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7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

While there are many advantages to being your own boss, there are also certain things you may never experience again (for the most part). Depending upon how you look at it, this could be a win-win scenario. Either way, now six years into running my own business, I’ve realized that there are a few things I will likely never have as a business owner.

A Day Completely Free From Work

The upside to running my own business, I can work from anywhere. The downside, I can work from anywhere. For this reason, my work followers me anywhere I have internet access. And even without internet access, it’s still on my mind. I’m not likely to ever go completely “offline” for more than a day, but that’s because I prefer to stay on top of my work and grow my business. When you’re passionate about what you do, you’re not always craving that next vacation!

Limited Vacation Days

Speaking of vacation, I can time off whenever I feel like it and as often as I want to. It still holds true that my work will be something I carry with me, but I doubt anyone feels too sorry when I’m checking emails from the Bahamas. Being a business owner is about balance. I can take unlimited vacation days, but I’m still responsible for delivering what I promised to my clients. Time management is key.

A Tax Return

I gave up hope a long time ago that I would ever see a tax return. As a business owner, I pay not only at tax time, but I pay quarterly throughout the year leading up to it. It’s important to point out that my clients don’t withhold taxes in their payments, so it’s strictly on me to make sure I am paying the fair and appropriate amount of taxes based on my income. Similar to having unlimited vacation days, I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for my tax situation. After all, if I’m paying more it means I’m earning more. But I have to laugh at the commercials that suggest I use my tax return for this or that. It’s been nearly a decade since the IRS wrote me a check.

Normal Work Hours

For better – and worse – I don’t have set “normal” work hours. It works out for the most part that I’m in front of my computer between 9 and 4, but there will be times I’m taking a 8pm conference call or I’m online at 6am to clean up my inbox. On the upside, I can also go offline for a couple hours in the morning to get in a work out, or in the afternoon to catch a nap. I’m so far removed from the concept of a 9-5 job that I doubt I would last long in that work environment again.

A Fixed Income

As a business owner, my income is anything but fixed. I have a meager paycheck I receive each month from my business for tax purposes, but I also receive distributions throughout the year however I see fit. Every year and every month, my income is up to me. I have to constantly and consistently satisfy my current clients and keep my pipeline full of new clients. In a crazy scenario, every client could decide to discontinue their services and I would be left at square one. On the flip side (and the more common scenario), I take on additional clients each month and grow my income.

It’s not common that many people can increase their monthly “salary” by a couple thousand dollars in a month by providing the same services they’re already providing to others. For this reason and many others, I love owning a business, and owning my income.

Someone Else Controlling My Schedule

Because no single client owns 100% of my time, they do not have control of my schedule. I remember my life prior to entrepreneurship where I would have someone slap a meeting or conference call on my schedule and so long as it was during normal work hours I had no leverage to push back. I had to stop whatever I was doing to be there. Now, when a client requests a meeting, they provide me with several options and I have the ability to select what works best for me. If I can’t make a meeting, my clients don’t know if it’s because of a work conflict or a hair appointment (or more commonly it doesn’t work with my toddler’s nap schedule). I control my own schedule and strategically plan my days to be efficient and convenient.

A Boring Day

As a business owner, there is no such thing as a boring day. Often the excitement comes from exceeding a client’s expectation or receiving a great lead for new business. Other times, “excitement” is the rush of an emergency or crisis that you have to resolve. Even if I carve a free afternoon to go offline from work, I’m not strapped to my office. I can run errands, do something relaxing or spend time with my kids. Every day and every email is different. The hours fly by and I wouldn’t ever want to return to the days of watching the clock!

Are you a business owner? Can you relate to some of the things I’ve mentioned or do you have an idea of your own to add? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Business & Success, Entrepreneurship, Life

 

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Contractors and Freelancers: Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

When you take the entrepreneurial leap and venture out on your own as a contractor or freelancer, one of the biggest challenges is creating a competitive and consistent pricing model you can stick to. It’s a real test of self-confidence to put a rate on your hours and truly believe you are worth this much. But it’s imperative to running a successful and sustainable business!

I have previously written on topics related to pricing services (like how to price for efficiency or tips for being smart and fair). However, even if “the price is right,” a subpar proposal can jeopardize your chances of getting a signed contract. How you package your proposal gives businesses a sense of your professionalism. It’s also an important opportunity to properly scope your work and protect your pricing.

As you might anticipate, I have passionate advice to share on this topic. This has come from my own trial and (sometimes critical) error, so take note! Here are six components that help to make up a fair and appealing proposal.

Account for any task that will require your time

When you create your proposal, you want to be as specific and all-inclusive as you can be with the services you will perform. My rule of thumb is to include any task that will require a reasonable amount of your time.

So often as contractors, we forget about the time and effort we put into things like doing research, attending meetings, answering emails and jumping on phone calls for clients. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to charge more for these “expected” tasks, but it’s worth showcasing everything that goes into your relationship with your client so they understand the full value of the work you perform.

Quantify your deliverables

Simply saying “…will post to social media accounts” doesn’t put into perspective the tangible work that will be performed. Your client may worry about what they will actually get for the money. Be overly clear – there’s no reason to be vague with your efforts! A better version is, “…will post 6 times per week to Facebook, 3 times per day to Twitter and 4 times per week to Linkedin.”

I also prefer to use language like “up to 3 rounds of edits” because this protects you from getting stuck with a difficult client who requests that you redo your work from scratch 8+ time while still providing you with the flexibility to not have to deliver 3 rounds of edits, if they are not needed.

If you don’t define it, you can’t defend it. Should a project exceed its scope, you want to reserve the right to say that it is outside the terms of the proposal and is subject to an additional cost.

Organize services by goals

Showing your client you are an organized and detail-oriented professional begins with your proposal. Help them quickly grasp the value of what they will receive by organizing your services by the goal they aim to achieve. This will help to paint the bigger picture of how each service is strategically designed to work together and will also make your deliverables clear and direct. For clients who came to you without really knowing their goals, this added feature of your proposal will help them to feel secure under your direction (i.e. you’ll look like you have your stuff together).

Include an hourly rate for miscellaneous services

It’s natural for a project to exceed its scope once you’re signed into a contract and dig into the tasks. For example, your client may want five more web pages designed or would now like to add a weekly blog. These items will require more of your time and you need to get paid for this.

So long as you properly quantified your deliverables (see previous section we just discussed), you should have no problem responding to your client with “That sounds like a great idea! Let me get you a quote for that additional work.”

In an effort to appear both professional and transparent, I often include a line item in my proposals that note that miscellaneous writing and communication services can be completed at the rate of $X per hour. This gives clients a heads up for your normal hourly rate and reminds them that work outside the scope of this proposal is subject to additional cost.

Offer a discount for long-term commitments

For contracts that intend to be on a reoccurring basis (i.e. they have the same repeated deliverables each month with no obvious end date), I structure the pricing of my proposal to encourage clients to sign into a long-term commitment in exchange for a price break. Why? Contractors and freelancers love residual paychecks and clients love to feel like they’re getting a deal!

I suggest having three different price points. The most expensive is month-to-month. The added value here is the client’s complete flexibility to get out of a contract with minimal commitment. The next tier is per quarter. Finally, there is the annual contract pricing which is the best deal. I allow clients to still pay the breakdown each month (for cash flow sake), but they are committed to the length of the contract.

Bonus tip: I also include wording in the contract to allow for the client to adjust or increase services at any time, so long as the minimum contract price remains the same. This gives the client flexibility to add and remove services should their goals change over the course of a long-term contract, or should they wish to increase services (always a welcome change).

Set an expiration date

Finally, I have learned to include an “expiration date” on my proposals (usually 30 days from the date issued) to protect my pricing. I’ve experienced some clients go completely radio silent after receiving a proposal and then come back 4+ months later ready to engage. I can’t anticipate what other clients I may take on in the future and how my pricing may need to change to accommodate my bandwidth. The proposal expiration date allows me the right to issue a new proposal after 30 days has passed and change my pricing as I see fit. Every business must be mindful of supply and demand and how this impacts pricing; for contractors and freelancers, this is your hourly rate.

Additionally, an expiration date should give clients a nudge of encouragement to make a decision within 30 days and lock in your pricing and services while they are favorable and available. I’ve preached about how “a no is as good as a yes.” You want to receive a response to your proposal, even if it’s a no, so you can move forward….or move on.

What other questions do you have for crafting a fair and appealing proposal? Ask and I’ll answer!

 

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Online Bullying Even When Working From Home (Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt)

The following post comes to us from Jenny Holt, who left her HR career behind to pursue freelance writing and to spend more time with her young daughters at home. This article is based upon her own entrepreneurial journey and balancing family and work.


Online Bullying Even When Working From Home

African man sleeping at his workplace in officeFor me, this is a personal topic. Bullying was endemic in the company where I worked prior to becoming a mother. Human Resources is a challenging and fast moving area of any business. At first it excited me – the ability to find ideal, new employees, evaluating them, helping them flourish and rewarding the good ones. However, it soon became like many other areas of business and life in general – a case of who you know, what you say to the right person, and more, how you destroy those you do not like. Those in power bullied the new, the weak, and the ostracized. This had nothing to do with ability or work ethic, but everything to do with cliques.

No Boundaries for 21st Century Bullying

The level of bullying increased whenever someone was ill, made a mistake, or worst of all, got pregnant. So you can imagine my own feelings on becoming pregnant for the first time. Sure enough, the bullying stepped up a notch. Luckily, senior management was flexible and accommodating, so they let me become a remote worker. My jobs could be done from home just as well as in the office and for a while this was fantastic; largely because I had a new daughter who brought joy to my life, a supportive and engaged husband, and maternity leave – sweet maternity leave.

Once back, even though I worked from home, I would receive bullying emails, text, Skype messages, and phone calls. Eventually I was released from my work for “under-performance,” despite being one of highest producing employees. Working from home is not a protection from bullying in the 21st century. Whether as a remote employee or a freelance worker, those who seek to bully will do so regardless of the working environment. It can be brazen and open or covert. In fact, the proliferation of smart devices, chat apps, online work platforms, and so on make it easier for bullies to get a hold of their targets and harass them 24/7.

What Employees can do to Reduce Online Bullying

If you need to leave your current employer or client, then you are presented with several options. There may be legal angles you can take due to the nature of the bullying. This is, however, a long term compensation rather than a solution. Finding new clients is obviously the first thing for a freelancer to do. Being self-employed, there are benefits and problems when work is slow, so it can feel difficult to give up a source of income and trade it in for insecurity. If you have been earning for long enough, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. While there are federal regulations, most of this is handled on a state by state basis. Any unemployment insurance and benefits can be vital in giving you the chance to turn around your situation and find new employment, new clients, or a totally new direction.

However, it may be possible to save the situation. Being bullied has untold effects on our bodies and our minds, but it is not something to suffer or put up with. First, you should gather evidence of how you are being bullied by this person or people. Then you need to find the support of someone in authority – this can include a Union Rep if you have one. Check your legal rights under both federal and state law. Then you need to stay tough, hold your ground, and sadly, as noted above, have an exit strategy just in case. Now, the important part is not to confront the bully directly because they can and will twist this to suit them. First confide in management or a colleague, and work with them to address the situation.

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Bullying can come in all shapes and forms – and even from someone you consider a friend. If a colleague or client’s actions are causing you mental and emotional distress and impacting your work, it’s time to take action. No amount of money is worth putting up with negative and harassing comments. Often it’s the subtle harassment that builds up over time that is the hardest to identify. Working together doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but it absolutely means you must treat each other with respect!

Have you been a victim of workplace bullying? Please help us shine a light on the common occurrence of this very important topic!

 

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Shifting Away From Shift Work: Forgetting the Life of a 9-5er

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Forgetting the Life of a 9-5erI realized I’ve now spent more of my career as an entrepreneur, building my own business and setting my own schedule, than I have as a 9 to 5 employee to someone else. It’s a milestone I’ve proudly earned by taking many other risks and sacrifices, but I still can’t help but feel a little spoiled for the life this has provided.

When my friends or family encounter a restriction because of their work schedule, I’m oddly aloof as to what this feels like. I’m unable to recall what it’s like to have to report to a desk every day at a specific time and stay there regardless of what, if any work needs accomplished during those exact hours.

Work doesn’t always come in between 9am and 5pm and it certainly doesn’t stop coming in at all other hours of the day. This raises the question of why, with all of the technology that allows us to work from virtually anywhere, do we still chain ourselves to a desk for a block of time?

I don’t know who I should credit for its original quotation, but this following thought often weaves itself into my conversations with people who ask me about entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur, you get to choose the 80 hours a week you work.” The hours of work per week will change, but the message remains the same. Entrepreneurs may put in long hours, but at least we get to choose these hours. This allows us to weave work around life, travel and important events that we may otherwise have to choose between.

I jokingly say that if I worked a 9 to 5 job, I would max out my vacation days before February of each year and with every passing year this joke becomes more of a reality. I’m grateful that the length of my vacations, holiday breaks and time spent with family are at my discretion. With a husband who also runs his own non-profit, I’m quite certain that without our flexible work schedules, we would be like two ships passing in the night. Instead, I’ll join him on a business trip and work from hotels and coffee shops. Or we’ll both choose to work from home for a day to spend a little more time together.

When you’re an insomniac, they say that you’re never really asleep and never really awake. As an entrepreneur, I feel quite similar with my work schedule. At any given time I never have to be working, but I’m also never not working. Email and cell phones connect me at all times with my clients, so whether I’m sitting in front of my computer or out grocery shopping, I’m just as accessible. This allows me to do anything at any hour of the day and so I try to be strategic with when I do what. For example, entrepreneurship has allowed me to visit the doctor or hair salon at times when most people have to be at the office. I can do my grocery shopping when the store is dead rather than fighting with the weekend traffic. I also schedule my meetings to avoid rush hour so I can easily sail down the highway and spend no more time than absolutely necessary in transit. These may seem like small perks, but I couldn’t imagine life without them.

I’m barely able to remember what life was like when I had the same exact routine every morning and a set time to be out the door. Every so often these clouded memories come back when I find myself scheduled for an early morning meeting or poor planning has left me stuck in commuter traffic. My immediate reaction is “How do people do this every day?” After the moment passes and I re-enter my entrepreneurial world of constant change and variable schedules, I realize this is also a reasonable question that anyone else may choose to ask me…

 

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Independence Day

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!

This month is particularly meaningful as I look back on the very first steps I took on my entrepreneurial journey (nearly 5 years ago!) and reflect upon where my personal “Independence Day” has led me since this day in 2011. 


Beautiful Young Woman with USA Flag

I declare today to be Independence Day—my Independence Day. I’m aware of the irony of celebrating my personal independence on a day that our entire nation also celebrates its independence. But what could be more appropriate?

There are two reasons that call for this special occasion. I am celebrating my last day  working a desk job AND my first day of being my own boss. Both are as exciting as they are scary. Since I like focusing on beginnings not endings, let’s place our focus on the latter reason.

Today is a date I first set two weeks ago with HR when I decided I was going to take the leap (hopefully not the plunge) to branch off and put my entire heart and soul into launching my own public relations firm, Bennis Inc. It was an arbitrary date at the time, but has since become my hope, my inspiration…and now, my Independence Day.

As per handbook policy, I had to give two weeks notice to leave the Department and remain within good-standing plus it was a payday so I knew I wouldn’t have to wait around for my final pay check. It made sense. For the past two weeks, day by day, it became the light at the end of the tunnel. Some days I felt like there was so much to get done before this day that it was like being sucked into a jet propeller. Other days I felt like time simply stopped moving altogether.

No matter what it felt like, it was 14 days, 336 hours, 20160 minutes of planning, preparing and waiting. In those moments, I grew by at least seven years. I did things that people decades older than me have never had to tackle, and maybe never will. I rolled over my minuscule retirement fund into a Roth IRA. I hired a tax attorney to incorporate my business and get me prepared for a whole new experience when it comes to taxes. And I started pounding the pavement, putting myself out there and finally telling people about this business I’ve been building from the ground up since college.

I realized I have never before officially declared my independence as an entrepreneur and business owner, though I have been one for almost three years now. I always felt like I had to hide it or refer to it as a “side business” so as not to appear like a conflict of interest with my day job or schooling.

Well, that all stops today.

Today, I am officially open—open for business and open to praise, criticism, success and defeat. But it feels great. I feel like I’ve finally woken up and am taking my first deep breath of fresh air. I can’t wait to see where this Independence) Day will lead!

 

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The Power of Picking Your Focus

The Power of Picking Your Focus

After nearly five years and more than 250 blog posts, I’ve learned enough to know that inspiration can will strike in the most unexpected places. The inspiration for this week’s particular post came from a stranger in front of me in line at Panera Bread, who likely has no idea her wardrobe choice that day provided quite the colorful thought process over lunch. Her shirt simply read, “What you focus on expands.”

I can’t recall what cause or organization this t-shirt was designed to support; my mind was already wandering off in countless directions as to how this simple statement has proven true in my own life – even just recently.

I have always had an intensely focused mind. I have no trouble immersing myself into a project and blocking out all other distractions. Though very useful for my particular career path, these mental “blinders” I put up can also cause me to misguide my focus toward negative thoughts that are counterproductive…and at times, paralyzing.

I know I can’t be alone; I think most people can relate to the notion of “What you focus on expands.”

The Positive

The good news is that because what we focus on expands, this means that choosing to focus on positive and productive thoughts will lead to more positivity and productivity in our lives.

Have you ever experienced a stretch of a few days, maybe even longer, when things really felt like they were coming together in your life? The good news kept rolling in and you felt like you had a little extra luck leading your way? I know I have. Now reflecting upon these “charmed” moments, I can see that what I considered good luck was actually the result of having my focus in the right place.

Because I was focused on things that were going right, I was more inclined to find and appreciate even the littlest of things that were blessings in my day. I was focused on the positive and the positive continued to expand.

The Negative

Unfortunately there is also a negative side to these words of wisdom. In contrast to those positive moments in life, I know I can also recall moments (even weeks or months) when I felt down on my luck.

What likely began as some bad news, like losing a client, then spiraled into what felt like the opposite of the Midas touch. Everything I encountered seemed to go the opposite way of what I had hoped. It’s no wonder that since I was expecting a negative response, that is what I received. Even little things, like clumsiness or forgetfulness, seemed amplified.

The Power of Picking Your Focus

The reality is that in both the positive and negative scenarios I just shared, my luck was pretty much the same. The major thing that shifted was my focus. When I was focused on positivity, I was more inclined to see all the little positive moments throughout my day and overlook the negative. The opposite applies for when I am feeling overly negative. In a given day, I likely encountered just as many highs and lows, but how I choose to frame them is what determines my mood.

What I challenge you with today is to stop and really examine your focus. Are you feeling positive or negative? You have the power to pick your focus. Regardless of how your morning started or any residual stress left over from the week prior, you can choose to start anew. There will be days when finding the silver lining feels impossible, but really try to avoid taking the easy way out by choosing to be negative. Remember, what you focus on expands.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Regina Brett that has always cheered up even the most dismal of days…

“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

Are you intentional about your focus? Share your tips or struggles and let’s start a conversation!

 

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The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


The Necessary Slow Burn of Business GrowthConsider this. Each spring it’s common practice to burn the tall grasses of the prairie. The reasons for this man made fire are those to benefit the prairie and it’s natural habitat – to remove old growth, put nutrients back into the soil and promote new growth and abundance. The prairie needs this fire to exist. As reckless and destructive as this once seemed to me as a child, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the prairie’s need for this slow, controlled burn. But now as an adult, reexamining this yearly ritual made me question another aspect of these prairie fires.

Why not just use gasoline, light a quick blaze and take care of the whole field at once? Why does it need to be a slow and smoldering fire – a process that seems to be so needlessly drawn out?

The answer to this question is actually quite strategic and far from needless. The slow, controlled burn of these tall prairie grasses is necessary for achieving all the ecological benefits that it does. Gasoline would absolutely ruin the soil and prevent these tall grasses from ever growing again. And a large wildfire would wreak havoc on other parts of the ecosystem (not to mention holds the potential to easily burn out of control). So why am I choosing to tell you so much about these prairie fires? It’s because I see an important lesson on life and business building within these flames – a lesson that speaks to both patience and strategy.

Letting it burn (slowly)

For anyone who has ever attempted to build a business, the process of growth is unpredictable and unstable at best. We want to believe, that like any model growth chart illustrates, our business will grow with dramatic spikes until we blast off the chart. But this is neither common nor sustainable for 99% of businesses out there. Instead, like a prairie fire, the healthiest and most lasting business growth is a steady smoldering that inches onward day by day. I define this as healthy growth because it’s growth that blazes a new trail while giving us enough time to stay right in tow. We control it; it does not control us. This is also the type of growth that strengthens a business as oppose to a wildfire which could burn it all down. Most importantly and much like the prairie fires, this slow, controlled burn weeds out the old while laying the rich foundation for future growth. It’s a change that moves at the pace of evolution, and it should be our goal to evolve patiently and strategically as such.

Avoiding the temptation to rush

With technology at our fingertips and our society of ever-connectedness, our accessibility to “gasoline” is endless. This causes a great temptation to rush the process of the slow burn just because we have the means to do so. But as ecologists have proven and stressed, this quick and fast method is not always beneficial, and sometimes harmful, depending upon what you’re trying to achieve. For the slow burn of business growth, you’re trying to achieve much more than a burnt and barren field. You want to preserve the ground and burn only what is necessary. Gasoline won’t allow you to do this. We have to avoid the temptation and let things progress on their own. Instead, we often want to ignite the fire with things like an overkill of paid advertising (this is often a waste of precious capital in the beginning) or gimmicky deals (this often pulls in the wrong client base). Such “shoot-from-the-hip” strategies may produce big flames for display, but at some point these flames will cause destruction or someone will get burned. As I’ve mentioned before, such growth is neither sustainable nor beneficial in the long run.

In life or in business, have you ever personally experienced the temptation to rush a critical process? Maybe this is a process of growth, a process of healing or a process of change. While it’s tempting to want to overcome these uncomfortable and even painful moments in life quickly, rushing the process can prevent us from receiving all of the benefits they’re meant to bring. Learn to appreciate the slow fires we have lit and know that they are with the purpose and intent to make us stronger and more abundant.

 

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