What We’re Into: Summer 2016

Summer 2016

The summer of 2016 was a mixed bag. In the spring I suffered a miscarriage and assumed I’d be pregnant again by summer’s end, but I’m not. My childhood friend, and maid of honor in my wedding, was killed in a boating accident in June. I struggled with my grief compounded by the fact that I hadn’t spoken with her in years. Her death opened my eyes to our time not being guaranteed. Since then, I’ve tried to be more present in my life, make amends with people from my past, and be more appreciative of what I have.

While there were some supremely negative events this summer, we also had a lot of joy. Norah turned two! We spent the summer taking her to swim lessons and play dates. This was our first summer in our new house and we thoroughly enjoyed our big backyard. We had lots of ice cream (Norah had her first cone!) and s’mores. We took a day trip to Madison, Wisconsin that included a visit to Henry Villas Zoo. We attended a few picnics, farmer’s markets, fairs and outdoor events in Rockford including a kid’s concert.

Family at Henry Villas Zoo
Our family at Henry Villas Zoo in Madison, WI. Taken with a selfie stick!

The summer is typically a slower time for business and I enjoy that, but I look forward to things ramping back up and working with new clients! If you know anyone who needs copywriting, content, or social media work done – let me know.

Here are some things we loved this summer:

Erin (32 years old)

Stranger Things

This show hit all the right notes for me. I love horror and coming of age stories and I have the biggest soft spot for nostalgia. Stranger Things perfectly encapsulated the 80s, had a great storyline, and was sweet and scary at the same time. I absolutely loved this series and cannot wait for season two. You can catch this series on Netflix.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

This was my favorite book of the summer. I love Joe Hill almost as much as I love his father, Stephen King. This was an epic pandemic story about a virus that causes people to burst into flames. If you want to see what else I read this summer, follow me on Goodreads.

Meditation

After all of the negative things that happened this summer, I wanted to refocus and get some inner peace. I read several self-help books including Mastering Your Mean Girl and The Charge that helped me get my head in the right place. Every self-help book I’ve ever read talks about the importance of a meditation routine. I finally started using Stop, Breathe, & Think app for near-daily meditation. I have noticed a calmer mind and less anxiety. It also helped with my grieving process.

Daily Journaling

I’ve taken to writing in a journal daily about how I’m feeling and what I’m grateful for. It’s been helping me process my feelings and start the day with a clear mind.

Norah (2 years old)

Bombpops

Easily one of Norah’s most requested items. After almost every dinner she asks for a bomb pop. The traditional red, white, and blue popsicles were a staple in my house growing up, but with four kids the box didn’t last for more than a few days. We don’t let her have one everyday, but she gets them for dessert fairly often. The struggle is convincing her to wait until after dinner instead of giving her one when she first requests it which is usually five minutes after waking up in the morning.

Playing outside

Norah loves to push her ride-on car up and down the driveway and run down the large hill we have in our backyard. She received two bikes for her birthday and has been practicing using the pedals. She doesn’t quite have it, but probably will by next year.

Gardening

This summer we did some bucket gardening and Norah loved it. Every day she helped water the plants and pick the ripe vegetables. In the process, she ate about 100 cherry tomatoes. We had good luck with romaine lettuce, green peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Our strawberries produced about 10 berries and then stopped growing and our cucumbers never became ripe and rotted on the vine. We’ll try bucket gardening again next year and think about dedicating a plot in the yard in the future.

Bucket garden
Norah in front of her bucket garden

Fall is my favorite time of year and I can’t wait for all of the good things coming our way including trips to Edward’s Apple Orchard, having our first bonfire in our firepit, and taking our daughter Trick or Treating for the second time. Until next season!

Which Bird Are You: Lark, Owl, or Hummingbird?

Your brain works at an optimum level at some point during the day, categorizing you as either a lark, owl, or hummingbird. The main difference between the bird types are when they feel energized to work. Larks are raring to go from the moment their eyes open in the morning. Owls feel their creative juice flowing when the sun goes down. Hummingbirds are ready for action at any time of the day. Figuring out which type of bird you are will improve your productivity. At different times in my life, I’ve been each type.

Owl in College

In college, I was a night owl. I had classes throughout the day and worked two jobs. The only time I had left for homework was either very early in the morning or after my shift ended at 10 pm. I never liked getting up early, so I did my work at night and went to sleep around 3 or 4 am. This schedule was hard on me physically and mentally. I got sick more frequently than usual and didn’t feel like anything was my “best work”. I often thought I would have enjoyed the material more if I’d had more time. After college, I learned I didn’t need more time, but that I needed to work at a different time.

Lark in the Office

In my corporate position, I started work at 8:30 am each day. I felt most productive from around 9 am – 12 pm. I developed the routine of doing my most creative work, a newsletter and website content, first thing in the morning. I quickly figured out that after lunch, I was more easily distracted. The room was louder, people were chattier, and I found it harder to concentrate. As my attention span waned, I’d work on things that required less brain power like copying & pasting information and answering emails.

Hummingbird at Home

Working from home, I’ve had to adopt a more flexible schedule which has transformed me into a hummingbird. I’m able to work whenever I have the time and usually feel just as creative and motivated at 6 am as I do at 1 pm.

On weekdays, I work before my daughter wakes up. I get up around 5:45 each day and work until Norah wakes sometime around 8. Since I typically have more than two hours of things to do each day, I use her afternoon nap as another working session. Norah consistently naps from 12 – 1:30 each day. Sometimes, she sleeps in, or takes a supersized nap, and I get a ton done; other times she’s up at 6 am and I have to adjust my schedule and my expectations for the day. I also work in the evenings while my husband does the nighttime routine and on weekends. For the most part, I feel sharp and inspired throughout the day with my only major energy dip occurring around 2 – 3 pm. A soda usually fixes the problem!

I prefer to do my creative writing, like this blog, in the early mornings. My ideas flow more freely and my concentration level is at its peak. I play ambient music like Soundrown or Brain.fm while I write. I leave administrative work for the afternoon and return to creative work at night. I use the time when I’m mentally depleted to get things done around the house, return calls and texts, and schedule social media posts.

If you told me in college that I’d be intentionally waking up before 6 am to work, I would have laughed hysterically at you. Had you told me even two years ago, I would have scoffed. However, necessity is the mother of invention. When you have to do something, you find yourself more willing to do it, and even growing to like it, as time goes on.

If you need to transition from one type of bird to another, how should you go about rewiring your brain? Here are some tips that have helped me make the transition.

Make a Tiny Change

One of the best ways to change your routine is to incorporate small changes in your daily life. BJ Fogg offers free week-long email programs on adding tiny habits to your life. I used his system to start each day with a positive affirmation and to make flossing a habit. BJ suggests that you create new habits that connect to existing habits. This can help you slowly put together a routine that moves you from one type of bird to another.

Create a Morning or Evening Routine

It can be helpful to add a five minute morning routine to the beginning of your days. A morning routine can be as simple as brushing your teeth, making coffee, and spending five minutes listing your goals for the day or it can be a 15 step process; it’s up to you. My morning routine varies, but I like to start with a short meditation session, have my first of two coffees, read blogs and the Medium digest, then work on personal writings for at least 20 minutes.

An evening routine for winding down and getting ready for bed is also a good idea no matter what type of bird you are. Many studies have shown that blue light is terrible for sleep. My husband and I both use f.lux on our devices. We also try to spend 10-20 minutes reading (paper books) in bed before turning out the lights. This helps me decompress and make steady progress towards my reading goals for the year.

Go With Your Strengths

Ultimately, you should go with your strengths. It’s always easier to do what feels natural and make small, gradual changes. Organize your day so that your most creative work is done at the time when you are at peak performance. Time blocking your schedule on Google calendar is a good way of managing your day. Save your administrative tasks, busy work, and email responses for points in the day when you feel less sharp.

Whether you are in a traditional career path or are a freelancer, discovering your bird type and doing your most important work when you are in the zone will make a huge difference to your success. Figuring out when you should work will improve the quality of your work and increase the enjoyment you get from it.

The Five Best Places I’ve Found Freelancing Jobs

Finding freelancing jobs can be tough. You have to watch out for spammy Craigslist postings and sites that want you to pay to see available work. You may think you need to spend money before you can make money. You don’t need to do that! There are many reputable sites where you can find freelancing jobs at no cost to you.

Throughout my freelancing career, I’ve had great luck finding jobs from these five resources:

1) Upwork (formerly oDesk and Elance)

Upwork touts themselves as “the premier platform for top companies to hire and work with the world’s most talented independent professionals.” They have over 10M registered coders, writers, marketers, designers, developers and other freelancers using their platform. The best thing about Upwork is that it’s extremely easy to use; fill out your profile and you can start pitching for jobs immediately. The downside is that there is a lot of competition. Most jobs have 20+ applicants and some will underbid to get the job. Pitching for a job requires Connects, usually 1-5 per job. With a free account, you will get 60 connects per month, but if that’s not enough, you can upgrade to 70 for $10 per month.

Upwork is where I connected with my first paying freelancing job. It was a blog writing gig that eventually included social media management duties for a Twitter account. I made about $200 from this platform. I occasionally check for jobs, but as I’ve gained experience and raised my rates, I’ve found that the average price per job is too low. However, this is a great place for a new freelancer to start building their portfolio. Keep in mind, you may need to sacrifice pay for experience at first.

Cost: Free to use, but Upwork takes a 10% fee

2) CloudPeeps

CloudPeeps is made up of “world’s top marketing, content, social media and community pros.” CloudPeeps is more exclusive with only ~1000 freelancers working in the platform. This means the jobs are easier to secure, but the competition is stiff. There are many well-known internet marketers, community managers, and PR pros working on the platform. CloudPeeps is more than a job posting site, it’s also a community of creative professionals who assist and support each other.

CloudPeeps was my launchpad into freelancing. I joined the community in October 2014 and soon had three clients under my belt. In 2015, I was named one of the top 10 most successful Peeps of the year. I have made around $20,000 from jobs on the platform in the past 18 months.

Cost: Free to use, but CloudPeeps takes a 15% fee for a CP-hosted job, and a 5% fee to manage your own clients using the platform

3) Indeed

Indeed is the Google for job postings. I’ve set up two searches that are automatically sent to my email each day. One search is for “remote, freelance, writing, blogging, marketing, and social media” and the other is for any job in my local area.

I have a local search in place because it gives me an idea of companies that are growing and looking to hire in my area. These companies may need the marketing services that I offer. If I come across these postings, I occasionally send out a cold email introducing myself as a local marketing professional and detailing my services.

I’ve secured one local client from Indeed searches and applied for several remote part-time positions. I’ve made around $5,000 from jobs found on Indeed.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

4) LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most popular business networking site and the best place to have your online resume. Keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date can be a great way to get jobs. I’ve been approached several times by local businesses asking if I’d like to collaborate. I credit that to the fact that my profile is complete and up-to-date. Make sure you note that you’re a freelancer and what your skills are. As you build your portfolio, be sure to add links to your best work in the experience section.

I’ve made about $400 on jobs that originated from connections on LinkedIn.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

5) Social Media (Twitter and Facebook)

Having a regularly updated social media presence is so important for any business. People will search social media, especially if you are touting yourself as a marketer, to see if you ‘walk the talk’. My personal social sharing formula is 75% other people’s content, 25% my own. You don’t want your social feeds to be too self-promotional; that can be off-putting. Share things that resonate with you – did you love the message of someone’s article, do think other people should read it? Position yourself as a lifelong learner by commenting on current issues and news stories in your area of expertise. Remember to tag writers and publications when you share their content. It can be helpful to use hashtags to draw attention to your post, but more than two per post is excessive.

I haven’t made any money through social media yet, but I have been offered opportunities (guest blog posts and connections to people in my field), that may lead to jobs in the future.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Special Mention

Problogger

Problogger is a board for blog writing jobs. I’ve pitched, but never been hired through this platform. I frequently check the site and there are always high-paying jobs listed. This is a place that you should check out if you’re looking to build your writing portfolio.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Other resources for finding freelancing jobs

There are many more resources to find freelancing jobs that I have not tried yet. I’ve compiled some helpful articles with more extensive lists below:

15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs via Entrepreneur
25 Top Sites for Finding the Freelancing Job You Want via Skillcrush
71 Great Website to Find Freelance Jobs via Freshbooks

How I Became a Freelancing Mama

After my daughter was born in June 2014, I took a flying leap into the unknown – not only the unknown of being responsible for raising a good person who would someday positively contribute to society, but also the unknown of finding a new job that allowed me to be home with my daughter.

For the first 15 years of my career, I worked for someone else.

My first job was working in a fast-food restaurant for a man who told me I laughed too much. While attending college, I worked as an assistant manager of a clothing store and an entertainment writer at the college newspaper. At that time, I was the trendiest I have ever been or ever will be again. After I graduated with a degree in English, I landed my first job with real benefits! I worked in a biotechnology company’s corporate library. I had always loved the library, but this wasn’t a safe haven of delicious-smelling old books, it was a cubicle farm where I compiled market research reports and purchased digital copies of scientific papers.

Over the next six years, I climbed my way from the lowest position in the department to one of the highest while completing an evening MBA program. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of my biological clock ticking so my husband and I decided it was time to start our family.

Newborn, mother, baby

After my daughter was born in June 2014, I took a flying leap into the unknown –  the unknown of being responsible for raising a good person who would someday positively contribute to society and the unknown of finding a new job that allowed me to be home with my daughter.

I could not imagine leaving my daughter with anyone. I surprised myself and my husband by not wanting to go back to my previous position. I was very ambitious and had enjoyed my job, but maternity leave had given me hours to assess my career trajectory. The prognosis was grim: my department had a flat management structure; I wasn’t using my true skills (writing, strategizing, and marketing) nearly enough; and, worst of all, I wasn’t happy. Looking at the tiny person in my arms, I realized that I didn’t need to make a change for me, I needed to make it for her. I needed to show her that you could enjoy your work and have a passion for what you do.

I wanted to give her the best possible version of myself. I discovered that version works from home.

After some scrambling, I found a job as a virtual assistant. The job was a blessing because it allowed me to see that I could manage my time while working from home, maintain a productive routine, and fulfill work priorities and personal goals. The job also satiated my love of learning because I worked with clients from all different backgrounds in a variety of industries. However, I didn’t want my earning potential or scope of work to be decided by someone else. So, I slowly built up enough clients to transition to full-time freelancing in March 2015. Then in June 2015, I set up The Sturm Agency and became an official business owner.

Since then, I’ve worked hard. I’ve gained and lost clients. I’ve learned some helpful time management tips. I’ve found tools that increase my productivity and rituals that help me get it all done.

Sometimes I feel like Superwoman, sometimes I feel like a hot mess, but I am always grateful. I get to do what I love while seeing my daughter grow up. I feel that I am truly getting the best of both worlds – motherhood and a career.

Ultimately my goal is to help other women who want to stay home with their children make a living wage working as freelancers. I want to share my knowledge and experiences in hopes that something I write can inspire or assist someone. I’ve been successfully working remotely since 2014 and full-time freelancing since 2015. I plan to do this as long as the universe allows me.

Thank you for visiting! I hope you leave here with a bit of knowledge you didn’t have before you found me.

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