Normal Girl's Guide

The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 005: On Being a Supportive Creative


Welcome to The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance! It’s is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got started, finding my community, why money and I are friends now and why you should schedule your next vacation right now.

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When I moved to Austin, TX I knew no one. All I had in my corner was the internet, a year's worth of shooting photos. I began scouring the internet for people who looked cool and like they might want to hop in front of my camera, and because the Lord is good I somehow landed a coffee date with Nicole Seligman of Writes Like a Girl. She did as many Austinites do, and she introduced me to other people that I should know. She opened up doors for me that I could not open myself. She was supportive in every way that she knew how to be. Her kindness towards me as a business meant more to me than I could ever express and I vowed that I would run a business that operated in that way -- a way that builds others up. 

I've been thinking about being a supportive creative a lot lately. I've been talking about it with a lot of close friends.

1) Vote with your money.

I feel like this goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. Buy things from your friends. When you gift, gift with intention. Use the services of those close to you when you can. It doesn't have to be all the time, but just be mindful. Sometimes the most practical way to support someone is to vote with your money. Vote for your friends. 

2) Share the cool stuff that they're doing. 

If you think something they're doing is neat, but you don't have a need or money for it? Share it on social media if it's appropriate for the situation. Tell your friends about your sister-in-law's mini sessions. 

3) Introduce them to other cool creative friends. 

If you know someone your creative friend should know, bridge the gap! Last week I was meeting a friend for coffee and she disclosed to me that she was a writer. I immediately thought of introducing her to a friend, who was an editor of a magazine that was looking for contributors. A few minutes later the editor friend walked through the door of the coffee shop and I was able to introduce them on the spot. Sometimes you get to introduce people in person, other times you get to do it via email. The important thing is making the connection. It takes less than 30 seconds to potentially help a friend further their business goals. 

4) When you can, pass work to someone in your field that's a better fit. 

This is a tough one because at first glance it may seem counter-intuitive, but know what you do well and pass the rest. I thoroughly enjoy my work. Being behind the camera makes me feel super alive. But being behind the camera doing HDR real estate photography makes me feel sick to my stomach. Why? Because a) I don't enjoy it and b) I'm not good at it because it isn't something I enjoy. I make a habit of passing good work that I wouldn't excel at to fellow photographers. I am also grateful to get referrals from both clients and photographers. You will make better work for clients that you should be working with. A good friend shared this quote from one of her friends with me and I've been thinking about it non-stop: 

Every job you take should have at least two of the following components: 1) Good people. 2) Interesting work. 3) Great pay.

If the work isn't interesting to you for the pay that it would take you to be interested in it, pass it! Give someone else the opportunity to choose. 

5) Show up. 

Whether it's an art show, a free workshop, a sidewalk sale or their wedding -- when it's possible go to their events! A lot of work goes into planning things like that and sometimes your attendance really can make all the difference. 

6) Share your knowledge!

This has been one of the most rewarding things for me lately. Three sweet gals reached out to me this year and asked if I wanted to mentor them and I said yes. Did I have time? Not really, but I made it because that's something that's always been on my bucket list. I got to see great improvements in these ladies' work and I got to support them in making their dreams come true and that has been the best. I also get to write stuff like this for people like you which is awesome.  

The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance: Scheduling (Part 2!)


Hey there! I hope your week is going right along. I've been up since 6am this morning trying to knock out a bunch of work and this weekend is progressing along quite nicely. 

This week I had the honor of blogging for The Paper + Craft Pantry! The Paper + Craft Pantry is a workshop space + stationery retailer here in Austin, TX! I'm teaching a workshop there this weekend on marketing your small business with the tools in your arsenal (and there are still spots available!)

I wrote a blog post over there about scheduling as part of The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance which is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got startedfinding my communitywhy money and I are friends now and why you should schedule your next vacation right now

Hop on over there and check out their website and check it out! 

To add to the blog post, I wanted to share a few of my favorite scheduling practices that I try to implement weekly. I find that knowing someone else's method can help bring you to a method of your own. 

One of the things I do weekly is that I take Monday morning to plan out my entire week. I try to make all of my dinner plans, finalize meetings, figure out date night with my husband, and a day off for myself (usually Thursday!). I also enjoy going to the movies solo so I try to pick out which movie I'm going to see in advance so that way the midst of all the meetings, work blocks, and shoots that I may have depending on the week it doesn't get lost. It's a good time to set intentions for the week as well. 

Another thing that makes scheduling easier is finding a planner that works for you. I have this planner from Ban.do and it has a monthly view with plenty of space to write in daily appointments, and a weekly view that spans two pages-- plenty of room to plan out details and keep to-do lists. 

When possible I like to schedule all of my meetings on Monday + Tuesday.  I like to work from home on Wednesdays, I take Thursdays off and most of the time I shoot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Is every week like that? Definitely not. But I attempt to make it that way. 

The last scheduling trick I've learned is to a fun one. I schedule fun things into my work week as seriously as if they were meetings. When I have two or three meetings out, I make sure to go swimming or take a workout class before I head home. If I have a long day of shoots then I make sure to schedule some time the next day to make breakfast with Tuck. When you take scheduling seriously, it's like time is on your side. It's all about making it work for you!

 

The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 004: Why You Need a Vacation!


Welcome to The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelancing! This is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got started, finding my community, and why money and I are friends now

Today we're talking about one of my new favorite topics- vacation. When I was growing up it was rare that we would take vacations as a family, but the few times we did they were the highlights of my childhood. Disney World, California and going to the beach with my grandma. Those are all such special memories to me. Since I was in college I've always tried to travel. Living on the East Coast it was super easy to take a roadtrip and go somewhere you've never been before. I traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Washington D.C., Louisville, The Outer Banks of North Carolina, Nashville, Charleston, Chicago, and Austin -- all in a matter of five years, and all relatively inexpensively. 

It's no wonder that when I moved to Texas, landlocked by only the gulf of Mexico, Mexico and more Texas, that I sort of forgot how to travel. Couple this with the fact that I was now thrust into working for myself and you've got a recipe for a no-vacation-disaster. We're figuring it out, but today I want to talk about vacations. Why you need one, how you should try and do it and what makes a good vacation good. 

To me a good vacation is equal parts rest & exploration. Sometimes just seeing a new place by car is enough. Sometimes you need to hike something tall or eat something that you've never heard of to really feel like you're breaking from your cycle of normalcy.

But why should you do it? Here are a few tips. 

  • You deserve a vacation.
    If you're like most Americans, a vacation isn't even on your radar. You haven't thought of one in a while, and you certainly don't plan on taking them regularly. You're a grown up now. And you work hard. But I'm here to tell you this: You deserve a break and you should take one. 
  • YOLO. 
    That's right. I said it. And I mean it. You only live once. I don't mean this in a rap song kind of way (or do I) I do mean it in the since that you only get once chance to knock things off of your bucket list. Why don't you start planning on doing something you've always wanted to do? 
  • Your brain will be happier. 
    I don't need to tell you that your brain probably needs a break. Your mental health will benefit from you saying yes to rest. 
  • You'll do better work.
    That's right. Plenty of studies show that after a vacation, you're more productive. Sometimes when you're reaching a creative block with your job, the best thing you can do is step away from it to re-center yourself. 

    So now that you're convinced, what now? One of the challenges I find myself facing most often is realizing that I don't know how to relax. I know that sounds silly, but for me down time or days off tend to make me feel more anxious. I have all this time and work that still needs to be done. Why am I not working? To counter that I like to have a routine-- I swim, I cook breakfast at home or eat something tasty out and I go see a movie. After that I'm generally good to go on days off. I've recently discovered that cleaning something or doing laundry on my days off helps me to still feel productive, while helping me rest. Vacation for me is similar. I did a few on my last trip to Marfa that I think translate well to any vacation. 
     
  • Buffer
    Give yourself a few days. My husband was only able to join me to travel somewhere for 4 days, but I had 8 days that I could take off. So I took them and we planned our vacation in the middle. The first two days were spent getting ready for our trip, the next four were spent traveling in West Texas, and then the last two I spent slowly getting into the groove of work. This made my first official day back seem a lot less stressful
     
  • Vacation Responders
    Use it. For me the vacation responder is the true tell of whether I'm actually on vacation or not. If the responder is up, I feel like my emails aren't a priority. Even saying that out loud here makes me feel nervous, because I feel like we all live and die by our inbox. Stepping away from email during the week won't kill anyone. For me I found comfort in still being able to check my inbox, but giving my permission to not respond unless it was a job I really wanted to book or a dream client. I responded to two emails (and politely ignored the rest) while we were on vacation, and I ended up booking both shoots. So win/win, right? 
     
  • Unplug
    Unplug for at least one full day. For me this meant not taking my DSLR on our trip at all, and opting for film instead (to resist the urge of editing on vacation) and taking an entire day to be without electronic distractions. I had it on airplane mode and I snapped photos when I wanted to. I even Instagram-storied them later. But I took about 12 hours off of cell phone service. I found I was more aware of what was around me and I enjoyed the photos I was snapping even more. 
     
  • Try New Things
    Whenever I travel I always try to do something or eat something I've never tried before, though to be honest it's usually eating. It gives me an excuse to be adventurous and it gives me something to associate with the trip. When I went to Fort Lauderdale in college it was a Pina Colada. When I went to Charleston it was trying apple on my grilled cheese. I learned to dive when I was on a vacation to California in middle school. Two weeks ago when we were in West Texas I tried a martini and Bacon Wrapped dates for the first time. Those things will always remind me of those places. 

    Vacation can be such a wonderful thing especially when you can streamline the stress of planning. What are your favorite vacation traditions? What vacations are next for you? 

The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 003: Money is Your Friend.


You already know that July was nuts for me. A big part of the craziness was because I started looking at photography as my longterm career. For a while I sort of avoided looking into the future with this job because I was afraid I might not like what I saw. It's easy to get into a bad place by working for yourself. Falling into financial insecurity or letting your anxiety rule your world are the two reasons people stop working for themselves. 

It's hard, y'all, but it doesn't need to be scary! I'm breaking this part into a two part series: stress + money. 

And just a note: as businesses, we need money to survive. That's sort of the part that makes this our job. To keep moving forward we need capital. Money is hard to talk about but it is so, so necessary. It's normal to go through phases of having to figure out how to make more money, spend your money wisely and keep up with it.

Here are a few of my best tips for looking at money as your friend and not your foe. 

1) Church + State

My biggest & most life-changing tip just happened to me. A year ago a very trusted friend told me to set up a business account and I remember thinking that it seemed impossible-- but it's not. Go get your DBA or if you really have your business life together your LLC and go set up a bank account. Make all of your business money go through there. The goal, obviously, is to keep some money in this account. If you're bringing in $4000 a month from freelance work, take your taxes out and put them in a different account, and then try and live off of a monthly paycheck of $2500. You'll have about $1000 leftover for business expenses which can include saving up to pay yourself the difference during a slow month. For me the steadiness of having a paycheck has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD. Now I feel like a normal human being that can do this, rather than a clueless teenager who doesn't understand where her money went. 
 

2) Supple Supplements 

Now that you have a business account, let's pad that sucker! This is where we talk about working hard and building up that business bank account. Are you an incredibly talented photographer who also has a network of friends with children? Babysit to build up your business account. Do you offer mini-sessions? Contribute to stock photography websites? Take on projects through websites like Flashstock or Snapwire? Do you have gear that's collecting dust that could be making you money? There's no shame in working specifically to put money in an account. Do what you can to build that up and you'll be incredibly grateful in the long run. 

3) Rock Steady

One of the biggest goals for the past year that I sat for myself was to gain a few monthly clients. This would be someone that I would work for every month for a contracted period of time. I aim to bring in at least $1000 of monthly contract work per month, though lately my goal has been more. For example: A lot of you know I shoot photos for Nicole for her blog Writes Like a Girl. We shoot together twice a month. The money she pays me goes towards my monthly contract work goal. I have several clients that are like this.

4) Expense Report

If you're going through all of this trouble to separate your money, then you had better be expensing the fun things that you get to expense. Go on trips for work! Attend workshops! Take that class you've always wanted to take! Be sure to speak to an accountant before your break the bank on that Hawaiian vacation though. Only certain parts of trips (like the parts where you're actually working + travel) are expense-able. 

Do you have any questions or comments for me? Feel free to comment below or email me! The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelancing is going to start going out every Monday and I'm excited that you're coming along for the journey. 

A Normal Girl's Guide to Freelancing 002 // Find Your Village.


See this photo? From left to right here's how I met each person: April emailed me, I emailed Nicole, Pei and I met at a networking event, Katie and I went to the same conference but didn't meet up until after she emailed me to work with me, and I've known Stephanie for over 12 years. I consider this group of women my village. 

Of every aspect of working for myself this is the most important to me personally. When I moved to Austin and I started trying to work for myself two things became very clear. 

1) I can't do this alone. 

I am such an extrovert. I thrive most when I am part of a team. I work best sitting across from someone with a pot of coffee and a plate of donuts between us, which is exactly how I'm writing this right now. I began searching for friends via all the mediums I possessed, which at the time was basically Instagram & then mutual friends on Facebook. I decided I had nothing to lose and that if someone thought I was crazy because I emailed them and asked them to coffee... well that was their problem and not mine. So I sent the email. I befriended people on Instagram. I talked to people at the coffee shops I was frequenting. If I recognized someone from the internet I would say hello. These are all tricks that are not confined to moving to a new place-- you can use them now. Do you know that cool girl that lives in you city and seems to know all of the coolest spots? Email her! 

2) I realized that marketing yourself online means nothing outside of personal relationships. 

Having an online presence can be incredibly beneficial to a business. About a third of all of my inquiries come from Instagram which is AMAZING. But do you know where the majority of my bookings come from? Friends of friends. Someone who saw some great work I did for someone they adore. Generally this person will then keep me in mind until they have a project for I can work with them on. Yes, a lot of these people do get referred to me through social, but it isn't because I say 'hire me, hire me, view my complete portfolio.'  For the most part I post photos of food or me dancing or who I'm hanging out with on my Instagram feed. I keep the work at a minimum unless it's what I've been staring at all day or it's something I'm really really proud of. 

I've had the honor of meeting some pretty cool people by working for myself. I do not take that for granted because for me, that's everything. I'd much rather meet someone face to face and find out that we get along on a human level before I take on their project. I think that's how most people work best.

And networking can be great for this! You can meet all kinds of people at events meant specifically for networking. They can be your new BFF or they can be someone that might hire you down the road. One time at a networking event I had a 30 minute conversation with the marketing director of a company here in Austin and I learned so much about the restaurant scene here & where to get the best margarita. The information was so valuable. I just walked up to her and complimented her haircut and now we're BFF's on Instagram. Has she hired me? No. Do I friend love her? Yes. 

Don't be afraid of networking. Go to networking meet-ups! Host them, if you can! Be someone who can introduce a CEO of a great company to a graphic designer that you're creative BFF's with. That's who I want to be. Sometimes networking can be just as much about getting someone else's name out there as it is about getting your own name on someone's desk. 

And as a caution please please please don't use people to propel yourself further. Everyone deserves to be treated like a human being and no one want's to be used. The point of networking is to meet people. Is there job potential there? There always is when you meet new people in the creative field, but that's not what it's all about. Help propel other people. Build your village & be a part of helping other creatives succeed. When one of us secures a win, we all do. 

Amazing graphic by Libby Vanderploeg