Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wearing My “Entrepreneur” Hat

Let’s say I’m comfortable with two of my three hats as a small business owner: technician and manager. After all these years, I have a pretty firm hold on the creative side of my business. I love writing, editing, coaching, and teaching; and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at them. While my least favorite hat is that of manager, if I’m going to stay in business, I have to wear it and master all that it implies. I continue to work hard on getting that hat to fit. That leaves Hat #3 — entrepreneur.

David E. Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, describes the entrepreneur as the visionary, the dreamer, and the catalyst for change. In other words, this is the part of us that grows our businesses and sees opportunities. That sounds great, but what does it mean? Well, the “growing the business” part is fairly straightforward. When I’m finished with the project I’m working on, if I haven’t filled the pipeline, I won’t have another project to do. Of course, there is always the element of luck or fate or whatever makes the phone ring when I haven’t done a thing to make it ring.

That happened a lot in the beginning, and I never really knew why. Someone would call and offer me a freelance opportunity. The good news was I had lots of work; the bad news was I didn’t understand what it took to find that work. The magic word was marketing, which, to me, was mysterious and scary.

Like so many small business owners, I muddled through for years until I met a marketing expert who sat me down and taught me the basics … and I mean basics. My friend and marketing guru, Bobette Kyle, has years of experience and a master’s degree in marketing. If she talked nonstop for a year, she couldn’t begin to tell me what she knows; but she has told me enough to make me downright happy to wear my entrepreneur hat. What I once approached with trepidation, I now enjoy and look forward to doing.

What about the “seeing opportunities” part? I would also describe that as the ability to reinvent oneself when necessary. I’ve had to do that many times in the past two decades. When I first started freelancing, I wrote a great many articles for corporate publications. That was an extension of what I had been doing for years and probably would have continued doing if all those corporate magazines and newsletters in St. Louis hadn’t ceased publication. OK, if I didn’t write articles, what would I do? Well, if I put on my entrepreneur hat, I would ask myself what are the needs in the market? And what are the opportunities? The answers determine how I would reinvent myself this time.

If you don’t like change, this idea will not have much appeal. In that case, you aren’t going to like wearing the entrepreneur hat. Fortunately, that hat fits me very well these days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wearing My “Manager Hat”

I went into business for myself because I wanted to write and be my own boss. It was a long-time dream; the timing was right; and I was sooo ready. So, I took the plunge, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. That was a mistake. If I had it to do over again, I would know what I was doing before I found myself doing it.

Here are some of things I didn’t know:
  • For every dollar that came in I had to put aside a certain percentage of for taxes. My accountant told me the amount could range from 30 to 50 percent, depending on my tax bracket. That meant for every three dollars I earned, I could spend two or possibly only one and a half. Those taxes had to be sent to the IRS every quarter before the fifteenth of the appropriate month.
  • I already knew I was supposed to keep track of every expense, but I had no system for doing that. I either needed to create such a system or have my accountant do it. For years, I paid my accountant the extra money to do bookkeeping I could easily have done myself, if I had bothered to learn how.
  • There was also, of course, the matter of tracking the time I spent on each client’s job and being sure I charged the correct amount. That meant deciding on an hourly rate, making sure the client knew what it was and agreed to pay it, buying and learning to use a time and billing program, and remembering to send invoices regularly and follow up when they weren’t paid. Every item on that list was its own individual nightmare.
  • Then there were contracts, which I had no idea how to negotiate, write, or enforce. Consequently, there were holes in my contracts big enough to drive a jeep through. As for enforcing them — well, that was a joke. I tried Small Claims Court a few times before I found out it was an even bigger joke. (See Small Claims Court Revisited)
  • Finally, there was the whole matter of determining whether or not I was making a profit and, if so, how much. To this day, I have no idea how to calculate that, so I never have.
The bottom line is this: I “went into business,” if you could call it that, like a kindergartner enrolling in college. I didn’t ask the right questions because I had no idea what questions to ask. I learned every lesson the hard way, often the very hard way. Some lessons I did not learn at all because, once again, I didn’t know there were lessons. Don’t ask me how; but, somehow, I have survived for 20 years. Much as I love what I do, though, managing the business has always been the toughest part for me.

What would I do differently if I could start over? In terms of wearing my manager’s hat, just about everything. The very first thing I would do is sign up for a small business course at the community college or one of the local universities. There are many such courses available, and I should have taken at least one. Learning to manage a one-person business is not like learning quantum physics. It doesn’t have to be the very hard way. It doesn’t have to be a mysterious or frightening. From what I hear, it could actually be challenging, growth promoting, profitable, and fun.

I have a little trouble with the fun part, but it’s possible, I guess.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wearing My "Technician" Hat

One of the three hats a small business owner wears is that of technician. This is the person who does the work — writing, designing, developing, baking, or whatever the business exists to produce and sell. In most cases, it is the technician who decides to “go into business” so that she can do whatever it is she does without someone else raking in all that delicious profit. After all, she figures, I design websites; therefore I know how to run a website-design business. Well, if you read “The E-Myth Revisited … Again,” you know it takes more than a technician to create, manage, and grow a successful business.

I am a writer and all that such a designation implies. In other words, I am a technician. I don’t like to think of myself that way — a professional, an artist, even a hack, but not a technician. Well, like it or not, that’s what I am, if one is to accept author Michael E. Gerber’s definition.

I started my own business because I wanted to write … full time. Of course, it didn’t work out that way, but let’s assume for a moment that it did. Here I am, writing, editing, proofreading, revising, and all the stuff that writers do, every billable hour of my day. That was my dream. Now, I’m living it. So, what is it really like to be a full-time writer?

Well, there are good days, and there are bad days. There are highs, and there are lows. There are moments of flow and transcendence, and there are even more moments of tedium. Yes, tedium. There is subject matter that would put a speed addict to sleep. There are times when getting words onto the screen feels more like a rockslide than a flowing stream. There are hours upon hours when I ache from my eyelashes to my toenails, but I can’t stop because I have a deadline. And there are those dreaded times when no words come. None. Nada. It’s called writers’ block. And it is real.

So, why did I ever think this would be a great way to earn a living? For one thing, I honestly didn’t know what to expect in real life. I had a romanticized image of words flowing effortlessly, my muse at my side, and fingers flying over the computer keys. While words do occasionally flow, mostly, they are placed like bricks, one at a time. Poets have muses; journalists and freelance writers do not, as least not in my experience. And flying fingers? While I actually know people whose fingers move very quickly, alas, I am not one of them. I am a dyslexic typist with arthritis. If it weren’t for spell check to alert me to all of the words that are inside out, I would have gone insane long ago.

OK, so it is not what I expected. It isn’t romantic; it is very hard work, even for those of us who have spent years honing our craft. It has always been hard work. Why did I think it would be different when I became my own boss? To be completely honest, I never thought that, instead of having one boss, I would have many — as many as there are clients or editors. If someone is paying you for your words, that person is your boss.

I didn’t think about the other two hats I would have to wear (entrepreneur and manager), mostly because I didn’t know about them. I didn’t think about how it would feel to be alone most of the time, living at home, working at home, and never being able to run down the hall to another office to get an opinion or just shoot the breeze. I didn’t think about a lot of things because I was, as Gerber put it, “in the throes of an entrepreneurial seizure.” (Read previous blog post for more on that.)

Now, it is 20 years later, and I’m still here. Twenty years of good days and bad days, of the mechanics of writing and the drudgery of writing, but mostly of the magic of writing. Yes, even after all of the above, it is still full of magic. Would I do it again, knowing what it’s really like? In a heartbeat.

(This is what a fellow writer once called a Readers Digesty ending. He was right.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Think Google Images are free? Think again!

Isn’t the Google Images site fantastic? It’s like a candy store. So many pictures; so little time. And what’s amazing is that they are there for the taking. Just download and drop into your article or website or blog post. Right? Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all. And, boy, did I learn that the hard way.

One day I got a letter — the kind of thing I would throw out if I weren’t the compulsive type who opens every piece of mail, including junk. So, I opened it and put it in the pile to look at later. When I finally got around to looking at it, I almost had a heart attack.

The letter said: “It has come to our attention that you are using an image represented by G______ for online promotional purposes. We have searched our records and have not found a valid license for the use of image. Attached for your reference is a copy of the image in question and the usage found on your company’s website.”

There was more, lots more. But, basically, it went on to say I had better take that image off of my website immediately and send them a check for $_____ (a lot of money)!

I couldn’t believe it. I read it again, and again, and yet again. No doubt about it. I was (justifiably) accused of copyright infringement. Attached to the “Settlement Demand” was a list of all the excuses people use to get out of paying. Believe me, I had thought of all of them except for insisting that my website was designed by evil pixies who had stolen the image when I wasn’t looking. None of the excuses were acceptable, of course.

I wanted to cry; but, being a big girl who, according to the letter and my web adviser, should have known better, I spent hours removing every picture I had not personally created. Ignorance of the law, apparently, was not a valid reason for ignoring it.

I wrote the check and mailed it super express, which cost me another $17.50 to be sure it arrived by the deadline. Irony of ironies: while I was filling out the paperwork for overnight mail, a guy with a ponytail was looking over my shoulder. “What do you have to do with G_________?” he asked. "I owe them money,” I replied.

“I sell them photographs,” he said.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know they are protecting your copyright,” I mumbled, trying not to sound bitter.

“That’s good to know,” he said. Right.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finding an Editor

Meet our guest blogger, Christine Frank, principal at Christine Frank & Associates, where she and a team of experts transform rough manuscripts into beautifully crafted, saleable products, ready for publication. This may occur through a copy edit, a design, a cover concept, an index, or a series of consultations. For more information, contact Christine at

How and where do you find an editor? And, once found, how do you pay her? Some bullet points follow, along with some do-it-yourself tips. A later post will discuss a few different types of editorial tasks and roles.

Three methods to use:
  • Referral, whether by word of mouth from another author or from a name in a book’s acknowledgments
  • Internet search. Try adding terms specific to your project like “biology AND editor” or “freelance editor”
  • Through an organization like a local writers or editors group. Examples are: the Red River Romance Writers of Oklahoma, The Writers Place Midwest Center for the Literary Arts of Kansas City, and the Washington Independent Writers of Washington, D.C.
And three not to:
  • Internet auction site like or
  • Internet site that is obviously made from a template and is vague about location or personnel (indicates an offshore entity that edits mostly through macros and spellcheck).
  • Asking a friend, neighbor, family member
Four maybes:
  • Craigslist
  • Lists where people pay to belong/advertise (Editorial Freelancers Association, Dan Poynter’s newsletter, certain directories)
  • Calling a university English department
  • Through an agency (Aquent, The Creative Group)
Asking for References—or not?
I am not a fan of asking for references because, like those listed in job applications, people use only those that they know will be favorable. You might get some before and after samples, but be aware that many editors cannot or will not share others’ work without permission. Also it is very hard to distance yourself from the other person’s writing and see how it will work for yours. Instead I recommend a sample edit from someone you have spoken to (even via e-mail) and think you can work with. I always use a sample edit. From my perspective, it is not always a happy experience – sometimes I never hear from the people again, or sometimes they wanted someone to work for shockingly low, lower than fast-food, pay. Sometimes we figure out that an author is sending out samples to as many editors as he has chapters, thus obtaining an entire edit free. We have good instincts for this after that fact; it happened to me twice last year (Hi, Bruno!)

Where to Find Customary Rates
  • Editorial Freelancers Association • Common editorial rates •
  • Bay Area Editors Forum • Rate survey from 2000 •
  • A thread about book editing rates •
Editing Tasks You Can Do Yourself
  • Create several editing checklists and make discrete, small passes to check a few items at a time. It could be people’s names and titles, geographical facts or spellings, or footnotes.
  • Don’t start at the beginning every time and read from front to back. Start at the back, or check all the even-numbered chapters or pages and then all the odd-numbered ones.
  • Ask a child or another handy, agreeable person to read your work aloud to you.
  • Alternate electronic and hard-copy editing.
  • Arrange your production schedule so you have time away from the manuscript between reads. Months are great, but weeks away also help you to come back with a fresh eye.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Revisiting the E Myth, Again

One of my favorite books is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. The reason they don’t work is that, in order to succeed as a small business owner, you have to be three people: a technician, an entrepreneur, and a manager. In other words, you have to be a little on the schizophrenic side, carefully balancing your different personas.

The technician is the part of you who does the work (writes, designs, bakes pies, builds cabinets); the entrepreneur is the part who grows the business (markets, networks, dreams, sells); and the manager is the part who runs the business (keeps records, sends out invoices, collects money, buys stamps and supplies, backs up computer files). If you can’t be all three, you’re supposed to hire the parts you need.

For most of us, the person we really understand is the technician. That’s who we are. We do whatever we do very well — in my case, write — but we usually do it for somebody else. Then, one day, according to Gerber, we are struck by an “entrepreneurial seizure.” That is the moment “when the idea of being our own boss, doing our own thing, singing our own song became obsessively irresistible … and we had to start our own business.”

That is also the moment when we fall victim to what Gerber calls “the fatal assumption: if we understand the technical work of a business, we understand a business that does that technical work.” We are wrong. We don’t. At least, I didn’t.

The longer I am in business (20 years now), the more I think about that fatal assumption and wonder whatever made me think that, because I could write, I could do all of those other things. To be honest, I didn’t know about the other things, so I probably didn’t think at all. In the midst of my personal entrepreneurial seizure, I just jumped off the cliff, and I’m sure I am not alone in the way I executed that brilliant business model.

I have read The E Myth Revisited so many times, it’s dog-eared and Scotch Taped together. I think Michael E. Gerber is a genius. I could quote him endlessly, but what I think I will do instead is contemplate how I have tried to master and integrate the three sides of my business self over the years. Then, I will share my musings with you.