Posts in running a business
Why I Do This
 

I kinda hate the stories that a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners tell about themselves: 

I started my first business when I was six and sold friendship bracelets to my classmates at recess. 

I lost my job in high school because I kept trying to tell my manager how we could run the fast food joint more efficiently.

I launched my business while I was taking an accelerated course load in college so I could graduate early, while working a full-time job and tutoring kids on the weekends.

All these examples of what are basically origin stories showing how their entrepreneurial ambition or boss-skills or inhuman work habits are inborn character traits.

Bra. Vo. 

I hate these stories because I can’t relate to any of them.

In college, I worked at the on-campus food court one summer. (I wasn’t taking summer classes. I did have another job, at the Express downtown, but between both jobs, I still worked barely 15-20 hours a week.) At one point, when I went home to see family, my dad asked me how work was going.

“Well, at the Avenue, I’m almost completely useless,” I said. 

It was a running joke I had with another co-worker—actually, by the end of the summer, I’d worked almost every shift and food station possible, and my manager was genuinely bummed when I told him I wouldn’t keep working once fall quarter started.

Which was stupid. It was, like, 8-10 hours a week max (maybe not even that much, there were more students jostling for shifts during the school year), I could cherry-pick my shifts, and it would’ve padded my bank account at least a little. Instead, I kept working a couple days a week at Express (and blowing most of my paycheck on their clothes, thanks to the employee discount)—just for a few more months until I realized that there are no holidays in retail and I was like “work the day after Christmas? No thanks, I’ve got a date with my snowboard.” (Again, the managers there made a point to say they’d re-hire me in January if I wanted.)

When I look back on high school and college, it’s embarrassing to think about how little I worked. My family was firmly “upper middle class” and I didn’t need to, so I didn’t.

Now I need to, so I do. But the truth is, if I have a free Saturday, I’d prefer to spend it chasing my dog at the beach, or watching a baseball game, or binging House of Cards—literally nothing that could come close to being remotely productive, or even creative.

I would have loved to have found a regular, steady office job that either A) allowed me to get to the office, work, leave nine hours later and go about the rest of my life without work encroaching even the slightest bit, or B) actually sparked some passion in me that would make me want to give up my nights and weekends to achieve the company’s goals.

Over the past couple years, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I don’t have any particular drive to “work.” My natural state is one of extreme laziness and inertia. I don’t seem to share the ambition and passion of most entrepreneurs and business owners, and yeah, that scares me a little.

So why am I doing this? Why am I still so determined to make this freelancing thing work?

One, because I cannot fathom giving over complete control of my schedule or my workload to anyone else ever again.

Sorry, but a huge part of why I do what I do is because I’ve decided that I don’t really have many other options—I never want to deal with all the BS of having a boss and office politics ever again, so on my worst days, I look at solo freelancing at the least-terrible option to make the best of.

(Luckily, those “worst” days don’t come around that often.) 

Two, because I really do love helping people.

It sounds corny and trite, but it’s true. I may not always love the actual work of writing a certain piece, but when I hear about how it helps my client earn some more business? I’m all, hell yes.

The thing is, what’s important to me isn’t the exact method so much as the structure of my job (calling my own shots) and the outcome (helping others succeed in some way). Writing is something I’ve always been decently good at, and generally, for the most part, I enjoy doing it, so right now it’s the best way for me to help people.

That’s why I do this. It’s not the same sexy story you usually hear, but you know what?

That’s okay.

I’d rather be honest about my less-sexy reasons for being here than try to convince you (and myself) that I have some grand calling or passionate drive to do exactly this and nothing else. I’d rather have some clarity to help me decide what to do when things change and new opportunities arise in the future.

That’s my why. Do you know yours?

 
why i'm a freelance writer
 
 
What Your Business Really "Needs"
 

I was all set to write a different post this week.

It was going to be about why you need a website for your business. Because I write website content and I want to show you why you should hire me. (Which is why I wrote "Why You Need a Writer" two weeks ago.

But then I started writing, and almost immediately stopped.

Because I don’t want to be another one of those online business people who spout off about the “5 Things You Need to Do Every Week to Rock Your Etsy Shop” or “Why Ignoring Instagram Stories is the Worst Thing for Your Business.”

There are approximately five zillion posts and articles out there proclaiming that small business owners “need” to do XYZ to have a successful business.

Most of them are really well-intentioned.

And most of them are bullshit.

You don’t “need” anything to run a business except products or services to sell. And customers to buy them. Well, you need a couple other things, but I’ll get to that.

Okay, I’ll grant that if you’re making products, whether they’re lip-smackingly delicious donuts or adorable hand-painted flower pots or sweet leather carriers for beer growlers, you probably really do need your tools and materials.

I’m talking about all the extras that people like me try to convince you are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY IF YOU DON’T HAVE THEM YOUR BUSINESS WILL RUN TO THE GROUND AND YOU’LL BE A COMPLETE FAILURE.

For example, I do think you should have a website. I think having one that’s decently designed, well-written, and accurate will help you reach your goals, whatever they may be. But I know businesses that do just fine without a website, or with a really crappy one that was last updated before I got my driver’s license.

I think you should have some sort of social media presence. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever can be great ways to reach your customers and do cool stuff. But again, I know businesses that don’t bother with Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or LinkedIn or anything and make plenty of money.

I think you should have a marketing plan and customer personas, but honestly, I have yet to come across a business—in my years working on my own or with an agency—that had those documents before I worked with them. (But seriously, dude, customer personas are so fun! Although maybe that’s the fiction writer in me who loves inventing characters…) (And confession, my “marketing plan,” such as it is, could fit on a Post-it.)

All this stuff can definitely make it easier to run your business. They can make it significantly easier to reach your goals, depending on what they are. But they are not necessary.

All you really need to make your business a success is passion. You need to know the “why” behind what you’re doing. You need to have a vision for where you want to be and what you want to do and what you want your life to look like.

Then you can decide what you “need” in order to get there.

 
 
small business content marketing
 
Why You Need a Writer
 

When I talk to business owners about copywriting and content marketing, I usually get one of two reactions:

Oh my God, we totally need that! I can’t write at all!

Or…

Do I really need to pay someone for that? I’m just a ___ with a brick and mortar shop. I don’t sell online. I don’t have much text on my website.

If you’re in the first group, rock on (and hey, take a look at how I can help lovely business owners like you).

If you’re in the second group…

Look, I’m not one of those marketing types who’s going to insist you “need” to be on every platform imaginable or you “need” to use all the strategies and techniques that seem to work flawlessly for everyone else. All you really “need” to do with your business is make money (how much is up to you) and feel good about the work you’re doing and what you’re putting out in the world.

And taxes, I guess.

But I would argue that writing, good writing, will help with that first need. Like, a lot. More than fussing with the front window display or going to a networking meet-up.

First, let’s establish:

Your business needs words.

I write profiles of local business for a weekly column in the newspaper. I have find, research, and visit these businesses every week. I can’t tell you how often I choose not to profile a business because they don’t have a semi-complete or coherent website, or no website at all.

Literally all it would take is a free or very inexpensive Wordpress site with your hours, location, contact info, and a short About page to get someone like me to visit your shop and then write something that will bring you brand-spanking-new customers (seriously, I regularly hear from business owners saying they got a spike in visits and calls the week after their profile is published).

But if your site doesn’t exist, your domain name has expired, or the info isn’t clear and easy to find, I’ll pass you over and feature someone down the street instead.

(Not having a website isn’t a total kiss of death. It helps immensely if you have active social media profiles with all the “About” info filled out on your Facebook page.)

It would be super fantastic if customers just magically found you while walking around, but in most cases, that doesn’t happen. You have to tell them you’re there and what you’re about.

So in general, I would say most businesses could benefit from, at minimum, a website and a couple social media profiles (not all the profiles). A regularly-published blog and regularly-published email newsletter are very big bonuses.

Depending on your business, you could also probably use content like e-books, white papers, or e-courses. Maybe a Kickstarter campaign? A podcast or YouTube channel? And hey, what about print? Flyers, booklets, brochures, coupons?

All of those need words.

So, okay, maybe you’re thinking, yeah, this chick has a point. But I took English in school, why can’t I do this myself? It’s my business, who knows it better than me?

Well, skeptical reader, here’s the thing:

Writing takes a lot of time.

Dude, aren’t you busy? You’re managing inventory. Coordinating schedules with vendors. Training employees. Managing the books. Oh, and actually working with your customers. At least with Instagram you can snap a picture, type up a caption right then and there and post it without thinking too much.

But a blog post? A newsletter? Updating your website because it hasn’t been touched since you opened four years ago?

Look, writing is hard. And it’s something that kinda has to be done on your own, alone in a room, free of distractions. And when was the last time that happened for you?

For way too many business owners, they put “write blog post” on their to-do list every week, and every week, multiple things come up and they never get around to it.

Even if they could carve out a couple hours, they don’t use it to write that post because...well, because like I said, writing is hard. (Secret: it’s hard for me too! It’s hard for all writers. We act like it’s easy because we want to seem professional and capable or something but really, it’s still hard for us. The difference is largely that we have--or are more able to make--the time to do it.)

And let’s address that skeptical comment up there about “no one knowing your business better than you.” That’s true, but it’s often why you of all people should not be writing your own stuff.

Especially if you do something technical, like develop complicated websites or practice property law or do whatever it is that CPAs do, and your audience tends to be non-techy people. If you write your own website, it will likely be unintelligible to your audience.

I mean, I’ve seen About pages for construction companies that don’t actually tell me anything about what they do, which is build stuff.

When you’re an expert in your field, you need someone to help you translate exactly what you do so your audience can understand and see value in it. You need a skilled writer who can not just share your story, but share it in a way that reaches and resonates with the right people.

Because…

Writing maybe isn’t in your skill set.

AND THAT IS OKAY.

That’s why I’m here. Me and literally millions of others who see incomplete sites and sigh, who see badly written sites and cringe, who see people misusing apostrophes and scream internally. LET US HELP YOU.

After all, you didn’t start your furniture upcycling business because you love staring at a blank Word doc every day. You started it because you love visiting estate sales and combing Craigslist for hidden jewels and sanding and sawing and painting and gluing and stuff.

So, great. You do that and let me write the description of the piece, how you found it, what you did to give it new life, the kind of home it would be perfect for. Then it finds that perfect home faster and your bank account goes cha-ching and you get to start on the next piece. Easy. Well, maybe not easy, but easier than when you were trying to do everything yourself.

freelance writer for small businesses