Published on Be a Freelance Blogger: How To Start A Blogging Business When You’re Broke: The Magic Of Profit From Zero

You know that feeling that you’ve completely lost control of the situation? That terrifying, groping-around-corners-in-the-dark sensation that accompanies the death of a really good plan you had?

That’s how my blogging business was born.

Around the time I was financially desperate enough to scrounge for stray dimes rather than use my debit card to pay for a coffee, I decided it was time to start a business.

To learn what in the great, untamed universe possessed me, and how I did it, continue reading my guest post over at Be a Freelance Blogger.

How To Live Under Financial Strain With Dignity

Dignified Living

Have you ever felt that you’re on the verge of greatness…if you could only land that perfect job, figure out your career, move out of your parents’ house, or find time outside of three minimum-wage jobs to start your business?

It feels like your life has been put on hold, and it’s a frustrating place to be, isn’t it? There was a time in my life when everything hinged on gainful employment. I had been living in Chicago for four years and in that time never bothered to build a sustainable life for myself. Consequently, there came a point when I had no choice but to move back in with my parents until I could fix that. This was my plan:

Step 1: Find full-time employment that isn’t soul-crushing and is somehow related to your interests.

Step 2: Do all the other things: move back to Chicago, meet awesome people and befriend them, start traveling, build a bar cart, learn how to cook nice meals and generally live proudly and with dignity as an independent young adult.

It was a terrible plan. Step 1 took far longer than I imagined it would, so I wasted a lot of time twiddling my thumbs while feeling incredibly needy, desperate and full of rage over the knowledge that I was missing out on an awesome, intention-filled life. It was not a very dignified time for me, to say the least.

So what could I have done better? I could have had little money and not let it be a problem. I could have found ways to do most of the things in Step 2 anyway and despite my circumstances.

I learned that while it may be comforting to think that life will wait around while you get your ducks in a row, the truth is that you cannot stop life any more than you can stop time; life is happening now whether you feel ready for it or not, and it will pass you by if you don’t fight for all it’s worth to keep moving. Attack with fierce and fearless enthusiasm all the time, despite everything. Financial strain is frustrating and disheartening, but there’s no reason why you can’t say “Screw, it!” and live with an impressive amount of dignity and panache anyway.

Here’s how:

Accept it. Accept your circumstances for what they are right now, and be brave enough to live without complaint. It’s difficult to live well when you can’t get past your frustration. Worse, the more you dwell on your circumstances, the more difficulty you and the people around you will have ignoring them, and consequently the more you will be defined by them.

Instead, have gratitude. What’s going well in your life? Always, always think on what you already have instead of what you’ve been missing. I highly recommend the simple therapy of sitting down to write a “grateful for” list and revisiting it to read–or better yet add to–every day. Reminding yourself that there’s more to your life than its current shortcomings can buoy your happiness to an extraordinary degree.

Defy excuses; do things anyway. Your finances are an obstacle–not an excuse. Find a way to do all the things you want to do anyway. You may not be able to do them exactly as planned, but there’s another time for that. If you imagined inviting a new group of friends over for cocktails and board games, ask your friends to provide some of the drinks in exchange for your hospitality. If you want to meet up with a networking group at a bar, you can go and simply forgo the part where you drink. I write about why booze is not always necessary for a fun, productive time in “Why A Month Without Alcohol Is Actually Something You Should Consider.”

Use the opportunity to narrow your focus. With the inability to spend much money come fewer distractions. When you can’t afford to indulge regularly in restaurant and bar outings, for instance, you’re well poised to focus on your health and fitness goals. If you can’t be routinely tempted by happy hour and overly indulgent dinners, you’re left to focus on eating healthy, basic foods with a side of exercise habits that don’t require gym access. You could start running around the neighborhood every morning, or you could try bodyweight strength-training. Or maybe your goal is to improve one of your job-related skills, like writing or coding, to land more fulfilling (and better-paid) work. You’ll have an easier time carving out a good chunk of time every day to work on honing a skill when there are fewer distractions.

Get resourceful. There’s usually more than one way to solve a problem, and there are always more options than you initially see. Practice finding them. If you’re a voracious reader used to buying all the books you read, maybe it’s time to renew your library card. Can’t afford a bottle of wine to bring to your friend’s party tonight? Everyone brings booze to these shindigs anyway–why not contribute something to snack on instead? Spring the flour and sugar from the pantry and whip up a batch of irresistible cookies. Or perhaps you want to start your own niche consulting business for entrepreneurial, hipster dinosaurs. Starting a business can be costly, but there are ways to work around most business problems without throwing much money into them.

Be kind to yourself. Have something frivolous in your life that is not about self-improvement or money-making. It should be something that’s just for you, that might be practical, but definitely not necessary. Are there any classes you’ve been wanting to take that might be offered for free or at a discounted price on some days? Or perhaps you can allow yourself to spend money only on your favorite coffee beans, or finally go get that new haircut you’ve been contemplating forever.

Be kind to others. When you’re in financial crisis mode it’s hard not to obsess over your own needs and very easy to feel as if you have nothing to offer others–after all, you’re barely keeping yourself afloat. But working with what you’ve got to do something thoughtful for someone else can help you combat that feeling of burdensome neediness, while serving another awesome human in the process. You could make it a rule to never show up empty-handed at a friend’s place for a party. (Recall cookies instead of wine–something delicious and homemade and very inexpensive.) Or leave random notes for the important people in your life to let them know how much they’re appreciated.

I hope this serves a set of principles that are easy to adopt for anyone who feels frustrated or stifled by financial strain. Obviously there are some things you really should hold off on until your finances are more stable, like living in an apartment nice enough to justify having a buffet table that does not also serve as a desk. But until then, please enjoy some dignity and awesome living.

photo credit: Monika Clarke via photopin cc

Motivation Monday: “F” Does Not Stand For “Fail”

Light bulb

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Too often I think we associate failure with defeat, especially when we start to measure the achievements of others against our own. This kind of defeat can be crushing. It can make us feel broken and targeted (by ourselves). We all experience it at one time or another, and when we do, we have to remember that we all start from a different place, and our lives themselves are full of divergent causes and effects. We have varying motivations, desires and repulsions. It is therefore ludicrous to compare your journey to others’ and only see your defeat and their success.

Failure is a good thing. Failure is information gathering. It is trying. It is a good lesson in perseverance and adaptability. There is honor trying and failing, and so we shouldn’t be afraid to fail more than others.

We should fail often and hard.

How many times will you face the possibility of failure this week?

photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc

On Business and Style: The Gentlewoman’s Code

woman in business suit

I love the idea of living by a code. A strong code defines the type of person you want to be and equips you with finite ways to live that life. To have a code is to stand for something. It is a plan for when there can be no plan–when life gets unpredictable and demanding and improvised badassery is the only option.

The modern gentlewoman is a feminist, a world traveler, a business owner, an artist, a boss, a lover, a risk-taker, a  pleasure seeker, a philanthropist, a leader, a teacher, a friend, a realist with big, ballsy plans. She’s got it together; she runs her life with practical authority, and she’s very good at getting what she wants.

Naturally, she has a code:

  • The gentlewoman is a warrior who charges through life with purpose. Proactive decision making and deliberate action are part of her daily battle strategy. She executes plans with intelligence and fierce determination. She calls bullshit when it happens and counterattacks with an instant grace that is as beautiful as it is lethal. She is always dressed for battle and her style is impeccable.
  • The gentlewoman isn’t concerned with pleasing others or seeking approval–it’s bad for business. She is kind and gracious in life, but she will not conceal her values just to keep a conversation agreeable. She never rushes to assure the person who ran into her because he wasn’t paying attention that “It’s okay.” She is not one to make a change for the sole purpose of gaining someone’s approval either. She demands what is hers and offers apology only when she is truly in the wrong.
  • She does what is necessary to get the job done. She knows that there are no rules but her own rules, and she’s no stranger to figuring things out on her own.
  • There is a forward-moving momentum to her life. She is never stagnant, always working toward the next goal. The gentlewoman sees the value in staying in on a Friday night to get ahead on work that is important to her. She works hard while she’s young so she can afford to work less later in life.
  • She appreciates a good, stiff drink. There’s nothing quite like relaxing with a tumbler of scotch after a long day of entrepreneurial badassery and creative revolution.
  • She deals in uncompromised honesty. She faces even the most painful truths head on because she knows lies and excuses shelter her only from being a greater, more evolved version of herself. Likewise, she’s loath to sugarcoat the truth for others. When a relationship–whether business or personal–isn’t working she ends it cleanly and definitively and moves on. She cuts ties with the sharpest blade and the gentlest truth.
  • A gentlewoman remembers a name when an introduction is made, and thenceforth uses it when speaking with her new acquaintance. There is power to be gained in remembering the name of everyone she meets.
  • She feels gratitude where others feel envy. The gentlewoman doesn’t resent other women for the things they have that she may lack–she’s too busy appreciating what she does have while she works to make the rest of her world better. She knows a woman with, for example, a prestigious job, or an abundance of lovers and admirers, is no more a woman to be envied than to be celebrated. She knows how to rejoice in the success of others while focusing on her own hard work and accomplishments.
  • She possesses the kind of self-assuredness combined with a love of risk taking that follows self-taught independence. She’s not afraid to strike out on her own and see the world at her own pace. She’s learned how to cook a nutritious meal, be on her own in a foreign country, change a light bulb and use a hammer because she understands what worth these skills have to her self-sufficiency.
  • She makes fitness a priority after a fulfilling career and social life. She takes care of her body with exercise and a healthy diet; she runs, swims, boxes or lifts weights for her health, and not as penance for the pizza she ate last night. She can enjoy an indulgent meal and skip a work-out to make a deadline with no hard feelings.
  • She is highly critical of how she spends her time and does not entertain distractions, including procrastination, perfection, uncertainty and jealousy. At any given moment she is either up to something highly productive, like revising her company’s marketing plan to drive up sales, or learning to code, or networking in a hotel bar; or she is doing something awesome, like skydiving, or reclining on the couch with a glass of champagne, a decadent dinner and the next “Game of Thrones” episode.
  • She is thoughtful before she speaks and chooses her words discerningly. She doesn’t complain about trivial inconveniences or toss out a remark  just to fill an uncomfortable silence. Her speech is precise; her words are weighted and measured to exact the greatest amount of control possible. She is not afraid to be bold, provocative or uncensored, but she determines when and where she is transparent. She is in control of her presentation, and therefore, the situation.
  • A gentlewoman holds her head high and her back straight. She could fill a room with her regal posture and dignified confidence.
  • She understands the importance of outward appearance and style. Wherever she is, she’s dressed with purpose. She has dedicated time to discovering a precise sense of style that works for her and she now wears her own version of class and sophistication. She evokes power in a pair of running shoes just as well as in a pair of expensive black pumps.
  • A gentlewoman is not perfect, and she does not strive to be perfect. She knows that to put perfection on a pedestal is to stunt her truth and creative edge. She knows that perfection is not an end result worth the effort it takes to achieve. She does not allow its pursuit to get in the way of her quest to make art, accept power and have fun.

photo credit: carbonated via photopin cc

How To Order A Manhattan Like You Mean It

 

Manhattan cocktailA Manhattan is sophisticated, strong and classic. The drink itself commands respect, and in turn so does the person consuming it. It is a more fun version of straight whiskey, which I highly recommend as a drink when you mean business, for reasons which have already been explained quite well. A Manhattan is both business and pleasure. It is an assertion of a very distinguished, particular taste and I recommend ordering it often and with authority.

Our level of confidence at the bar probably has a lot to do with how knowledgeable we feel about our drink options, and I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people who are missing out on the pleasure and power of a Manhattan simply because they don’t know what it is or if they will like it.

When you order any drink, you are negotiating power and reputation. Like what you wear, your drink choice says something about who you are to those observing you. The bad ass factor in ordering a Manhattan is magnified when you’re able to order with confidence.

So here’s how to order a Manhattan like you mean it:

First, learn how the drink is made.

If you’ve enjoyed a Manhattan made by your own hand at home before, you are not only a drinker of the classic cocktail, you are a maker. You now possess a unique skill. Imagine coming home from a tiring day of work and reclining on the couch with a Manhattan made to your liking in one hand and a book in the other. That is classy as hell and you know it.

A Manhattan is traditionally comprised of rye whiskey (though bourbon is also acceptable as a southern variation on the original recipe), sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry for garnish.

To make a Manhattan, you will need:

Ingredients
1.5 oz rye whiskey or bourbon
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
A few dashes of Angostura bitters
a cherry for garnish (maraschino is traditional but I prefer the more modern use of marinated cherries)

Equipment
Mixing glass
Cocktail strainer
Bar spoon (any long spoon will do the trick)
shot glass or jigger
Cocktail glass

With a few ice cubes already in your mixing glass, combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a cherry for garnish.

You’ve just made an expert Manhattan.

Now you’re ready to order.

The degree to which I can be particular about my order is another reason I love this drink. There’s something distinctly pleasurable about knowing your drink well enough to tell the bartender your brand preference (Bulleit? Knob Creek?) and whether you’ll take your Manhattan on the rocks or up (with or without ice, respectively.)

Bulleit Manhattan, up.

I encourage you to experiment with bases (rye or bourbon) and brands until you’ve identified a favorite. Try the drink up and on the rocks at least once as well. The more research you put into your preferred drink the more you’ll own it every time you order.

Consider trying one of these variations on a Manhattan as well:

Dry Manhattan – sweet vermouth is swapped out for dry vermouth and the drink is garnished with a lemon twist instead of a cherry

Perfect Manhattan – the same amount of vermouth is used, with equal parts dry and sweet

It’s about that simple. Have a bad ass happy hour today.

Motivation Monday: The Morning Hustle

Awesome morning

“The choices are 1) sleep in bed, or 2) have some coffee and remake the world to my liking.” – Jen Dziura

How you start your day is key. You can either hate the morning, or wake up excited to get to work. I believe in filling my day with the kind of things that are going to get me out of bed in the morning. My wake up alarm on my phone is actually called “Get up and make your world better,” because that’s really what I’m getting out of bed to do for every day that I live.

More sleep is overrated. Think about it: Will you regret waking up earlier than what felt good if it means finishing a big project, going for a morning run or crossing off more on your to-do list that day?  Get up early, then make it worth your while.

I’ve started this little morning ritual of grabbing the notebook and pen I leave laying around near my bed and jotting down my to-do list for the day. It’s the very first thing I do after I wake up that gets me started and guarantees that the day is going to be some mix of productive and fun, and the satisfaction of crossing off those items throughout the day is like caffeine–addictive and invigorating.

So have things planned: What are you going to make today? Where are you going? What kind of meaningful interactions will you have there? What will you do today to make your life better in the future? How will you celebrate all of this achievement at the end of the day–with a glass of wine? Dinner with good friends? Give purpose to everything you do in a day. Write it all down and cross it all off as you complete it, and see how that makes you feel.

Get up and make your world better.

Today’s Motivation Monday quote is from Jen’s article “A Day in the Life of Bullish (Caffeine, Pinstripe, and A Lack of Time-Wasting Bullshit).” I highly recommend reading all of it.

 

Motivation Monday: On Writing

How to be a professional writer“Write like a motherfucker.” – Cheryl Strayed

Write all the time, every day, in every possible mood.

Write when you’re so excited to write that you could throw up because you can’t get it all down on paper fast enough.

Write when you have nothing to say.

Most importantly, write when it’s the very last thing you feel like doing—when you’d rather go lick gum off someone’s shoe than write. Write when you’re curled up in a ball and crying, because when you feel that terrible and you’re able to make yourself do it anyway, you’ve already won. It may be the worst writing you’ve ever done, but you’re doing it, and that’s far better than the alternative of not doing it. And as you continue you may realize that you’re not forcing yourself to work anymore. That you are in fact on a roll. That you are on your way to someplace grand and exciting and triumphant, when moments before you were dying.

 

Five Tips for Developing a Meaningful Twitter Presence

How to become a social media pro

 

 1. Create content that is unique, rather than original.

Recall:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”

Jim Jarmusch

Don’t worry about whether or not it’s been said before—it definitely has. Just craft it differently. Sell it with your unique voice and brand.

2. Say thank you. Kindness for the sake of being kind will never harm you; at the very least it will establish a favorable online reputation for you. So tweet a thank you note to someone who recently followed you. Reach out to a blogger you admire just to say thanks for her work. Give a little more than you take, and see what happens. (Karma, hopefully.)

3. Link to current, relevant content to establish credibility. I strongly recommend using an RSS reader to organize a constant source of shareable content to help you demonstrate expertise in your chosen field. I use Feedly’s subscription service, and I love the way I can organize my favorite blogs by topic. If you’re tweeting at least one carefully selected link every day with a short explanation for why it’s valuable, you’re showing your audience that you’re on top of the latest information in your area of expertise.

4. Make recommendations. Recommendations are a great way to go a bit off-topic while maintaining credibility. They can draw attention to the other things you’ve got going on in your life and thereby make you accessible to a larger audience. If you’re a designer and you tweet mostly about design I mostly won’t care, but I may follow you anyway because sometimes you say things that markedly improve my life, like who I should use to print my business cards, or the awesome show that’s happening this weekend that I didn’t even know I wanted to go to.

5. Keep it lighthearted. Twitter is by and large informal, which I had trouble accepting at first. I am a serious person by nature and it took me a while to catch on to the concept of abstract or theoretical conversations that are allowed to develop for the sake of humor. Seriously, get into those. The moment you find yourself tweeting about a hippopotamus with a coffee addiction laying waste to your daily routine you know your life is charmed. The truth of it is that people like to read pithy, ridiculous things. Don’t be afraid to deliver.

Lessons a PR Pro Can Learn from Lisa Dietlin’s “Transformational Philanthropy” Talk

On Wednesday, December 4, 2013 business and creative professionals gathered at Metropolitan Capital Bank & Trust (9 E. Ontario St.) for the bank’s quarterly “Women’s Empower Hour,” a complimentary series for proactive women in the Chicagoland area to learn and share ideas, stories and information over lunch. This discussion was hosted by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Lisa Dietlin, CEO and President of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc., a company quickly becoming the prime model for philanthropic leadership throughout the country.

lisa_dietlin_portrait

As part of Margie Korshak Inc.’s Fashion, Hospitality & Entertainment team, I was excited for the opportunity to learn about the growing philanthropy industry, which currently accounts for a whopping ten percent of the business world according to Lisa’s research. I found much of her industry expertise could be applied to my team’s work in the public relations and social media industries. Here are the team’s favorite ideas from Lisa’s talk, applied to the needs of a PR professional:

Ask for permission to ask. Be open about your intentions with media contacts. Ask new contacts if you can talk with them about opportunities to work together in the future, before you start pitching. Setting up a discussion allows you to get more information so that when the time comes you can better tailor your pitch to the contact’s interests.

Thank a donor seven times. This is a business standard in the world of philanthropy. Gratitude is most effectively communicated by thanking donors more than once and in different ways. For PR pros, this is a great way to show your appreciation to your media contacts, as well as continue to build those relationships. Send a hand-written letter to the journalist who just got your client a great placement in a national magazine. A month or two later, buy that journalist lunch to say thank you again and discuss other opportunities to work together.

Save difficult calls for Friday morning. If you’ve got a difficult pitch to make, or perhaps you’re cold-calling for new business, try making those calls on a Friday morning, when the weekend is near and people are generally in good spirits.

Call potential donors that are difficult to reach eight times in two weeks and leave only three messages in that time. Has it been too long since you’ve heard anything about that radio segment you’re trying to secure? Are you looking to establish a relationship with a higher profile media contact? Do you have an impossible-to-get-a-hold-of contact? Try this strategy.

Do you have more ideas about how strategies in philanthropy can come in handy in the PR world, or vice versa? Please share!

Interested in attending the next “Women’s Empower Hour” at Metropolitan Capital Bank and Trust?  Contact events@metcapbank.com for more information.

For more information on Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc., check out: http://www.lmdietlin.com.

Why a Month Without Alcohol is Actually Something You Should Consider

No alcohol in barAt the beginning of September 2013 I started a new life that was different and better than the one I had been living. I moved into an apartment in Chicago with two roommates I met on Craigslist, determined to start entirely from scratch. I was not a pioneering risk-taker moving without the security of gainful employment, but I did move without owning a bed, or any furniture for that matter. I didn’t have bath towels, or kitchen knives, or a vacuum. I did have wine glasses and a cocktail shaker.

I started thinking about how to cut other costs while I was spending what is to me an alarming amount of money on apartment furnishings, and the solution I devised was to give up alcohol for the entire month of September.

I am a person who typically has at least one drink three to five nights out of the week. This venture in no way seemed like fun. Instead, it became a challenge.

More Room for Productivity and Health

The first mistake I made was assuming I’d go out with friends and simply not order anything. This is incorrect. If I hadn’t forgone most social engagements revolving around drinks, I never would have made it. Instead I kept to myself most weekends, finding solace in all the new neighborhood coffee shops at my disposal and all the caffeinated work I could accomplish, because it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to be on a Friday night at 8pm when I was decidedly NOT drinking.

It was rainbow-magic productivity time and a giant fuck you to my social life—I saw almost no friends for the entire month. But I was getting enough sleep and waking up at incredibly early hours for the weekend, which is how I got back into my running routine, and how I was able to kick-start this blog into existence.

A Lesson in Moderation

Even though I was purposely avoiding situations in which I’d be tempted to have a drink, I couldn’t avoid them entirely. I can mostly thank my job for this. I work at a boutique PR agency and September happened to be a busy month full of events and parties to work. So I had plenty of practice saying no not only to champagne but to champagne that was free. The benefits being 1) that you can focus on doing your job and not on how many glasses to consume before you verge on unprofessional, and 2) abstaining from complimentary booze in the same proximity as your boss will at the very least absolutely not get you into trouble and at the very most make you slightly impressive.

Save Your Money

You know what adds up?

Fancy cocktails.

Beer.

Wine.

All the booze.

The fries you order with your whiskey, the pizza delivered to the apartment party, the cab ride home after a night of drunken cavorting.

These are all expenses that vanish when you opt to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night and, say, fix a nice dinner and catch up on your reading or get ahead on some work (see Jen Dziura’s advice on using hours/times of year most people aren’t working to get ahead here and here).

I’m not suggesting that going out is a not-so-great thing to do. When you’re young and vibrant and single especially, please do go out often and with purpose. Make it about socializing, meeting new people, enjoying good drinks and killing it on a dance floor; a night out can be just as productive as a day of work. If we didn’t make our social lives somewhat of a priority we’d be missing a grand piece of the puzzle, as it were. But for most of us, it’s financially impractical to go out every Friday and Saturday night, so I find it worthwhile to practice re-framing a night in as another kind of opportunity for productivity. Take to a relaxed night of reading, catch up on lower priority work-related tasks that have been on the back-burner for days, or do some mindless cleaning around the apartment if your brain power is exhausted. Whatever you do, get to bed early and tackle the next morning with panache because you got a good night’s sleep and didn’t wake up hung-over. If I can get a four-mile run, a shower and a trip to the farmer’s market out of the way before 10:30am on a Sunday, the world is mine for the taking, and I feel pretty excellent whether I end up writing at a coffee shop or at home reading and napping for the rest of the day.