May 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

May continued to be a purposeful slowdown period for my business. I focused on getting everything ready for the new baby and took some time off. Still, May ended up being a more profitable month than April.

Here’s what happened in May.

Positives

  • Continued low stress/routine work

I have a few clients that I’ve worked with for years and I continued working on their projects through May. This work is usually low stress and doesn’t take a lot of time so it was perfect for my slowdown period.

  • Prepared for maternity leave

I met with a local client to discuss my leave and sent off documents detailing my maternity leave to other clients. I wanted to make sure I had this done in advance because Norah came almost three weeks earlier than her due date. Unfortunately, being self-employed means that I will not be receiving any benefits or pay during my leave, but it also gives me the opportunity to choose how much time I want off and come back when I’m ready.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I will continue to bring in less income until September when Norah starts preschool and I establish a routine with my son. I don’t have the time or energy to hustle for more business right now.

  • End of nap time work session

Norah started phasing out naps in February and has completely stopped taking them at this point. This has been a bit of an adjustment because I did at least 2 hours of quality work during her naps each day. My schedule will continue to shift and evolve as my son is born in late June/early July and Norah enters preschool in August. Fortunately, I mostly roll with the punches and I’m motivated to find ways to balance everything and make it work.

  • Not enough time to work on EBA

I’m still working on the Elite Blog Academy course, but unfortuntely with the lack of naps and general pregnancy exhaustion I haven’t had much time to do anything towards this personal goal. I hope to have more energy and time to work on this in the last half of the year.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I have a lot of ground to make up from my lost clients before I will be at the “increasing income” level. Right now I’m trying to get back to where I was in January.

2) Get another local client

This goal is on pause until September.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by late summer/early Fall.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

This goal is on hold until 2018.

Income Snapshot

Income statement May 2017

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

 

Why Freelancing is Great for Small Town Living

I live in a relatively small town of 10,000 people. The adjoining metropolitan area has a population of 150,000 people. While there are opportunities here, they are not always easy to find.

When I decided to start freelancing, one of the biggest perks was being able to work with people who weren’t from around here. This gave me an opportunity to meet people that I’d never have a chance to interact with as well as to charge rates that people here would not be able to pay.

At one point in my career, I thought I’d need to move to the suburbs or a major city to achieve the goals I set for myself. Freelancing showed me that isn’t the case. In fact, I think being a freelancer in a small town has more perks than being a freelancer in a big city. Here’s why freelancing supports small town living.

Bigger opportunities and more of them

Freelancing, or even just working from home, opens the door for more opportunities than local job hunting. You can work for any company, located anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home office.

Freelancing allows you to work with many different companies and learn their best practices. This gives you an opportunity to advance your skills, offer more services, and demand higher pay.

Freelancing in a small town means you aren’t limited to working in the companies or industries in your area. You are able to apply for remote positions around the world; all you need is a reliable internet connection. Freelancing will give you access to bigger opportunities than your town can offer.

Often it can be difficult to find a job in a small town because the competition for one position can be high. In an area with a high unemployment rate, there are potentially hundreds of people applying for the same position. As a freelancer, location doesn’t matter. You are able to apply for the jobs that directly relate to your skills regardless of where you are living. This gives you a much larger pool of opportunities to draw from.

Higher pay

Typically, a company or individual will gear their budget to the cost of living in their area. If you live in an area with a low cost of living, like myself, you will get the benefit of your money stretching further than someone in a higher cost of living area.

When I work for a San Francisco based company, I am paid San Francisco wages even though I live in a much cheaper area. A marketing person making the average $75-$100K per year there may have trouble making ends meet, whereas the same salary where I live would be almost double the median household income.

Your quality of life can be a lot higher while freelancing in a small town than it would be in a big city.

Better job security

In some cases, you will have more job security while freelancing because your job is not tied to your local economy. For a person that lives in an area where things aren’t going too well, that’s a great thing. My town routinely has businesses close their doors and large companies leave the area. This has been devastating to some families. Having a location independent job, like freelancing, can prevent the local economy from affecting your family.

Many of the companies I work for are based in up and coming areas where business is booming. I get the benefit of their expanding economy without having to move there.

One of the best (and potentially worst) places to find freelancing work is out of Silicon Valley.

Often startups provide awesome benefits and pay, but the jobs can be gone in the blink of an eye. Five months after I left the startup Zirtual, they imploded and over 400 people lost their jobs. Thankfully, many of my former coworkers were able to take their skills and start their own virtual assistant businesses.

That said, job security is not guaranteed with any company in any city. Freelancing allows you to work in different cities while minimizing the risk of their economies. It also allows you to have multiple income streams coming in so that one client quitting will not kill your business.

Exposure to trends

Finally, a non-monetary benefit to freelancing while living in a small town is exposure to trends you may not have heard about otherwise.

Things that are popular on the coasts often don’t make it to the Midwest for months or even years. Freelancing allows me to stay on top of business and popular trends. I can use this information to appeal to clients in larger metropolitan areas without actually living there. This knowledge allows me to keep my rates competitive with those freelancing in bigger cities.

Freelancing is a great option for those who live in small towns. You get the benefits of bigger city wages, opportunities, exposure, and job security without giving up the community and space to roam. If you live in a small town, before you think about moving to a big city to pursue your dreams, give freelancing a try!

Why freelancing is great for small town living

Setting Boundaries With Your Clients

One of the hardest things about working for yourself is setting boundaries with your clients. While there are clients who will respect your limits, there are others who will continually push or break the boundaries you set up.

Before you start working with a client, make sure you have set boundaries in your own mind. Take some time to brainstorm what your boundaries are.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my hours of operation?
  • How do I want my clients to get in touch with me?
  • Will I answer calls or emails outside of my hours of operation?
  • Will I allow for urgent or rush requests? If so, what will I charge?

If you don’t set boundaries, you can get yourself into some sticky situations.

I had a client who continuously pushed boundaries, leading to dozens of text messages at all times of the day and night. If I didn’t answer, the texts and emails would just keep coming. I ended up getting very stressed out. I felt like I didn’t have any control over my own schedule even though I did!

There was one particular instance where my husband and I had taken my daughter out of town on a Sunday adventure. While we were enjoying our time together, this client began repeatedly emailing and texting me. He vaguely threatened to end our work together if I didn’t resolve an emergency that he had. I had to explain that it was Sunday, I wasn’t working and I was two hours away from my computer. The whole incident ended up putting a damper on our plans because I was so worried about him firing me that I couldn’t enjoy my day. The client and I eventually parted ways and my stress levels decreased immensely.

Set firm boundaries from the beginning

As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Once you establish what you are willing to put up with, it’s hard to backtrack. Setting firm boundaries from the beginning of your working relationship will ensure that both parties are on the same page. This also allows you to avoid the “But you answered my email at 11 pm on a Saturday last time!” comments.

You set your client’s expectations. If you set unrealistic ones, you are going to disappoint your client and drive yourself crazy.

Realize that once you break a boundary, you are inviting your client to continue breaking that boundary. Worse yet, you are telling them that your boundaries are flexible and if they push hard enough they can get you to change your stance.

Be crystal clear about your boundaries

Don’t live in the in-between. Make sure that your clients understand your boundaries. If you decide that you are not available to your clients past 5 pm, make sure you are never available to them after that time. You don’t want there to be a gray area. Gray areas cause disappointment and unmet expectations. Then you may have to deal with a client who is angry because they feel that you haven’t lived up to what you promised. Even if you never promised to be available at all times.

Stick to your boundaries

The hardest part of setting boundaries is sticking to them. Once you have clear boundaries in place, you need to make sure that you don’t waver from them…no matter what your client does. Some clients, and people in general, don’t respect boundaries. They will push beyond what you’re comfortable with, no matter what you say to them. This is where you must dig your heels in and be firm and unemotional. Don’t let someone else’s emergency or lack of planning become your problem.

No matter what you are being paid, you aren’t being paid enough to be someone’s on call assistant 24/7.

Boundaries are an important part of maintaining a small business. Without them, you lose control of your time and energy. When you start working with any new client, be sure to address their expectations and be clear with your boundaries. This will ensure you have happy clients who give positive reviews and refer you to others!

Celebrating Three Years of Motherhood

As of today, I have been a mother for three years. The time has flown by. I remember spending Mother’s Day 2014 very pregnant anticipating the birth of my daughter. Now I’ve had three years of experience and am very pregnant again!

Even though I’ve only experienced the newborn period through toddlerhood, I feel like I’ve learned a lot.

I’m sure that when my son arrives next month, I’ll learn even more about motherhood and parenting as I adjust to being a mother of two.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in three years of motherhood.

Patience is the greatest virtue of all

Raising children requires a saint-like level of patience. Kids don’t understand time, they don’t care what you have to do and they aren’t bothered by something taking absolutely forever (as long as they are in control of it taking forever). You have to have a huge reserve of patience to get through the day with children.

I didn’t think of myself as an impatient person before I had children. I could stand waiting. I had some tolerance for uncertainty and I was able to keep it together when I got annoyed or aggravated with another adult.

I find that working on myself through meditation, journaling, and making time for self-care helps me have more patience and be a better parent. I also read articles and books about children’s brain development and the different stages they go through. It helps me to understand that my child’s behavior is normal and necessary and makes some of the struggles a bit easier to deal with.

You have to go with the flow

Trying to do too much or control too much is a recipe for disaster. You have to go with the flow and be comfortable changing your plans, canceling things or admitting that you can’t do it all. There are times when I forgo doing something because I want us to stay in our pajamas all day.

In the past, I might have felt guilty about this because other people would want us to do something else, but the longer I’m a mother, the less I care. If someone doesn’t understand that things change when you have kids then they either don’t have children yet or have forgotten what it was like.

You can’t do everything right

It’s not possible to do everything “right.” There are going to be times when you mess up. Sometimes you know you did something wrong, like lose your temper, and other times it’s a matter of opinion.

I am not a perfect parent. But I try really hard and have a good sense of self-awareness. I am open to criticism and commentary on what I’m doing. I don’t want to live in a bubble where I’m being told I’m “doing my best” if that’s not the case. I also don’t want to be critiqued for my choices when I believe they are in my child’s best interest. I’ve learned to graciously take the advice of my elders and other mothers, and use the bits that I like while ignoring the rest.

You can’t please everyone

Many people had children before you did. They have advice and opinions and want to share them with you. No matter how you choose to parent, someone will always be unhappy with what you choose. As a child’s parent, it’s up to you to decide what works for your child. That may be limited screen time, no sugar, using a ton of hand sanitizer or putting your child in daycare.

You have to find what makes you comfortable. I’m putting my daughter in preschool at three years old because I feel that’s best for her development and socialization. Other mothers feel they can offer the same benefits at home. Some mothers aren’t concerned about it at all. Everyone will make different choices and you won’t be able to make everyone happy. I choose to make my immediate family (husband, daughter, and myself) happy and not worry about the rest.

Be happy with your choices

When coming to a new stage, there are hundreds of resources you could use. There are people who think sleep training is evil while many moms let their child cry it out. There are others who sleep in a family bed until their children are teens. You find a method that works for you and go with it.

There’s always going to be another method that directly contradicts the method that you chose. This is pretty much true for everything – not just things in the parenting world. What matters is choosing something that feels right for your family. Although I am interested in writing about different methods and ways of doing things, I’m not that interested in talking about it in real life because I don’t want to sound judgmental or be judged. Whatever worked for you was the best choice for you and whatever worked for me was the best choice for me.

In the end, most kids seem to be roughly on the same developmental level by the time they are in school anyway.

Take time to enjoy your children

Raising children can be exhausting. It can feel like you’re not doing enough or that you’re doing too much. Make sure you take time to enjoy your children. Listen to them when they talk, engage in the things that interest them, and soak up the snuggles and cuddles.

I’ve made it a point to put down my computer, phone, book, laundry or whatever else I’m doing whenever my daughter wants my affection or attention. I know she won’t always want a snug or a smooch. These times are precious and I try my best to enjoy them as much as possible. I sing with her, dance with her, and try to make her day as special as I can. I encourage my husband to spend time alone with her when he gets home from work so that they can build their relationship. Everyone has told me that time flies and I know this is true, so I enjoy it as much as possible.

Parent with your “big idea” in mind

Life is a series of small moments. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and realize that you aren’t making progress towards your goals or that you aren’t living your ideal life. The most important thing that I’ve done as a mother so far is parent with my “big idea” in mind.

My big idea is that I want my children to think the world is a wonderful place. I want them to feel safe, happy, and cared for. I want them to believe that they can achieve their goals and that their parents will always be their biggest fans. I want them to think that there’s some magic out there and people are kind. I try to speak with my daughter with this in mind. I don’t want to project my fears onto her or raise her to be anxious about her future.

As long as I keep that in the front of my mind every day, I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I have a long way to go, but I know this is the most important journey of my life. And it is my greatest honor to be the mother to my child (soon to be children!).

Five Cons of Working From Home

Although there are many pros to working at home, there are some parts that aren’t all sunshine and roses. Working from home may be many people’s dream, but it is definitely not for everyone.

As I approach three years of working from home, the pros still outweigh the cons. But don’t get me wrong, there are cons.

Here are some of my least favorite things about working from home.

1) Isolation

Working from home can be very isolating. Assuming you are the only person working from your home, you will be alone all day. Email will often be your only form of communication. If you live alone, you could go an entire day without saying a word out loud. Being isolated can be depressing and discouraging.

You may have coworkers, but they will also be remote and not likely to live near you. It’s harder to form friendships with people that you’ve only emailed or had phone calls with. In addition, online relationships don’t give people the same satisfaction as in-person ones. You may feel lonelier after talking with someone online than you did before.

2) Distraction

“Oh, I just remembered that I haven’t watched the latest episode of How to Get Away With Murder, let me stop working and turn that on.”

Working from home can be very distracting. All of your fun gadgets, TV shows, video games, or other forms of entertainment are at your fingertips. Even if an office job is boring, you probably don’t have the ability to watch TV from your desk without consequence.

Even if fun things don’t tempt you, you may want to do your dishes, run the vacuum, or take a nap instead of working. It can be stressful to have a messy house when it’s also your office space. You may get distracted and start doing errands during prime work time.

You have to have strong willpower to avoid becoming distracted while working from home. For some people, this isn’t possible.

3) Poor work / life balance

When your home and your office are essentially the same place, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and life. You may sneak in 20 minutes of work before making dinner and then check email in bed before going to sleep. Sometimes I find I’ve worked on and off the entire day without doing much else.

If you don’t separate your personal life from your work life, you will eventually burn out. Sometimes, the burn out is spectacular. Tim Ferriss’ assistant had a mental breakdown and abruptly quit his job due to burn out. Other people experience a low-grade resistance to doing work, become careless or sloppy, and feel a general disinterest in life.

4) Weight gain / sedentary lifestyle

You may think that when you work from home, you’ll quickly do a workout or go to the gym in the middle of the day to break up the monotony. There are people who do this regularly!

I almost never put on a workout DVD while I was home and Norah was asleep. However, in my experience (working from home while taking care of a newborn – toddler), I often did not have the energy or the time to do anything except work. I didn’t have the time to head to the gym or go for a walk most days.

I’ve since lessened my workload so that I’m able to include things I want to do in my day, but I still can’t say that involves regular exercise.

In addition, I have full access to my pantry and fridge at all times. This has led me to drinking too many cups of coffee with sugar and creamer. I eat way too much snack food while I work.

When I worked in an office, I brought my lunch and snack and when I ran out of food, I was hungry until I went home for dinner. My office had some vending machines and a cafeteria that served breakfast and lunch, but often I wouldn’t bring money with me and those expenses weren’t in my budget. My lifestyle allowed me to maintain my weight, give or take 10 pounds, for six years. After I started working from home, and had my daughter, I quickly put on 35 pounds.

Even if you don’t gain weight, you will probably have a much more sedentary lifestyle working from home than you did in an office. In my previous life, I showered, got dressed, did my hair and makeup, packed a lunch, grabbed my books, walked to my car, drove to the office, walked into the building and moved around a decent amount throughout the day. We had a morning standing meeting that was typically 20 minutes long. We had meetings in other rooms throughout the building. I went on walks with my coworker on our breaks. I filled up a water bottle 2-3 times per day from a fountain around the corner. I did a decent amount of moving even though I had an office job.

At home, I move a lot less. I get my daughterr things when she asks for them, but the kitchen is a 10 foot walk from the living room. I am usually on a kitchen chair, at the dining room table, or downstairs in my office when I work. Almost all of work is done sitting down in a chair because I am constantly typing. I try to incorporate more movement into my day, but it is difficult.

Becoming very sedentary is a definite con of working from home. Remember sitting is a deadly disease!

5) People don’t think you’re working

Working from home is taken a lot less seriously than working in an office. I’ve had to set boundaries with people and explain that just because I work from home doesn’t mean I am able to run errands throughout the day, do frequent favors for others, or have visitors drop in unannounced. Although I enjoy some of these perks, they aren’t something that I can do regularly and maintain my workload.

Doing things in the day often guarantees that I’ll be working until 11 pm. Sometimes I have to make the choice to enjoy my day knowing that my night will involve working until midnight.

Working from home takes a lot of discipline and self-motivation. It can be lonely, boring, and difficult. It does have many perks, but the disadvantages are weighty too. The internet is full of articles about how great it is to work from home and although that is mostly true, you should be aware of the negative side of working from home before making the leap.

April Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

April was another slow month for me. I consciously scaled back on work and turned down an opportunity for a new client. As my due date approaches, I’m focusing on finishing up tasks with my current clients and writing blog posts for my maternity leave.

Here’s what happened in April.

Positives

  • Gained one new client

I was contacted by a few referrals at the end of March and one turned into a client! Hopefully, this will be a long-term relationship that will continue after my maternity leave. I’ll be doing general virtual assistant work for this client.

  • Worked on a few bigger projects

I had a couple of bigger projects due this month for my long-time clients. These projects happen once each year and take approximately 10 hours to complete. I was able to boost my income a bit from these projects.

  • Received a tax refund

We overpaid our taxes this year, partially due to overestimating our quarterly taxes, so we got a nice refund. We normally don’t get refunds so that was a pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to the maternity fund.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I will continue to bring in less income until September when Norah starts preschool. I don’t have the time or energy to hustle for more business right now.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I’m going to focus on achieving this in the last quarter of 2017.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by late summer.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’m thinking that sponsoring something in the summer or fall would be the best bet. It may take that long to get my business back on track. I was in a much better position when I made this goal in December 2016 than I am now.

Income Snapshot

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Freelancing while pregnant can be tricky. You may not feel your best, but you need to keep up a high standard of work. If you’re a solopreneuer then there’s no one else to take on responsibilities when you feel terrible. Your workload will rest on your tired shoulders. So, how do you get through the early days of pregnancy without destroying your business reputation?

During my first pregnancy, I worked in a traditional office. I was able to prop up my swollen feet on a stool, take breaks every few hours, and walk around when I was uncomfortable. My coworkers were mostly women and several were mothers themselves. They were supportive of whatever I needed to do to get through the workday.

This pregnancy was a different experience. I’m the sole owner/employee of a small business and I work from home. As I often say, I’m a full-time mother first and a freelancer second.

Another big difference between my first pregnancy and this one was that I already had a child to take care of. This made for some exhausting days. Lifting my 25-pound daughter on and off the toilet, getting her in and out of her car seat, and helping up and down the stairs made my pelvis ache constantly.

That said, I had a lot more freedom to take care of myself during this pregnancy.

Here are some things you can do to make freelancing during pregnancy easier:

Take breaks when necessary

Growing a human takes a lot out of you! The first trimester is especially rough because your energy is drained and you may experience morning sickness.

While freelancing, you have the ability to take breaks when necessary.

You can limit calls in the afternoon and take an hour long nap. During the first trimester, I often took naps while Norah did. As my energy increased, I was able to work per usual during her naps. Sometimes I chose to sit in the bath or read a book to take a mental break from working.

I also left my mornings open to relaxation with minimal work. Instead, I focused on getting things done around the house.

Change your routine

The freelancing routine that worked before you got pregnant may not be so great once you’re feeling sick and tired. You may want to wake up later and do more work in the evening or flip your schedule if you’re exhausted at night. You may also want to alter the times during the day that you typically do things.

During my first pregnancy, one of my biggest nausea triggers was taking a shower and drying my hair. I would get overheated while getting ready every morning.

Freelancing from home allows me to take a shower whenever I want during the day and dry my hair hours later or let it air dry. This helped me avoid overheating and helped with my morning sickness.

I also did more of my work in the evenings when I found that I had more energy and felt less ill.

Ask for help

If you have a trusted person you can delegate work to, now would be the time to do so. If you subcontract employees, you could let them know that you’ll be increasing their workloads for a few months. If you are the only person running your business, you could ask your friends or spouse for some help in other areas of your life. Don’t be too proud to reach out.

While I was able to continue completing all of my work on my own, I asked my husband to take on more household duties. I simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with my daily chores and work while in early pregnancy. My husband was a huge help and did things that are normally my responsibility, like laundry, until I felt better. Once I got into the second trimester, I was able to balance work and household duties and didn’t need as much help. However, my husband has always split the household work with me so this wasn’t a big adjustment.

Take on less work when you feel sick

Even if you’re a highly productive person, you may have trouble keeping up with a packed schedule while pregnant. You may need to stop taking on new clients or projects for a while.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I took on less work and didn’t actively pitch to new clients. I didn’t want to start work with someone when I was feeling terrible. On top of having first-trimester sickness, I also came down with a bad case of bronchitis that lasted nearly six weeks. I was in no shape to take on extra work. Once I felt better, I ramped up my workload.

Take on more work when you feel better

Eventually, the clouds will part and the sun will shine on your pregnant belly again. You will start to feel better, usually by the second trimester. Even though you probably won’t feel 100%, you will be able to get back to business.

I increased my workload tremendously in the second trimester because I felt much better. I also had plans for my maternity leave and needed to make extra income before my due date. I was able to keep up my workload from 13 weeks on.

Freelancing while pregnant is tough especially when you are the person solely responsible for your business. Don’t be afraid to scale back, ask for help, and change your routine until you’re feeling better. Eventually, you will get back to normal. Your goal should be to make the transition as painless as possible for your clients and yourself.

Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Staying organized is one of the most important keys to success for freelancers. You need a task management system that ensures that nothing falls between the cracks. The best system will be the one that works for you.

I’ve known people who write everything on post-it notes and others who prefer to digitally record all of their tasks.

I do a mix of both. I keep all tasks online, using the free app Wunderlist, and I also write up a to-do list on paper each morning.

Tracking tasks with Wunderlist

I use Wunderlist to keep track of all client and personal tasks.

When I receive a task in my email, I read it over and then copy/paste into Wunderlist. I save these tasks individually in the client’s list.

If a due date is provided, I add it. My standard turnaround time is 48 hours unless a different deadline was agreed upon.

I set a reminder on each task for the day before it’s due.

When the deadline approaches, Wunderlist will display a pop-up reminder and send an email about the task.

How I organize Wunderlist

To set up Wunderlist, I created two main folders – Clients and Inactive Clients.

In those folders, I create a new list for each client labeled with the client’s name.

In those lists, I add all of the daily tasks for the client.

I also keep my personal to-dos in Wunderlist under categories such as “Housework, Admin, and Things to Buy.” I also record tasks for this blog and The Sturm Agency in Wunderlist.

Other features of Wunderlist

The free version of Wunderlist has numerous other features including:

  • Subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can add these components to each task.
  • Setting recurring tasks. I have numerous recurring tasks, usually involving invoicing or doing some specific task each week or month.
  • Starring. This allows you to prioritize or distinguish a specific task.
  • Sharing. You can share lists with another person.
  • Emailing and printing list

Paid plans include even more features like:

  • Unlimited subtasks
  • Unlimited files
  • Unlimited assigning/delegating tasks
  • More backgrounds

The pro plan makes collaborating with teammates on Wunderlist streamlined and simple.

Using a paper to-do list

I prefer to be a little old school in my daily approach. Each morning I look at Wunderlist to determine which tasks are due that day then I write up a to-do list on paper. I previously used a small notebook from Amazon ($10), but am now using Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year to-do list that came with her 2017 planners.

I write down my to-do list items in order of importance. Typically the first 1-3 tasks must be done that day while the others have some leeway.

I enjoy both crossing something off a tangible list as well as clicking on a checkbox online. My system works for me because it allows me to keep everything in place while focusing on what I need to do today.

Finding a system that works for you will ensure that you never miss a deadline again. 

**This post contains affiliate links**

 

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Calming Breathing Techniques for Toddlers

One of the tools in my parenting bag is deep breathing. Breathing techniques are a great way to divert your toddler’s attention and help them calm down.

I’ve used deep breathing for many years to calm myself. I find that I don’t breathe enough when I’m stressed, nervous, angry, or sad. When I’m feeling those emotions, I notice my breath becomes shallow and quick or that I hold my breath.

Since breathing deeply works well for me, I wanted to share this tool with my daughter.

Why should you breathe deeply when you’re upset

Deep breathing has many benefits including:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Lowering and stabilizing blood pressure
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Relaxing muscles
  • Decreasing stress
  • Boosting your immune system

Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system and can reverse the stress response in your body. Breathing techniques can slow down your heart rate and help calm your body and mind.

Breathing techniques to try with your toddler

There several different methods for deep breathing that you can try.

  • Square or box breathing

Square breathing is the technique of inhaling on a four count, holding it for four counts, then exhaling on a four count, and waiting for four counts before inhaling again.

  • Belly breathing

Belly breathing is a technique where you lie on the floor with your knees up and place your hands on your stomach. You inhale and exhale through your nose and bring the breath into your belly instead of your chest. You can also do this exercise while standing. Sesame Street has a great song about belly breathing featuring Elmo.

  • Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing involves blocking one nostril while inhaling and exhaling and holding both nostrils for a moment at the top of an inhale. This a more advanced technique for older children and adults.

How to teach your child deep breathing techniques

This is a skill that you’ll want to practice when your child is in a good or neutral mood. You don’t want to try to tell them to “take a breath” when they are already in distress or crying.

When your child is relaxed and attentive, tell them that you want to teach them something that will help them when they are upset, angry or crying. I call it a “calm down” activity.

Tell them to follow your lead by breathing in then blowing out the breath. Once you’ve done it a few times and they have the concept down then you can try counting the breaths in and out and aiming for a 1-2-3-4 in and 1-2-3-4 out breath.

I started doing this with Norah when she was in her more agreeable 15-18 month old phase. It was already firmly engrained in her mind once she hit the tantrum stage.

Using deep breathing during difficult times

Once your child has the concept down, you can try it when they’re having a difficult time. Next time they are crying, screaming, etc. say “Let’s take some breaths”. They may resist. You should start doing the breathing exercises anyway. They may join you, they may not.

If you continue to do these exercises in front of them when they are upset, they may eventually try them. Once they do, make sure to praise them. Ask them if they feel better afterwards and tell them that deep breaths always help you feel better.

Breathing techniques in other situations

I also use this method when my daughter is overly excited or scared. I have her sit in my lap and we do some deep breaths until she is calm.

I also found it helpful to do deep breaths when my daughter was potty training. Breathing would take her focus off trying to go to the bathroom. She’d usually end up peeing or pooping while she was breathing without really noticing it.

Breathing techniques can be very beneficial for both parent and child. If you child is having a difficult time and you are getting frustrated, try doing some breathing exercises before dealing with their issue. Breathing will help center you and keep you calm. Your positive example will help your child learn this self-soothing technique that they can use for the rest of their lives.
Calming breathing techniques for toddlers

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer

Freelancing allows you to pave your own way and make a name for yourself. But how do you stand out from the pack? One of the biggest ways to do this is by having a strong personal brand.

Creating a personal brand can be tricky. You want to stay true to yourself while remaining professional. If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it in front of mixed company then don’t make it part of your brand.

Three ways to show your personal brand

1) Have a distinctive look to your website with matching social media platforms

One of the best ways to create is a strong personal brand is to have a cohesive look across your online footprint. This includes your website, social media platforms, headshots, signatures, etc. Having a logo and color scheme is a great first step. From there, you want to make sure that everything coordinates so when someone finds your social media profiles they immediately know it’s you.

2) Share things about yourself in your biography or About Me page

Another great way to display your personal brand is to include interesting or personal things about yourself in your biography or About Me page. Use that section as a way to tell the story of how you got to where you are. Talk about where you came from, why you decided to go on this path, and what doing this work means to you.

Many people like including a non-sequitur, like how much they love tacos, in their biography. I think this is OK, but I’d make sure it flows with the rest of your biography. A bunch of random facts about yourself can end up looking like a survey or Facebook post.

Ultimately an About Me page is a way to sell yourself to your client. You want to list your talents and experience while showing your personality, but you don’t want your personality to be the only thing that someone walks away with after reading the page.

3) Express a passion for a cause/event/charity

Your online platform may be the perfect place for you to share something you’re passionate about. Most businesses, especially large corporations, have a charitable giving element.

If there’s a cause or event that you feel strongly about, include that on your website or in your work. Perhaps you could donate a certain amount of your profits to your cause or suggest that others contribute some amount when they work with you. Being an active member in your community is also something that you may want to highlight.

Three ways that personal branding can go wrong

Personal branding will be different for everyone. However, I would not recommend these three methods as ways to stand out.

1) Excessive or unnecessary swearing

This seems to be the most popular go-to for adding edginess or “uniqueness” to a brand. Unfortunately, swearing is not uncommon and most Americans won’t bat an eye at the occasional swear word. When swear words are thrown in for flair or drama, it just looks cheap.

Swearing is a shock and awe tactic that works wonders for Tony Robbins, but doesn’t always come off as well for everyone else. I don’t think excessive swearing has a place in copywriting. If you’re leaning on it as a way to differentiate yourself, it may be time to rethink your strategy because there are literally hundreds of people and brands doing the same thing.

2) Overuse of slang and emojis

Almost everyone uses the occasional bit of slang in their branding. Some slang, like the word ‘cool’, has become so culturally ingrained that you may not even realize you’re using it. Even though I regularly hear new slang, I rarely use it in my personal brand.

One of the main deterrents from using new, popular slang is that it dates your work. If you’re using 2014’s hottest phrase throughout your copy, your page is frozen in time. Unless you’re going to update all of your “on fleeks” to the current year’s version, you’re going to look irrelevant.

Emojis are fun to use, but can be easily abused. Using emojis gives a brand a playful image and adds an element of humanity to the message. However, using too many emojis or using them too frequently can look unoriginal and juvenile. If you can’t fully express yourself without an emoji then you might want to work on tightening up your writing skills.

3) Writing in one sentence paragraphs

It has become very popular to write blogs entirely in one sentence paragraphs. A typical blog will look like this:

This product is what you need.

Everything about this product is exactly. What. You. Need.

While breaking things up into paragraphs does make your copy easier on the eyes and keeps the reader more engaged, having an entire page of 1-2 sentence paragraphs is becoming cliche. This can’t be considered anyone’s particular style because, just like random swearing, it has been adopted by too many people.

It may take time to find and develop your personal brand style. You may have a few versions of it as you go along. Don’t be afraid to take some risks and put more of yourself into your business. Everyone wants to feel that there’s a real person on the other end of a transaction. And if you don’t like your brand, you can always change it!

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer