l just finished my semi-annual business identity crisis and as a result, I both rebranded and redecorated. While l don’t recommend the large quantity of identity crisis navel-gazing l seem to do, l do suggest occasionally stepping back and asking yourself a few questions. These could apply to freelancing, traditional employment, parenting, and life in general. Go on, it’s a good time of year for introspection!
What am I actually doing with my time?
Ah, the age-old conundrum facing just about everyone under the age of 65 or whenever it is we’re supposed to become self-actualized. But when I actually tried to answer this question earnestly, I came up short. Or rather, l came up with too many answers. To sort myself out, I made three lists: things I love doing things, things I like doing, and things I really don’t enjoy doing.
- Love: writing blog posts, developmental editing, designing workbooks, worksheets, and longform documents, creating brand communications guides, coming up with content marketing strategy
- Like: writing e-mail welcome sequences, copy editing and proofreading, full web design
- Dislike: anything to do with Wix or Weebly sites, logo design and visual branding
Then l made the somewhat scary decision to only do the things on the first list. For the first two years of my freelance career, I’ve been a Jenn-of-all-trades. lf a client requests something that is remotely in my wheelhouse, I did it. This was necessary and productive: I built my skills, portfolio, and referral network. But it also left me scattered and somewhat inefficient because l had to reinvent my process for every custom project l did, and I was definitely not charging enough to cover that time.
How much time do I have?
l also sorted my projects into a different set of buckets: client work, personal work, and community work.
- Client work: self explanatory
- Personal work: writing personal essays on topics that matter to me and maybe some fiction
- Community work: my roles at PAAC and Mochi magazine
And I realized that l can really only do two out of three of those buckets at once…on a GOOD day. (Which is maybe 60% of the time if I’m being generous.) Plus the whole parenting and partnering thing, both of which are currently in a season of high maintenance. So then the question became, “Which buckets should I work on now?” To answer that, of course, I had to ask several additional follow-up questions.
What am I known for?
My pals at the Wonder Jam kicked off this question with a quick brand audit of my (now former) website. They also audited the site of my new bizmom buddy, Kate Burgener. Adam mentioned that he always knows what kind of clients to refer to Kate because she’s very clear about what she does: document and event material design for businesses and nonprofits. By comparison, here’s how my referral process usually goes.
Friend: Hey, this person l know needs this. I think Jenn knows how to do that. Jenn, do you know how to do that?
Me: Uh, sure I do! (spends 2 hours creating a custom proposal that may or not be accepted)
This is mostly okay. All my business comes from referrals, and I do have a tendency to get bored doing one thing all the time. But spinning half a dozen plates at once isn’t really ideal either. I also find myself doing things from my like-doing and dislike-doing categories more often than my love-doing category.
Allie then looked at my site noted how helpful all my content seemed. At the risk of sounding like the terrible person I am, that triggered a small red flag for me. You see, I am pretty solidly a 4 in the Enneagram system: the artist, the romantic, the individualist. Under stress and duress, 4’s tend to act like unhealthy 2’s: clingy, martyry, and clutching for validation through being OH SO HELPFUL LOVE MEEEEEEEEE. (Understanding this about myself was a critical step in the process of being able to hold down a relationship, incidentally.) I’ve learned to slow down and pay attention when I start obsessing about being OH SO HELPFUL. Writing shit about content marketing to try and lure people to my website and somehow decide to drop hundreds of dollars on me might fall under that category. Hmmm.
What do I want to be known for?
l looked at my list of things l do and compared it to what I’m known for. And l asked myself what do I want to do and be known for? Because I was really beginning to resent making content that was meant to help other people but didn’t really interest me that much. Marketing my marketing is really boring, and it just wasn’t that effective.
Eventually I circled back to how this party got started in the first place: writing. I don’t want to be (just) a web designer. I want to be a writer. I’m not sure how this slipped my mind considering I’ve been blogging since 2001 and journaling longhand since at least 1998. (I suppose I’ve been designing websites for almost as long, so it’s not like l don’t enjoy that. But l enjoy writing more.) I want to write about my recovery from eating disorders, my identity as an Asian American, and my large mental storage unit of opinions and unsolicited advice about relationships.
Does my craft feed me or do I need to feed my craft?
As I came to this conclusion, one question nagged me: but how do I make money from writing about this? One reason my service menu metastasized in the first place is because it’s much easier to convince people to give me money for building a new website than for writing blog posts.
I posed this question to one of my clients, Cindy Wang Brandt, who is a successful blogger and a writing coach. We talked about paid commissions from publications, advertising revenue, and building and eventually monetizing my own platform through speaking engagements and book deals. I’ll be honest…I didn’t love either of these options, mostly because they involve obscene amounts of social media networking and marketing. Which I hate and am lazy about. At this point in my life, I simply don’t have time for another bucket of marketing myself all the time.
Then an interesting opportunity landed in my inbox. One of my sheroes, Val Geisler, is opening an e-mail marketing incubator in the new year. She will teach students how to do what she does (and for which she charges more per day than l currently make in a month). She’s also looking for qualified writers to subcontract and refer leads to, which would eliminate some of the overhead time I currently spend on clients. So l started thinking about the money question differently. What if I could use my craft in one way to feed my craft in another way? If I could earn in two weeks what I used to earn in six or eight weeks, l would have more time for my personal and community project buckets. I still get to write and e-mail marketing is on my like list, so I’m willing to do it if the work enables me to do other work. It’s a bit like having a traditional “day job” but I can still dress like a lunatic and make my own schedule.
So now what?
My plan for the first quarter of 2019 is to take an almost complete break from client work. (breathes slowly into a paper bag) During that time l will focus on rebuilding websites for my church and PAAC, writing my own content, taking Val’s course, and settling into my new role as Editor-in-Chief at Mochi magazine. (Uh, does it count as focusing when there’s five projects to focus on? Hmmm.)
I’m still attempting to find my niche, but at least personal work will be one of my two active buckets. I may eventually take web design clients again, but I’m pretty tired of WordPress at the moment. I’m also shuttering my business social media accounts because l just cannot be bothered anymore. (If you have any interest in keeping up with what I’m doing, please subscribe using the form in the sidebar!)
It may not seem like it, but this is what simplifying looks like for me. And it feels pretty good. Cheers to the old and the new!