Business for Self-Employed Creatives

Aardvark Girl | Amanda McCune

Helping business owners, freelancers & other self-employed creatives succeed… and have fun doing it. It can be overwhelming at times, but there’s nothing like the privilege of working for yourself – making your own rules, owning your time, and trusting your instincts to make the right decisions. With short episodes that get straight to the point, this podcast is about the common issues we face in business, along with solutions that work for other creatives like you. Aardvark Girl is a producer, project manager & business specialist with 20+ years of experience managing companies & helping people in creative industries. She helps you get a handle on the business side of things so you can focus on your talent. Let's get to work! read less
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Episodes

How to Be a Good Client
Feb 7 2022
How to Be a Good Client
I spend a lot of time talking about building relationships with clients and how to approach things from the vendor perspective. But many of us who have clients also ARE clients, because we hire other contractors to do portions of our projects. So I’m wondering how many of us put as much effort into being a good client as we expect our clients to do for us. It’s that whole idea of treat others how you want to be treated. It’s simple in concept but for some reason it seems trickier in execution.   For me, I like to think I’m consistent across the board. It’s important to me to treat all people well, regardless of whether they are paying me, I am paying them, or there’s no money involved. Kindness is my own form of currency, and one that matters a great deal to me. I wish that sentiment was shared more often, but it seems everyone has their own way. I also think it’s easier for those of us who have done freelance work ourselves to know what not to do. Most of my clients who started out as freelancers are the ones who pay the fastest and show the most appreciation for the people they hire.   There are a lot of ways to be a good client, mostly by just being a good human, but I think there are a few behaviors that form a strong foundation. Those are related to compensation, communication, respect, appreciation, and the obvious one, paying people on time.   Compensate fairly. Let’s get the money conversation out of the way first because it does matter. When you hire someone, you’re relying on their talent and expertise to do things you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t have time to do yourself. This comes at a cost, just as you’d expect if someone was hiring you. To be a good client, don’t insult your vendor by balking at reasonable rates or trying to beat them down for a low price. It’s one thing to negotiate, but it’s another to undervalue someone’s services. They say “you get what you pay for” for a reason. You can pick cheap or good, but not both. You won’t settle for less than what you’re worth, so don’t expect someone else to do that for you.   Communicate expectations. We all know how frustrating it can be when you think you’re on the same page with a client but then it turns out they were hoping for something different. Spare yourself and your vendors that problem by communicating properly from the beginning. Make sure to discuss what you expect in terms of hours, deadlines, and deliverables. If you have a contract, give them time to review it. If they have a contract, read it and ask any questions you may have. Everyone understands that sometimes changes are needed, but don’t be that client that asks for “one little change” 18 times and then act surprised when they bill you for that time. You probably know how it feels to be on the other end of that conversation, so you don’t want to do that to someone else.   Also, remember that communication goes both ways. You expect them to deliver on time, but you need to hold up your end of the deal as well. So if they ask you to clarify something, or they need something from you in order to move forward, don’t make them wait. Yes, you’re busy, but they’re trying to help you. If you need to send them a document, or weigh in on something, you’re only hurting yourself by not responding quickly. Every hour you delay on your end is an hour delayed on their end as well, and there’s only so much time before a deadline. You don’t want them rushing at the last minute, increasing the chance for mistakes. This is such an easy situation to avoid, but it happens all the time. Be a good client and communicate!   Respect boundaries. Boundaries. You know how I feel about them. You probably feel similarly. It drives you crazy when a client texts you at night or during the weekend or any time outside of your normal working hours. Or when they want to have a bunch of meetings but aren’t productive during those meetings and end up wasting time you could have spent getting the actual work done. Work-life balance is important to you and you make it a priority, so you should understand that the people you hire do the same. If you had that proper communication from the beginning, you should understand each other’s work schedules and work within them.   Emergencies happen, and when you have good relationships, people will be willing to help you through them. But that should never be the norm. And it shouldn’t be because of what I mentioned before – that you waited until the last minute to do your part and now you expect them to use their personal time to get things done. You chose to work with someone because of what they can do for you, so don’t be the client who pushes away good people because you’re difficult to work with.   Express appreciation. How often do you feel like you put in a ton of effort to do great work for a client and they don’t seem to care at all? And how meaningful is it when one of them takes a minute to send a simple thank you or in some way acknowledge what you’ve done for them? Yes, you’re doing your job and getting paid is the compensation, but doesn’t it matter a whole lot when someone actually tells you how much they appreciate you? I know it does to me. As a vendor, I don’t expect it, but it’s always nice to hear. So when I hire someone to work for me, I make sure to let them know I’m grateful for what they do. This is something that seems to be overlooked everywhere in the job world, whether you’re employed by someone or work for yourself, it seems people are quick to criticize when something is wrong, but they don’t think to praise what’s going right. When you’re the client, it’ll benefit you to make that effort and let people know that what they’re doing matters.   Pay on time. Yes, we’re back to money, and this should seem obvious, but paying people on time is important. You hired them for a job, and they did that job for you, so don’t make them chase you down for the money they’ve earned. You don’t want to do this in your business, so why would they? And if you want to be an extra good client, pay them right away. Sure, net 30 is standard and acceptable, but how great does it feel when you send an invoice and within a few minutes you receive the confirmation that payment has been made? Remember, especially when you’re hiring freelancers, they often rely on each payment and have to carry an extra burden any time one is late. But regardless of their circumstances, you have a responsibility to pay people for the work they do for you.   One thing that has always driven me crazy is when a client uses the “I’ll pay you when my client pays me” approach. Sadly, this is common in my industry and many others, and it pushes payments back much further than it should, especially when you’re the last person in a chain. For example, a production company might hire me, but they were hired by an agency, who was hired by the end client. So if each one of those is waiting until they get paid, each delay means I’m waiting even longer. Now, if I hire a voice talent and I wait until I get paid, now they’re 4 tiers behind and is it fair for them to have to wait 60 days or 90 days or longer? No. If I hire them, I’m responsible for paying them. They can’t go to my client or the ad agency or Nike’s marketing department and ask for their money. Their deal is with me, not with them, so I need to pay them on time.   Part of running a business means being able to uphold your responsibilities. So if I hire someone, I’m paying them as soon as possible, regardless of when my client pays me. Now, fortunately, I don’t have clients who make me wait like that, but I hear horror stories all the time. I won’t do that to someone else, and hopefully you won’t either. If your financial situation is so tight that you can’t cover your bills, it’s time to work on your budget. If you can’t afford to pay someone, you shouldn’t be hiring them in the first place. There is no excuse for being a client who doesn’t pay on time. No excuse.   Be the client you’d like to have. Businesses rely on clients. It’s kind of the way it all works. You provide a service and people hire you as a vendor because they need those services. When you need support or additional services, you hire someone else and become the client. When that happens, you can’t automatically forget your etiquette and start doing all the things you hate when your clients do it to you. Treat them like your ideal client treats you. Compensate them fairly, communicate your expectations, respect their boundaries, express your appreciation, and pay them on time. Be the client you’d like to have and you’ll have excellent working relationships with people who will make your business better and your life easier. It’s really that simple.
How Many Clients Should You Have?
Jan 24 2022
How Many Clients Should You Have?
I was asked an interesting question the other day: How many clients should you have? I’ve never really thought about that before and I’m not sure there’s a concrete answer for that. But I thought it was worth exploring here. I don’t think it’s so much about a number as it as about balance, factoring in workload, income, and other needs. I suppose the easy answer is “enough.” You need enough clients to keep your business healthy, but not so many you can’t keep up. Let’s talk about what that really means, starting with some general ideas. Then I’ll share what my plan was when I started, how it’s changed over the years, and how I feel about it now. In general, I wouldn’t set a number of clients as an expectation. I say that because clients vary so much in what they bring to your business. You could have a large number of clients who bring you one job each, a few clients who bring you several projects each, or some combination of the two. Some of that might depend upon what type of work you do, how you market yourself, or how you prioritize your decisions. Your short-term and long-term goals are factors as well. You might be looking for one big account that will offer more stable income, or you might be looking for some smaller jobs to fill out your available time. There is no right or wrong way to do any of it. It all depends on your personal strategy. And that’s what I’d focus on instead of the number. I never formed a proper written strategy, but I had ideas in my head. I did prepare a business plan in the beginning, but I don’t think I looked at it once after it was completed. I’m pretty sure I found it a couple years ago and it made me laugh, but even now I don’t remember what was in it. I tried to dig it up to reference, but it’s probably on an old backup drive somewhere and I didn’t want to lose any more time searching and getting distracted with other things I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m sure you know how that goes. Squirrel! When I first started my business, I thought I was going to move away from production entirely to focus on consulting for other small businesses. The fun had fizzled out in the work I was doing, and I felt more drawn to helping others. I had spent so many years learning the best ways to run a business, and the best ways not to, and I saw a trend amongst my friends who owned creative businesses - many needed some guidance but not necessarily a full-time manager. I didn’t want to work full-time for anyone, so it made perfect sense to me. Of course, this was out-of-the-box thinking, because traditional companies assumed management was full-time and in the office back then. I actually had a marketing agency that had reached out to represent me at that time wanting to promote me as the “part-time CEO.” I thought it had a nice ring to it, but at the same time, I don’t like it when solopreneurs call themselves the CEO of their company. This is only an opinion, and I understand that many don’t agree with me, so I won’t get into it much further, but it feels like an ego thing to me. And I was so burned out on the corporate world, that I didn’t want to try to bring in that kind of structure in terms of a title, and I didn’t want to present my company as anything bigger than what it was. I just wanted to be me. The first test to my plan came while I still had my regular job. My first client was a referral from a makeup artist friend – it was a photography business with a small staff of other photographers, retouchers, and admins. The owner was also the primary photographer, so it was important that he spent his time out shooting and not doing the day-to-day work at the office. But they were lacking structure and he knew things could be running more efficiently. So I went in, reviewed the systems, talked to the staff individually, and got a sense of what was happening. I made suggestions, helped implement new procedures, and trained the staff. A big part of how I wanted to differentiate myself from a typical consultant was to help in a way that the existing staff could maintain when I was done. So no, that wouldn’t lead to consistent work for me, but the hope was that they would then refer me to someone else who needed similar help. Again, that was considered out of the box. But that photographer is still a client to this day. I took over the bookkeeping so I could keep an eye on the business and make suggestions as needed. My second client also came along while I was still at my job. One of my favorite production companies to work with was looking for some short-term help for a few months while they were busy. I had planned on reaching out to them anyway, so I jumped on the opportunity. Even though it was doing the production work I wanted to get away from, it was a good chance to build my new business further and let others in the industry know I was available outside of that company. Luckily, by doing that work I quickly realized I didn’t need to veer away from production, I just needed to work with different people. That wasn’t in my plan, but I’m sure glad I listened to it because the bulk of my business remains in production. And that’s the thing with plans. Whether they’re simple outlines, detailed steps, written down, or all in your head, sometimes you have to veer from them and go with where the work takes you. For me, I ended up somewhere much better than what I could’ve controlled anyway. Plans are fine, but it’s important to be flexible so you don’t get so focused on where you think you should go that you miss a better opportunity that comes along. I believe plans need to be written with a metaphorical pencil, so they can be erased and rewritten as necessary. That few months turned into a couple years, and that was my first retainer client. We agreed on a monthly rate and an average number of hours per month, and that gave me a good starting point to launch into my business full-time. One thing I remember the owner of that company saying was that it was good to have a mix of low-volume/high-income clients and high-volume/low-income clients. That means you’ll have some clients whose projects have smaller budgets, but they have a lot of them and some who have bigger budgets but not as much work. It’s a perfect way to balance time and income and keep work steady, so that’s something you may want to consider as you continue building your business strategy. My third client, still while I was working my regular job, was another referral from a production friend. Do you see the pattern here? I’ve mentioned before how powerful network referrals can be, and this is why. It’s how I get the bulk of my business. I hadn’t worked with anyone on the team before, but was offered a 9-month position working as a project manager for the 2016 Presidential Debate. This is another element of strategy, taking on longer duration projects that will keep you busy for a time, but are unlikely to repeat. These can be nice to build some steady income for a bit. That job in particular was a great networking opportunity. Not only have I worked with that client a handful of times over the years, but other people I worked with on the debate became new clients as well. At that point, I had enough business on my own and my time at the job job had run its course, so that’s when I put my full-time focus into Aardvark Girl. Just in working with those first three, I had a lot of realizations about how I wanted to move forward, and this is still what I do today. Retainers are important for stability. When you work for yourself, income can be unpredictable, so it’s nice to have some kind of foundation where you know you can count on a certain amount each month. My goal now is to make sure I have enough monthly retainer work that my expenses are covered, so even if I didn’t get any other jobs that month, I wouldn’t have to worry about paying any bills or pulling money from another account. It is important when working on retainer, to make sure the deal is outlined and agreed to by both parties. You have to be careful about how many hours you’re committed to and how flexible those hours are throughout the month. I currently have about 12 retainer clients, ranging anywhere from one to 35 hours per month. They keep me busy but still leave plenty of time open for bigger projects. Multiple Revenue Streams. Multiple revenue streams are important for balance. If you only do one type of work, if the industry is affected by something, let’s say a worldwide pandemic, it makes it harder to stay afloat. But if you’re able to make money doing different things, you can cushion some of that blow when it happens. For me, I started by doing production and consulting. But even within the production work, I found multiple options. My experience had been primarily with commercials and video, but working the debate introduced me to a lot of people in live events. I quickly planted one foot in each world because it seemed that if one area was slow, something was going on in the other. That helped a lot. On the consulting side, I also added online business management and bookkeeping for select clients. All of my services are related, so it’s not about being all over the place with different offerings, it’s about sticking to your niche but expanding on what you can do within it. One-Off Jobs. In the production world, I’m often working on projects that are only going to come around once. Each one is different, and it’s often unpredictable when they’re going to come up. These are the jobs I take with the time that isn’t tied up in retainers. They could last a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. It all depends on that specific client and that particular job. These aren’t necessarily projects I can count on, but I know that I have loyal clients who will continue to hire me when they do come up and that’s why it’s important for me to maintain flexible schedules with everyone. With these jobs, I go for quality over quantity. I’d rather have a small number of loyal clients than a large number of clients I only work with once. With those relationships, you get to know how to best work together so you avoid the learning curve that comes along with a new client. I’m always happy to expand my network, but my hope is always to have lasting partnerships. Long-Term Projects. Working on long-term projects can be great for financial growth. The Debate gave me 9 months of income when I was first starting out. That peace of mind at that time was immeasurable. And that continues. Working on Intervention for nearly a year and a half propelled my business forward in a whole new way. I would be grateful for another season or any similar arrangement any time. Even when you know these jobs have an end date, chances are something new will come along to fill that time when it opens up. I usually can only take on one of these at a time, although occasionally two will overlap. I’m always careful to make sure I don’t take on more than I can handle.With the combination of monthly retainers, multiple revenue streams, one-off jobs and long-term projects, I never find myself in a place where I’m panicked about not having enough work. If one area is slow, another may be busy, and if nothing else I know I can count on my retainer clients. Not to mention the variety keeps my brain active and prevents me from ever getting bored with my work. None of that really answers how many clients should you have, because I think that’s different for everyone. The strategy I just outlined is what works for me, balancing different types of clients and jobs to fill the time in a flexible manner. I have a lot of voice actor friends, who get a ton of one-off jobs and only have a few volume accounts, but they are constantly working. If you recall my interview with Aiden McFarland, he talked about how he built his business with just two clients. So it’s not about comparing a number or strategy to what anyone else is doing. It’s about finding what works for you and what supports your overall goals. For me, I value loyalty, consistency, and quality of relationships more than anything. Income is great, and obviously something I need, but it’s not my primary motivation for what I do. Others place more importance on financial growth, which is perfectly normal for a business owner, and there’s nothing wrong with making money a priority. Some might be chasing recognition or the ability to work with bigger brands or opportunities that will allow them to travel. There’s no right or wrong goal here. The key is to figure out what is important to you, what steps you can take to start moving in that direction, and then make the decisions that will lead you all the way there. What is the perfect client scenario for you? I’ll be posting about this episode on social and would love for you to add your perspective. Or feel free to start your own conversation and tag me. You can find me @aardvarkgirl across all platforms. Talk to you soon!
Setting Boundaries without Being Defensive
Jan 10 2022
Setting Boundaries without Being Defensive
We all know I have a lot of favorite things about being self-employed. On that list is being able to set your own rules for how you run your business. You get to choose your hours, your location, how you communicate, which systems work for you, and everything else. It’s way better than having to fit the mold that someone else controls and might not align with what is right for you. But, that doesn’t mean that you get your way all the time. If that’s what you are expecting, and you get defensive when someone needs you to do something differently, you will end up creating challenges that don’t need to exist. Two important skills I talk about a lot are communication and setting boundaries. I call them both skills because there is a nuance to doing them correctly. Everyone can communicate, but it doesn’t mean they can do it well. Same with setting boundaries. When you’re dealing with people every day, whether they are clients or vendors, you have to be able to communicate effectively and set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and make sure those relationships are in a good place. One of the best ways to do that is to keep your negative emotions in check and don’t use them to fuel your interactions. It’s much better to go into discussions from a neutral place, listen to what the other person says, and explain your point of view in a more logical way. For the record, this applies to non-business relationships as well. I’ll use a common occurrence to explain what I mean by keeping it logical vs emotional. The client wants you to attend a meeting at their office. You know that it’s a waste of your time to drive all the way there when you can accomplish the same goal in an email or phone call. So how do you respond? Response 1: Not setting a boundary would mean you go anyway but the whole time you’re thinking about how you don’t want to be there and how much time it’s taking away from everything else you need to do. Chances are your client will pick up on that demeanor and interpret it as a behavioral issue. Response 2: Reacting emotionally would be sighing at the request or going into a diatribe about how you don’t like in-person meetings and how you have so much to do and it would be an inconvenience to you. Basically making it all about you instead of considering what’s good for them. And since they are paying you, they probably won’t appreciate that. Response 3: A logical, client-friendly response would be to explain that the time it would take to travel to and from a meeting at their office would take away from the work you need to do for them. Offer the solution of discussing their agenda at the same time, but on the phone or Zoom instead, assuring them that you’ll be able to accomplish the same goals without hindering progress on their project. With the logical response, you’re making it about the client and helping them see that you are looking out for them. They might not have considered the extra time it would take you because they’re already at the office. Or they might work better in a group setting and assume you’ll find the same value in a situation that will actually slow you down. Or they might just want to see you because they like you, so they think offering the invitation is a nice gesture. You might even ask them if it’s important for it to be in person, or why they feel it needs to be in person, and see what they say. I find that nearly every time, that’s just what they’re used to and they hadn’t put any other thought into it at all. I usually hear, “Oh, no reason. A call or Zoom is fine.” You never want to assume you know the intention behind a request, or react negatively based on an assumption. It’s always better to just ask. So, not setting a boundary would mean you’re doing something you don’t want to do, and maybe didn’t even have to do, and you’ll possibly end up resentful for it even though you didn’t try to help yourself. Responding emotionally can make it sound like you don’t care about your client and are just being stubborn. But communicating logically can help you understand where they are coming from, help them understand where you’re coming from, and can often land with a win for everyone. One mistake I keep seeing, usually with those who are newer to business, but also with some who have been doing it for a while, is this undertone of defensiveness when a client wants them to do something in a different way. It’s that emotional response that comes across almost like a tantrum. “I don’t want to do it this way.” “I can have rules, too.” “I’m allowed to do it like this!” I see this in business groups on social media all the time. Someone asks for advice and a lot of the comments end up being something like, “It doesn’t matter what your client needs. You can do whatever you want because it’s your business.” And then others jump in and are like, “Yeah, you do what you want and they just need to accept it.” It’s meant to be encouraging, because so many people do struggle with saying no or having conversations where they don’t give in to what the client wants. But it’s not always helpful. It is true that you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. At least not in every situation. This attitude most likely stems from resentment we have from our old jobs, where we weren’t respected or valued or had to do things a certain way even when we could do it better if the people in charge would just offer a little flexibility or trust. I know all too well how that goes. It’s easy to feel like you have to overcompensate once you’re out on your own. That you need to put your foot down at every turn so no one takes advantage of you again. Once you have that freedom, you don’t want to give it away.  It makes sense. But sometimes we can be so stubborn about wanting to do things our way that we don’t realize that our way is actually getting in the way. You won’t become successful without compromising sometimes. There must always be some give and take, whether you have the client or are the client. You build those positive relationships by working together to reach your common goals. The trick is to choose when to stand firm and when to give in. Think about why you don’t want to do something. Is there a logical reason for it or are you just being stubborn? If you prefer email but you have a client who hates it, what do you gain by refusing to take a phone call? Is it so much of an inconvenience that it’s worth losing business? And I say this as someone who doesn’t like talking on the phone. I communicate my preferences with my clients, but ultimately I need to meet them where they are. I don’t need to be defensive about it because I understand that it isn’t a personal attack on me that our methods are different. My own feelings aside, I prefer email because it’s a written record I can go back and reference any time. But there’s no reason I can’t let my client express his needs on the phone, take notes, and then follow up with an email recapping our discussion. That’s actually a good practice to be in anyway because it ensures you are on the same page and nothing gets misinterpreted or forgotten after the conversation. If your client needs you to invoice using their platform, but you prefer to use Quickbooks, is that worth arguing about? Many bigger companies have internal payment systems and your choices might be use it or don’t work with them. That’s not the time to be stubborn. I’ve said this many times, but you always want to make it easy for people to pay you. Their intention isn’t to make your life difficult, and it’s not a criticism of the way you do things. On the other side of that, though, there are times when you do need to push back. If you have a CRM system you use to manage the entire process of a job, something you’ve built through your time and experience because you know it keeps everything running smoothly, that’s something you want to explain rationally to a client who says she doesn’t want to use it. Some people are hesitant to learn new software, but if you can help them see how it will benefit them, they might be more open. In some cases, you may need to let them know that if they are unable to utilize your system, you won’t be able to move forward with them. And these are discussions that should be had before the contract is signed, not after. Manage expectations from the beginning and you’ll avoid more of those uncomfortable conversations later. No one wants to lose a client over something they feel is silly, but if you can’t perform at your best because someone is unwilling to trust your system, it’s better to walk away. Be confident enough to do that, but still don’t take it personally. That client might not be the right fit for you, and that’s okay. It’s better to know up front than to ignore the red flags and get stuck with a bad client. It’s important to set boundaries, but do it without being defensive. You’ve earned the right to do things however you see fit, but don’t overlook the benefits of considering your clients’ needs as well. It’s all about building long-term relationships where there is mutual respect. You help them, they help you, everyone is happy and making all kinds of money. That’s the dream, right? You can have that. You’ve already taken the biggest step by starting your own business. So don’t let the past derail you. Compromising is not failing. Clients wanting to do things differently is rarely a reflection of you or your process, so there’s no need to get defensive about it. Let go of the emotional reaction and respond logically. Be clear, especially with yourself, about why you feel so strongly about something. If it’s a minor inconvenience, you may want to give in. If it’s a massive disruption to your workflow, enforce your boundaries. It’s always your choice how you want to run your business, but if you expect to always get your way, you might hit more hurdles than are necessary. Communicate your needs, listen to your clients, and you’ll find a way to make it work.
How do You Take Time Off When You ARE Your Business?
Jan 3 2022
How do You Take Time Off When You ARE Your Business?
When you own your own business and you ARE your own business, taking time off can feel overwhelmingly impossible. But you owe it to yourself to prioritize your own well-being and taking breaks is a big part of that. This episode is about making that time through outsourcing, planning, committing to yourself the same as you would to a client, and more. What are some ways you give yourself time off? Do you generally go for the big blocks of time, more consistent smaller actions, or somewhere in between? I’d love to hear how you prioritize yourself and make time to take breaks in your business. Post your thoughts on social and tag me, or send me a message to keep this conversation going. You can find me @aardvarkgirl or email info@aardvarkgirl.com. Thank you for listening! -- At the beginning of a new year, it seems most people are focused on being productive. What can I accomplish this year? What changes can I implement to run my business more effectively? It starts with setting new goals and formulating plans for how to achieve them. I think it’s great to do that, not just in January, but throughout the year. I talked about resolutions in episode 34 at the start of 2021. But where I’m at now, and what’s top of mind for me, is the opposite of being more productive. It’s taking more breaks. But how do you do that when YOU are your business? Being a single-person business has many perks, but it also comes with some challenges. If you need time off for whatever reason, that means your business stops. We don’t really get paid time off or holidays, at least not in the traditional sense. To me, that’s not a big deal because I also don’t have to work 40 hours a week or do anything I don’t want to do, and I can take time whenever I want it without someone else approving. But, when you’re working at a regular job, there are usually other employees there who can handle your work while you’re out. When it’s just you, you don’t always have the luxury of handing it off to someone else. But it’s necessary to take time off. We can’t work every day without serious repercussions to our mental health. It’s why burnout is so prevalent amongst the self-employed. It’s too easy to get stuck in that that “time is money” mindset and if we’re not working every second, our businesses will fail. And while it is true that if you’re providing a service and don’t necessarily have that passive income, time you’re not working IS time you aren’t earning, that’s not the most important thing. That’s not to say that money isn’t important because we all know it is, but it has to come along with that balance of time, which is equally important. It doesn’t mean you need to take a 2-week vacation every few months, although if you can do that you absolutely should. Sometimes it just means taking the time where you can find it, even if it’s only an hour a day. It really comes down to time management, which usually isn’t a strength for creatives. But here are some ways you can take time off from your business to take care of yourself. The obvious solution isn’t always practical, and that’s to outsource. If you have someone else who can handle your tasks, it’s much easier to step away. But many of us are hesitant to do this for a number of reasons. The biggest one for me has always been that it would take me longer to train someone than to just do it myself. It’s true, but that’s also a limiting mindset because it means I’ll always be stuck doing it myself. The other reason for me is that I’ve yet to find anyone I can trust to do what I do at the level it needs to be done for my clients. That’s not meant in an arrogant or condescending way, but there are a lot of nuances to how I do my work and that’s why my clients depend on me. If I were to hand things off to someone else, I’d need to know they’d represent me correctly and that one is tricky. For many others, it feels like paying someone else would be cost-prohibitive and they’d rather just refer the job to someone else. But in my opinion, the smartest way to outsource is to keep it all under your business. Ideally, you can retain a markup on the labor you outsource. You want to make sure you’re paying fair wages, but it’s standard to mark up your expenses by at least 20% to cover your own admin costs. If you can do that without it being an issue for your client (meaning you don’t have to charge them more), even better. If you typically charge $150/hr for what you do, but can fairly pay someone else $100/hr, you can bill the client the same amount but you keep that extra $50/hr for yourself. It’s probably not going to sustain you long-term, but it keeps a little coming in for you and doesn’t come with the same risks as handing off your client to someone else. I see that happen more than I’d like to. For example, someone goes on maternity leave and instead of hiring someone to cover her for a few months, she completely turns her client over to a replacement. While I understand that sometimes that’s more convenient because then you can be completely hands-off, you also run the risk of your client not coming back when you do. It’s not always a case of the person you trusted betraying you, but maybe the client found a better rhythm with that person and would like to continue working with them instead. It happens. There is a lot of debate about whether transparency is necessary when you’re giving tasks to someone else. I believe it is. I think it’s important that if you’re going to be away and letting someone else handle the job, you should tell your client. I don’t think too much detail is necessary, but an introduction via email saying something like, “My team is expanding and I’m excited to have this new person on board. She’ll be helping me on your project so we can give you some extra attention.” Or something positive like that. As always, you want to frame it in a way that’s a benefit to them. From there, it’s up to you how much involvement you want, but you must communicate expectations with your new vendor. Do you want to be copied on all communications with your client? If there are questions and you’re on vacation, do you want an email or a text or are they empowered to make decisions without you? That’s all going to depend on your personal level of comfort, and if you really need to cut yourself off from work completely to get the rest you need or if checking emails once a day is worthwhile. Only you will know what’s right. You also want to communicate the same with your client. Let them know which dates you’re going to be out of the office and let them know if they should be interacting with your vendor. You want it to be a seamless transition for them so there aren’t any disruptions to the process they’re already used to. But if you decide it’s better for you to completely unplug and step out of the process entirely, that communication becomes important again so you can hopefully minimize the chances of losing the client when you come back. I know that’s a lot of talk about outsourcing and you might not be at the point where that’s the right option for you, which is fine. But that means when you want to take a break, you will not be available for client work. So many freelancers are afraid to do that because they feel like if they turn down one job, they won’t be called for the next one. It does happen sometimes, but it’s not healthy to be constantly available to everyone but yourself. For me, it often comes down to simply saying no when an offer comes up. I’m really in tune with myself and what I need, and I trust my intuition with those decisions. If I’m already worn out and feel like another day or week or whatever the case may be will be too much, I say I’m not available. If a client doesn’t call me again because I couldn’t take a job, that’s not the right client for me, and that’s okay. It’s better for me to take that risk than to show up when I’m not going to be at my best. Not surprisingly, the key here, as in so many situations, is communication. If you’re planning a trip, check in with your clients when you start planning. See what projects they might have coming up and figure out if you can schedule your part in them before you leave and/or when you return. They will appreciate being included in your process and will feel like you are making them a priority. Clients like that. They’ll also appreciate a heads up about when you’ll be unavailable, especially if they’re used to you being around without much notice. Taking a vacation is one thing, and we should all probably do that a little more often. I know I’m feeling the negative repercussions of not traveling for the last couple of years. I love seeing new places and different parts of the world and this is the longest I’ve been without a proper trip in probably a decade or more. I think it’s so beneficial to get different perspectives, change environments, and really disconnect from your business sometimes so you can come back refreshed and ready to go. But, covid risks aside, I haven’t been able to travel for other reasons as well, so here we are. There are still other ways to take breaks, even at home. I said before that sometimes you have to take the time when you can find it, and I think that’s really important. It always comes back to balance. So if you know you only have a day or two in between big jobs, make sure to do what you need to do for yourself in those days. I always treat those days similar to a traditional weekend. When I was working in the corporate world, Saturdays were my free days. Sometimes I’d use those to socialize or just veg out on the couch all day. They were screen-free, work-free, do whatever I want to do days. Sundays were my personal productive days, so still no work, but I’d do my food prep and laundry, projects around the house, all that stuff that needed to be done. Then I’d start the week fresh on Monday. I still follow a pretty similar schedule. I generally don’t work weekends but when that’s unavoidable, I find time during the week where I can. When it’s a full day or more, that’s great. But sometimes it’s only a few hours. It’s all about being intentional with that time and being realistic about how you need to spend it. A lot of it comes down to being organized and planning ahead. If there is work you know you have coming up, but you can get it done early, do that. When I’m really busy, sometimes I’ll work a little longer for a few days so I can free up some time later in the week. I look over what I have to do and make sure I’m making time for what’s important. If you’re someone who gets wrapped up in what you’re doing and lose track of everything else, you have a different set of challenges. You know who you are, the ones who forget to eat and don’t realize how late it is until your office gets dark because the sun has gone down. For you, scheduling your down time might be the solution. Like, actually put it in your calendar and set alerts so you don’t forget. Again, this could be little bits of time each day. The Apple Watch is nice because it reminds you every hour or so to get up and move around, just for a minute. That’s helpful, but a few minutes walking around the kitchen aren’t going to prevent you from overdoing it. Use your calendar to your benefit and schedule time for yourself just as you would time for a client. Commit to yourself in the same way and it can make a huge difference. I think the most important time to schedule is your workout. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, both of which contribute to running a healthy business by yourself. The right time depends on you. I’ve gone back and forth between morning and evening. For a while, I preferred to go to my pilates classes at 5pm because it gave me a good time stop working and was a nice delineation between my workday and my personal time. That’s also when the classes I wanted were available. But when covid came around and I had to shift to home workouts, and I started getting really busy, I reverted back to mornings. In my line of work, as I’m sure it is with you, every day can be unpredictable. I might start off the day with one plan, but other things come up and I have to pivot and figure it out as I go. Those disruptions usually don’t happen too early in the morning, so I like to get my workouts in at the start of the day to minimize the chance of not getting around to it later because something came up, or I’m tired, or I just don’t feel like it. If it’s a particularly busy day, I might only do 30 minutes, or sometimes even less, but it’s important to me to do something. Exercise aside, it’s good to make time for other self-care, too. Maybe it’s going for a massage or a facial or pedicure or something that helps you feel good. Maybe it’s going to the batting cages or one of those places where you get to smash old stuff to let out some aggression. Whatever it is that you need, commit to yourself for that time and trust that nothing is going to irreparably fall apart while you’re gone. If something happens, you can tend to it when you’re done, but at least you’ll be starting from a healthier place. Every little bit of “me time” helps. It’s so easy to get stuck in that feeling of “I can’t do anything because I have too much work to do,” but if you never make the time for yourself, it’s only going to get worse. I’ll let you in on a little secret here. I rarely work 40 hours or more in a week. There have been some stretches of time in the last few months where I’m close to that and occasionally more, but most of the time, I don’t take on that much. I’m not interested in working myself to death. From the time I was a teenager, I said I was working hard then so I wouldn’t have to when I got older. And I’m not sure where 40 lies in the grand scheme of older, but I think it’s the perfect time to stop working so much. My goal as a business owner has always been to make more and work less. I take no pride in busyness, as you’ve probably heard me say a number of times at this point. All of my years of experience have brought me to a place where I am efficient with my time and can get a lot done more quickly without sacrificing quality. That’s why my rates are where they are and why I maintain control of my schedule – I take the jobs I want and am not afraid to say no when I just don’t have the time or energy to do something. I work hard and am proud of that, but I won’t work to the detriment of my health. Nothing is that important. When you own your own business and you ARE your own business, taking time off can feel overwhelmingly impossible. But you owe it to yourself to prioritize your own well-being and taking breaks is a big part of that. Whether it’s a few weeks away to the exotic country of your dreams, an hour in the morning to do your favorite activity, meeting a good friend for lunch and laughs, a quick pause to listen to some music and get away from the screen, 30 minutes at the end of the day to meditate, or whatever you need, the time away from work is good for you. If you’re constantly in a place where you feel you can’t stop, it might be time to outsource or even hire an employee. If that doesn’t seem like the right move for you, just be mindful with the time you have. Find ways to regularly build some down time into your schedule and get away from work when you can. And most importantly, never feel guilty for taking a break. Honoring yourself and what you need is an important strength, especially when you’re self-employed. The work will always be there, but you’re no good to anyone if you’re completely burned out. Make yourself a priority and take that time off when you need it because when you are your business, taking care of yourself is a huge part of being successful in that business.
2021 in Review
Dec 24 2021
2021 in Review
Well, it finally happened. As you may have noticed, I’ve been gone for a few weeks. I officially ran out of time. I’ve always done my best to prioritize this podcast, but I got to the point where it was either make another episode or take some much-needed rest and I had to choose the latter. You’ve heard me talk about the importance of self-care and taking breaks and I stand by it. I rarely let myself get to the point where that’s even a question, but the last several months have been intense. I continue to be grateful for all of the work and opportunities, but it was a lot. Every time I told myself, “I’ll take a break after this job,” something else came up that I didn’t want to turn down and the cycle continued. But now here we are at the end of the year and it’s finally time. The last big job ended mid-December and I don’t have any major obligations until February. My plan is to take at least a month off to rest, catch up on personal things, and mentally prepare myself for what’s to come. I do fully intend to come back to weekly podcasts and to start interviewing again, but hopefully you understand why I need a little time off and don’t forget about me while I’m gone. But I wanted to at least say hello, wish you all happy holidays, and do a quick recap of 2021 to figure out how I got here in the first place. Usually, the end of December into the beginning of January is slow. By December, everyone has wrapped up projects for the year and gone into holiday mode. January budgets haven’t been allocated yet and it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things. I’ve always enjoyed that time, especially since I started working for myself, because it’s a restful way to end one year and start the next. This year, that didn’t really happen. All of January and the first week of February was spent wrapping up season 22 of Intervention, which was 34 consecutive weeks of intense work for me that started in June of 2020. Fortunately, I got a few weeks off in February but jumped straight into season 23 in the beginning of March, which was another 30 consecutive weeks that ended October 1st. So the two seasons were 64 of 68 weeks from mid-2020 through October 2021, where each week was at least 5 working days and often bled into the weekends because of when the shoots were scheduled. Working on a series full-time like that is plenty enough to warrant a long break. But that wasn’t all I was doing. In April, there was the Skechers spring marketing video and the Mercedes Tony Hawk commercial. We also started working on the new website and booking platform for The Voice Actors Studio, which took 6 months of planning and regular meetings and testing before launching in September, followed by all the troubleshooting and refining that’s still ongoing. In May, we started preproduction for Blue Origin’s First Human Flight in July, which took me into the field for the first time since March of 2020. Showing the world the first successful launch of humans into space was pretty special. August brought along the Traditional Medicinals shoot. September was the launch of the TVAS website AND when the craziest episode of Intervention was at its most chaotic AND that bled right into the 2nd Human Flight AND the Skechers fall marketing video. That was around the time I started really needing a break. I thought November might give me that rest, but we went straight into planning for the 3rd human flight, which happened in early December. On top of all of this, I have a handful of monthly retainer clients where I’m working various hours on things like consulting, managing, and bookkeeping. I produced 49 podcast episodes, taught 8 3-hour workshops, and found a way to squeeze in 6 new coaching clients. So yeah. That was 2021 for me. It’s been such a fantastic year for work and I do not take that for granted. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about navigating the roller coaster of self-employment, it’s that you take advantage of slow time when you have it. So that’s what I’m doing now. I went for a 90-minute massage, and intend to get at least a few more. I’m catching up on projects around the house. I’m spending a lot of time not doing much at all, which makes my cats happy. The typical holiday lull has been back to normal, too, which has been nice. It makes me smile every time I check my email and nothing new has come through any of my many accounts. I still have some work to do, but I’m limiting that to a few hours a day, if even that. I’m just taking the time to breathe and enjoy the quiet. I hope you are doing well and enjoying some down time or something else that’s important to you. Thanks for hanging in there with me while I take this much needed break. In the meantime, if there are topics you’d like to hear about, guests you’d like me to interview, or if you have any other suggestions, please reach out. You can email info@aardvarkgirl.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl. I’ll talk to you again in the new year.
Lessons from Elsha
Nov 29 2021
Lessons from Elsha
If we’re connected on social, you may have seen that the world recently lost a special soul, Elsha Stockseth. I first met Elsha in 2017 when Dave and I took a one-day thousand-mile roundtrip drive to interview her for “Dream Out Loud.” She was well-known by the U2 community at that point, but neither of us had met her. She was unable to travel for that tour, but we knew it was important to include her in the film. We didn’t know how much it would change our lives. We often overuse words like “special” and “amazing” and “miracle,” but Elsha was all of these things. Despite dealing with the daily challenges of living with severe muscular dystrophy, she was happy, positive, and peaceful. At that point, she couldn’t move any part of her body besides her eyes, but those eyes were full of light. It’s impossible to explain her beauty and grace with words, but those who were lucky enough to be in her presence know exactly what I mean. She instantly made you feel at ease around her with a kindness and the best laugh I’ve ever heard. Her parents, Joel and Shanna, are equally kind and wonderful human beings. They showed us around the house and her “Blue Room,” which was full of U2 goodies and race medals. Oh yeah, she was huge in the local running community even though she wasn’t able to actually run herself. People would be her legs, pushing her through 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, and even a few triathlons. Racing allowed her to feel a freedom she hadn’t known before and it became one of her favorite activities. Elsha did a lot of things. Besides running and attending U2 concerts when she could, she was an artist. She drew and painted using Photoshop and a head mouse. She created and sold her “eArt” Christmas cards around the world and used the proceeds to help orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa and South America. Because, of course, she had a giant heart and giving spirit. She sponsored a young boy in Kenya and paid for his schooling. She donated toys to orphanages. She felt that she didn’t really need the money and was passionate about helping others. That’s just who she was. What does any of this have to do with being self-employed? The way Elsha lived is full of lessons for anyone who wants a better life and to be a better person. These lessons can easily be applied to who you are, how you run your business, and the quality of your interactions with others. She had a way of putting things in perspective, inspiring others, and getting things done. She was an inspiration to so many people, and this episode is my way of sharing her brilliance with you. Lesson #1: Challenges Don’t Define You. Even though she had some obvious challenges, Elsha never let them define her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself or like she had any limitations at all. She lived a life full of love and joy and embraced her differences rather than letting them hold her back. When she was met with a new obstacle, she figured out how to get through it. And she didn’t want anyone else feeling sorry for her either. Perhaps that’s why she was so good at making other people feel comfortable around her. She made it clear that while she may be smaller than most, she was no less extraordinary. Running a business isn’t always easy, and we all face challenges at times. Being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s about how we react in those imperfect situations. Do we let them defeat us or empower us? Do we give up or do we learn from them? Do we let fear stop us or motivate us to keep going? I don’t know if it’s tenacity or stubbornness or just an unwillingness to accept anything less, but Elsha and I had that attitude in common. Every problem has a solution, but sometimes we have to be creative to find it. Fewer things are more rewarding than overcoming what seemed like an impossible challenge at the time, so embrace the opportunities when they’re presented. Lesson #2: I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it. I mentioned that Elsha’s parents are also lovely people. The love they felt for their daughter was unyielding and always apparent. They carried her everywhere, fed her using syringes, and did whatever they could to contribute to all those goals she set for herself. I don’t know that the word “can’t” was even in her vocabulary when it came to her abilities. She told her mom, “I can do anything you can do. I just need some help doing it.” It might be a simple statement, but it’s a profound sentiment. Think about that. I can do anything. I just need some help. A lot of us have a hard time asking for help, myself included, and I’m not really sure why. For me, I’ve always had this inherent need to be independent and capable of doing everything on my own. It’s not about anyone else, it’s just the way I’m wired. As I get older, I feel like I’ve already proven to myself what I needed to, and it’s much easier to accept help now. Where I used to resist, I now embrace. Like, if you want to move that heavy thing for me, you go ahead and do that and I will be happy, even if I’m capable of moving it myself. But for some it’s still a struggle, and one that’s kind of silly if you think about it. Why do we feel the need to do so much on our own? When we’re self-employed, our business is often a reflection of us in many ways. But it doesn’t take anything away from our accomplishments if we have some assistance along the way. Whether it’s financial, physical, mental, or a combination of all of it, support is not a bad thing. We are stronger when we help each other. And I think success is more enjoyable when you can share it with others. Elsha’s life was enriched by all of the people who helped her, and those she helped in return. Lesson #3: Find a Way to Do What You Love Now, one thing you should know about Elsha is that she had this way of getting what she wanted. And she did that by being persistent and not accepting anything less. She was small but mighty in her convictions and determination. And people loved her so much they would do anything to make her happy. I think back to 2018, U2 came to to Vegas and that was close enough for Elsha to travel. I mentioned she was a big fan, but they were also fans of her. They would often stop to talk to her or bring her backstage before shows. In her last week, they reached out to her to make sure they knew she was more than the “biggest little U2 fan.” She meant as much to them as they did to her. The band had a way of taking care of her at their shows. That first night in Vegas, they made sure there was a platform in the VIP area that would lift her up high enough to see. After that show, they asked how it worked out, and she told them it could’ve been higher. When she arrived the following night, they had raised the platform so she could see better. She always got her way. So as she got older and lost the ability to use her limbs, she didn’t give up on her creativity or passion for art. She adapted. She learned how to use that head mouse, which she controlled with her eyes, to keep doing what she loved. She didn’t give up. She adapted. It was too important in her life to let go of it, so she found a way. Most of us work for ourselves because it’s the easiest way to ensure we’re doing what we love to do. Some people find that working for others, too, which is also fine. Whatever it is that fulfills us is worth chasing. Life is too short to settle for a job or career or relationship or anything that is less than what we truly want. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or doesn’t take a lot of hard work, but there’s no excuse for settling or losing your purpose just because it’s hard. Find a way to do what you love so you can enjoy the life you deserve. Lesson #4: There Is No Failure Here Sweetheart, Just When You Quit. One of Elsha’s favorite mottos came from a lyric in the U2 song “Miracle Drug”: “There is no failure here sweetheart, just when you quit.” She had this written above her door so she could read it every day, and it’s an idea she never let go of. There is no failure unless you quit. Elsha never quit. As you can tell from everything else I’ve said, she never gave up. Ever. She faced every challenge with optimism and worked hard for the things she wanted because they were important. Failure is such a common fear and one that prevents people from even trying sometimes. But if we think about it in these terms, that the only way to fail is to give up, we can move beyond that fear. Every “failure” is just an opportunity to learn something new, and then we can try again from a new perspective or place of understanding and maybe have a different outcome. And if not? Then we try again and learn again and continue the cycle until we figure it out. That’s how life works. That’s how business works. The only way to fail is to stop trying. So the key to success is to just keep going. Lesson #5: Every Day is a Gift. Elsha’s passing is a huge loss, but at the same time, her life was such an incredible gift. Her parents were told she’d probably live 5 years, but she was 38 when she passed. How’s that for defying odds? And I think knowing that contributed to her spirit. She didn’t live afraid. She lived gratefully. She appreciated life and was determined to make the most of every bonus day she was given. And I hope that brings some peace to her family and friends. Not to mitigate the understandable sadness, but to remember that while it seems her life was cut too short, she also got 33 extra years on this planet. That’s pretty incredible. I wonder if that perspective contributed to Elsha’s generosity, because giving back was a huge part of her life as well. I mentioned the charities she supported, but she was also a kind and thoughtful friend. She loved sending gifts to people, not just for special occasions, but just because. As I look around my house, I see all kinds of reminders of that generosity. I would often open the mail and find an unexpected gift from her, and I know plenty of others had that same experience. It’s just who she was. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and take things for granted. We’re all guilty of it. But it is possible to shift our mindsets to be more positive. Like everything else, it takes some hard work, but the results are worthwhile. If you choose not to focus on what you don’t have, but instead appreciate what you do have, your whole life can change. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but I know it from experience. Life is easier when we’re happy, and we’re happier when we’re grateful, kind, and thoughtful. If that’s how we live our lives, and that’s how we run our businesses, we will be better off. “We'll shine like stars in the summer night. We'll shine like stars over winter skies. One heart, one hope, one love.” - Bono It’s been incredible to see all the posts on social from Elsha’s friends and family and all those communities who were so honored to have her in their lives. She was loved by and an inspiration to so many. I hope people continue to hear her story and get to know who she was even though she’s no longer physically with us. So thank you for listening. It’s always sad to lose someone, but Elsha wouldn’t want any sorrow. Instead, I choose to focus on how grateful I am to have had her in my life at all. She will be missed, but she’ll always have a place in my heart. And just like the stars in the sky, her light will continue to shine for those of us still on earth.
Kindness is Not Weakness
Nov 22 2021
Kindness is Not Weakness
I’ve never understood why people think kindness is weakness. It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it just doesn’t make any sense in my brain. It takes a lot of strength to be kind, especially when you’re frustrated, under a tight deadline, or don’t agree with the way someone is handling a situation. Not to mention being nice usually gets you further ahead in your life and career. I suppose that’s where some people object. There’s this idea that you have to be cutthroat and walk all over others to progress. And in some cases, I’m sure that happens. I’ve seen it in the corporate world, where the bullies have the most power and from the outside it might seem like they’re living the good life, but those people aren’t always respected or liked. And not that we should care if other people like us, but it’s hard to have any kind of meaningful connections if you’re not a nice person. And meaningful connections are important in business. Kindness has never held me back in my career. If anything, it propelled it forward, especially after I got away from that awful corporate world. I think it’s why so many people are driven towards self-employment these days. We want to work with people we like, people who are nice. People who are easy to work with. One of the biggest perks about working for yourself is that you don’t have to work with anyone you don’t want to. I weeded out those negative personality types very quickly after starting my company. I like all of my clients, and every one of them is kind. That’s not to say that any human can be nice every second of the day, or that everyone should be walking around singing while cartoon characters circle around them. I’m envisioning that scene from (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dancing to “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates. While it’s great when you feel that way, that isn’t how life works all the time. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to react. Many people react emotionally. They raise their voices and yell and throw tantrums. They talk down to people when they’re upset and sometimes say harsh things that hurt feelings. Is that strength? No. Anyone can do that. Strength comes from being kind in those moments. It’s easy to get triggered and fly off the handle. Staying calm and being nice in those moments is a superpower. You will have a much better time in life, and in business, if you can do that. The strength comes from truly listening, giving others the opportunity to speak their mind and be heard, and then responding in a respectful manner. You can be firm. You can stay true to your convictions and push back, but you can do it with grace and have much better results. I remember being on a job once where a few people on the crew were unhappy about the meal options provided by the client. Now from my point of view, the fact that multiple options were available was nice. That doesn’t always happen on set. As a vegetarian, I can’t even count how many times I haven’t been able to eat what’s provided at all. I’ve never once gotten mad about it or yelled at someone when it happened. But in this case, these guys formed a mini mob to make demands and threaten to walk off of the job if they didn’t get some better food. I wish I was kidding. But they were willing to blow up the whole thing because they didn’t approve of the meals or craft services, which, by the way, weren’t even our responsibility. Our client provided all of that so it was out of our control. But, in response, I stayed calm. I spoke up. I was direct. I asked them firmly to stop raising their voices and talking over me. I pointed out that I gave them the opportunity to speak and would appreciate the same respect in return. I let them know I understood their concerns and that their feelings were valid, and I’d see if there was anything we could do to improve the situation for the following day. I worked with my team to find a solution and moved on. I was kind even to those who weren’t kind to me. Is that weakness? Definitely not. Weak would be giving into emotion and yelling back. Plus, I’m the one who has been brought back for these projects every time. The guys who threw the fit? That was the last one for them. Seems like another win for kindness to me. In the last episode, I talked about the idea that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But when you’re asking for something, being nice about it increases your odds significantly. I don’t know anyone who thinks, “Oh yeah, that one guy is a real jerk. I can’t wait to work with him again” unless it’s thought in complete sarcasm. But if you have a good experience, you want to work with those people again, right? Do you recall a time when you worked with a mean person and thought it was a great time? I’m guessing it doesn’t happen often. The people you have the best time with are usually nice. So kindness as a business skill means repeat clients, which is what we usually want. Think about conversations you’ve had that have left you feeling good, and ones that had the opposite effect. I don’t want to be repetitive, but you get the point. People want to work with people they like, and people tend to like nice people. How you talk to people matters. If your client owes you money and the invoice is past due, calling and yelling at them isn’t going to help. But if you send a polite email checking on the status, they’re more likely to look into it and see what they can do. You’re not wrong for being upset that payment is late, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to yell at someone else about it. I don’t know how many times I’ve fielded calls from angry vendors even though I had nothing to do with making payments. I remember a producer calling me at my old company, threatening to tell a news anchor that the company didn’t pay on time. I was the wrong person to be having this conversation with, but I listened. I understood his frustration and kindly tried to explain what I knew about the situation, but he didn’t want to hear it. I passed along the information to my accounting department and then made a note to never hire him again. It’s not because he was upset about the invoice being past due, it was about his demeanor and how he handled the situation. If he would’ve been nice, I would’ve been more likely to go out of my way to see what I could do to expedite his payment. Instead, he just talked himself out of future work. People are more willing to help people who are nice to them than those who aren’t. That seems pretty obvious, right? If you’re in charge of a crew and are constantly yelling at or belittling them, they aren’t going to give you their best work, and that will negatively affect you and your project. It’s hard to care about something when you’re getting emotionally beat up while doing it, and the stress of that type of environment leads to mistakes. But if you’re considerate and take the time to acknowledge that you appreciate what they’re doing, they’re going to do better for you. They’ll want to work with you on future projects and that’s how you can build some strong working relationships. If you disagree with anything I’ve said and are one of those people who thinks kindness is weakness, let me know. I’d love to hear why you feel that way and if that means you prefer to work with unkind people. I truly believe there is more strength in being rational, absorbing information objectively, responding with compassion, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you agree, I want to hear about that too. Feel free to flood my inbox with stories of positivity and how being kind has helped you in your business. Help me dispel this outdated notion that kindness equals weakness. It’s just silly and we know better.
If You Don‘t Ask, You Don‘t Get
Nov 15 2021
If You Don‘t Ask, You Don‘t Get
In 2017 when Dave Barry and I were making the “Dream Out Loud” documentary, we met a wonderful human named Aaron Govern. We initially talked to him because he was a big U2 fan, but when we finally met him in Vancouver, we knew he was so much more than that. I still think back fondly of walking through the city, stopping for tea at a café, and having one of those great conversations that are all too rare these days. He was English, so of course he was very particular about his tea, and I hoped he wouldn’t judge me for choosing a green variety. He didn’t. He was one of those people who just seemed to get it. And by it, I mean life in general. Over the course of that year, he became somewhat of a trusted advisor at times. And one idea he made clear, and one Dave and I still reference often, is a simple thought: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s an obvious sentiment, but one that seems to be overlooked. If you want something, ask for it. Otherwise, how are people supposed to know? This comes into play so often in business. Someone has been working hard and wants a raise but doesn’t ask for it. Another is hoping to get promoted to a position that has recently become available but doesn’t tell anyone she’s interested. A new company wants a big client but doesn’t reach out because they don’t think they can get it yet. A podcaster wants big name guests but assumes his show is too small to get a yes so he never tries. Whether they don’t want to ruffle feathers, are afraid of rejection, or worry that if they ask for something and it isn’t well received, they’ll lose what they already have and end up worse off than before, there are many reasons why people talk themselves out of going after what they want. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I remember in 2004, my boss at the time got annoyed because I couldn’t read his mind. He actually said that. “The girl before you could read my mind. I need you to do that.” Umm. Okay. I can do a lot of things, but unfortunately that’s not one of them. He probably shouldn’t have let her go if that’s what was going on. But he did what so many people do. Instead of communicating and being direct, he expected things to happen on their own. Like he could think it and it would somehow come to fruition. Rarely does that mindset pay off. It’s usually fear-driven, or that sneaky imposter syndrome creeping in telling them they can’t get or don’t deserve what they want. So how do you build up the courage to ask for it? Keeping in line with my usual advice, let’s take the emotion out of it and think about the situation logically. First, what happens if you don’t ask? You probably won’t get it. So by not asking, you’re actually taking the bigger risk because that means you might not move forward, might not get that thing or experience that’s going to make your life better, or who knows what else. Then, realistically, what’s the worst that can happen if you ask? They say no. Okay, so you can accept that and move on, or in some cases figure out a better approach to ask again. Maybe your feelings will get hurt, or you’ll be disappointed, but isn’t that better than being constantly frustrated? Maybe that no will show you that it’s not the right job, client, or project for you after all, because the right one would align with your goals. In any case, if it’s a definitive no, that gives you information you need to move on, change direction, or set a new goal. In my opinion, working towards something new is always way better than wondering what if. Through that lens, hopefully it’s a little less scary already. If you ask and don’t get, then you have more information to help you decide what to do next. Even if it’s not what you initially wanted, maybe your new direction will be better. Trust in timing. Everything works out when it’s supposed to. It might not always feel like it will at the time, but one closed door might be leading you towards a better open one. Yes, I am still and will always be an eternal optimist. How do you get the confidence to ask? Nerves are normal. Doubts are normal. Hesitation is normal. But you have to push yourself through that. Preparedness is the biggest solution. Before you ask, you’ve done your research. You know what you want and why. You know why it’s the right thing for you, and hopefully why it’s good for the person you’re asking, too. You’ll go into the conversation armed with what you need. If it’s a job interview, you know your accomplishments and why you’re a good candidate. Tell them why you connect with the company and what you can offer them so it’s not one-sided. If you’re asking for a promotion, let them know what you’ve accomplished in your current role, how you could improve the company in the new role, and why you’re the best fit. If you’re going after that big-name brand as a new client, be ready to explain your vision for them and what benefits they’ll have with you that they might not get from a bigger agency. If you want that well-known podcast guest, approach them from the point of why you connect with them and what parts of their story you want to share with your audience. When you’re asking or pitching, be careful of your word choices, too. This is obviously easier in email when you have time to edit, but is important in verbal conversations, too. You don’t want to start by telling them why they should say no. Don’t give them excuses that aren’t yours to give. For example, I remember my friend Jaimee, a previous guest on this podcast, saying people sent her emails all the time that started with, “I know you’re busy, but…” as if they were being a nuisance for even reaching out. People say this to me all the time and I have the same internal reaction. Shouldn’t it be for me to decide if I’m too busy to answer or meet or whatever they’re asking? If you want to get that big client or guest, don’t apologize for having a small company or audience. Saying things like, “I’m sure you have bigger opportunities to consider, but…” or “You probably look for shows with more reach, but…” diminishes your chances before they even get a chance to form their own opinion about you. It’s something I see happening all the time. When you do that, you’re putting your insecurities on display and talking yourself out of the opportunity you want. Don’t give them reasons to doubt you. They might not have cared or even thought about any of that until you brought it up. Get out of your own way. Asking doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a yes, but it does mean you’ll get an answer. Sometimes that answer is no or not right now, and that’s okay. What matters is that you put yourself out there confidently and took a chance. I don’t know about you, but to me that always feels way better than stewing in my head about what could be. How did we get Bono to do an interview for our film? We asked him. How did we get U2 to license 32 songs for our non-existent budget? We asked them. How do I get the rate I need and the projects I want? I ask for them. It doesn’t mean I get everything I want, but it means I don’t have any regrets. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. Thank you, Aaron Govern, for the great advice. I’m glad I got to know you.
Invoicing Tips: Make it Easier to Get Paid
Nov 1 2021
Invoicing Tips: Make it Easier to Get Paid
I’m wrapping a big project and a big part of that is collecting and reviewing invoices from the crew and other vendors. In this case, there are probably 50 or more invoices, so I see a lot of different things. This goes back to my job job days when I used to oversee the accounting department and knew what drove them crazy. I did my best to be a buffer and that’s something I’ve continued as I work directly with creatives. But it still surprises me how some invoices come in, not just from newer freelancers but from people who are decades into their career. So here are some invoicing tips that will make it easier for people to pay you. And that’s what you want, right? You’ve probably heard me say before that you always want to keep the people paying you happy. Whether it’s a small business or a big corporation, each accounting department is going to have its own system and set of rules. This is the one time when I don’t think you should assert your boundaries. Whatever they need from you, give it to them. If it means you have to add a couple extra bits of information to your invoice, who cares? If they want to do direct deposit, let them. Any push back on your part flags you as difficult and could cause delayed payments for a number of reasons. That being said, the most important things to keep in mind is being timely, being detailed, and being considerate. Timeliness is important for obvious reasons. The sooner you invoice, the sooner you should get paid. I say should, because we all know that not all companies pay on time, but you never want the cause of the delay. Standard payment terms are typically net 30, meaning you get paid within 30 days from receipt of the invoice. That doesn’t mean 30 days from the date of the job or completed work. That’s 30 days from the time they receive your invoice. If you take 2 weeks to get around to sending it, don’t expect that they’re going to turn around payment in 2 weeks. No. That 30-day clock starts the day they have everything they need from you. So get your invoice in quickly. Also, you might not be in a rush for payment for whatever reason, but if the company is trying to close out the job, waiting for your invoice can be a huge hassle for them. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to chase down an invoice, sometimes for weeks. It baffles me every time. I’m trying to give you money, dude. Let me pay you! I get that you’re busy and invoicing isn’t your favorite thing to do, but there are other people who can’t do their jobs until you do it, so stay on their good side and be prompt. Not so prompt that you’re invoicing before a job is done, because that can rub people the wrong way, too, but within a day or two is usually greatly appreciated. Details are crucial when it comes to invoicing. Make sure all the information they need is there. A good way to know what they need is to ask them. After you’ve done all the negotiation and committed to a project, but before it actually starts, ask what information they need on the invoice and to whom it should be sent. They might need a specific job name, job number or PO referenced, so get that information early. If you send it to the wrong person, it could cause delays. If you reach out after the job and have to wait for them to get back to you, it could cause delays. We don’t want delays. Double check your information, too. Make sure the line items are correct and the math adds up. If you’re using accounting software like Quickbooks, it’ll do the math for you, but you still want to be sure everything is accurate. If you’re using a Word template or something like that, there is so much room for user error. I am constantly finding invoices that don’t add up, have information from a completely different job, and other nonsense that wastes everyone’s time. And it doesn’t make you look good if they have to reach out and ask you to correct something. A good way to keep an accounting department happy is to send all of your docs in one email with a clear subject title. Send your invoice and any receipts for reimbursement. If you haven’t worked with them before, or in the current year, send them a W9. Include your payment options. Or, if they already stipulated how they pay, send the information they requested. Give them everything they need at once and it’ll make their lives easier. And the money people do remember who makes their lives easier, and who doesn’t. Maybe you don’t care about them, but giving them what they need up front means fewer emails for you and often sooner payment, so that makes your life easier too. Speaking of details and making lives easier, make sure to fully read what they send you. Don’t ask a question that’s already been answered because you didn’t bother reading what someone took the time to send you. Be more respectful than that. I say this as someone who sent all of the payment information in a deal memo, plus a separate email specifically about invoicing, and I’d say at least half emailed to the wrong address, didn’t include everything, or both. It creates extra work for me, which costs the client more money, and it’s extra work for them because now they have to deal with the back and forth that could’ve easily been prevented. I don’t take it personally, and I do what I can to help them, but I tend to be nicer than most and go out of my way more than I would expect someone else to. My last point about details should be obvious, but with what I’ve seen lately it might not be. Make sure to separate your line items in a way that makes sense. If you worked 10 days at the same rate, you don’t need 10 line items, but you should call out the dates in the line item so it’s clear. Also, keep separate lines for separate services. Your labor and per diem rate shouldn’t be on one line item. Your labor is taxed, but per diem is not. If you put them together, you’re putting it on the accounting person to do the work for you and separate everything out. I will do that. Many will not. They’ll just put it in as you sent it and then you get taxed on something you shouldn’t. Be mindful of accounting categories, which you should have a basic understanding of, especially if you do your own bookkeeping or use accounting software to categorize your expenses. If you’re asking for reimbursements for gas and office supplies, you know those are different, so don’t lump them together on your invoice and make the accounting person add up the receipts. You won’t always know the extent to how they categorize things, but you can use common sense. Also, don’t submit for a reimbursement without including the receipt. Some people may be more lax with this, but just like you should have receipts for all of your expenses, your client needs those from you as well. They don’t want issues with the IRS any more than you do. And this is a bonus tip just because I think it’s important. If you have given a discount on the project, make sure to invoice for your full rate and then add the discount as a separate line item. This is a record of what happened, so if they hire you again and look to see what you billed before, it’s clear that you gave them a deal. If you don’t call it out separately, they might just think it’s your normal rate. It might be someone else you’re dealing with who doesn’t know the conversations you had with the other person. It’s a nice way to protect yourself and remind them that you did them a favor last time but that’s not to be expected every time. Most of what I just said also applies to being considerate, which is how you should always be. I should be able to leave it at that, but I’ll explain further. Taking the time to do everything right the first time helps the person on the other side do their job better. They don’t want to have to chase you down for everything they need any more than you want to spend more time on that project when you’ve already moved on. Make it easy for everyone. When you’re talking to the accounting people, even if your payment is past due, be polite. You’re not going to get anywhere by being aggressive or throwing a tantrum. That doesn’t make them want to help you. You have every right to want your money and be frustrated that it’s not getting to you on time, but the person on the phone probably can’t do anything about that. But if you’re nice, they’ll be more willing to talk to the person who can and try to help you. If your address or other company information has changed, notify them by sending a new W9. Don’t just change the address on your invoice and expect them to notice. Once you’re in the system, they probably aren’t reviewing your contact info to see if anything is new. It’s your responsibility to tell them. I see this happen a lot so I thought it was worth mentioning. Lastly, consider your payment options, especially when it comes to credit cards. Many don’t like accepting credit cards because of the fees. You typically lose about 3% of the total. I don’t like fees either. They are tax deductible, but I like to have all of what I earned. That being said, I do know that accepting credit cards tends to get you paid faster. I have seen this personally and have talked about it with other friends and clients and it seems to consistently be the case. The old school method of writing checks takes time and extra effort. This was the case before, but has become especially true since COVID allowed more people to work from home. Companies don’t always have an accounting person physically in the office to print a check and then get someone, who also might not be in the office, to sign it. Then get an envelope and a stamp and put it in the mail. It’s a bit archaic. But if you give them a digital option, either ACH or credit card, they just have to enter some details in your system and be on their way. It’s much simpler. Also, in bigger companies, the person you’re working with directly may have an allowance of sorts and can approve up to a certain amount if paying on a company card. But writing a check takes many layers of approval, which causes those delays we’re trying to avoid. Something to think about – are the fees worth getting paid faster? Your call. If you’re still with me, thanks for listening. I know invoicing isn’t a fun topic, but it’s a regular part of running a business and can’t really be avoided. But having been on the receiving end for so long, I see all these simple errors that get in the way and I don’t like it. So do yourself a favor and stay on top of your invoicing. Be prompt, be detailed, be considerate, make it easy to get paid and enjoy the money you worked so hard to earn.
How to Say & Hear No
Oct 25 2021
How to Say & Hear No
I am always looking for new guests for this podcast. I get a lot of weird pitches, but you know the vibe I’m going for. I like to have real conversations about people’s stories and what has helped them successfully run their businesses. I want to talk to more people who genuinely want to help others and aren’t just trying to get more sales for themselves. I’m happy to promote products and services, but that’s never the focus of this podcast. If you would like to be a guest, or know of someone who would be a good fit, please email info@aardvarkgirl.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl. -- No. Two letters. One simple word. But for some reason, it carries a lot of weight. Some are afraid to say it. Many can’t handle hearing it. It’s a word that can change your entire life, good or bad. There’s no getting away from it though. So how can we build a better relationship with “no?” We have to get better at saying it and hearing it. Saying no is a necessary skill to have when you’re running a business. Really, it’s a necessary skill to have as a human living your life. We can’t do everything everyone asks us to do. It’s not healthy. But keeping this in the context of work, we have to set boundaries. We have to say things like, “No, I don’t work on weekends” and “No, I’m not available for this project” and “No, I can’t attend that meeting next week.” I hear way too often that people feel like they must be available 24 hours a day, every day, and that’s part of running a business. No! Ever heard of business hours? Or business days? Those are real things. You are running a real business. There will always be times when you’ll want to make exceptions for your good clients and work outside of those hours. But if it’s not urgent, and it’s not an emergency, it can wait. If you lose a client because you’re not willing to be available whenever they might need you, is that really a client you want to have? I wouldn’t. My clients don’t want to work evenings and weekends if they don’t have to, so they understand that I don’t either. It’s never been an issue. And do you know what I don’t say when I say no? Or when I don’t respond until my next office hours? I don’t say I’m sorry, unless I actually am. I want to stress here that it’s not necessary to apologize for setting and maintaining proper boundaries with your clients. That’s an emotional response and I believe business communication should be logical. Yes, that’s easy for me to say as someone who thinks logically and doesn’t always process emotion properly. But that doesn’t make it any less true. I think people automatically say they’re sorry, thinking it will ease the blow. But do you genuinely mean it? Are you really sorry that you were out enjoying dinner with your family instead of working on a task that didn’t need to be done until the next day? Do you actually feel bad that you were at the gym for an hour taking care of yourself and missed their call? If you feel guilty that you were living your life and not waiting around in case one of your clients might have unexpectedly needed you for something, you might want to spend some time figuring out why. And that’s not a criticism. Many people carry around past traumas, insecurities, and other experiences that factor into those kinds of reactions. Working out why that happens is a good step towards healing from it and moving on with a healthier approach to work life balance. It all comes back to remembering that you are running a business. Even if you are one person providing a service, that doesn’t mean you don’t matter. Think of all the businesses you work with as a client or customer. If you realize at 11pm that you need an HDMI cable and Best Buy is closed, do you think the manager is losing sleep over not being open for you? If you need a dentist appointment, do you expect them to be there on a Sunday? Or do you understand their hours and schedule a time when they’re available? If you have a virtual assistant, do you expect them to work 24 hours a day? If so, or if you get upset about these types of scenarios, then I hate to break it to you, but you are the red flag client. But I’m guessing you understand that businesses have hours and policies and all that fun stuff and they aren’t going to rearrange everything just for you. If it’s someone you’ve hired, whether hourly or on retainer, you’ve hopefully established your expectations ahead of time. And, because you’re a savvy business owner, you understand that you don’t get to dictate the hours or locations where they work. If you want that control, you have to hire them and pay them as an employee. You should be having these same conversations with your clients before you agree to a project or retainer. My office hours are outlined in my contract, along with guidelines for my communication preferences. Anyone who has an issue with these things isn’t the right fit for me, and I’m not the right fit for them. Part of it comes from knowing yourself and what you want. When you’re clear about that, it makes it easier to say no to offers that don’t align. I’ve been offered some pretty decent jobs in the past couple of years, with people I really enjoy working with. But, they wanted someone who would work in their office for set hours multiple days a week. I have no interest in ever doing that again. It doesn’t work for me, not only because that would put a strain on my other clients, but also because I know I’m not happy in an office surrounded by people all day. It just takes too much out of me, and that doesn’t make for a good partnership on either side. I understand why they need what they need, and hopefully they understand why I need what I need. I know that’s not always the case, but I have to make the decisions that are best for me. Sometimes we can work out a solution that suits both of us, but sometimes it has to be a no and I have to be okay with that. I’ve heard a lot of people say that when you say no to something, you’re saying yes to yourself. And that’s what we need to do. Here I go again, talking about reclaiming selfishness, but it’s so important. I always preface that with a reminder that it’s not okay to do whatever you want at someone else’s expense. But it is okay to put yourself first sometimes. The only obligations you have are to yourself. Everything else is a choice. As with everything, there are exceptions. I’m not saying you should say no to absolutely everything. Unless you really love complete isolation, that’s probably not going to do you any favors. Sometimes when you’re in a rut, the word no can be partially to blame. That’s a whole separate topic though. If you want to know more about that, check out Shonda Rhimes’ book “The Year of Yes.” What I’m talking about here is more for normal circumstances. There are a few simple ways you can reinforce your boundaries. Set up an automatic email response for after-hours and weekend messages, stating that you’ll get back to them within one business day (or whatever your policy is). If you don’t listen to voicemails, change your outgoing message to say so – “I don’t listen to voicemails, but please email me at this address and I’ll get back to you within one business day.” Also, don’t answer your phone if a client calls you outside of those hours. Respond the following day, or on Monday if it’s the weekend. It’s a subtle way to start training them. You can always remind them politely about your hours, but it’s often a non-issue. I know with my clients, they sometimes send me stuff at night and on weekends but they don’t expect me to do anything with it. That’s just when they’re working. So again, it’s taking the emotion out of it and being practical. Sending an email or text doesn’t automatically mean they expect you to answer right away. If they do, that’s a different story. Also, if it’s truly an emergency, they’ll call you more than once and then you’ll know to pay attention. The other important part of saying no, in my opinion, is to follow it up with a solution. It’s kind of the opposite of Improv, which is based on the concept of “Yes, and.” Here, we’re talking about “No, but.” You can say no, but don’t leave it at that. Offer some help in its place. No, I don’t work on weekends, but I can get this done for you on Monday. No, I’m not available for this project, but here are some recommendations for other people who would do a great job for you. No, I can’t attend the meeting next week, but I’m available on these dates if you want to discuss it then. You always want to come from a place of helping them. So it’s not just “No, I won’t work out of your office because I don’t like to do that.” It’s, “No, I am not able to work out of your office, but I’m happy to support you remotely. I’m much more efficient and can offer you more focus when I’m in my own environment.” Frame it as a benefit to them. They won’t always go for it, but chances are they’ll consider it from a different point of view than if you just shut them down. Here are a few examples of how I’ve said no to projects in recent weeks. I am not available those dates, but here are some solid people you can try. Thank you for the opportunity and best of luck to you with your event.  I appreciate the offer and would love to work with your team, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project this month. Thanks for thinking of me! I am maxed out on time this month, so I wouldn’t be able to give you or your project the attention you deserve. Please keep me in mind for the next one.  I think the key is to be direct and polite. No apologies. Leave it open ended if you do want to work with them in the future, but if not, leave it simply as you’re not available. If you have any recommendations or resources you can offer in return, they will likely reach out again because you were helpful. Saying no to one job doesn’t mean you’ll never work again. It means you’re leaving room for something better. Saying no when you see a lot of red flags is way better than ignoring your instincts and taking the money just to end up with a micromanaging, demanding client who is making your life miserable. Sometimes a simple no is best for everyone, even if it feels scary in the moment. Keep that in mind when you hear no as well, which can be equally upsetting. That’s where emotion can really do a number on you. But rejection isn’t always about you. It usually isn’t. If you don’t land that client you’ve been pitching, it doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do. Maybe they want to work with you, but their budget changed and they can’t afford it. Maybe someone else in the company made a decision and they had to go in another direction. Maybe one of the team members had a relationship with one of your competitors and it was easier to go with someone they knew. The hard part is that you don’t know why they said no, or ghosted you, and probably never will. So you can drive yourself crazy wondering why and assuming you did something wrong. Or you can accept that it wasn’t meant to be, and assume it had nothing to do with you. If you can’t know the truth, and you’re making an assumption either way, you might as well take the pressure off of yourself and throw the blame on the other person, right? It’s not me, it’s you. Saying no and hearing no isn’t always easy. It can seem like a word loaded with pressure and consequences, but if you build a healthy relationship with it, it can be a positive force in your work and your life. So don’t be afraid. If something doesn’t align with what you’re trying to accomplish, say no and be confident that it’s the right response. A no right now might lead to a better yes in the future.
Melissa Moats: Go Forth and Be Awesome
Oct 18 2021
Melissa Moats: Go Forth and Be Awesome
Melissa Moats is a full-time voice actor and owner of The Voice Actors Studio in Las Vegas. In this episode we talk about work-life balance, staying productive, and building long-term relationships with clients. We also discuss the importance of follow-through, the often overlooked superpower of kindness, the "web of awesome" that is your network, and so much more. Connect with Melissa: Instagram @melissamoatsvo VO Website: https://www.ladyluckvoiceovers.com/ The Voice Actors Studio: https://www.thevoiceactorstudio.com/ -- Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- 00:52 Work-life balance is still a challenge. The best thing I can do is just, if I catch myself in a storm of trying to do too many things, that's the time that I really do try to pull myself away and just go, okay, regroup, reset, deep breaths, take a second. It's definitely my biggest tightrope I walk. 02:21 I do think a lot of people have different expectations that they create for themselves that are maybe unreasonable, or they're never going to meet and they're going to always find themselves being disappointed. So, I try really hard to just stick with my must list, try to keep it down to the bare minimums, and it seems to work, most days. 03:24 I do stick pretty closely to a routine. And I definitely live and breathe by my digital calendar. I never second guess where I'm at with anything based on two things - my calendar and my inbox are ironclad. 04:44 I know that there's this, and there's that, and there's all these things you can do. I'll just say, I'm writing myself an email because it's going to be in my inbox. And like you, it's gonna bug me if it's in my inbox. It's incomplete, undone.  07:28 I've heard a lot of people believe that being too nice or being too kind is a sign of weakness, which I think is absolute silliness. Because I think you can be very strong in your mindset and the way you run your business, and knowing who you are, but still be very loving and very outwardly kind. But I think people miss just the power in that. Making other people feel good is a really big reason why they want to work with you. They enjoy that exchange of energy, and time, and sharing. And to me, kindness is a superpower. So if you're overlooking kindness, you're missing one of the biggest ingredients to being successful and creating those long-term relationships. 10:45 Don't overlook all of the great people you know. And not just involved in the business that you're involved in, but all of us come together. It's like this big web of awesome, right? So, really look at all of the different people in your network and in your corner who you can reach out to. And a big thing about relationship growing, or marketing yourself is, once you align with someone to be hired for something, just always make sure you do what you say you're going to do. If the follow through is there, and you have a great network that you can lean on, those two things are really important and then the referrals will happen. 16:00 If you're operating out of a place of abundance, you know you always have enough because you know what a great valuable resource you are, and you're very confident and secure in who you are and what you provide. And you know that there's always going to be plenty to go around, including for yourself, and not working from the lack mindset of, “Oh my gosh, I can't help other people because then somehow I'm going to lose out.” That's just sad when people think that way. But that's okay. There's a mindset for everyone, I guess. 19:03 The best piece of advice that I can give is, do everything from your heart and work from really wanting to serve others, and be there for everyone, and let it happen organically. The thing that I'm really proud of is that I've never tried to force this. I've never done anything. I've never wavered from the core vision of just serving others and building community.  22:54 You can make the plan, but when opportunities happen and unfold right before your eyes, you have to be able to see those opportunities and act on them, and be courageous enough to go for it, to not be so rigid that you say, “Oh, well, that wasn't a part of my plan, so I can't do that. That wasn't what I had jotted down on that piece of paper.” So, you've got to be able to surrender to those moments and say, “You know what? Hmm. This is a really interesting opportunity. I am going to go for it and see what I learn.” 25:35 It was me really having to – here comes that word again - trust myself. And believe that it was going to work out. And was I afraid? Yes. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Because what's the absolute worst thing that could happen? The worst thing that could happen is I “fail‚” which I really don't believe in failure. It's just an opportunity to learn and grow. But if it didn't come together? Okay, I'd have debt. Well, that would be inconvenient. I would have to slowly chip away at paying that debt off. And, you know, bummer. But my thing was, it felt so right to me, it felt right in my bones. When you look back, and you say, “Oh, my gosh, I did that. I did that. I was brave enough to listen to my own intuition and do it.” It's a real moment that's hard to describe or put into words. It's a sense of being proud of myself that I was capable of something that I didn't even realize I was fully capable of, and that I've helped so many people. And that's the biggest part for me, is seeing all the people that have benefitted from a chance that I was willing to take. 29:32 And then when you say that out loud, then you say, “Okay, that's the worst thing that can happen. Well, if I do this, and then it becomes this amazing thing, what's the best thing that could happen?” And really what that is, is infinite possibility because you really don't know. You can't really measure that, right? So, to me, it's just a no brainer, you know? It's just like, go for it. But it's gonna be scary. So just you willing to be scared. 30:37 I just I want to feel all the feelings. I want to do all the things. I want to meet all the people. I want to be so rich in experiences and moments. That's really what our life is. You want to be able to look back at your whole life and your experiences and say, “Wow, I had a really rich full journey. And it was chock full of great things. And things that scared me, things that lit me up,” and be really at peace with that.  32:38 Everything's better when it's shared. And when you take the money that you've earned, and you turn it into an experience, and then you're sharing those experiences with others, that's where the magic happens. So make the money, but play with the money. Have fun, and bring all the people into the mix too, so that everybody can share in the fun and enjoy it. 34:25 I've enjoyed basically taking some time to just reevaluate my priorities. A little silver lining for me in this whole pandemic situation was going, oh my gosh, we have all this technology and it's been right there in front of my face this whole time. But utilizing it differently so that I actually can be more connected and physically present with my family just really excited me. 37:42 And another big thing is getting a lot of time back just from not having to drive somewhere and come back. I'm a lot more efficient with the way I do things, just based on what changed in the last 18 months. 42:31 I started writing children's stories about 15 years ago when my nieces and nephews were first born. They're now like 15, 16, 20… they all said, “Aunty, our favorite stories growing up were the ones you wrote. You need to do something with those stories.” And so it's with their encouragement and their love that basically, I decided to start producing audiobooks. And now I'm actually getting some illustrations to go along with them. And I'm making picture books, or paperback books, of a bunch of my stories and I'm rolling out a whole collection. And it's all just centered around my nieces and nephews and them being my number one fans. 46:04 I think we get lost in a sea of responsibility, and things that we think we have to do. And sometimes we miss what our biggest gifts are, and we miss the thing that our heart’s been longing to do forever. And just stopping and thinking back to what that really was. And just make sure you're honoring it.  Be true to yourself. Be true to your word. Make sure that you always do what you say you're gonna do. Things just happen and unfold the way they're supposed to, and you can't go wrong.
Money Tip: Tax Planning Before the End of the Year
Oct 11 2021
Money Tip: Tax Planning Before the End of the Year
As we’re nearing the end of the year, it’s a good time to start thinking about taxes. Why think about taxes in October when they’re not due until April? Because even though it’s true that you still have 6 months before you have to file, the decisions you make before December can impact how much you owe or is owed to you. It’s much better to know now so you can adjust as needed before it’s too late. As always, here’s my disclaimer that I am not a CPA or tax professional, but as a business owner I think it’s important to at least understand the basics of accounting and taxes and how all of it affects you. I’ve said it before, but I encourage everyone to build a relationship with a solid CPA. Even if you are capable of doing your own taxes, the laws change all the time and it can be hard to keep up. They have to keep up to keep their licenses. And it never hurts to have a CPA’s signature on your tax return. I like to think it gives me an extra layer of protection. I trust my accountant to guide me in the right direction with my deductions and everything else. For most of us, our fiscal year is January through December, meaning that’s the period we report our income and expenses to the IRS. So if we wait until March to start reviewing our numbers for the April deadline, it’s too late to make any changes that could help us financially. That’s why I’m talking about this in October. In a couple weeks, I’ll meet with my CPA to review where I’m at for the year, and he’ll make some recommendations for what I should do to minimize my liability. Sometimes that means paying myself a higher salary. Even though that means I’d have to pay more in payroll taxes, it also means I could contribute more to my SEP IRA, and the return on that investment is more beneficial to me than the extra expenses. I file as an S Corp so I have to pay a salary. If you are a sole proprietor or LLC, that’s not the case since it all flows through to your personal return. But your accountant might advise you to spend some more money before the end of the year. Maybe it means buying a new computer or other equipment you need that will reduce your taxable income. It’s a weird thing, right? I’m someone who likes to save, so if I have a really good year like this one, ideally I want to squirrel away as much as possible. It’s not my norm to think about how I can spend more. But if I don’t buy some things I need for my business, I’ll end up paying more in taxes. If I’m going to spend the money either way, I’d rather spend it on some stuff that will be useful instead of sending it to the IRS. And while I’ve heard accountants say you can’t spend your way out of paying taxes and believe that is true, my CPA has saved me quite a bit. If you find yourself in a position where you need to spend more at the end of the year, it means you’re doing well. It’s weird, but it’s not a bad place to be. I’m often met with resistance when I recommend hiring a CPA, especially to people who are fairly new in business. The initial reaction is usually that it’s going to be too expensive and they don’t think they’re at the point where they can afford or need it. I beg to differ. My CPA always says if he doesn’t save me more than his fees cost, I should find someone new. It’s true. The costs might seem intimidating up front, but if you’ve done your research and hired someone reputable, it’ll pay for itself. How do you find a good CPA? When I say you should build a relationship with one, I mean you want to work with someone long-term who will get to know you and your business and can better advise you. Someone at one of those big chain tax services won’t necessarily give you the same level of care, so I’d stay away from them even if the price tag is appealing. I’m sure they have great people, but I’ve also heard some horror stories. I always think getting recommendations from someone in your industry is the best place to start. You want someone who understands the nuances of your particular business and has already proven themselves with someone you trust. I recently hired a new CPA based on the recommendation of a good producer friend. I did my research and scheduled a call to interview him before hiring him, but her referral had the biggest impact on my decision. Yes, I interviewed my CPA before hiring him. It was more of a conversation than an interrogation, but I think you should always have a discussion with someone before agreeing to work with them. Think about what’s important to you and make sure that person is in alignment. If you don’t get the right answers or a good feeling, move on and find someone else. I think this should be the case with all working relationships, but it’s especially important when your money is involved. I’ve been working with the same tax preparer since I was 18 and she’s been great. But the last couple of years, some things have shifted and I realized it was time to look at other options. I wanted to know if this new guy would be hands on, meaning if I’d be working with him directly or if I’d be working with someone else. And if it was someone else, would it be the same person or just whoever was available? Fortunately, they assigned me to a dedicated team, meaning he’s involved but there are also 2 others I can connect with if I have questions or need anything. They’ll be familiar with my account so they’ll be qualified to answer, not some random person who has to quickly look it over and answer me without knowing anything about me. That’s important to me. I already knew he had experience with production. I also made sure the company and individuals are licensed in my state and other places from where I might want to work. I got an overview of their services and they said all the right things in terms of loyalty and building relationships, which you probably know are important to me as well. That conversation accomplished everything I needed, and I officially hired him the next day. The best way to keep this relationship working for both of you, and something that is necessary as a business owner, is to keep up with your bookkeeping. It’s crucial to do this throughout the year. It will save you the stress when it’s time to do your taxes, because you’ve already done the leg work. Hopefully you’re using accounting software like Quickbooks or Wave Apps, or at least have some solid system in place, so all of your income and expenses are already categorized and tracked. Your receipts are attached or at least organized and saved in an easily accessible place. I do both. I attach my receipts to my expense transactions in Quickbooks and also save the PDFs on my computer and backup hard drives. If I ever get audited, it will be easy because my records are all right there. As long as you’re up-to-date, you can easily send a P&L, which is a profit & loss statement, and a balance sheet to your CPA any time they need it. They can review, make adjustments, and advise you from there. If your books are a mess, it’s going to make it difficult for everyone so do yourself a favor and keep it current. I have only had positive relationships with accountants, mine and my client’s, because of this. I do my job and that makes their job easier. Everyone wins. I do understand that bookkeeping isn’t everyone’s favorite thing and it’s one of the first to get put on the backburner when you’re busy working on things that actually bring you income. It’s fine when that happens, but prioritize catching up when you’re able, especially when nearing the end of the year. No one likes thinking about taxes, at least no one I know, but there are a lot of perks that come from owning a business, and you want to take advantage while you can. Talk to your CPA towards the end of the year, ideally October or November. Let them review your books and advise you about what to do before December 31st to minimize your tax liability. Maybe that means you’ll get some fun new gadgets to play with, or the opportunity to invest in that software you’ve been wanting to use but thought was too expensive. Or maybe it means you’re already in good shape and need to keep doing what you’re doing. Either way, find out before it’s too late. Give yourself that head start so you can properly benefit from your business. And then maybe you won’t be stressed out when April 15th rolls around and you can do something better, like celebrating the birthday of your favorite Aardvark Girl.
Getting it Done with Prioritizing, Logic & Self-Awareness
Oct 4 2021
Getting it Done with Prioritizing, Logic & Self-Awareness
When you feel like you have too much to do, use prioritizing, logic, and self-awareness to help you figure out how to get it all done. Have a suggestion for a topic? Email info@aardvarkgirl.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl -- Running a business can be a lot of work, especially when you’re doing it all yourself. When you can hire help and delegate tasks to ease your own workload, that can be helpful, but sometimes you have to be the one doing it. And while we are capable of handling a whole lot, sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and admit that you can’t do it all, at least not in the current moment. With all the projects I’ve been juggling the last few weeks, I’ve had a few people ask how I’m getting it all done. I wish there was one simple answer, but it really comes down to prioritizing, logic, and self-awareness. Prioritizing is crucial when you have what feels like 8,032 things to do, and when every time you answer an email or get one thing done it seems like 6 new ones have appeared. There are so many apps out there to organize your to do lists, so find the one that works best for you. I’m still old school with Excel spreadsheets and Word docs. Partially because it’s how I started, and partially because every time I come across some software I want to try, I don’t have time to learn something new. So I stick with what I know and think, “I’ll try that when I’m done with these projects.” But then new projects replace those projects and I don’t get around to it. It’s not a bad problem to have. When I’m feeling like my mental to do list is out of control, I write everything down to get it out of my head. Then I shift things around in order of priority, which can be a mix of deadlines and duration. Meaning, if something has to be done by a certain day or time, those are top priority and listed in order. Then, if something is going to take a short amount of time to complete, I get those done. I do that because it allows me to delete more from my list faster, and fewer items on the list make me feel like everything is more manageable. Once I have everything listed out and in order, it’s much easier to get to work. As new things come up, I add to the list where it belongs and keep going. Another element of my to do list is my email inbox. Or, in my case, my 15 email inboxes. I wish I was exaggerating. Some clients give me an email from their domain, and then I use my main address for everything else. But I actually like having the different addresses because it allows me to focus on one client at a time when I need to. A perfect example of this is at the end of the month when I have to make sure I’ve done everything I need for my retainer clients and send out my invoices. I can go through each inbox and see what needs to be done. My system is that once everything in an email has been answered or completed, it gets filed into the appropriate folder. If it remains in my inbox, that means there’s something that still needs to be addressed. It’s another way to keep track of everything. Logic is a big part of all of this, at least for me. It’s thinking practically about what needs to be done, by when, and organizing it in a way that allows me to be as efficient as possible. I use logic when I’m prioritizing, like I just talked about. It’s easy for some to get emotional about their work, in the sense of getting overwhelmed or freaking out that there’s too much to do and not enough time. That’s completely normal. But bringing a logical perspective into it can help a great deal because you’re being practical. What can and can’t be done? I also apply logic to how I schedule my time. Sometimes this involves batch work so I can make sure the same part of my brain is being used in blocks of time instead of hopping all over the place. So if I’m needing to book travel for 40 crew members, I’ll usually do all of the flights, then all of the car rentals, then all of the hotels if I don’t already have a room block secured. This allows me to get in a better rhythm because I’m repeating a process. If I’m only doing it for one or two people, my brain sometimes works better if I’m linear with everything and book one person’s flight, car, and room and then start that process over again. So it changes from time to time. It’s always about what works best for you and your brain. That’s where self-awareness comes in. You really have to know yourself to create a good system for managing everything you have to do. You need to know which things you can do quickly, which take more focused attention, what’s going to keep you up at night if it’s not finished, and how all of this is going to affect your mental health. When you know these things, it’s much easier to make decisions about what to do now and what should wait. Even though I have pretty strict boundaries in place about not working evenings and weekends, there are times when I know for myself it’s going to be better to do it. If I can take an extra 2 hours at the end of my normal workday and power through some of my to dos, it will help me sleep better that night and also start the next day off in a better place. Or if I know the next week is going to be intense, it might make more sense to get some things out of the way on Saturday. The important thing to remember is that, in these cases, the only person making me do this is me. It’s not crossing a boundary when it’s me setting and breaking that boundary. And most importantly, you should acknowledge that sometimes you can’t get everything done in a day. You can do the best that you can in the moment you’re in, and that has to be enough. Sometimes you need to take a break even though you feel like every second you’re not working is somehow putting you another hour behind. Sometimes you just have to say, “this is all I can do today” and you’ll come back to it in the morning. Your business is important to you. Your clients are important to you. You are important to you. With some proper prioritizing, logic, and self-awareness, you know you’re going to get it done. You are not going to let your clients, or yourself, down. You will get through it and breathe a huge sigh of relief when it’s all done. And then you’ll look back at this time, realize how much you’ve accomplished, and you’ll be ready to take on the next challenge.
Drew Marvick: Don‘t Be Afraid to Fail
Sep 27 2021
Drew Marvick: Don‘t Be Afraid to Fail
Drew Marvick is a producer, writer, director, actor, horror enthusiast, and so much more. In this episode, we discuss the world of production, horror fandom, and why it's so important to not let the fear of failure hold you back from pursuing your passion. Drew's primary career has been as a producer in the commercial world, but he's branched into acting in indie films and horror movies. He talks about his work ethic and not having an ego on set. It's not about where you're at on the call sheet, it's about coming together as a team to do the best work possible. He breaks down what the commercial production process is really like - starting a completely functioning and successful business over and over for single days at a time, and shutting it down immediately after. Motivated by all the talented people with whom he worked, he made his first film, the cult hit "Pool Party Massacre" with a meager budget in his parents' backyard. That movie has taken a life of its own with unexpected longevity - after 5 years, it's still playing at film festivals. He uses it as an example for all the people who want to do something but don't because they are afraid. He hopes people see what he's done and think, "If he can do it, so can I." Connect with Drew @drewmarvick on all platforms. Pool Party Massacre Connect with me: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- 00:29 I've been watching horror my whole life and been fascinated by it. But separately, I just also loved movies and photography, and wanted to do one or the other. I didn't think production was a real, attainable job. I thought you were born into it, or made in a factory or something. I just didn't think it was real, so I was going to be a photographer. That was my goal. And then I kind of did neither, and then fell into this. 02:52 I still thought maybe there was something, and maybe I could go to film school. And then my dad actually kind of talked me out of it. He just didn't think it was a good idea. And he basically said, “If you're really passionate about doing film or photography, get a degree in business. I will pay for your college if you get a degree in business. And then if you're still passionate about it, I will pay for you to go to film school or photography school after that. But you're gonna need the business sense to do either of those jobs. If you don't have it, you'll fail. But also, you want to make sure that you're passionate about it before you waste four years to be a waiter.” That’s what he said. I think in the back of my mind, I knew he was probably right. I did get a business degree from UNLV. And when I finished, I had zero interest in going back to college to get any other degree, no matter what it was. And so I went into the management world.  04:57 When I was leaving Coyote Ugly, I happened to mention to an employee who was going to film school that if she ever needed a PA, give them my name, and I'll do it. She called me the very next day and said, "I'm working on a commercial and they need someone. If you're serious, call this guy, Matt. Here's his number.” That started a long relationship, because I ended up being a full-time producer for him for years. And now, I still work freelance for him to this day. I was going to take two months off and then get a real job again soon. And I still don't have a real job. 09:58 As a producer, business school makes way more sense than film school. Some people come out of film school lacking certain skills like interpersonal skills, and customer service skills, things like that. As a producer, you need to interact with people, and people need to trust you, and like you. I say that everyone should have a customer service job at some point. Even if you want to be a filmmaker, and you know that's what you want to do, you should still get a job where you have to deal with people, and you have to take people's crap, and you have to learn how to handle it. Because if you don't, you're going to learn later in life, and that's a lot worse. 13:15 I've never had an ego when it came to what title I had, or what job I was doing. We're all on the same page, and we're all equal despite where our names are on the call sheet. I'm just there to get the best result at the end of the day. It's just the way I am. And it's the way I am on all of my sets, like in the indie film world as well. Just because I'm the writer, and the director, and the producer, doesn't mean I'm better than anyone else on the set. And in fact, I tend to do the dirtiest work myself, just because I don't want to ask other people to do it. 18:57 The idea of making a feature film just seemed impossible for a large part of my life. But then by that point, I kind of got motivated by all the people that we work with, in this town especially. We work with so many talented people. There's so many people that are on set that are so much more talented than I am, and can do everything. I mean people that can shoot, and edit, and light, and know sound, and probably know storytelling, and can write a good script, and they have every single asset that you need to make a good movie, except they're afraid to do it because they're afraid to fail. So, at some point, I just said, “You know what? Then I'm going to do it. Like here, the least talented person in the room. I'm not afraid to fail at all. Like, I'll make a movie. And maybe it'll motivate you guys.” And so, that's really what the motivation was. It was kind of just like to kick a bunch of my friends in the butt and say, “Hey, look, don't worry. It's okay.” And I didn't even know if anyone would see it. I mean, it's a $6,000 movie that I made in my parents’ backyard. I really thought it was just for fun, and so that I could have a movie under my belt, and understand how it worked. And then that could make a real movie someday, based on what I would learn from that. But I guess it turned out to be a lot more than that. It ended up having a long life. It turned into this thing that I never expected it to. 23:27 The fear of failure is debilitating for a lot of people. And I guess I'm just lucky enough that I don't have it. I mean, I don't like to fail, and I don't like to be embarrassed, but I'm not afraid of it because I know it's a part of life. And I've done it so much, and I've always come out of it just fine. I fall on my face for a living, so I'm okay with it. And you move on, and you learn from it. I think everyone else, if they could just get past that, they'd be a lot better off. So if I can be the person that, even if it is them saying to themselves, if this guy can do it, then I can do it, then that's fine. That works for me. 27:32 We were still able to have the Sin City Horror Fest last year, just not in person. It shifted to an online model. Now, in the future, we can still use it as a tool and kind of integrate it into the in-person festival so that people around the world can participate, at least in some way. So, we're kind of trying to figure out that balance as we're now shifting back. We definitely learned a lot. 29:39 Horror fandom is something that is so very unique. The fans are really loyal, and really rabid, and very active. So, it's great. And it's a community. And surprisingly, most of the fans are really nice, which I think people on the outside wouldn't expect when they see a bunch of people in black t-shirts with decapitated heads on them, and people wearing makeup and blood all over their face waiting in line to get into to a convention hall. They look pretty scary, but they're not. They're just people like us. This is just what they're into it. To me, it's the same as a person that paints their face green and yellow, because they're a Packers fan. Like, there's really no different to me, because that's just as weird. Spelling out somebody's name on yours and your friends’ chests so that you can all stand shirtless together and root for your favorite quarterback is kind of the same thing to me as dressing up as your favorite horror celebrity or character. It's just a way of showing your support. 33:39 I think I'm both the cool dad and the weird dad. It goes in waves as they grow. My son is a teenager and I still have to drop him off like a block away from school because he's embarrassed. I'm definitely not the cool dad to him. Unless the times when it works out in his favor when he gets to meet Corey Taylor from Slipknot, because I happen to know him because of what I do. So, then all of a sudden I'm cool for like three seconds. But then I'm back to not being cool on the drive home, and he's telling me to turn my music down or roll the windows up because people are going to see him. My 10-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is still in this great phase where it is cool, and she wants to be a part of it, and she wants to be on set, and she wants to make movies, and she's writing scripts now. she's really good at it. She's very creative. I’m stealing some of her titles.  They've grown up around it. I mean, they've been on sets of some kind. They've both been in tons of commercials, and been on commercial sets, but they've both been on movie sets and at horror conventions their whole life. So, they're immune to it, but they're also fascinated. 36:36 As their dad, I definitely want what's best for him. And I want to be able to give them good advice and help steer them in the right direction. But I also love letting them figure things out on their own. I'm a single dad with two kids, so I spend a lot of time with them. And I am definitely not the kind of dad that's trying to get them to like what I like just because I like it. I don't tell my daughter that she has to listen to Slayer and buy her a Slayer shirt. We're listening to Justin Bieber, and I'm scream singing along with her, with the windows down, all the way to school. And sometimes on the way back, even though I'm alone. That's just the way I am and the way I want them to make their own decisions.  39:40 I've been an FBI agent. I've been a doctor. Now granted it was in a garage with a drill, but I was a doctor. I've been a lot of things. my career, is very schizophrenic. I definitely make my living on the production side as a producer, in the commercial world. But now that I'm starting to do so much more in the feature film world, and with horror projects, acting has now taken over. At least 50% of my work is acting now. I mean, I haven't been able to complete another movie because I've been in so many other people's movies. From what people that know me ask me when I see them, I think it's really hard for people to figure out what I do, which I like. 41:32 Commercial production is basically starting a business from the ground floor, doing everything you need to do to start that business. You're hiring, you're finding a location, you're getting all the equipment you need, you're working out your business plan, and then you're going to execute it for one day. And then you're going to fire everyone. You're going to liquidate all your assets, and you're going to vacate the building. And then you start over in a whole new business the next week. We start a completely functioning and successful business over and over and over again for just single days at a time. Which is why my beard is gray now. 43:22 Don't quit your day job, until you can't possibly do both things successfully. Figure out a way to do it while you're doing that other job, so you actually still have insurance, and you still have a paycheck, and you have some form of stability. Like, literally wait, even if it's years, wait until the day when you can't do both things because it's affecting your quality of life. And then if you still have the same amount of passion for the creative project, quit your day job and do it.  But if you've already pulled the ripcord and you're in it, don't be afraid to fail. Because you are. You're going to fail a bunch of times, and you're going to have really bad days. And you're going to work on really bad sets and work with horrible people. But it doesn't matter, that's the beauty of this. If you are on a bad set, or you're working for a bad producer, or with a horrible director, or a client that just sucks, it's all temporary. Unlike any other job, there's an end date. Just know that you don't have to deal with that. You're not stuck. You're gonna work on a lot of jobs, with a lot of people. And you're gonna find your family. And once you do, it'll be awesome. 48:05 If you’ve got 80 minutes you just want to ruin, then check out Pool Party Massacre. Or if you're a fan of 80s, low budget ‘80s-style slasher films, maybe you'll even like it. And if so, you can pick up a t-shirt, and a lunchbox, and a hat, and look like a weirdo.
Be the Person People Want to Hire
Sep 20 2021
Be the Person People Want to Hire
Let me know what you think about this topic, or if there's something else you'd like to hear about. You can email info@aardvarkgirl.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl on all platforms. -- It sounds so cliche to say, “I don't know where the time is going.” But I really don't. Last week, I was working on something and my phone went off as a reminder that it was the 15th, and there are certain things that I need to do on the 15th, and I almost didn't believe my phone. I thought it was lying to me, because it seemed like September just started, so I don't know how it was halfway done already. But that's what seems to be happening lately. I don't know if time is just disappearing into some weird vortex into that black hole of nothingness, never to be seen again, or what is happening, but it's going fast. Time going quickly compounded with being busy is not always the best combination, but that's where I find myself today. It is Friday as I'm recording this, and I have nothing prepared for the podcast. I have ideas, but I haven't had time to focus on the ideas and put together any kind of cohesive outline about what I want to talk about. So here is my rambling for the day, and it will probably be a fairly short episode because it's not planned. I think about something john McClain said in his interview: “It's not done, it's due.” I'm at that point. This episode is due, so I need to get it done. So maybe it won't be perfect, but when is it ever? Perfection, I've talked about before, it's not something that I think is attainable. It's not that it's not okay to try to be the best that you can, but I think sometimes we have to accept that we cannot be perfect. And sometimes we just need to get something done and accept that it is what it is. How's that for another cliché? I know I've talked before about the glorification of business and how some people like to speak about how busy they are as a point of pride. And that's not me, I really enjoyed my downtime. I've not had enough of it lately. But I also don't like to use busy as an excuse for not getting other things done. However, I do understand that it does complicate things when you are spending all of the time you have, and all of your energy, and all of your brainpower, on just getting through with all the work that you have somehow committed yourself to do. Even with the best plans in motion… and I think I said this recently, and that's where I'm at right now. I don't even remember what I've talked about in recent episodes because I'm just trying to get them done so fast, in the limited time I have available. But even with the best boundaries in place, and saying no, and doing all of those things, sometimes everything is going to fall at once and you just have to do whatever you can do to get through it. Yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients, and it's someone I consider a friend. He and I started working together when I was 23 years old, and there was a big chunk of time in between where we didn't really work together, but we would still catch up every now and then, see how each other were doing. We've only started working together again in the recent years. I joke with clients sometimes that my whole M.O. is infiltrating their business in a way that makes it so they can no longer live without me. It is really the strategy that I've had, and that's how I have all these loyal clients, because I make their lives easier. And I do it in a way that makes them almost dependent on me, but that's not really the intention. I do like to be there. I like to make sure that their lives are easier. That's pretty much the point in what I do. But also, it's job security for me, right? So it is strategic. It's a win/win. It's not just me giving and them taking. I don't work with clients who don't value what I have to offer. And this is what he and I were talking about yesterday. He made the comment that he didn't know how he would do all of this, referring to an upcoming project, without me. Also yesterday, a completely different client in a different type of business and a different working/friend relationship. She said the same thing. “I don't know what I would do without you, Amanda McCune,” is what she said. And I really love to hear that even though in my personal life, and who I am in general, I don't like people being dependent on me. It's a big part of why I didn't want to start a company when I left my job. I didn't want to be responsible for other people's well-being and their livelihood in terms of a paycheck. That was just too much pressure. I don't like to be dependent on anyone else, and I don't want anybody else to be dependent on me. Probably why I don't want kids, right? That all ties in together. But I do like these relationships that I have with my clients because I never really had that when I worked for someone else. I had clients who I appreciated, I enjoyed working with. I know I made their lives easier in that capacity. And that all served its purpose. But it wasn't the same because they were hiring the company. I just happened to work there. Now they want to work with me specifically. And that's something that I think is really important…if you're just starting out or even if you've been in business for a long time… is to think about what it is that you want to offer, and also who it is you want to be. And so for all the people who think your business and your personal life aren't the same thing, in a certain way they are. Your personality is who you are as a person, and that does translate into how you work and how you are to work with. It always baffles me when I talk to somebody, or hear a story about someone, who doesn't take any pride in what they do. The people who don't seem to care. They clock out at 5pm on Friday, and don't think about anything again until Monday when they have to. It's not that there's anything wrong with that. It’s just different than how I am. I do take the weekends off also, as much as I can. Sometimes lately that hasn't been possible, but that's okay because of why I'm doing it. Certain clients, in those situations, they didn't do it intentionally. And if I waited until the weekend was over to do certain things, it wouldn't be good for anybody. So always able to make exceptions. But there's this weird thing in production, and it seems to be happening a lot more, maybe because so much work is ramping up and everybody's really busy. They didn't work for so long so now any job that comes around, they want to make sure to take advantage. One of my other clients keeps running into this issue where he has people who he's hired, who have committed to jobs, and then they drop out at the last minute with no warning, and no replacement, no suggestion for who could cover for them. That's the part that I don't get. If you make a commitment to a job, or to a project or however your business works, your word should mean something. I know that's how it is for me. My word is everything because what I say I do reflects on who I am. And I will never be a person who doesn't honor a commitment that I've made, taking emergencies aside and those situations where you really can't do anything about it. What I mean by that is if I've made a commitment to your job, it doesn't mean that if something “better” comes along, I'm going to just go with that direction instead. I don't think that's the right thing to do, but that's what's happening so much. Somebody makes a commitment, then something better comes along - maybe it's a higher paying job, maybe it's more days of work. It ultimately benefits the person, so I kind of understand that point. But to just flake on the person who's counting on you already, I don't understand how that keeps happening. I have turned down work because I was already committed to something else. Fortunately, I am able to do that. I don't feel that I am obligated to take any job because I need a paycheck, I've worked really hard to get to the point where I don't have to feel that way. But I can't imagine ever leaving someone hanging like that. If I ever got to a point where I really had to back out of a job and go do something else, I would make sure that I found a quality replacement for me and did the work to transition that person so it wouldn't affect a client at all. I do understand that ultimately, you have to do what's right for you, but I think the way you handle certain situations goes a long way. Because that client is going to remember the time you flaked on him, and that person is never going to hire you again. Not only that, but people talk. I know how it is in the production industry, and I'm sure it's like that elsewhere. People talk. And they talk more about the bad experiences, unfortunately, than the good ones. When I teach the “Rates, Quoting and Billing” workshop with Melissa, we talk about the two lists. There are the lists that you want to be on, which is the list that says you are easy to work with and people want to hire you, so you're that first call. And then there's the list you never want to be on. And that's the one who causes problems. The “do not hire this person ever again.” Even if they're the most talented person in the world at what they do, it's not worth it if they're not reliable. I don't know if I'm making a solid point here. I hope that I am. But really, it's think about who you are, what kind of work you want to do, and what kind of reputation you want to have with your clients and the people they know. And I say the people they know, again going back to how my business is 100% referral based, meaning I work with someone they like what I do, they recommend me to someone else, I build relationships that way. I like to be on that list where people call me first. And if I'm not available, or don't want to do a job for some reason, even if it's not somebody I've ever worked with before, I do my best to offer alternative solutions. I'm going to talk more about that in an upcoming episode. It was the one I was going to be doing right now, but just couldn't get my brain into it to be articulate enough in what I want to talk about. So know that that's coming. But ultimately, what it comes down to is being solution oriented, making your clients lives easier, and being somebody that they want to work with any chance they get. Your talent and your skill and how well you do whatever it is that you do is really important, but who you are as a person sometimes matters more. So be the kind of person that you would want to hire. Be the kind of person you would want on your team. Be the kind of person that others can depend upon when needed. Be the kind of person who makes any project better, just by being you. I say this with all the humility in the world, that I do understand everyone is replaceable. It's not that I do anything so well that nobody else could possibly do what I do, but nobody else is me. It's my unique balance of the way I look at the world, the way I solve problems, who I am personality-wise. Yes, I'm a little bit awkward. That's totally fine. Sometimes that works in my favor. All of those facets of who I am come together to make me me. And I'm not the right fit for everyone, and that's perfectly fine, too. But for the right people, I feel that they appreciate me. I appreciate them. And that's why I have such loyal, quality clients and people I really enjoy working with. The type that make me want to say yes, even when I feel like I just don't have any more time or any more brain capacity to take on one more thing. I will always figure out a way because it's important to me. I hope you are running your business the same way. I hope you're being the best person that you can be, so that your clients see that, they value you, and they want to hire you more. I would love to hear your take on this. If I sound a little bit rambling, it's because I'm just talking off the cuff, which is not really what I'm comfortable doing all the time. I have a lot of thoughts in my head right now, and they might be a little bit scattered. Further proof that I am human, despite some people thinking that I may have robotic tendencies, myself being one of those people. Sometimes it happens. So I hope all is well with you, wherever you are, whatever you're doing. And I just want to say thank you for listening. I do appreciate every time I get feedback about an episode or a topic and I know you're out there listening. I don't look at my stats all the time, because I kind of find that stuff irrelevant, because that's not why I'm doing this. But I do see new downloads popping up from different states and countries all the time and it's really exciting to me. I don't know how you found me, but you found me, and I'm glad you're here.
Why Remote Work is Here to Stay
Sep 13 2021
Why Remote Work is Here to Stay
The demand for remote work and flexible schedules was there long before the pandemic forced employers to let people work from home. Now that it's proven as a possible, and often beneficial, option, many workers are not willing to go back to that archaic 40-hour work week structure. -- If you have a topic you'd like to hear about on this podcast, let me know at info@aardvarkgirl.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl. -- When I first started consulting, I noticed a common theme amongst employees. They were annoyed by the standard 40-hour work week, having to be in the office every day, and being forced to work in an environment in which they weren’t particularly efficient. And this was in 2015, long before the pandemic forced businesses to allow people to work from home. At the time, I worked in an office full-time, too, and was equally irritated by what a total waste of time it was. It was an issue with a lot of people I knew, in different positions and industries. Why did we need to be in a specific space for a specific schedule that was based on archaic factors? We know I’m a logical person, and there is no logic in this framework anymore. I can accept Monday through Friday as a work week. That’s pretty much engrained into the American ritual and it’s fine. I think we should have more than 2 days off, but that’s not always feasible. But the 8am to 5pm with lunch from 12pm-1pm schedule doesn’t make any sense. For most of us, sometimes our work is going to take more than 40 hours a week and sometimes less. We need to be able to manage that time based on our workload. Our time working should be dictated by how long we need to get our jobs done, not based on a pre-determined and irrelevant number of hours. Also, chances are that the most efficient schedule is not going to be that regimented. It’s going to utilize pockets of time throughout the day, not just in that one big 8-hour chunk. If you have kids and you want to take them to their after-school activities, you should be able to do that. It might mean that you stop for a few hours in the afternoon and then work a little bit after dinner, but then you’re going to be much happier because you’re getting that important time with your family AND still doing your job responsibly. If you have personal appointments, or friends in town, or you’re not feeling well and need to rest for a bit, or if you’re not a morning person and spend the first few hours of the day not getting much done because you’re not fully alert yet, or whatever the case may be, it is counterproductive to try to force a work schedule that doesn’t actually work for your life. There are times when a team needs to be together for meetings to discuss things as a group. Some people are extroverts and get the energy they need from being in a room with other people. Others are introverts and that energy actually takes away from their ability to work well. Most are somewhere in between those two. So as the boss, if you are forcing one or the other, meaning everyone has to be there every day or no one has to be there any day, you’re preventing an entire group from being the best employees they could be. And the common thing I sadly heard from those owners back then was “I need them to be in the office so I can make sure they’re doing what they are supposed to do.” Most people are self-motivated when given the opportunity. Some do need to be managed or told what to do, but if you hire the right people, and communicate with them properly, you should never have to micromanage. A short conversation can reveal everything you need to know about them and their working styles, and how to create a schedule that maximizes the benefits to you and them. It’s not that hard. There’s a reason why, when I’m doing an evaluation for a company, I ask to speak individually with employees and not just the person in charge. It’s important to get all perspectives, and the employees tend to be more forthcoming with me because they can talk freely without any recourse. I use the information they provide to help with my suggestions, but don’t reveal who told me what unless they want me to. In nearly every consultation I’ve done, I’ve uncovered that the employees are unhappy because they feel confined to a situation that doesn’t make sense. Their energy is diminished because they are trying to fit their work into a schedule instead of creating a schedule around their work. They’re stressed out because they can’t find any balance. They’re missing out on personal and family obligations due to work, even if they could still get everything done on time. They’re feeling disrespected. They are willing to work extra when needed, but then they aren’t allowed to leave early in the times when they’re able. They’re always expected to give more, but if employers aren’t giving back, that’s when these employees spiral into burnout. Their quality of work often suffers as a result, and that hurts the company in a way that could’ve been easily avoided. When I had my Office Space moment and decided I wasn’t going to go to the office anymore, my theory was instantly proven. I saved so much time because I didn’t have to get ready and commute across town and deal with the frustrations of rush hour traffic which never really starts the day off with the right energy. I could have a proper lunch at home and didn’t have to go sit in my car just so I could have a few minutes to myself to decompress. I got my work done way more efficiently because I could focus without the constant interruptions and conversations in which I did not need to be involved. I could schedule my time around my volume of work and deadlines instead of the hours I was supposed to be in the office. That meant I could make more time for meetings with clients and other important appointments that helped the business. And I was much happier because I was in a comfortable environment. I didn’t have to freeze all day, or smell people’s microwaved lunches, or waste time staring at the computer when I was done with everything I needed to do that day but the clock didn’t read the right time yet. That decision, even if it wasn’t approved by my employer, changed my life. For those last 4 months, I only went to the office one day a week for a few hours. I still did everything I needed to do. I was still available to the other employees and clients and anyone who needed me. It didn’t negatively affect anyone. If anything, it saved the company some money because I wasn’t there all week using their power and Internet and office supplies and drinking their water. If that had been under different circumstances, without all the baggage from that previous year, and if I wasn’t already committed to leaving that company because of it, if they had allowed me to work from home, I would’ve been likely to stay much longer. It was part of my compromise… I say “my” because they didn’t actually agree to it… but my compromise for agreeing to stay when I told them clearly I was unhappy and wanted to leave, was that I would need to do it on my terms, and that meant working from home. They didn’t uphold their promises to me, so I didn’t feel like playing by their rules anymore. It never had to end up that way. I think this is why so many people go into self-employment or freelancing. They don’t want someone else dictating when or where they do their work, or what work they have to do. Working as a contractor allows you to build partnerships with your clients, hiring contractors allows you to build partnerships with your vendors, and all of that usually leads to more beneficial relationships where everyone feels respected and actually wants to do the work. If that’s not happening, you’re hiring the wrong people or you’re acting the wrong way. Remember, this was all an issue pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic, people just aren’t willing to put up with it anymore. 2020 proved that work from home was possible, and in many cases, beneficial. People learned that virtual meetings save time. They saw that people can be trusted to do their work without being in the physical office with someone watching over them. They realized that people are happier being comfortable and focused. Without the commute, many were able to move to the places they always wanted to but couldn’t because they had to be close to the office. It opened up opportunities to work with people from all over the world and not just their geographic area. It gave people back some ownership of their own time. For employers who have embraced the changes, and will continue allowing work from home, they have workers who feel more appreciated and are more willing to go the extra mile for them. There’s more of a reciprocal working relationship based on respect vs a boss telling an employee what to do all day. Some bosses might prefer that old school way of doing things, but those who are stuck in that are losing the talent and they’re not going to be able to hold on to good workers for very long. There’s been a huge shift in the power dynamic, one that favors the individual over the company. It used to be that the hiring person held the power. They had the job and the money that the employee needed. Not anymore. The employee has the talent and skills that the company needs to thrive. A job interview now isn’t just about the company finding a good fit for the available position, it’s also about the person finding out if the company is worthy of them. Similar to those of us who are self-employed, talented workers have learned to value their skills. They’re making demands, and it’s not all about money and benefits. Flexibility is a huge part of all of it. People need the freedom to do what they need to do, in the way that works best for them. They need to trust that the people they work for care about their well-being, and they need their bosses to trust them. They will get their work done on time if you give them the chance and don’t confine them to a time or place that doesn’t make any sense. Remote work is not going away. People are not going to forget what they learned during the pandemic. Some are ready to be back in the office and amongst people, but others prefer to stay home where they can be more comfortable and efficient and spend more time on the life part of the work life equation. The great thing about owning a business is that you get to hire the team you want and create the environment that works. Some jobs do require people to be in a certain place at a certain time, but if there’s room for flexibility, honoring some of those individual needs will benefit you in the long run. If you’re looking to hire some people for your company, keep in mind that you need to give as much as you want to receive. People will work harder for you and be more committed to you if you offer them some basic respect and trust. If you can’t trust them to do good work without constantly looking over their shoulder, there’s something wrong on at least one side that needs to be addressed. If you’re looking for a job, make sure to prioritize what’s important to you and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Compensation isn’t just the dollar amount they’re willing to pay you. And if they aren’t willing to meet your needs, move on to the next one. Or, maybe it’s the perfect time to start your own business so you can make the rules that work for you.
Gilda Graham: The Hero‘s Journey
Sep 6 2021
Gilda Graham: The Hero‘s Journey
Gilda Graham is an actor, screenwriter and Emmy-nominated producer. She also helps others navigate the stressful nature of the film and television industry through her coaching program, "The Hero's Journey," in which she helps people write their own scripts by figuring out where they are now, where they want to be, and guiding them on their path to get there. In this episode, we discuss her passion for the film industry, and why she had to pursue that career path, even if it wasn't what her family wanted for her. Her journey, like the journey many creatives take, has taken many twists and turns along the way, but they all led her to the place she is right now - exactly where she's meant to be. Gilda explains the importance of understanding and managing your finances so you can afford the freedom to say no to jobs you don't want and focus on the ones you're passionate about (spoiler alert: you don't need to make a ton of money to be money smart). We talk a lot about trust - trusting yourself, the people you hire, and the people you work with, and also trusting that life will take you where you're meant to go, even if it happens slower than you might like. We also touch on the importance of avoiding burnout by taking breaks, honoring your visions, and finding a few minutes each day to do something healthy for your mind.   Connect with Gilda: https://www.gildagraham.com/ Instagram @miss_ggraham Twitter @gildagraham YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXTgk_yxX7qzEI2F6T6L7dw   Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- 00:18 I've always wanted to go into the film industry. When I was about 12 or 13, it was just something that I...something was calling to me. I loved storytelling. I loved being able to tell a story and to move people. 05:07 It took me a while to trust the process. You always want to be in control of your own life, and that's something that I've learned through energy healing, like doing Reiki. And then also just letting go, and surrendering, and understanding that you are in control of your life in a sense. But for me, I believe life also knows and controls that aspect and it just goes a lot slower than you. So, you have to be completely patient in some way but just kind of keep the ball rolling. 08:23 It's part of growing up in your first few jobs. Whether it's in studio, or corporate, agency, whatever it is, you're going to learn who you want to work with, and who you don't want to work with. It takes time. It takes energy to figure that out, and it does take money. And people don't realize that money and finances have a huge part to play in you actually working on things that you want, as opposed to you don't want. But it's a huge part of it, because you can afford then to say no to somebody. 13:21 And I think what you learn in acting, if you have a good coach, is trust. You have to trust the other people. You have to trust that they know how to make the right decisions. And if they don't, you come out of love, and you make it for them without making it seem as though you're choosing. And that kind of comes into all aspects of a job. You have to trust the people that you hire to do the job. You have to trust yourself to hire the right people. And then you have to trust the people to know that they love their job enough to do it correctly. 17:22 I was just at a Fortune 500 corporate company, and one of the only other female producers, I remember her saying something along the lines of, “This is dog eat dog. And if I have to just care for myself, then I guess that's how it's gonna be.” And it’s a small department, so if you’re eating somebody, you’re eating your coworker, and we all know it. We all understand what you’re talking about. 20:04 There is a lot of unhealthiness going on, and that you have to be around, to get the paycheck and the benefits, and all that good stuff that comes with it. And it got to a point to where, for me, I wasn't showing up to myself the way that I needed to. I went from a perfectionist to someone who was now mediocre at her job, because you were so tied down to only doing what they want you to do, and then being reprimanded if you did anything more or wanted more. And that's the sad part about being in departments. There's not much room for growth, and people don't really appreciate you, and companies want to keep you down, I feel. At least that was my experience. 25:32 We're all spirits having a human experience. There's the light and the darkness. You have to have darkness in order to see the light. We all have to go down the hill to then go up the hill. 27:25 You experience burnout when you keep going and you keep going and you don't stop and give yourself a break. And then your bills just keep coming. This is why I said finances are just as important because it allows you some freedom. And you don't need to make thousands of dollars to be able to do it. You just need to know how to manage it. So yeah, I did experience burnout because it was just like, go, go, go, go go. Pay the bill, pay the bill, pay the bill. And there were no breaks. There was no recharging of your batteries. And people will take from you if you allow. They will take everything that you have, if that's what you are giving them. 34:45 So many people do not communicate and keep things to themselves because they don't want to be judged. 39:24 In a script, you have the hero's journey, and they go through the whole process of the hero. And I realized, technically in films, these heroes, they're supposed to be us. That's why we look at them as heroes and it touches our heart, and we get inspired. We're all trying to be heroes in our own journey. Some people decide not to take those journeys or those steps, but the steps are there. They're there. It's just up to you to take them or not. And so, I use the hero's journey to show where somebody is in their point in life and where they want to go. I use the chart as a way to kind of gauge who someone is, and what they want in the industry, and to help them on their path and guide them. So they're writing their own script, basically. 44:14 If you're really passionate about wanting something here, there's no straight line to it. You got to go this way and this way and this way to get to it because that's called life. It's called life. I don't know many people that just go straight in one direction. And if I do, they really have kind of a little bit of a boring life, I suppose, but they like it that way. So it's okay, as long as you love your life. 46:45 I don't even think that I was even given a choice in the sense of what I like or don't like, because I was just born with big visions. I was born with ideas. And to not honor what I was born with in my mind, I feel like I'm not utilizing life in the correct manner. And if I'm going to confuse somebody as to what I'm doing in life, and that puts a pause on them because then they don't know how to hire me, then that's okay. 47:52 I think that we're in this world to not just live and take, but to give, and that's really important for me. And it's not just money. Sometimes giving your time means a lot more. And that's what people need a lot of times, is your time and your love. 48:42 If I were to wave a magic wand, what would your life really look like? Ask yourself, why aren't you taking those steps? What's stopping you from actually doing it? Don't be afraid to get the help you need to make that happen for you, because you're worth it.
How to Function When You've Said Yes to Too Many Projects
Aug 30 2021
How to Function When You've Said Yes to Too Many Projects
Even with the best boundaries and understanding the importance of not overdoing it, we sometimes find ourselves in that situation where we've taken on too much. Here's how I got to that place and what I do to get through it. Please leave a review and subscribe so you never miss an episode! Questions and comments can also be emailed to info@aardvarkgirl.com Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- As I’m about to start recording, I’m reminded of this college English class where I had to write a paper that instructed readers how to do something, step by step. At the time, I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and was going to school full-time, so finding time to keep up with silly things like schoolwork was a bit challenging. I’m not always great at coming up with topics to write about, and I had a hard time thinking of something I did often enough I could write instructions for it. And, of course, I was running out of time because it was due the next day, so I ended up writing instructions for how to drive yourself crazy by waiting until the last minute to write a paper for your class. My professor seemed to enjoy it because it was a humorous take on the topic. It was not unlike what I’m about to say now, many many years later. We all know I’m a big fan of setting and honoring boundaries. I acknowledge the importance of work-life balance and making sure self-care is a priority. I have no problem saying no or being transparent when I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project. But even when we’re armed with the best principles and the clearest understanding of how to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our businesses, sometimes we end up in a predicament where we’ve taken on too much. You’ve been there, right? You had it all under control, but then one deadline got moved up, and another project increased in scope, and one client really needs your help and suddenly you’re in too deep. What do you do? This is where I’ve found myself the last couple of months. It’s almost comical at this point, but it also kind of fits in with the norm. It seems like traditionally my work cycles are all at once or not at all. Feast or famine, so to speak. The… predicament, I’ll say, because it’s not exactly a problem… is that the last 2 years have pretty much been a nonstop feast. And while we know in reality I do like to eat, in this metaphor it wouldn’t exactly hurt for me to go on a diet for a little bit. I say this with my usual disclaimer that I am incredibly grateful to have had so much work during a time when my primary industry was mostly shut down, and when many others have not been so fortunate. But production has come back full force and I know so many people who are in a similar place right now, where the work is just flooding in and they’re trying to balance it all. I was talking to a friend recently about everything going on and she asked how I managed to get to this place when I’m usually so good about not taking on too much. It’s a valid question because it does seem like I’ve failed to take my own advice about saying no and putting myself first and all that fun stuff that I truly do believe. But, sometimes the best decision for yourself is actually the one that puts someone else first, and that’s kind of what happened. I’ve set my business up in a way that allows me to work on multiple things at any given time. It comes with a lot of perks. If one area is slow, I have other things bringing me income. This proved invaluable during that time when there was no production work. If that was all I did, I would’ve been in a bad place for a bit. It also keeps me engaged because I’m not doing the same things all the time. Every day is different depending on what projects I have going on. And it allows me to work with multiple clients at the same time, so I don’t lose momentum with them by being unavailable for long stretches of time. But, by doing that, it also means that there are times when a whole lot of people need me at the same time. That makes it even more important to do some of those things I talk about all the time, like prioritizing, communicating, and making sure not to lose sight of self-care. It also makes it difficult to take on those bigger jobs that require me to be on set for several days in a row. I can still do it, but what usually happens is that I have to sneak in time before call, during breaks and after wrap to do all the other work and that tends to seep into that important decompress & sleep time. I’ve been doing this long enough that I do consider all of these things before accepting any job. Sometimes I say no because I don’t have the brain space for one more thing at that time, or I need stay home for my own mental health, or a variety of reasons. I’m not one of those people who has a problem saying no, but there are times when I may not want to do something, I may not think I should do something, but ultimately I know I need to do it. And then all I can do is be as mindful as possible about what I need to do to get everything done without overdoing it. It’s a practice, kind of like yoga in a way, because you don’t really perfect it. Some days you feel like you’re great, some days you feel like a mess, and you just have to accept that you have different strengths and limitations every single day. Do the best you can and try again tomorrow. So how did I get myself into this predicament? First, I’ve been working on an A&E TV series since June of 2020. It’s all remote and they understand that I have other clients, too, but they are my top priority. They’ve locked me in full-time so they essentially have first dibs on my schedule. If they need me, I’m available. That’s the deal. It’s a good deal. I also have several retainer clients who pay me monthly for different services. Those don’t require set hours or a specific amount of time, so it’s all flexible, but that means it can also be a bit unpredictable. The main one is the Voice Actors Studio, where I manage a lot of the behind the scenes stuff with regards to scheduling, finances, and the daily operations. The studio’s customer base has grown considerably in the last couple of years, which has been really fun to watch, but that also means there are more people with questions and other needs that fall onto me. Because of that growth, we’re in the midst of completely overhauling the website and booking platform. That requires a lot of my involvement in weekly meetings to make sure it’s going to function how we need it to. This will eventually make my life much simpler, so I’m happy to be involved. Then there are the little jobs that come in that I can fit in between everything else, and maybe some medium-to-large-sized projects that I find a way to do also. But then there was the rocket launch. The big one where they sent people into space. My client said they needed me, and I never even officially said yes. I was on the fence because I was already busy, and I was dealing with those house repair issues I talked about a few weeks ago, and my cat is sick. There was just a lot happening at once and it did not feel like a good time for me to be out of town for a week and a half. I explained this to my client and said I would do all the prep work from home, but I couldn’t commit to the onsite days. As we got into it, it became clear that they really did need someone there. And it couldn’t just be anyone. It’s not to say no one else can do what I do. Everyone is replaceable. But this particular event had a lot of nuances that I knew about because I’d done it before. And I know how much of a learning curve was involved being the new person. Then there was the added pressure of this one because it was the first one where humans were getting sent to space on this rocket. The person in this role needed to be able to juggle a bunch of moving parts and go with the flow, while also staying calm under pressure, and trying to help the rest of the crew do the same. That happens to be one of my specialties. They knew it had to be me, and I did too. I talked to my client and explained my hesitation and why I didn’t feel like I could go, but at the same time I understood that they needed me. I thought about it for a while and had to really turn inward to listen to my instincts. And they told me I needed to do it. I did make some demands… in a friendly and reasonable way of course… about what I needed to make it work, and they were good about it. That’s what happens when you have good clients, and good relationships with your clients. That was the start of all of this. It was a lot. But I got through it. I always do. And I always focus on the positive. Was that week away exhausting? Sure. Frustrating at times? Of course. But will I think back on it and remember how hot it was or how the Holiday Inn never cleaned my room? No. I’ll remember the looks on everyone’s faces when it was almost time. I’ll remember the cheering of the employees when the rocket went into the air. And I’ll remember the tears in the clients’ eyes when those astronauts got out of the capsule, because it represented the success of something they’d worked so hard on for so long. Those moments make it all worthwhile every single time. I got back and I had a few things to do but planned on a peaceful week or so of recovery. I even planned a spa day with a friend, which was very much needed. That afternoon, though, I got the text that another episode of the series had been cast and pre-production would start the next day. Goodbye break. So I had the show. I had the retainers. I had the small projects. Usually that’s all manageable. But then the show cast another episode – a real doozy of a season finale that involves a much larger cast, which means twice the crew, and considerably more logistics planning than we’ve ever had to do for one episode. So now I’m working on two episodes at the same time. Meanwhile, the studio is getting close to completing that overhaul, which means there is about to be a whole lot of new stuff to learn because it will affect a lot of what I do every day. Then there was another small rocket launch that needed my support. And now there’s the Skechers marketing video that is starting now, along with the prep work for the next big launch. So maybe in another month I can have that break? I have turned down a handful of jobs during this time, so don’t think I’m just saying yes to everything with total disregard for my time. I’ve been able to refer that work to other friends in the industry, so that makes me happy. I love to see everyone working after such a crazy year. This has just been a weird time and somehow everything has landed at once. It’s definitely a much better problem to have than nothing landing at all. I love being the person people need. They rely on me because they trust me, and that’s really important. And it’s recognition that I’m good at what I do, and I think it’s important for us to acknowledge things like that sometimes. Not to be arrogant, but to be kind to ourselves. If I wasn’t good at what I do, these clients wouldn’t hire me, I wouldn’t get to work on these big projects, and I probably wouldn’t be able to sustain this business I love that allows me the freedom I’ve always wanted. And I don’t know, maybe it’s just part of who I am. Maybe it’s because I care about the quality of everything I do so I always give my full effort. Maybe it’s because I treat my clients and their projects and businesses with the same level of care I do my own. Whatever it is, it’s working, and I’m grateful. So when this happens, when you end up in a place where you have too much work at one time and you know you have to get it done, the best thing to do is break it down into manageable pieces. Use your to-do lists, or whatever system you have, and write everything down. Get it out of your head! Then prioritize it so you know what needs to be done first. And most importantly, take care of yourself while you’re doing it. Get up every hour and walk around. Those breaks are good for you and will help you stay productive. Eat the right food. Get enough sleep. Even if that means you don’t get to watch your shows or whatever you usually do with your free time. Sleep is important. Take the time to exercise, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day. Even if it’s 15 minutes. Do something. It helps relieves the stress and keeps you healthy. Find little pockets of time where you can and do something for yourself. And don’t forget to breathe. You will get through it and when you do, reward yourself with whatever it is that makes you happy. Eventually you’ll look back and laugh. Remember that time when you had to do all those things at once and weren’t sure how you would make it? Yeah, that was fun. You probably have some good stories about the craziness, too. And in the end, it was all worth it, right?
Solopreneurship 101: A Quick Intro to Running a One-Person Business
Aug 23 2021
Solopreneurship 101: A Quick Intro to Running a One-Person Business
If you want to get started with your one-person business, you might not be sure where to start. Here is a super quick introduction to what it takes to become a solopreneur. -- Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- I’m still not sure how I feel about these made-up words like solopreneur, but they seem to be common so I’m doing my best to embrace them. I think the word entrepreneur has been overused to the point it hass lost its original meaning. Everyone is some kind of preneur these days. But I get the sentiment and this episode isn’t to challenge what’s appropriate in the preneur space. It’s about what it takes to be a solopreneur, or a single person business. The most common comment I get in my business sessions is “I don’t know what I don’t know.” It’s coming from people who are wanting to start their businesses but aren’t quite sure where to start. They often already have full-time job jobs and would like to leave them but how do you know when it’s the right time? If it’s the right decision? How do they know they won’t mess it up and regret the decision? The thing is, there never really is a “right” time. It’s all about choices and how hard you’re willing to work to make it work, if self-employment is actually what you want. It’s good to arm yourself with information, but not to overwhelm yourself so much you get stuck and don’t make any progress at all. To me, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that, no matter what service or product you’ll be providing, you will be running a business. You have to stay in that mindset. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “business-y” person, there are certain things you’re going to have to do. So here is a quick Intro to Solopreneurship. First, form your business. Pick a name, get your licenses, define your services, and start offering them. Don’t spend too much time worrying about whether you need an LLC or not. You will not find the answer by Googling because it depends on a lot of personal factors. So if you want to save a lot of time and confusion, discuss it with your accountant to see if it’s the right choice for you. Otherwise, you can start as a sole proprietor and change it later if it makes sense. Second, set up your accounts. As soon as possible, you want to open separate bank accounts so you aren’t mixing your business and personal funds. It’s a huge red flag to the IRS if you don’t have that separation and can hurt you when it comes to business deductions. All business income should go into those accounts and all business expenses should come out of those accounts. It doesn’t mean you can’t transfer your money to or from your personal accounts as needed, but you need to show that paper trail of it flowing through the business account first. If you end up setting up or filing as an S Corp, keep in mind that how you withdraw money is going to be different than if you’re a sole proprietor or single member LLC, so make sure to discuss that with your accountant in that case. After you’ve done those two things, you’re running a business. Congratulations! So then what? Now you get to work. And as a single-person business, that means you’re wearing a lot of hats, so it becomes a balancing act of getting all the things done. It can feel like a lot in the beginning, but you’ll get in a rhythm as you go. You’ll figure out your systems, how to make the most of your time, and which things are worth outsourcing so you don’t have to deal with them. One of the most important, and most people’s least favorite hats, is the bookkeeper hat. You can’t get around it. You’re going to make and spend money and there’s this lovely agency called the IRS that needs to know about it. It’s so important to stay on top of your money. Not just for taxes but for your own decision-making, too. I’ve talked about this a lot and will surely continue to talk about it in other episodes, but for this one I’ll keep it simple. Get your bookkeeping in order as soon as possible, ideally from the time you start your business. If the monthly subscription cost of some of the accounting software out there scares you, check out Wave Apps. It’s free and has all the function you need to keep your financials organized. I have no affiliation with Wave Apps, but I recommend it to a lot of people because it’s hard to argue with a zero-dollar price tag. As a single person business, you’ll also be responsible for your own marketing and sales, too. That looks different for every business, but you usually need to make some effort towards getting new clients, maintaining relationships with existing clients, networking, and all that fun stuff that ensures you always have people needing your services. It’s easy to forget about that part when you’re busy and have all the work you need in the moment, but you don’t want to ignore it completely and end up in a place where the jobs have ended and now you have nothing lined up because you didn’t talk to anybody because you were too busy. It’s a cycle I’ve witnessed too many times. Maintaining your business is good. Growing it is better. Keeping up with your sales and marketing helps ensure you have a steady stream of work coming your way, and that’s a big part of earning that freedom we all love so much - the freedom that allows us to choose which projects we want to work on and which people we want to work with. You never want to get stuck accepting a job that doesn’t align with what you want to be doing because you need the paycheck. And along the lines with marketing and sales, is social media. These all kind of blend together, but each has its purpose. Social media can be used with different strategies. If you do it right, it can be really effective in getting you more business. Sometimes it helps you connect with new people and make new working relationships. Other times it’s just about staying connected so people don’t forget you’re out there. Some people avoid it completely, which is always an option, but I think we live in a time where we have to have some presence online, even if we aren’t posting every day. I’ve mentioned many times that I’m no expert in social media and could definitely utilize it more, but I’ve never prioritized it. I post more about this podcast than I do the actual work I’m doing. It’s a work in progress for me. Maybe I’ll figure it out eventually. Who knows. Then there’s the part that probably gives bookkeeping its biggest competition for most hated hat, and that’s admin work. All that other stuff you have to do to run your business but you probably don’t love doing. Scanning receipts, filing important documents, checking your PO Box, responding to emails, ordering office supplies, scheduling meetings, renewing licenses, payroll, all kinds of things that you now get to do as a business owner. You don’t want to get behind on that stuff because even though it’s usually just a few little things here and there, the more those little things pile up the more it can seem overwhelming and stress you out more than it needs to. Take a few minutes every day or every week and try to catch up before you get too far behind. And let’s not forget, you’re doing the actual service. You know, the thing you actually do for your business that people actually pay you for doing? Yeah, that. That probably takes up most of your time and deserves a lot of your focus. Just be careful not to give it so much time that you fall short on the other parts of running your business, or that you end up getting burnt out and don’t want to do it at all. Balance, right? It’s always about balance. At some point, you’ll probably want to hire someone else to do some of these things so you can focus on the work that actually makes you money. But where do you even start with that? The best things to outsource are the things you don’t like doing or aren’t great at doing. If you cringe every time you open Quickbooks, you might want to pay someone else to do your bookkeeping. Or if you know it takes you a long time to create content, it might be best to let someone else do that for you. Before you say, “but I can’t afford to hire someone,” think about the value of time. If you freed up that time you’re spending doing the things you don’t like, could you use that to make more money? For example, say your admin work takes you 5 hours a week. That’s 5 hours doing tasks you don’t enjoy and don’t bring you more income. If you were to hire a virtual assistant, chances are that person is going to be more efficient at those tasks and maybe it only takes 3 hours a week. If you’re paying that person $25/hour, that’s $75 per week. But you’re getting 5 hours back, which I’m pretty sure is worth more than $75, right? See? I told you this would be quick lesson. The reason I do these short podcast episodes is because most of you listening are solopreneurs, too, and don’t have a lot of time. So thank you for spending a few minutes with me. Now, go run your business.