients wanting to do things differently is rarely a reflection of you or your process, so there’s no need to get defensive about it. Let go of the emotional reaction and respond logically. Be clear, especially with yourself, about why you feel so strongly about something. If it’s a minor inconvenience, you may want to give in. If it’s a massive disruption to your workflow, enforce your boundaries. It’s always your choice how you want to run your business, but if you expect to always get your way, you might hit more hurdles than are necessary. Communicate your needs, listen to your clients, and you’ll find a way to make it work.
Monday Jan 03, 2022
How do You Take Time Off When You ARE Your Business?
Monday Jan 03, 2022
Monday Jan 03, 2022
When you own your own business and you ARE your own business, taking time off can feel overwhelmingly impossible. But you owe it to yourself to prioritize your own well-being and taking breaks is a big part of that. This episode is about making that time through outsourcing, planning, committing to yourself the same as you would to a client, and more.
What are some ways you give yourself time off? Do you generally go for the big blocks of time, more consistent smaller actions, or somewhere in between? I’d love to hear how you prioritize yourself and make time to take breaks in your business. Post your thoughts on social and tag me, or send me a message to keep this conversation going. You can find me @aardvarkgirl or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening!
At the beginning of a new year, it seems most people are focused on being productive. What can I accomplish this year? What changes can I implement to run my business more effectively? It starts with setting new goals and formulating plans for how to achieve them. I think it’s great to do that, not just in January, but throughout the year. I talked about resolutions in episode 34 at the start of 2021. But where I’m at now, and what’s top of mind for me, is the opposite of being more productive. It’s taking more breaks. But how do you do that when YOU are your business?
Being a single-person business has many perks, but it also comes with some challenges. If you need time off for whatever reason, that means your business stops. We don’t really get paid time off or holidays, at least not in the traditional sense. To me, that’s not a big deal because I also don’t have to work 40 hours a week or do anything I don’t want to do, and I can take time whenever I want it without someone else approving. But, when you’re working at a regular job, there are usually other employees there who can handle your work while you’re out. When it’s just you, you don’t always have the luxury of handing it off to someone else.
But it’s necessary to take time off. We can’t work every day without serious repercussions to our mental health. It’s why burnout is so prevalent amongst the self-employed. It’s too easy to get stuck in that that “time is money” mindset and if we’re not working every second, our businesses will fail. And while it is true that if you’re providing a service and don’t necessarily have that passive income, time you’re not working IS time you aren’t earning, that’s not the most important thing. That’s not to say that money isn’t important because we all know it is, but it has to come along with that balance of time, which is equally important.
It doesn’t mean you need to take a 2-week vacation every few months, although if you can do that you absolutely should. Sometimes it just means taking the time where you can find it, even if it’s only an hour a day. It really comes down to time management, which usually isn’t a strength for creatives. But here are some ways you can take time off from your business to take care of yourself.
The obvious solution isn’t always practical, and that’s to outsource. If you have someone else who can handle your tasks, it’s much easier to step away. But many of us are hesitant to do this for a number of reasons. The biggest one for me has always been that it would take me longer to train someone than to just do it myself. It’s true, but that’s also a limiting mindset because it means I’ll always be stuck doing it myself. The other reason for me is that I’ve yet to find anyone I can trust to do what I do at the level it needs to be done for my clients. That’s not meant in an arrogant or condescending way, but there are a lot of nuances to how I do my work and that’s why my clients depend on me. If I were to hand things off to someone else, I’d need to know they’d represent me correctly and that one is tricky. For many others, it feels like paying someone else would be cost-prohibitive and they’d rather just refer the job to someone else.
But in my opinion, the smartest way to outsource is to keep it all under your business. Ideally, you can retain a markup on the labor you outsource. You want to make sure you’re paying fair wages, but it’s standard to mark up your expenses by at least 20% to cover your own admin costs. If you can do that without it being an issue for your client (meaning you don’t have to charge them more), even better. If you typically charge $150/hr for what you do, but can fairly pay someone else $100/hr, you can bill the client the same amount but you keep that extra $50/hr for yourself. It’s probably not going to sustain you long-term, but it keeps a little coming in for you and doesn’t come with the same risks as handing off your client to someone else.
I see that happen more than I’d like to. For example, someone goes on maternity leave and instead of hiring someone to cover her for a few months, she completely turns her client over to a replacement. While I understand that sometimes that’s more convenient because then you can be completely hands-off, you also run the risk of your client not coming back when you do. It’s not always a case of the person you trusted betraying you, but maybe the client found a better rhythm with that person and would like to continue working with them instead. It happens.
There is a lot of debate about whether transparency is necessary when you’re giving tasks to someone else. I believe it is. I think it’s important that if you’re going to be away and letting someone else handle the job, you should tell your client. I don’t think too much detail is necessary, but an introduction via email saying something like, “My team is expanding and I’m excited to have this new person on board. She’ll be helping me on your project so we can give you some extra attention.” Or something positive like that. As always, you want to frame it in a way that’s a benefit to them.
From there, it’s up to you how much involvement you want, but you must communicate expectations with your new vendor. Do you want to be copied on all communications with your client? If there are questions and you’re on vacation, do you want an email or a text or are they empowered to make decisions without you? That’s all going to depend on your personal level of comfort, and if you really need to cut yourself off from work completely to get the rest you need or if checking emails once a day is worthwhile. Only you will know what’s right.
You also want to communicate the same with your client. Let them know which dates you’re going to be out of the office and let them know if they should be interacting with your vendor. You want it to be a seamless transition for them so there aren’t any disruptions to the process they’re already used to. But if you decide it’s better for you to completely unplug and step out of the process entirely, that communication becomes important again so you can hopefully minimize the chances of losing the client when you come back.
I know that’s a lot of talk about outsourcing and you might not be at the point where that’s the right option for you, which is fine. But that means when you want to take a break, you will not be available for client work. So many freelancers are afraid to do that because they feel like if they turn down one job, they won’t be called for the next one. It does happen sometimes, but it’s not healthy to be constantly available to everyone but yourself. For me, it often comes down to simply saying no when an offer comes up. I’m really in tune with myself and what I need, and I trust my intuition with those decisions. If I’m already worn out and feel like another day or week or whatever the case may be will be too much, I say I’m not available. If a client doesn’t call me again because I couldn’t take a job, that’s not the right client for me, and that’s okay. It’s better for me to take that risk than to show up when I’m not going to be at my best.
Not surprisingly, the key here, as in so many situations, is communication. If you’re planning a trip, check in with your clients when you start planning. See what projects they might have coming up and figure out if you can schedule your part in them before you leave and/or when you return. They will appreciate being included in your process and will feel like you are making them a priority. Clients like that. They’ll also appreciate a heads up about when you’ll be unavailable, especially if they’re used to you being around without much notice.
Taking a vacation is one thing, and we should all probably do that a little more often. I know I’m feeling the negative repercussions of not traveling for the last couple of years. I love seeing new places and different parts of the world and this is the longest I’ve been without a proper trip in probably a decade or more. I think it’s so beneficial to get different perspectives, change environments, and really disconnect from your business sometimes so you can come back refreshed and ready to go. But, covid risks aside, I haven’t been able to travel for other reasons as well, so here we are.
There are still other ways to take breaks, even at home. I said before that sometimes you have to take the time when you can find it, and I think that’s really important. It always comes back to balance. So if you know you only have a day or two in between big jobs, make sure to do what you need to do for yourself in those days. I always treat those days similar to a traditional weekend. When I was working in the corporate world, Saturdays were my free days. Sometimes I’d use those to socialize or just veg out on the couch all day. They were screen-free, work-free, do whatever I want to do days. Sundays were my personal productive days, so still no work, but I’d do my food prep and laundry, projects around the house, all that stuff that needed to be done. Then I’d start the week fresh on Monday.
I still follow a pretty similar schedule. I generally don’t work weekends but when that’s unavoidable, I find time during the week where I can. When it’s a full day or more, that’s great. But sometimes it’s only a few hours. It’s all about being intentional with that time and being realistic about how you need to spend it. A lot of it comes down to being organized and planning ahead. If there is work you know you have coming up, but you can get it done early, do that. When I’m really busy, sometimes I’ll work a little longer for a few days so I can free up some time later in the week. I look over what I have to do and make sure I’m making time for what’s important.
If you’re someone who gets wrapped up in what you’re doing and lose track of everything else, you have a different set of challenges. You know who you are, the ones who forget to eat and don’t realize how late it is until your office gets dark because the sun has gone down. For you, scheduling your down time might be the solution. Like, actually put it in your calendar and set alerts so you don’t forget. Again, this could be little bits of time each day. The Apple Watch is nice because it reminds you every hour or so to get up and move around, just for a minute. That’s helpful, but a few minutes walking around the kitchen aren’t going to prevent you from overdoing it. Use your calendar to your benefit and schedule time for yourself just as you would time for a client. Commit to yourself in the same way and it can make a huge difference.
I think the most important time to schedule is your workout. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, both of which contribute to running a healthy business by yourself. The right time depends on you. I’ve gone back and forth between morning and evening. For a while, I preferred to go to my pilates classes at 5pm because it gave me a good time stop working and was a nice delineation between my workday and my personal time. That’s also when the classes I wanted were available. But when covid came around and I had to shift to home workouts, and I started getting really busy, I reverted back to mornings. In my line of work, as I’m sure it is with you, every day can be unpredictable. I might start off the day with one plan, but other things come up and I have to pivot and figure it out as I go. Those disruptions usually don’t happen too early in the morning, so I like to get my workouts in at the start of the day to minimize the chance of not getting around to it later because something came up, or I’m tired, or I just don’t feel like it. If it’s a particularly busy day, I might only do 30 minutes, or sometimes even less, but it’s important to me to do something.
Exercise aside, it’s good to make time for other self-care, too. Maybe it’s going for a massage or a facial or pedicure or something that helps you feel good. Maybe it’s going to the batting cages or one of those places where you get to smash old stuff to let out some aggression. Whatever it is that you need, commit to yourself for that time and trust that nothing is going to irreparably fall apart while you’re gone. If something happens, you can tend to it when you’re done, but at least you’ll be starting from a healthier place. Every little bit of “me time” helps. It’s so easy to get stuck in that feeling of “I can’t do anything because I have too much work to do,” but if you never make the time for yourself, it’s only going to get worse.
I’ll let you in on a little secret here. I rarely work 40 hours or more in a week. There have been some stretches of time in the last few months where I’m close to that and occasionally more, but most of the time, I don’t take on that much. I’m not interested in working myself to death. From the time I was a teenager, I said I was working hard then so I wouldn’t have to when I got older. And I’m not sure where 40 lies in the grand scheme of older, but I think it’s the perfect time to stop working so much. My goal as a business owner has always been to make more and work less. I take no pride in busyness, as you’ve probably heard me say a number of times at this point.
All of my years of experience have brought me to a place where I am efficient with my time and can get a lot done more quickly without sacrificing quality. That’s why my rates are where they are and why I maintain control of my schedule – I take the jobs I want and am not afraid to say no when I just don’t have the time or energy to do something. I work hard and am proud of that, but I won’t work to the detriment of my health. Nothing is that important.
When you own your own business and you ARE your own business, taking time off can feel overwhelmingly impossible. But you owe it to yourself to prioritize your own well-being and taking breaks is a big part of that. Whether it’s a few weeks away to the exotic country of your dreams, an hour in the morning to do your favorite activity, meeting a good friend for lunch and laughs, a quick pause to listen to some music and get away from the screen, 30 minutes at the end of the day to meditate, or whatever you need, the time away from work is good for you. If you’re constantly in a place where you feel you can’t stop, it might be time to outsource or even hire an employee. If that doesn’t seem like the right move for you, just be mindful with the time you have. Find ways to regularly build some down time into your schedule and get away from work when you can.
And most importantly, never feel guilty for taking a break. Honoring yourself and what you need is an important strength, especially when you’re self-employed. The work will always be there, but you’re no good to anyone if you’re completely burned out. Make yourself a priority and take that time off when you need it because when you are your business, taking care of yourself is a huge part of being successful in that business.
Thursday Dec 23, 2021
2021 in Review
Thursday Dec 23, 2021
Thursday Dec 23, 2021
Well, it finally happened. As you may have noticed, I’ve been gone for a few weeks. I officially ran out of time. I’ve always done my best to prioritize this podcast, but I got to the point where it was either make another episode or take some much-needed rest and I had to choose the latter. You’ve heard me talk about the importance of self-care and taking breaks and I stand by it. I rarely let myself get to the point where that’s even a question, but the last several months have been intense. I continue to be grateful for all of the work and opportunities, but it was a lot. Every time I told myself, “I’ll take a break after this job,” something else came up that I didn’t want to turn down and the cycle continued.
But now here we are at the end of the year and it’s finally time. The last big job ended mid-December and I don’t have any major obligations until February. My plan is to take at least a month off to rest, catch up on personal things, and mentally prepare myself for what’s to come. I do fully intend to come back to weekly podcasts and to start interviewing again, but hopefully you understand why I need a little time off and don’t forget about me while I’m gone.
But I wanted to at least say hello, wish you all happy holidays, and do a quick recap of 2021 to figure out how I got here in the first place.
Usually, the end of December into the beginning of January is slow. By December, everyone has wrapped up projects for the year and gone into holiday mode. January budgets haven’t been allocated yet and it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things. I’ve always enjoyed that time, especially since I started working for myself, because it’s a restful way to end one year and start the next.
This year, that didn’t really happen. All of January and the first week of February was spent wrapping up season 22 of Intervention, which was 34 consecutive weeks of intense work for me that started in June of 2020. Fortunately, I got a few weeks off in February but jumped straight into season 23 in the beginning of March, which was another 30 consecutive weeks that ended October 1st. So the two seasons were 64 of 68 weeks from mid-2020 through October 2021, where each week was at least 5 working days and often bled into the weekends because of when the shoots were scheduled.
Working on a series full-time like that is plenty enough to warrant a long break. But that wasn’t all I was doing.
In April, there was the Skechers spring marketing video and the Mercedes Tony Hawk commercial. We also started working on the new website and booking platform for The Voice Actors Studio, which took 6 months of planning and regular meetings and testing before launching in September, followed by all the troubleshooting and refining that’s still ongoing.
In May, we started preproduction for Blue Origin’s First Human Flight in July, which took me into the field for the first time since March of 2020. Showing the world the first successful launch of humans into space was pretty special.
August brought along the Traditional Medicinals shoot. September was the launch of the TVAS website AND when the craziest episode of Intervention was at its most chaotic AND that bled right into the 2nd Human Flight AND the Skechers fall marketing video. That was around the time I started really needing a break.
I thought November might give me that rest, but we went straight into planning for the 3rd human flight, which happened in early December.
On top of all of this, I have a handful of monthly retainer clients where I’m working various hours on things like consulting, managing, and bookkeeping. I produced 49 podcast episodes, taught 8 3-hour workshops, and found a way to squeeze in 6 new coaching clients.
So yeah. That was 2021 for me. It’s been such a fantastic year for work and I do not take that for granted. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about navigating the roller coaster of self-employment, it’s that you take advantage of slow time when you have it. So that’s what I’m doing now. I went for a 90-minute massage, and intend to get at least a few more. I’m catching up on projects around the house. I’m spending a lot of time not doing much at all, which makes my cats happy. The typical holiday lull has been back to normal, too, which has been nice. It makes me smile every time I check my email and nothing new has come through any of my many accounts. I still have some work to do, but I’m limiting that to a few hours a day, if even that. I’m just taking the time to breathe and enjoy the quiet.
I hope you are doing well and enjoying some down time or something else that’s important to you. Thanks for hanging in there with me while I take this much needed break. In the meantime, if there are topics you’d like to hear about, guests you’d like me to interview, or if you have any other suggestions, please reach out. You can email email@example.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl. I’ll talk to you again in the new year.
Monday Nov 29, 2021
Lessons from Elsha
Monday Nov 29, 2021
Monday Nov 29, 2021
If we’re connected on social, you may have seen that the world recently lost a special soul, Elsha Stockseth. I first met Elsha in 2017 when Dave and I took a one-day thousand-mile roundtrip drive to interview her for “Dream Out Loud.” She was well-known by the U2 community at that point, but neither of us had met her. She was unable to travel for that tour, but we knew it was important to include her in the film. We didn’t know how much it would change our lives.
We often overuse words like “special” and “amazing” and “miracle,” but Elsha was all of these things. Despite dealing with the daily challenges of living with severe muscular dystrophy, she was happy, positive, and peaceful. At that point, she couldn’t move any part of her body besides her eyes, but those eyes were full of light. It’s impossible to explain her beauty and grace with words, but those who were lucky enough to be in her presence know exactly what I mean. She instantly made you feel at ease around her with a kindness and the best laugh I’ve ever heard.
Her parents, Joel and Shanna, are equally kind and wonderful human beings. They showed us around the house and her “Blue Room,” which was full of U2 goodies and race medals. Oh yeah, she was huge in the local running community even though she wasn’t able to actually run herself. People would be her legs, pushing her through 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, and even a few triathlons. Racing allowed her to feel a freedom she hadn’t known before and it became one of her favorite activities.
Elsha did a lot of things. Besides running and attending U2 concerts when she could, she was an artist. She drew and painted using Photoshop and a head mouse. She created and sold her “eArt” Christmas cards around the world and used the proceeds to help orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa and South America. Because, of course, she had a giant heart and giving spirit. She sponsored a young boy in Kenya and paid for his schooling. She donated toys to orphanages. She felt that she didn’t really need the money and was passionate about helping others. That’s just who she was.
What does any of this have to do with being self-employed? The way Elsha lived is full of lessons for anyone who wants a better life and to be a better person. These lessons can easily be applied to who you are, how you run your business, and the quality of your interactions with others. She had a way of putting things in perspective, inspiring others, and getting things done. She was an inspiration to so many people, and this episode is my way of sharing her brilliance with you.
Lesson #1: Challenges Don’t Define You.
Even though she had some obvious challenges, Elsha never let them define her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself or like she had any limitations at all. She lived a life full of love and joy and embraced her differences rather than letting them hold her back. When she was met with a new obstacle, she figured out how to get through it. And she didn’t want anyone else feeling sorry for her either. Perhaps that’s why she was so good at making other people feel comfortable around her. She made it clear that while she may be smaller than most, she was no less extraordinary.
Running a business isn’t always easy, and we all face challenges at times. Being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s about how we react in those imperfect situations. Do we let them defeat us or empower us? Do we give up or do we learn from them? Do we let fear stop us or motivate us to keep going? I don’t know if it’s tenacity or stubbornness or just an unwillingness to accept anything less, but Elsha and I had that attitude in common. Every problem has a solution, but sometimes we have to be creative to find it. Fewer things are more rewarding than overcoming what seemed like an impossible challenge at the time, so embrace the opportunities when they’re presented.
Lesson #2: I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it.
I mentioned that Elsha’s parents are also lovely people. The love they felt for their daughter was unyielding and always apparent. They carried her everywhere, fed her using syringes, and did whatever they could to contribute to all those goals she set for herself. I don’t know that the word “can’t” was even in her vocabulary when it came to her abilities. She told her mom, “I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it.” It might be a simple statement, but it’s a profound sentiment. Think about that. I can do anything. I just need some help.
A lot of us have a hard time asking for help, myself included, and I’m not really sure why. For me, I’ve always had this inherent need to be independent and capable of doing everything on my own. It’s not about anyone else, it’s just the way I’m wired. As I get older, I feel like I’ve already proven to myself what I needed to, and it’s much easier to accept help now. Where I used to resist, I now embrace. Like, if you want to move that heavy thing for me, you go ahead and do that and I will be happy, even if I’m capable of moving it myself. But for some it’s still a struggle, and one that’s kind of silly if you think about it.
Why do we feel the need to do so much on our own? When we’re self-employed, our business is often a reflection of us in many ways. But it doesn’t take anything away from our accomplishments if we have some assistance along the way. Whether it’s financial, physical, mental, or a combination of all of it, support is not a bad thing. We are stronger when we help each other. And I think success is more enjoyable when you can share it with others. Elsha’s life was enriched by all of the people who helped her, and those she helped in return.
Lesson #3: Find a Way to Do What You Love
Now, one thing you should know about Elsha is that she had this way of getting what she wanted. And she did that by being persistent and not accepting anything less. She was small but mighty in her convictions and determination. And people loved her so much they would do anything to make her happy. I think back to 2018, U2 came to to Vegas and that was close enough for Elsha to travel. I mentioned she was a big fan, but they were also fans of her. They would often stop to talk to her or bring her backstage before shows. In her last week, they reached out to her to make sure they knew she was more than the “biggest little U2 fan.” She meant as much to them as they did to her. The band had a way of taking care of her at their shows. That first night in Vegas, they made sure there was a platform in the VIP area that would lift her up high enough to see. After that show, they asked how it worked out, and she told them it could’ve been higher. When she arrived the following night, they had raised the platform so she could see better. She always got her way.
So as she got older and lost the ability to use her limbs, she didn’t give up on her creativity or passion for art. She adapted. She learned how to use that head mouse, which she controlled with her eyes, to keep doing what she loved. She didn’t give up. She adapted. It was too important in her life to let go of it, so she found a way.
Most of us work for ourselves because it’s the easiest way to ensure we’re doing what we love to do. Some people find that working for others, too, which is also fine. Whatever it is that fulfills us is worth chasing. Life is too short to settle for a job or career or relationship or anything that is less than what we truly want. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or doesn’t take a lot of hard work, but there’s no excuse for settling or losing your purpose just because it’s hard. Find a way to do what you love so you can enjoy the life you deserve.
Lesson #4: There Is No Failure Here Sweetheart, Just When You Quit.
One of Elsha’s favorite mottos came from a lyric in the U2 song “Miracle Drug”: “There is no failure here sweetheart, just when you quit.” She had this written above her door so she could read it every day, and it’s an idea she never let go of. There is no failure unless you quit. Elsha never quit. As you can tell from everything else I’ve said, she never gave up. Ever. She faced every challenge with optimism and worked hard for the things she wanted because they were important.
Failure is such a common fear and one that prevents people from even trying sometimes. But if we think about it in these terms, that the only way to fail is to give up, we can move beyond that fear. Every “failure” is just an opportunity to learn something new, and then we can try again from a new perspective or place of understanding and maybe have a different outcome. And if not? Then we try again and learn again and continue the cycle until we figure it out. That’s how life works. That’s how business works. The only way to fail is to stop trying. So the key to success is to just keep going.
Lesson #5: Every Day is a Gift.
Elsha’s passing is a huge loss, but at the same time, her life was such an incredible gift. Her parents were told she’d probably live 5 years, but she was 38 when she passed. How’s that for defying odds? And I think knowing that contributed to her spirit. She didn’t live afraid. She lived gratefully. She appreciated life and was determined to make the most of every bonus day she was given. And I hope that brings some peace to her family and friends. Not to mitigate the understandable sadness, but to remember that while it seems her life was cut too short, she also got 33 extra years on this planet. That’s pretty incredible.
I wonder if that perspective contributed to Elsha’s generosity, because giving back was a huge part of her life as well. I mentioned the charities she supported, but she was also a kind and thoughtful friend. She loved sending gifts to people, not just for special occasions, but just because. As I look around my house, I see all kinds of reminders of that generosity. I would often open the mail and find an unexpected gift from her, and I know plenty of others had that same experience. It’s just who she was.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and take things for granted. We’re all guilty of it. But it is possible to shift our mindsets to be more positive. Like everything else, it takes some hard work, but the results are worthwhile. If you choose not to focus on what you don’t have, but instead appreciate what you do have, your whole life can change. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but I know it from experience. Life is easier when we’re happy, and we’re happier when we’re grateful, kind, and thoughtful. If that’s how we live our lives, and that’s how we run our businesses, we will be better off.
“We'll shine like stars in the summer night. We'll shine like stars over winter skies. One heart, one hope, one love.” - Bono
It’s been incredible to see all the posts on social from Elsha’s friends and family and all those communities who were so honored to have her in their lives. She was loved by and an inspiration to so many. I hope people continue to hear her story and get to know who she was even though she’s no longer physically with us. So thank you for listening. It’s always sad to lose someone, but Elsha wouldn’t want any sorrow. Instead, I choose to focus on how grateful I am to have had her in my life at all. She will be missed, but she’ll always have a place in my heart. And just like the stars in the sky, her light will continue to shine for those of us still on earth.
Monday Nov 22, 2021
Kindness is Not Weakness
Monday Nov 22, 2021
Monday Nov 22, 2021
I’ve never understood why people think kindness is weakness. It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it just doesn’t make any sense in my brain. It takes a lot of strength to be kind, especially when you’re frustrated, under a tight deadline, or don’t agree with the way someone is handling a situation. Not to mention being nice usually gets you further ahead in your life and career.
I suppose that’s where some people object. There’s this idea that you have to be cutthroat and walk all over others to progress. And in some cases, I’m sure that happens. I’ve seen it in the corporate world, where the bullies have the most power and from the outside it might seem like they’re living the good life, but those people aren’t always respected or liked. And not that we should care if other people like us, but it’s hard to have any kind of meaningful connections if you’re not a nice person. And meaningful connections are important in business.
Kindness has never held me back in my career. If anything, it propelled it forward, especially after I got away from that awful corporate world. I think it’s why so many people are driven towards self-employment these days. We want to work with people we like, people who are nice. People who are easy to work with. One of the biggest perks about working for yourself is that you don’t have to work with anyone you don’t want to. I weeded out those negative personality types very quickly after starting my company. I like all of my clients, and every one of them is kind.
That’s not to say that any human can be nice every second of the day, or that everyone should be walking around singing while cartoon characters circle around them. I’m envisioning that scene from (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dancing to “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates. While it’s great when you feel that way, that isn’t how life works all the time. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to react.
Many people react emotionally. They raise their voices and yell and throw tantrums. They talk down to people when they’re upset and sometimes say harsh things that hurt feelings. Is that strength? No. Anyone can do that. Strength comes from being kind in those moments. It’s easy to get triggered and fly off the handle. Staying calm and being nice in those moments is a superpower. You will have a much better time in life, and in business, if you can do that. The strength comes from truly listening, giving others the opportunity to speak their mind and be heard, and then responding in a respectful manner. You can be firm. You can stay true to your convictions and push back, but you can do it with grace and have much better results.
I remember being on a job once where a few people on the crew were unhappy about the meal options provided by the client. Now from my point of view, the fact that multiple options were available was nice. That doesn’t always happen on set. As a vegetarian, I can’t even count how many times I haven’t been able to eat what’s provided at all. I’ve never once gotten mad about it or yelled at someone when it happened. But in this case, these guys formed a mini mob to make demands and threaten to walk off of the job if they didn’t get some better food. I wish I was kidding. But they were willing to blow up the whole thing because they didn’t approve of the meals or craft services, which, by the way, weren’t even our responsibility. Our client provided all of that so it was out of our control.
But, in response, I stayed calm. I spoke up. I was direct. I asked them firmly to stop raising their voices and talking over me. I pointed out that I gave them the opportunity to speak and would appreciate the same respect in return. I let them know I understood their concerns and that their feelings were valid, and I’d see if there was anything we could do to improve the situation for the following day. I worked with my team to find a solution and moved on. I was kind even to those who weren’t kind to me. Is that weakness? Definitely not. Weak would be giving into emotion and yelling back. Plus, I’m the one who has been brought back for these projects every time. The guys who threw the fit? That was the last one for them. Seems like another win for kindness to me.
In the last episode, I talked about the idea that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But when you’re asking for something, being nice about it increases your odds significantly. I don’t know anyone who thinks, “Oh yeah, that one guy is a real jerk. I can’t wait to work with him again” unless it’s thought in complete sarcasm. But if you have a good experience, you want to work with those people again, right? Do you recall a time when you worked with a mean person and thought it was a great time? I’m guessing it doesn’t happen often. The people you have the best time with are usually nice. So kindness as a business skill means repeat clients, which is what we usually want.
Think about conversations you’ve had that have left you feeling good, and ones that had the opposite effect. I don’t want to be repetitive, but you get the point. People want to work with people they like, and people tend to like nice people. How you talk to people matters.
If your client owes you money and the invoice is past due, calling and yelling at them isn’t going to help. But if you send a polite email checking on the status, they’re more likely to look into it and see what they can do. You’re not wrong for being upset that payment is late, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to yell at someone else about it. I don’t know how many times I’ve fielded calls from angry vendors even though I had nothing to do with making payments.
I remember a producer calling me at my old company, threatening to tell a news anchor that the company didn’t pay on time. I was the wrong person to be having this conversation with, but I listened. I understood his frustration and kindly tried to explain what I knew about the situation, but he didn’t want to hear it. I passed along the information to my accounting department and then made a note to never hire him again. It’s not because he was upset about the invoice being past due, it was about his demeanor and how he handled the situation. If he would’ve been nice, I would’ve been more likely to go out of my way to see what I could do to expedite his payment. Instead, he just talked himself out of future work. People are more willing to help people who are nice to them than those who aren’t. That seems pretty obvious, right?
If you’re in charge of a crew and are constantly yelling at or belittling them, they aren’t going to give you their best work, and that will negatively affect you and your project. It’s hard to care about something when you’re getting emotionally beat up while doing it, and the stress of that type of environment leads to mistakes. But if you’re considerate and take the time to acknowledge that you appreciate what they’re doing, they’re going to do better for you. They’ll want to work with you on future projects and that’s how you can build some strong working relationships.
If you disagree with anything I’ve said and are one of those people who thinks kindness is weakness, let me know. I’d love to hear why you feel that way and if that means you prefer to work with unkind people. I truly believe there is more strength in being rational, absorbing information objectively, responding with compassion, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you agree, I want to hear about that too. Feel free to flood my inbox with stories of positivity and how being kind has helped you in your business. Help me dispel this outdated notion that kindness equals weakness. It’s just silly and we know better.
Monday Nov 15, 2021
If You Don‘t Ask, You Don‘t Get
Monday Nov 15, 2021
Monday Nov 15, 2021
In 2017 when Dave Barry and I were making the “Dream Out Loud” documentary, we met a wonderful human named Aaron Govern. We initially talked to him because he was a big U2 fan, but when we finally met him in Vancouver, we knew he was so much more than that. I still think back fondly of walking through the city, stopping for tea at a café, and having one of those great conversations that are all too rare these days. He was English, so of course he was very particular about his tea, and I hoped he wouldn’t judge me for choosing a green variety. He didn’t. He was one of those people who just seemed to get it. And by it, I mean life in general.
Over the course of that year, he became somewhat of a trusted advisor at times. And one idea he made clear, and one Dave and I still reference often, is a simple thought: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s an obvious sentiment, but one that seems to be overlooked. If you want something, ask for it. Otherwise, how are people supposed to know?
This comes into play so often in business. Someone has been working hard and wants a raise but doesn’t ask for it. Another is hoping to get promoted to a position that has recently become available but doesn’t tell anyone she’s interested. A new company wants a big client but doesn’t reach out because they don’t think they can get it yet. A podcaster wants big name guests but assumes his show is too small to get a yes so he never tries.
Whether they don’t want to ruffle feathers, are afraid of rejection, or worry that if they ask for something and it isn’t well received, they’ll lose what they already have and end up worse off than before, there are many reasons why people talk themselves out of going after what they want. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I remember in 2004, my boss at the time got annoyed because I couldn’t read his mind. He actually said that. “The girl before you could read my mind. I need you to do that.” Umm. Okay. I can do a lot of things, but unfortunately that’s not one of them. He probably shouldn’t have let her go if that’s what was going on. But he did what so many people do. Instead of communicating and being direct, he expected things to happen on their own. Like he could think it and it would somehow come to fruition. Rarely does that mindset pay off.
It’s usually fear-driven, or that sneaky imposter syndrome creeping in telling them they can’t get or don’t deserve what they want.
So how do you build up the courage to ask for it? Keeping in line with my usual advice, let’s take the emotion out of it and think about the situation logically. First, what happens if you don’t ask? You probably won’t get it. So by not asking, you’re actually taking the bigger risk because that means you might not move forward, might not get that thing or experience that’s going to make your life better, or who knows what else.
Then, realistically, what’s the worst that can happen if you ask? They say no. Okay, so you can accept that and move on, or in some cases figure out a better approach to ask again. Maybe your feelings will get hurt, or you’ll be disappointed, but isn’t that better than being constantly frustrated? Maybe that no will show you that it’s not the right job, client, or project for you after all, because the right one would align with your goals. In any case, if it’s a definitive no, that gives you information you need to move on, change direction, or set a new goal. In my opinion, working towards something new is always way better than wondering what if.
Through that lens, hopefully it’s a little less scary already. If you ask and don’t get, then you have more information to help you decide what to do next. Even if it’s not what you initially wanted, maybe your new direction will be better. Trust in timing. Everything works out when it’s supposed to. It might not always feel like it will at the time, but one closed door might be leading you towards a better open one. Yes, I am still and will always be an eternal optimist.
How do you get the confidence to ask? Nerves are normal. Doubts are normal. Hesitation is normal. But you have to push yourself through that. Preparedness is the biggest solution. Before you ask, you’ve done your research. You know what you want and why. You know why it’s the right thing for you, and hopefully why it’s good for the person you’re asking, too. You’ll go into the conversation armed with what you need.
If it’s a job interview, you know your accomplishments and why you’re a good candidate. Tell them why you connect with the company and what you can offer them so it’s not one-sided. If you’re asking for a promotion, let them know what you’ve accomplished in your current role, how you could improve the company in the new role, and why you’re the best fit. If you’re going after that big-name brand as a new client, be ready to explain your vision for them and what benefits they’ll have with you that they might not get from a bigger agency. If you want that well-known podcast guest, approach them from the point of why you connect with them and what parts of their story you want to share with your audience.
When you’re asking or pitching, be careful of your word choices, too. This is obviously easier in email when you have time to edit, but is important in verbal conversations, too. You don’t want to start by telling them why they should say no. Don’t give them excuses that aren’t yours to give. For example, I remember my friend Jaimee, a previous guest on this podcast, saying people sent her emails all the time that started with, “I know you’re busy, but…” as if they were being a nuisance for even reaching out. People say this to me all the time and I have the same internal reaction. Shouldn’t it be for me to decide if I’m too busy to answer or meet or whatever they’re asking?
If you want to get that big client or guest, don’t apologize for having a small company or audience. Saying things like, “I’m sure you have bigger opportunities to consider, but…” or “You probably look for shows with more reach, but…” diminishes your chances before they even get a chance to form their own opinion about you. It’s something I see happening all the time. When you do that, you’re putting your insecurities on display and talking yourself out of the opportunity you want. Don’t give them reasons to doubt you. They might not have cared or even thought about any of that until you brought it up. Get out of your own way.
Asking doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a yes, but it does mean you’ll get an answer. Sometimes that answer is no or not right now, and that’s okay. What matters is that you put yourself out there confidently and took a chance. I don’t know about you, but to me that always feels way better than stewing in my head about what could be.
How did we get Bono to do an interview for our film? We asked him. How did we get U2 to license 32 songs for our non-existent budget? We asked them. How do I get the rate I need and the projects I want? I ask for them. It doesn’t mean I get everything I want, but it means I don’t have any regrets. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. Thank you, Aaron Govern, for the great advice. I’m glad I got to know you.
Monday Nov 08, 2021
Q&A #3: Pivotal Moments
Monday Nov 08, 2021
Monday Nov 08, 2021
It's time for another listener Q&A episode, where I talk about the biggest mistakes I've made in business, the most pivotal moments in my career, and my biggest piece of advice for other self-employed creatives. For the full transcript, go to https://aardvarkgirl.com/QA3.
If you have any questions, send them my way. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social @aardvarkgirl. This podcast is for you, so if there is a topic that would be helpful to you, let me know. I always look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for listening!
Monday Nov 01, 2021
Invoicing Tips: Make it Easier to Get Paid
Monday Nov 01, 2021
Monday Nov 01, 2021
I’m wrapping a big project and a big part of that is collecting and reviewing invoices from the crew and other vendors. In this case, there are probably 50 or more invoices, so I see a lot of different things. This goes back to my job job days when I used to oversee the accounting department and knew what drove them crazy. I did my best to be a buffer and that’s something I’ve continued as I work directly with creatives. But it still surprises me how some invoices come in, not just from newer freelancers but from people who are decades into their career. So here are some invoicing tips that will make it easier for people to pay you. And that’s what you want, right?
You’ve probably heard me say before that you always want to keep the people paying you happy. Whether it’s a small business or a big corporation, each accounting department is going to have its own system and set of rules. This is the one time when I don’t think you should assert your boundaries. Whatever they need from you, give it to them. If it means you have to add a couple extra bits of information to your invoice, who cares? If they want to do direct deposit, let them. Any push back on your part flags you as difficult and could cause delayed payments for a number of reasons.
That being said, the most important things to keep in mind is being timely, being detailed, and being considerate.
Timeliness is important for obvious reasons. The sooner you invoice, the sooner you should get paid. I say should, because we all know that not all companies pay on time, but you never want the cause of the delay. Standard payment terms are typically net 30, meaning you get paid within 30 days from receipt of the invoice. That doesn’t mean 30 days from the date of the job or completed work. That’s 30 days from the time they receive your invoice. If you take 2 weeks to get around to sending it, don’t expect that they’re going to turn around payment in 2 weeks. No. That 30-day clock starts the day they have everything they need from you. So get your invoice in quickly.
Also, you might not be in a rush for payment for whatever reason, but if the company is trying to close out the job, waiting for your invoice can be a huge hassle for them. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to chase down an invoice, sometimes for weeks. It baffles me every time. I’m trying to give you money, dude. Let me pay you! I get that you’re busy and invoicing isn’t your favorite thing to do, but there are other people who can’t do their jobs until you do it, so stay on their good side and be prompt. Not so prompt that you’re invoicing before a job is done, because that can rub people the wrong way, too, but within a day or two is usually greatly appreciated.
Details are crucial when it comes to invoicing. Make sure all the information they need is there. A good way to know what they need is to ask them. After you’ve done all the negotiation and committed to a project, but before it actually starts, ask what information they need on the invoice and to whom it should be sent. They might need a specific job name, job number or PO referenced, so get that information early. If you send it to the wrong person, it could cause delays. If you reach out after the job and have to wait for them to get back to you, it could cause delays. We don’t want delays.
Double check your information, too. Make sure the line items are correct and the math adds up. If you’re using accounting software like Quickbooks, it’ll do the math for you, but you still want to be sure everything is accurate. If you’re using a Word template or something like that, there is so much room for user error. I am constantly finding invoices that don’t add up, have information from a completely different job, and other nonsense that wastes everyone’s time. And it doesn’t make you look good if they have to reach out and ask you to correct something.
A good way to keep an accounting department happy is to send all of your docs in one email with a clear subject title. Send your invoice and any receipts for reimbursement. If you haven’t worked with them before, or in the current year, send them a W9. Include your payment options. Or, if they already stipulated how they pay, send the information they requested. Give them everything they need at once and it’ll make their lives easier. And the money people do remember who makes their lives easier, and who doesn’t. Maybe you don’t care about them, but giving them what they need up front means fewer emails for you and often sooner payment, so that makes your life easier too.
Speaking of details and making lives easier, make sure to fully read what they send you. Don’t ask a question that’s already been answered because you didn’t bother reading what someone took the time to send you. Be more respectful than that. I say this as someone who sent all of the payment information in a deal memo, plus a separate email specifically about invoicing, and I’d say at least half emailed to the wrong address, didn’t include everything, or both. It creates extra work for me, which costs the client more money, and it’s extra work for them because now they have to deal with the back and forth that could’ve easily been prevented. I don’t take it personally, and I do what I can to help them, but I tend to be nicer than most and go out of my way more than I would expect someone else to.
My last point about details should be obvious, but with what I’ve seen lately it might not be. Make sure to separate your line items in a way that makes sense. If you worked 10 days at the same rate, you don’t need 10 line items, but you should call out the dates in the line item so it’s clear. Also, keep separate lines for separate services. Your labor and per diem rate shouldn’t be on one line item. Your labor is taxed, but per diem is not. If you put them together, you’re putting it on the accounting person to do the work for you and separate everything out. I will do that. Many will not. They’ll just put it in as you sent it and then you get taxed on something you shouldn’t.
Be mindful of accounting categories, which you should have a basic understanding of, especially if you do your own bookkeeping or use accounting software to categorize your expenses. If you’re asking for reimbursements for gas and office supplies, you know those are different, so don’t lump them together on your invoice and make the accounting person add up the receipts. You won’t always know the extent to how they categorize things, but you can use common sense. Also, don’t submit for a reimbursement without including the receipt. Some people may be more lax with this, but just like you should have receipts for all of your expenses, your client needs those from you as well. They don’t want issues with the IRS any more than you do.
And this is a bonus tip just because I think it’s important. If you have given a discount on the project, make sure to invoice for your full rate and then add the discount as a separate line item. This is a record of what happened, so if they hire you again and look to see what you billed before, it’s clear that you gave them a deal. If you don’t call it out separately, they might just think it’s your normal rate. It might be someone else you’re dealing with who doesn’t know the conversations you had with the other person. It’s a nice way to protect yourself and remind them that you did them a favor last time but that’s not to be expected every time.
Most of what I just said also applies to being considerate, which is how you should always be. I should be able to leave it at that, but I’ll explain further. Taking the time to do everything right the first time helps the person on the other side do their job better. They don’t want to have to chase you down for everything they need any more than you want to spend more time on that project when you’ve already moved on. Make it easy for everyone.
When you’re talking to the accounting people, even if your payment is past due, be polite. You’re not going to get anywhere by being aggressive or throwing a tantrum. That doesn’t make them want to help you. You have every right to want your money and be frustrated that it’s not getting to you on time, but the person on the phone probably can’t do anything about that. But if you’re nice, they’ll be more willing to talk to the person who can and try to help you.
If your address or other company information has changed, notify them by sending a new W9. Don’t just change the address on your invoice and expect them to notice. Once you’re in the system, they probably aren’t reviewing your contact info to see if anything is new. It’s your responsibility to tell them. I see this happen a lot so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Lastly, consider your payment options, especially when it comes to credit cards. Many don’t like accepting credit cards because of the fees. You typically lose about 3% of the total. I don’t like fees either. They are tax deductible, but I like to have all of what I earned. That being said, I do know that accepting credit cards tends to get you paid faster. I have seen this personally and have talked about it with other friends and clients and it seems to consistently be the case.
The old school method of writing checks takes time and extra effort. This was the case before, but has become especially true since COVID allowed more people to work from home. Companies don’t always have an accounting person physically in the office to print a check and then get someone, who also might not be in the office, to sign it. Then get an envelope and a stamp and put it in the mail. It’s a bit archaic. But if you give them a digital option, either ACH or credit card, they just have to enter some details in your system and be on their way. It’s much simpler. Also, in bigger companies, the person you’re working with directly may have an allowance of sorts and can approve up to a certain amount if paying on a company card. But writing a check takes many layers of approval, which causes those delays we’re trying to avoid. Something to think about – are the fees worth getting paid faster? Your call.
If you’re still with me, thanks for listening. I know invoicing isn’t a fun topic, but it’s a regular part of running a business and can’t really be avoided. But having been on the receiving end for so long, I see all these simple errors that get in the way and I don’t like it. So do yourself a favor and stay on top of your invoicing. Be prompt, be detailed, be considerate, make it easy to get paid and enjoy the money you worked so hard to earn.