February 2017 Business Report

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

Starting this month, I’ve decided to share my monthly business reports. In these reports, I’ll discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I’ve made towards my 2017 goals. I’ll also give a snapshot my earnings.

Although I’m starting the recaps this month, I have to admit, it’s been one of the worst months I’ve had since I started my business in 2015.

Here’s what happened.

Positives

I should have done this so much sooner! Within a week of adding an easy-to-use contact form to my Squarespace website, I received two client requests. Ultimately, one did not work out, but the other did.

I got a brand new client without the effort of pitching or self-promotion. I have always had my email address in a visible location on my page, but adding the Work With Me contact form made a huge difference. If you don’t have one, get one!

  • Raised client rates

I had two long-term clients (1.5 years and 2 years) who had not had a rate increase since I started working with them. My work load had changed and my experience had grown so I knew I needed to raise my rates. I wrote about this topic as I was doing it so saying “feel the fear and raise your rates anyway” was as much for readers as it was for myself.

  • Started regularly cold emailing

As you’ll read in my negatives section, I unexpectedly lost two clients this month. Although, this was a negative, it led to a positive. I began cold emailing local businesses and organizations on a daily basis. I set a goal of sending out five emails/messages per business day. I began this practice near the end of February and have not had sales yet.

  • Set daily social media goals

I know how important an active social media presence is for small businesses, but I’m often so busy doing client work that I don’t practice what I preach and put time into my own business. In February, I set the goal of following 10 people on Twitter and pinning 10-20 things each day. I’ll continue to up my social media game once The Sturm Agency site is live in March.

I decided to shift some of my attention to making this blog more successful. I enrolled in Elite Blog Academy and have started working on the lessons. I’m really excited to see where this takes me!

Negatives

  • Loss of two long-time clients

A client that I’d be working with since Zirtual days (August 2014) who was also my highest paying client, made a business change and no longer needed my services. The announcement was a bit of a shock, but I had noticed a slowing down in usage over the past few months. There was a sudden problem with paying my invoices on time. This client ultimately refused to pay me for my last month of service.

Although this is not the only client I’ve lost, this experience was a learning lesson for me on several fronts. I was given no notice that work was ending, but was simply told “don’t work from today on”. That day happened to be my birthday.

I also lost a client who decided to use another company. This client loss surprised me because we’d also been working together for two years. Unfortunately, I’d made a small error about a month ago that the client was very upset about. I have to believe it contributed to my dismissal. This client gave me a week’s notice, but then canceled payment three days later.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Always have a contract in place. I had never put together a formal contract with these clients and I wished I had. It may not have gotten me anything more than 30 days notice or an extra payment, but that would have made a difference.

2) Don’t have too much tied up in one client. I preach diversification and am working towards that model, but one particular client still held too much of my monthly income (around 45%). Their leaving caused me to scramble for new clients.

3) Don’t assume that small business owners or entrepreneurs will give you the same courtesy that they’d want. I was very surprised to find that both clients ended the relationship with very little notice and showed a lack of caring, respect and integrity during our final interactions. These clients are entrepreneurs who have fluctuating incomes based on booking gigs or securing projects. This experience made me vow to have a more compassionate approach should I ever hire someone and need to stop services.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

The goal took a hit with the loss of two clients. I think I can recover from this, but it will be a bit of a struggle. I’ve had to look for more opportunities and ask for more subcontracting work in the meantime.

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. I hope to have at least one new local client in March.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

I think we’re going to use Squarespace for The Sturm Agency, but I’m not sure yet. I really love the simplicity of it and because I don’t intend on monetizing the site. I intend on keeping it as a “business information only” site while maintaining Freelancing Mama as my blog and future monetization opportunity. I plan to get something live by the end of March.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

Nothing jumped out as the right opportunity in February, but I will continue to keep looking for possible sponsorships in the Roscoe, Rockton or Rockford, IL areas.

Income Snapshot

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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.

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

Overall, it was a rough month, but I’m confident that March will bring better luck.

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How Freelancing Can Help Boomerang Millennials

My generation has been called the Boomerang Generation. People from the ages of 22-33 who went to college, graduated, and moved back in with their parents indefinitely.

There are people who enjoy their families so much that they don’t want to leave. There are also cultures that expect children to live at home until they are married. Then there’s another sector of Millennials who are too intimidated, scared, unsure or apathetic to strike out in the world.

The Boomerang generation has a negative connotation of not wanting to leave home and grow up. It’s been suggested that the idea of committing to a full-time job scares this generation. This is where freelancing can help.

Freelancing gives the Boomerang generation the freedom to move around and be a bit unstable while still earning an income and supporting themselves.

If you’re a Boomerang Millennial by choice or circumstance, here’s how freelancing can help you launch from the nest.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be a 9-5 job

If you’re hesitant to commit to a traditional 9-5 job then freelancing is a great alternative. Put together a budget of how much money you need to live on. You may be able to find decent housing and pay all your bills for less than $2000 per month depending on where you live. With some effort, you could make $2000 per month freelancing without working the traditional 40+ hour workweeks.

For example, if you’re a website designer, you could make $2000 per month from 1-2 clients. As a writer, it may take several clients or jobs to make that amount. A virtual assistant could reach that goal with 2-6 virtual assistant clients.

Figure out how much you need to make by using this cost of living calculator then use this rate calculator to figure out how much you should be charging.

Freelancing keeps you location independent

If settling down in one place freaks you out then freelancing could solve that problem too. As a freelancer, you can do your work anywhere. The term digital nomad refers to freelancers/entrepreneurs that have embraced a lifestyle of traveling while working. There are many successful freelancers who are traveling all over the world while freelancing. They support their lifestyle through their work.

Freelancing can get your foot in the door

If you having a hard time finding a traditional job with benefits, freelancing could bring you closer to that goal. You can gain experience doing freelancing work that would boost your resume while you try to find a full-time job. Sometimes freelancing opportunities turn into bigger jobs. Numerous freelancers have been asked to take on full-time roles within the company they are freelancing with.

Freelancing can build your confidence

Freelancing can build your confidence. If you didn’t have much work experience prior to college than freelancing can help build your confidence. You got a degree in something. Besides the skills related to your major, you learned valuable skills like project management, organization, and self-sufficiency. You wouldn’t have graduated from college without being able to get your work done. You are already qualified to freelance in your field. Start with small projects and work your way up. Set a goal of sending out proposals and applying for 2-5 jobs per week.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be forever

Freelancing has a less “sign an agreement and sell your soul” feel than the traditional 9-5 job. Yes, you can quit a full-time job, preferably with at least two weeks notice, but the stigma is greater. Freelancing jobs end for a variety of reasons, often not related to the freelancer at all. The project can have a natural ending point, the department could cut the budget, the company could decide to hire someone full-time, or they could give the responsibilities to someone already on staff. Quitting can be your decision too. You could finish up a project and let your client know that you don’t want any future work. The beauty of freelancing is that it is inherently temporary. As a freelancer, it’s easier to change your mind and pivot course, whether that change is going to a traditional job or continuing on with another client.

Freelancing can keep your life (relatively) the same

If what’s turning you off about the working world is getting up early, wearing business casual clothing, commuting, and spending all your time in a cube farm then freelancing is a great alternative. You can keep whatever hours you want, dress however you like, and work from home or anywhere else you want. Your life could look a lot like college, if you want it to. You’ll have the same freedom as you had when you were going to classes for a portion of the day and spending the rest of the day doing what you wanted.

Freelancing could be just what Boomerang generation needs to get on their own two feet and gain the confidence to participate in the working world.

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Batching Your Work for Greater Productivity

Is time getting the best of you? Do you want to work less while maintaining your current income? If you’re nodding along, then batching will be your new favorite thing.

One of my favorite productivity hacks is batching. Batching is the process of grouping similar work together and completing it in one sitting. Batching your tasks can free up your time and mental energy.

As a freelancer, here’s how to realize the benefits of batching!

Find your batchable tasks

Think about the types of tasks you do. Which tasks do you need to do frequently? Which tasks are similar in nature? Your batchable tasks can be for the same client or for multiple clients.

If you can’t think of any tasks that you could batch off the top of your head, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you use the same program/application/software for several clients?
  2. Do you write content for multiple clients?
  3. Do you invoice clients at the end/beginning of each month?

How to batch

  • Gather all similar tasks
  • Figure out what you should work on first
  • Complete all like tasks before moving on to another category of tasks

For example, if you write copy you could batch it in the following ways:

  • Complete all first drafts before making any edits or doing read-throughs
  • Write all call-to-action prompts in one sitting

Benefits of batching

1) Your brain loves batching

  • Batching forces you to single-task

Our brains aren’t very good at multitasking, but we’ve tried to force it on them for a long time. Your brain will thank you if you can stay on one task for a few hours. It may get a bit boring, but you’ll get faster at doing the task and stay more productive.

  • Batching reduces stress and anxiety

Every time you open a new browser window and follow a new whim, you get a tiny dose of dopamine. It may feel awesome at the time, but doing it throughout the day can cause you to feel flustered, disorganized and overwhelmed. Staying on one task gives your brain space to relax.

  • Batching helps you enter the flow state

If you keep doing one thing eventually you’ll reach the elusive flow state where your work seems easy and effortless and you’re completing things more quickly than you normally do. This is especially true for writing or any other creative pursuit.

2) Batching saves time

Even though it seems like the seconds it takes to open a browser window, login to a program, refresh your email or check your Facebook feed don’t add up – they sure do! A minute here or there ends up being hours of unproductive time at the end of the week.

Doing your work in batches saves time logistically as well as mentally. You don’t have to get focused and refocused on the same task several times. You complete them and move on to something new.

3) Batching increases energy

Jumping in and out of work wastes your energy. It can take an average of up to 25 minutes to refocus on a task once you’ve been interrupted. In an office setting, you don’t have much control over other people interrupting you, but in any setting you have control over interrupting yourself with distractions.

Batching your work and staying focused will give you a jolt of energy and pride once you finish a group of tasks.

Batching for increased productivity

Some things we do on a daily basis are complete time wasters. The greatest one of all is email. Batching the tasks that tend to waste time is a great way to increase your overall productivity.

Batching suggestions

  • Answering all emails at set times per day

Three times per day, set your timer for 30 minutes, get in your inbox and clear it out. Answer all emails, delete all junk, forward, and delegate. Once you’re done, do another task. Don’t check your email again until the next designated time. If you use less than 30 minutes on this task, great! Move on to your next task or take a break with your remaining time.

  • Writing all blog posts in one sitting

Once you’ve figured out a blog posting schedule, hunker down and write all of that week or month’s blog posts in one sitting. Even though the topics will differ, the process will be the same. Doing this without interruption could help you get ahead in your content planning.

My habit of writing for 30 minutes per day has helped me plan out and write content through August 2017.

  • Doing all the work you have in one program

Whenever you go to a website or login to a program, take a moment to list all the tasks you need to do in that website or program. Then do them all in one sitting. This saves the time of opening the program, logging in and getting set up and it also keeps you in a state of flow. For example, if you need to edit images in Photoshop for several clients, stay in the program and edit all items before moving on to another task.

  • Scheduling/posting/moderating social media

If you are moderating several Facebook groups, set up a schedule for responding. Go into each group, answer questions and comments then stay out until your next designated check-in time. And, turn off notifications! You don’t need to be interrupted by someone asking what time a store opens while you’re doing a batch of unrelated work.

Keep in mind: batching goes beyond a single client’s tasks.

When batching you want to think about the big picture. What else could you be doing in the same vein for someone else? Once you get used to batching and realize the benefits, you won’t want to work any other way.

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Need a Virtual Assistant Job? Try Subcontracting!

As a virtual assistant, you can find clients on your own or you can choose to subcontract under another virtual assistant or agency.

The process for subcontracting is simple:

  • Find someone to subcontract with
  • Discuss your rate
  • Sign an agreement
  • Get tasks and complete work
  • Invoice and get paid

Find someone to subcontract with

A great place to start looking for subcontracting opportunities is Facebook. There are many great virtual assistant Facebook groups.

Some of my favorites include:

Often someone in these groups will post that they need a subcontractor. You can apply and see if you’re a good fit for the company.

If you already know someone who has a virtual assistant or marketing business, you could reach out and ask if there are any opportunities for subcontract work.

Subcontract work is very low risk for the company or person participating. They are under no obligation to send you a set amount of work and can end the contract at any time.

That’s not to say that subcontracting work isn’t good for freelancers too!

It gives freelancers another income stream and helps diversify their client base. It ensures that one client cannot end your business by moving on. It gives you the opportunity to gather more positive testimonials/reviews for your website. It also allows you to peek inside someone’s else’s successful business to see how they run things, what their pricing structure is like, and how you can grow your business to their level in the future. Subcontracting can be a great learning experience as well as an income generator.

I currently have three subcontracting positions. One is with my former employer and two are opportunities I found in Facebook groups.

Discuss your rate

The person who needs a subcontractor must be making enough to pay your rate. If you want to earn $30 per hour, you’re not going to be able to subcontract with someone who consistently makes $20 per hour.

Don’t be afraid to suggest what you think you’re worth. Remember, on average VAs are making $15-30 per hour. When you’re first starting out, you may want to ask for $15 per hour, but don’t go too far below that. Keep in mind, there are VAs making six figures per year.

The average amount I’ve seen for subcontracting jobs falls between $18-25 per hour.

That said, I’ve had to turn down a few subcontracting opportunities because the pay was too low. In one instance, I was told that the person couldn’t afford me, but would circle back as soon as they could because they wanted me on their team.

There’s no harm in pursuing as many leads as you have time to follow up on. They can often plant seeds that grow into business opportunities, partnerships, or relationships in the future.

Sign an agreement

When you subcontract with someone, you should be asked to sign a subcontractor agreement. If the person does not ask you to sign one, I would question whether it was a legitimate opportunity.

Typically the subcontractor agreement includes information on your pay, hours, confidentiality and noncompete disclosure that prevents you from poaching clients.

Get tasks and complete work

You will be assigned tasks by either the owner of the agency/company or the client themselves. It depends on the agency/company’s policies whether you will have direct interaction with clients.

When you receive a task, complete it correctly and efficiently. You want to make sure that you are using your time wisely so you don’t bill the agency/company unnecessarily.

Be honest about your skills. If you don’t know how to do something, ask the VA for help or instruction. You can also offer to research the topic on your own time.

Invoice and get paid

The company/agency will have a schedule for submitting invoices and receiving payment. Most companies use Paypal, but you can ask if you’d like to use another method. I’ve worked with subcontractors that pay weekly and some that pay monthly. It’s more common to be paid monthly.

Becoming a virtual assistant subcontractor is a great way to learn about someone’s else’s best practices and procedures. The process will make you a stronger VA and give you an idea of what else you can be offering. I’ve been able to learn a variety of programs that my current clients don’t use that may come in handy with future clients one day. If you’re looking for more work, you should consider subcontracting.

 

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10 Things I Did Before I Was 33 (And You Should Too)

I celebrated my 33rd birthday on February 1st. I’ve always used my birthdays as a reset button for the new year. I set goals on January 1st, but usually don’t get motivated to pursue them until my birthday rolls around and it’s officially a new year for me.

In honor of my 33rd birthday, I’m sharing 10 important things I’ve done in my short time here on Earth.

1) Expanded my palette

The first twenty years of my life I subsisted on chicken strips and fries. I was scared to death of flavor, intolerant of spice, and happy to live in my mashed potato bubble. My ex-boyfriend’s father was an excellent cook and I tried many new things at his house with the sole motivation of looking good in front of his family. Even though the relationship didn’t last, I left with a love of avocados, Peking duck, and Indian food. There is so much good food out there, try it!

2) Got over my childhood (for the most part)

I quietly carried the brunt of my dysfunctional family until my mid-twenties. At that point, it came to a head, I was regularly crying and raging over what had happened during my childhood. I had flipped the switch from “everything was cool” to “everything was horrible” and I couldn’t get out of the funk. Thoughts about my past encompassed 90% of my brain space and even crowded into my current situation and made me doubt my present relationships. I came from a we-don’t-need-help family and when I was able to break that stigma and talk to a therapist, the relief was nearly immediate. After several months of therapy, I gained the tools to deal with my past and present. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about things or have times when I wallow in it, but I’m a lot better off than I was before. My past doesn’t dictate my future and neither does yours. Get help if you need it.

3) Took a big risk

I wouldn’t say I’m risk-adverse. I was always the friend convincing her more cautious friends to do something daring. One boring evening, I led the charge to go get something pierced, just for fun. However, when it came to my work history, I followed the straight and narrow. I had one career after college and I intended to stay there indefinitely even though I wasn’t able to express myself creatively and it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life (though I enjoyed the work). During bed rest and maternity leave while pregnant with my daughter, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. This led to me resigning from my job and beginning a work from home career. That blossomed into my own business and led me to where I am today. I was scared to take a risk, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have experienced the happiness, excitement and career satisfaction I feel now. Make a plan and then make the leap, it’s worth it.

4) Cut out toxic people

I’ve made the tough decision to have limited or no contact with several people in my life. I agonized over these decisions and kept expressing my hurt, waiting for the person(s) to change. Spoiler alert – they never did. Don’t give your time to people who make you feel bad about yourself. Just don’t. It’s better to have no one to talk to then have someone who makes you feel worse every time you talk to them. This advice even applies to family. Just because someone has known you for a long time or is related to you doesn’t mean they deserve a place in your life. You don’t have to know someone forever, so don’t. You can stop talking abruptly or do the slow fade, but just get the people out of your life. Your deserve to be happy.

5) Made a commitment

I said I’d never get married until I met my husband. When he proposed, it felt right and I wasn’t worried about the lifelong commitment any longer. Making a commitment is hard enough to keep without forcing yourself into it in the first place. Being committed to something has made me a better person. I was flaky and hard to reach when I was younger and being with someone for an extended length of time bored me. Obviously marriage isn’t always perfect, but I know that hanging in there through the tough times leads to some of the best times. You don’t have to get married to make a commitment, vow to do something that you want to do and see it through. It will give you the same satisfaction.

6) Saw some of the world

It took me into my 30s to realize I don’t really like traveling. So many people feel that traveling is THE thing to do. If you can see the world then you’ve made it and you’re a more fully formed human than those who stay in the same place for their entire lives. While I love the idea of traveling, I don’t enjoy the actuality of it. I’ve seen around 15 states, been on tropical beach vacation, saw some ancient churches, and flown internationally – for now, I’m good. So, maybe I’ll be a less cultured person that someone else, but as they say, is the juice worth the squeeze? And for me, it’s not. If traveling makes you happy, do it. If you prefer to stay local, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

7) Forgave

Anger is a smooth talker. It will always make you feel that you are justified in your feelings. When someone wrongs you, whether they did it on purpose or not, whether they are sorry or not, whether they will do it again or not, just forgive. Holding onto anger is toxic. Forgiveness takes nothing from you, it doesn’t prove the person was right, it just allows you to move past the event. I spent a lot of my youth raging at machines and it ultimately just wore me out. It gave me a hard shell that made me distrustful of anyone’s intentions. Once I figured out that my reaction to the situation mattered more than the actual situation, it became a lot easier to choose peace and forgive. Let go of a grievance and your soul will feel lighter.

8) Got my sleep

I’ve always loved sleep. Even as a child, I was slow to wake up and could stay in bed until the afternoon. I enjoyed my time sleeping in until I turned 30 and had my daughter. Once that happened, sleep became something that was less controlled by me and more controlled by the whims of a tiny dictator. Enjoy your sleep, revel in your sleep. Get your sleep while the sleeping’s good. I’m sure I’ll sleep soundly again…someday.

9) Experienced unconditional love

I don’t think I could have ever experienced true love had I not had my daughter. I love my husband, and I’ve loved men before him, but it’s not the same. The love I have for my daughter could move mountains. It has changed my life in the best possible way. I am kinder and braver than I was before she was born. I was petrified of having children, possibly intuiting that some core part of myself would break loose when it happened, but it was the best decision I have ever made. Having children is not for everyone, and I don’t doubt that a person can find the same type of unconditional love for an animal, significant other, or even career, but for me, it’s my daughter.

10) Shared my light

I’ve bailed two ex-boyfriends out of jail, picked people up in the middle of night when I was barely able to focus my gritty eyes on the road, taken someone to a concert at the last minute when their other friend bailed, given dozens of people money (overtly or secretly), complimented strangers, hugged people who were crying in public, left giftcards on car windshields, sent anonymous Valentine’s, donated my time and money to local charities, and sincerely told no less than 30 people that I thought they were beautiful. Kind actions are always out of my comfort zone and they always take bravery, but I know these actions make an impact. The world needs all the good we can put into it, especially now.

I’m not afraid of aging, I’ve only become more confident, less concerned about people’s opinions of me, and happier as I’ve gotten older. I wish the same for you.

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Transitioning From a Crib to a Toddler Bed

Right before she turned two years old, Norah started complaining about her crib. She would wake up in the middle of the night and yell that she didn’t want to sleep in her crib and didn’t like it anymore. We weren’t sure when we were going to transition from crib to toddler bed, but Norah let us know when she was ready.

Choosing a new bed

Our first decision was to choose whether to buy a twin bed and add a rail or buy a toddler bed. There are pros and cons for each. The twin bed could grow with Norah and be her bed for the next 10+ years. The toddler bed was more manageably sized, less expensive, and could be passed down to future children. We thought we could consign the toddler bed when we were finished with it, assuming it was in good condition.

We ended up deciding on the toddler bed and bought this one from Walmart for $60. We got the cherry stain version to match her dresser and bookshelf.

We built the toddler bed on a Saturday so that Norah would have a chance to get used to the bed when sleep disruptions wouldn’t mess with her routine.

We let Norah pick out her own big girl comforter and sheet set. She chose this three piece Minnie set from Walmart for $40. Having a big girl comforter made her excited to get into the new bed. The set has held up through quite a few washings, but the decorative pillow unraveled in the dryer and I had to throw it out.

The first night Norah slept in the new bed went beautifully, she didn’t get out of the bed once and she went right to sleep. We figured she was telling us the truth when she said she didn’t like her crib. She was ready to transition to a toddler bed. She has been in the bed for five months now and she still loves it. She occasionally gets out of bed to gather random toys and books and bring them into bed with her, but she’s never tried to leave her room.

Adding an alarm clock

Another issue we had to tackle was Norah’s habit of waking up around 5 or 6 am and deciding that she wanted to be up for the day. This was a new occurrence and had only been happening for a month or so, but it was tough to deal with. It’s likely this had to do with Norah’s two-year molars coming in, but we wanted to introduce the concept of a “wake up time” sooner than later.

We bought the OK to Wake clock from Amazon for $21 to teach Norah time. The clock lights up green when it’s time for the child to wake up. There’s also an option for a ringing alarm, which we don’t use. It took a few days for Norah to understand the concept and follow it. We told her that she was allowed to get out of bed and read books or play with toys before the clock turned green, but that she couldn’t yell for us or leave the room.

On an average morning, we have the clock set to turn green at 8:30 am. She typically starts stirring at 8 and will either look at books or rest until the clock turns green. As soon as it does, she yells out “The clock is green. It’s morning time!”

Overall, we have a great sleeper which I credit partially to genetics and partially to using the SleepEasy Solution when she was four months old.

Tips for a successful transition from crib to toddler bed

    1. Look for signs of readiness. My daughter told us she was done with the crib, but other signs may include climbing out the crib or changing sleep patterns.
    2. Let your child have some say in the bed/comforter. We let Norah pick her comforter set and she was thrilled when she got to use it.
    3. Talk it up and make it fun. We surprised Norah by building the bed while she was downstairs then bringing her into her new room when everything was set up. We also acted extremely excited and positive about the change.
    4. Get a book about it. Norah loves to read books about things we’re going to do. We got her the book “Big Enough for a Bed” which talks about Elmo going from a crib into a big boy bed. This helped her understand what was happening and she frequently talked about how she had a big girl bed like Elmo.
    5. Give lots of of praise for a job well done. The first morning after Norah spent the night in her new bed, both Mike and I went in when she woke her up to talk about how great she did and how proud we were of her.

**This post contains affiliate links.

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How to Get Over Self-Limiting Beliefs

Self-limiting beliefs can be one of the biggest barriers to success that a freelancer can face. These negative thoughts can be confidence killers that cause you to doubt your ability to make it on your own. Self-limiting beliefs are the negative opinions you hold about yourself and your abilities. They may manifest as a voice in the back of your mind that says things like “You can’t do it…You’re going to fail…You’re not smart enough…Don’t bother.”

Getting rid of self-limiting beliefs isn’t easy. Doing work on yourself and your mindset is the hardest work you can do. If you’re struggling with self-limiting beliefs, here are some things you do to get out of that negative headspace.

Read self-help books and articles

One of the best, and cheapest, ways to get over your self-limiting beliefs is to learn how to combat the negative voice in your mind. You can find books on the topic at your local library or on Amazon.

Here are some books that I’ve found helpful:

Mastering Your Mean Girl: The No-BS Guide to Silencing Your Inner Critic and Becoming Wildly Wealthy, Fabulously Healthy, and Bursting with Love by Melissa Ambrosini

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Do the (self) work

A lot of people are running around desperate to avoid silence and thinking about their lives, their actions, and their mentality. The world makes it very easy to keep yourself incredibly busy. You may never have to deal with how you feel about yourself. But if you never address your negative emotions, then you’ll eventually find yourself in a very unhappy place.

The people who become comfortable dealing with their emotions and looking at themselves with a critical eye are the ones who make the most spiritual progress in their time on Earth.

Not only is self-work spending time thinking about yourself, it’s also reading self-improvement books and trying the strategies you read about. It’s about changing your behavior as much as it as about observing it. If you are completely self-aware, but never make any changes, you won’t grow as a person.

If you’re having negative thoughts about yourself, challenge them! If you are feeling bad about yourself, ask yourself why. Have you been making poor choices that don’t reflect your desires or morals? When you act in a way that goes against your core values, you will always feel uncomfortable until you get back on the right path.

Make changes

People who say they can’t or won’t change make me very sad. In my opinion, they either think that they are perfect and could use no improvement or they think that negative traits are set in stone and it’s a waste of time to make changes.

You are on this earth for any number of years. You are not the same person in grade school that you are in college. You do not have to ‘lock in’ to any one persona or belief system, especially if it no longer works for you. If you want to change, you can. It doesn’t matter what you did or how old you are, change is possible if you want it.

Mantras and affirmations

Two more tools to fight self-limiting beliefs are mantras and affirmations. Mantras and affirmations are things that you repeat out-loud or to yourself throughout the day. These positive phrases work to “record over” the tape of negative thoughts in your mind. For example, if you’re struggling with feeling like you can’t find quality clients, you could tell yourself a few times per day, “I deserve quality clients and I will find them.”

These phrases can work for a number of self-esteem issues. Some therapists suggest looking into a mirror while you say your phrases. This may help you form a deeper connection to the message.

When I remember to, I try to recite a few mantras and affirmations throughout the day. If I’m feeling anxious about a project or meeting, I will repeat something like “I will do my best. Things will work out.”

Mantras and affirmations are easy to add to your daily routine and can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself.

Talk to a therapist

If your self-limiting beliefs are very strong and you believe they have their roots in your childhood, you may want to see a therapist. I did a very helpful stint of therapy in my mid-20s to deal with issues surrounding my dysfunctional upbringing. The therapy helped immensely. Sometimes people are able to get over things from their past on their own, but other times people need help to work through their experiences and feelings. Therapy is great if you want help sorting out your thoughts.

Everyone struggles with self-limiting beliefs and negative emotions at different times in their lives. Self-limiting beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies, but it’s not hopeless. At some point, a person will become so uncomfortable doing what they’ve always done, that they will crave a change. When this happens, progress can be made. Doing the hard work on yourself can make a world of difference in all areas of your life.

**This post includes affiliate links

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Freelancers, It’s Time to Raise Your Rates!

As a freelancer, raising your rates is an important part of your business strategy. Since you are your own boss, it’s unlikely that a client is going to offer you a raise because you don’t technically work for them. In order to get paid more this year, you will need to inform clients that you are raising your rates. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to send your rate increase emails!

As a freelancer, you should take the following things into consideration when thinking about rates:

  1. You pay your own taxes
  2. You receive no traditional benefits from clients (e.g. 401K contribution, paid time off)
  3. You may be paying your own insurance

Even as a young freelancer, you also need to think about savings and retirement.

Know Your Worth

Sometimes freelancing can become a race to the bottom, but it doesn’t have to be. There will always be someone willing to work for a lower rate. You can’t win the lowball game, you aren’t Walmart. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “fast, cheap or good – pick two”. Cheap and good are the least likely to go together.

If you know that you offer high-quality work then demand high-quality rates. If you undervalue yourself, no one is going to tell you so, they’ll just take advantage of your “good rates.” You need to feel secure in what you’re asking for. You don’t want to work for the client that tries to negotiate a lower rate because they’ve already placed a lesser value on your work then you think it’s worth.

Think about how much you’d like or need your annual salary to be. You can use this infographic to figure out your hourly rate. To find it, you need to divide your adjusted annual salary by billable hours per year.

It’s a good rule of thumb to increase your rates at least 5-10% per year to cover a cost of living increase. This could take a $20 per hour fee to a $24 two years later. It’s a subtle enough increase that your client is unlikely to decline it, but it will add up over time.

Raise Rates for Current Clients

There are a few options for raising rates for your current clients. The first option is to raise the rate at the work anniversary. Once you’ve hit one year together, you can let them know that your rate will increase from $X per hour to $Y per hour in 30 days.

The other option is to do a sweeping rate increase on the first day of each year. This increase does not take into account when you started working with the client. Even if you started working with them in November, they would be subject to your rate increase on January 1. Freelancers that choose this route often send out emails at the beginning of December informing clients of the upcoming change.

Raise Rates for New Clients

I would also suggest raising your rate for each new client you acquire.

When I started gaining clients I was accepting offers around $20. After a year, I wouldn’t accept anything under $25. Now, I’m not accepting anything under $35 and shooting for the $40+ range when pitching new clients.

I do this for two reasons:

  • My skills increase each year
  • My time becomes more valuable each year

My skills increase as I become more of an expert in my services. I pick up new methods and tools that increase my productivity and improve my offerings. I’m not the same quality of VA or social media marketer that I was two years ago. Therefore, I demand more.

My time becomes more valuable each year because of my increased skills and mentality. If I can earn $35 an hour, I’m not going to find it rewarding, exciting or useful to accept $20 per hour on a new project. My mental state will not be grateful and appreciative of my client. Instead, I will feel that I’m missing out on at least $15 for each hour I spend working with said client. I wouldn’t accept a client at that rate because I know that my heart would not be in the work. I would rather pass along the opportunity to someone at an earlier stage in their freelancing career who would appreciate it.

Phase Out Your Lowest Paying Clients

If you’ve already pitched a rate increase and a client can’t meet your new rates, you may want to phase them out.

There may be clients that you are willing to work with at a reduced rate. I work with a few charitable organizations at lower-than-normal rate. I work with them because I feel that I am doing some good in the community. Eventually, it may not make sense for me to do this because I only have so much time in the day, but for now, it works.

Raising your rates can be scary, but it’s an absolute necessity in the freelancer’s world. One of the best things about being a freelancer is that you have more control of your earning potential than in a traditional job. So, feel the fear and raise your rates anyway.

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2017 Goals

Every year, I set professional and personal goals for myself. These goals give me something to strive for throughout the year. I check my progress each month to determine whether I want to revise or remove goals. Setting goals and regularly reviewing them keeps me on track and motivated.

I believe that sharing your goals keeps you accountable. In that vein, here are my goals for 2017.

Professional goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

The extra income would allow us to continue paying down our large student loans and the mortgage on our rental property. It would also allow us to invest more. In order to achieve this goal, I need to find around $835 of additional work each month. Part of that total will come from raising my rates. I have increased rates for new clients, but not bumped up the clients I currently have. I believe this goal is absolutely achievable by the end of the year.

2) Get another local client

Ideally, I’d like to have a few local clients. I currently have one. I’d like to bump it up to 3 or 4 in 2017. I’m interested in working with organizations that are making Rockford a better place. I need to continue reaching out via referrals or cold emails to local organizations. I plan to have at least one new local client by the end of June.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

My professional website has been www.erinsturm.com for several years now. However, I registered The Sturm Agency as a corporation in June 2015. I’d like to have The Sturm Agency’s website live by the end of March.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I came up with a business idea for freelancers earlier this year. I registered the domain, but haven’t gotten a website up or started promoting it. I plan on launching the beta site before the end of June.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’d love to sponsor something in the community, whether it’s a local baseball team or a donation to our local fair. I will look into my options and plan on making a move by September.

Personal goals

1) Lose 35-40 pounds

I’m still carrying around the 35 pounds I gained when pregnant with Norah. I’d like to get back to my pre-baby weight so I can fit back into 75% of my clothing. I need to clean up my diet. I’m a sugar addict and have way too many treats throughout the week. I need to eat healthier foods and see what effects it has on my body and mind. I hope to reach my goal, or be in a better position that I currently am, by the end of the year.

2) Focus on self-care

I’d like to spend 1-2 hours each week doing something that is just for me. I’m thinking some kind of class, seminar, etc. I want to get out of the house to do it. I tried to do this last year with a knitting class, but my husband’s travel schedule kept falling on the day of the class. I need to find something more flexible or find a regular babysittter. I plan to do this in the second half of the year.

3) Spend more time with friends

I’d like to go out every 2-3 weeks with a friend. I’ve made a few new friends in the past year and I want to make sure that I’m giving those friendships a chance to grow. I’m an introvert so it’s hard for me to convince myself to go do something. I’m good at taking my daughter to kid’s activities a few times per week, but I don’t always talk to other mothers while I’m there. I know it’s good to have a social circle and I could use more friends.

4) Learn hand-lettering

I’m really interested in teaching myself how to hand-letter. Not only does it look relaxing and fun, but it could also be a side business, assuming I’m any good at it. My husband gave me a book, some fancy paper and Tombow pens for Christmas so I just need to get started.

In addition to these goals, my husband and I have some family goals in place. They include things like organizing our kitchen/main floor, creating a chore schedule, getting Norah into preschool and other summer activities, and doing an online money course together.

Goals give me a sense of purpose for my year. I know that when I channel my focus, I achieve amazing things. If you need help setting goals, read my post on SMART goals.
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Defining and Setting SMART Goals

The beginning of the year is a great time to set goals. If you don’t have a concrete set of goals to work towards, you’ll spend all of your time fighting fires instead of making progress on your long-term objectives. To ensure your goals are achievable, you’ll need to make them SMART.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym for the characteristics of an achievable goal.

Specific

By specific, I mean precise! Your goals must be fully realized in your mind. If you aren’t totally clear on what you want your goal to be, brainstorm a list of things you’d like to accomplish in the next year. I recommend using Evernote, but a pen and paper will work too. Once you have a rough hunk of an idea, you’ll need to polish it until it’s a gemstone. Your goal shouldn’t be “grow my business,” because it’s too generic. Instead, it should be something like “grow my business 25% in three months.” We’ll iron out the time-bound and realistic aspects of goal setting later, but first, you’ll need to figure out what you specifically want to do.

Do: Make your intentions clear.

Don’t: Be afraid to make it a stretch goal (or a goal that will take serious effort to accomplish).

Measurable

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it?” Although there’s some criticism of this phrase, it works for goal setting. If you don’t know how your goal will be achieved, then it can’t be achieved. You won’t know once you’ve hit the stopping point. Not every goal is able to be measured numerically. For example, if you set a goal to improve your health, you may want to measure how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis after including exercise in your routine or how well you’re sleeping at night. Don’t get too hung up on numbers, but do make sure that you can measure your success in some quantifiable way.

Do: Source your inner accountant and find out how to quantify your goal.

Don’t: Let a dollar amount drive all of your goals.

Actionable

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Successful goals have clear actionable items, or next steps to completion. It’s pointless to set a goal that you’ll never be able to make progress on or one that’s so vague, there aren’t any obvious next steps. For example, a goal like “Feel better” doesn’t have a clear actionable associated with it. This goal could be about physical health or mental health or both. Right now, the goal as it stands is too vague to tell. If this were your goal, you should go back to the workshopping phase and make the goal more specific. However, if you knew the goal was referring to feeling better mentally, you could create some actionable next steps like booking an appointment with a therapist, meditating for five minutes each morning, or writing in a gratitude journal each evening. Once you have action items for your goal you can create To-Do lists. You should break down your action items into daily, weekly, and monthly lists. This gives you a task to do each day that brings you closer to achieving your goal.

Do: Figure out small, next steps you can take to achieve your goals.

Don’t: Attempt to do more than three things per day towards your SMART goal. You’ll burn out.

Realistic

Defining realistic is difficult. You’ll want your goals to be hard to achieve, but not impossible. You don’t want to set goals that require no effort, but you also don’t want to set goals that are so easy they don’t challenge you. Keep in mind, some goals that seemed very unrealistic to one person, like disruptive technologies, were realistic for someone else. Ultimately, only you know what is a challenging, realistic goal for yourself. You should take a personal inventory before deciding on what a realistic goal is. If you have a hard time achieving your goals then start with something a little easier to build confidence and gain forward momentum. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself by creating a list of goals that could only happen in perfect circumstances. Figure out what you’ve been able to achieve easily in the past and up that goal by 10-25%. If you can easily go to the gym once a week, strive to go six times per month.

Do: Be honest with yourself and know your weaknesses and strengths.

Don’t: Be too easy or too hard on yourself. You should be proud when you achieve your goal.

Time-Bound

Making a goal time-bound may be the most important part of setting a SMART goal. A goal without a deadline is a dream. It’s not real! It’s very easy to say, “Someday I’d like to do this,” but if you don’t set a deadline then someday will never come. Setting a deadline for your goal will motivate you even if you’re a procrastinator. Be firm with yourself, don’t push the date around or make excuses for why you couldn’t get it done on your self-imposed timeline. Treat your goal’s deadline as you would a client’s project. If you give yourself no wiggle room, you’ll find a way to complete your goal. Depending on the goal, you’ll need to determine an appropriate deadline. You’ll also want to create mini-deadlines for the Actionable items you’ve created. So, your ultimate goal may take a month to complete, but you’ll reach milestones each week.

Do: Time-block your calendar to ensure that you’ll work on your goals throughout the week.

Don’t: Rely on motivation or inspiration. The people who get things done are the ones that show up and do work regardless of how they feel.

Setting SMART goals will give you better focus and allow you to precisely track your progress. If you’ve had trouble with goal setting in the past, try setting SMART goals and see what happens!

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