Inevitable September

I always have polar-opposite feelings about this time of year in Canada – the end of summer and beginning of fall. Let’s just say that I am not a fan of cold weather. At all. I start wearing sweaters as soon as the thermometer is below 24 degrees Celsius.

So to feel the ten-degree drop around the first week of September and knowing it is only getting colder from here, plunging us into a long dark winter that will make us forget summer even happened, is like a prison sentence.

Summer glory - who wants to see this covered in snow?!

Summer glory in my parents’ raspberry patch – who wants to see this covered in snow?!

But at the same time, I am a geek, and I love getting back on track with life after a refreshing and invigorating summer packed full of adventures and activities. And what a summer it was! I spent four weeks teaching in Rwanda, three travelling in Jordan, left my old job and launched a new freelance career. I come to September eager and refreshed to get my hands dirty.

So now for my news – I got a great project last spring writing content for the website of an amazing young design and media company that friends of mine started a couple of years ago. They gave me the license to experiment and try whatever I wanted on them, so I took full advantage to get to the heart of their vision for their company and how they wanted to present themselves to their audience.

With a beautiful website now polished and in the hands of our programmers (which I will link for you all once it is launched!), I felt more confident than ever about putting myself out there and taking on new assignments – until this same company again called me up and offered me a job! Two jobs actually – one potentially full time, doing both their new creative content side along with client management, or one part time focusing only on content.

I had a decision to make – take a full time job for this amazing little company and enjoy the security of not having to hunt for clients. Or, take the less-lucrative part time option focusing only on what I love and dedicating the rest of my time to developing my skills and pursuing other writing opportunities in parallel. The tricky thing for me was that I knew how closely they in fact were linked – I knew working closely with the clients and the teams would drive content and bring me deeper into the world of the company that I am writing about.

But I also didn’t want to get distracted from my goals to learn about freelance writing, and also not sure if I want to strictly limit my writing career to content marketing at this early stage. So, after weighing all the options and long consultations with my husband, I eagerly accepted the part-time content development job and haven’t looked back. They also hired an amazing manager who will be a joy to work with.

This is my first week, and there is a lot to learn. First up is to prepare for the launch of the new website, which we are hoping will come online in the next two weeks. There are social media accounts to set up, content to develop, and I prospective clients to reach out to.

I also want to keep up my dabbling in photography and coding, these little skills on the side that I feel like help enhance my work as a content developer by giving me perspective for what others bring to the table in the projects we do for our clients.

I’m curious what others think though – do you think I made the right choices for the coming months? And are you someone who dreads the end of summer or looks forward to getting back into things in the fall?

Lessons from my First Website Content Job

It was an exhilarating feeling to deliver my first full web content project to a client last week!

It was the perfect project to start off with – really a labour of love for a cause and a customer that I believe in: a friend of mine has been helping young adults in a neighbouring city to figure out their career and life goals. The challenge was to reach the target market – young people aged 18 to 35 who are looking for a job, particularly newcomers to Canada – yet at the same time convey that this was more than a job search program, as it is really designed to help people think about they wanted in their lives and take steps to get there.

Although the website design was fairly simple, it was content-heavy. It was a lot of work, but working with a great web design team and being surrounded with encouragement and fun made this project special.

Writing for websites is different than any other medium I had experienced so far. I learned a lot in this project, which I am already incorporating into my work with my new clients.

One lesson was how helpful it is to be able to do your own content entry in the site. The first time I saw my content uploaded on the website, I panicked. “It’s all wrong!” I thought – the byline too wordy, the slider text off-center, the columns all different lengths. I grabbed my phone to call the developer and ask him to make little edits, to which he was quite obliging. Twenty minutes later I called him again – I found a typo I needed fixed right away. On the third call he politely told me he would be heading to bed soon, so I should make a list of my corrections for him to work on in the morning. I knew it wasn’t as simple as making a list though – the words would need tweaking until they were just right. He finally gave me access to the backend of the site, which was WordPress-based, and with my limited html knowledge managed to tweak to my heart’s content. (Note: I strongly recommend learning even just a bit of html if you are writing for websites. A great crash course can be found at codeacademy.com).

Another thing I learned as soon as we met with the client to present the first draft of the website, was not to underestimate the impact that the visuals will have on how your content is read. If the design side is not completely up to snuff, it may not be the best idea for the client’s first impression of the content to appear next to the design. At the same time, if you give a client the content simply in a word document, they may not understand how it is going to look on the screen. It is preferable to work closely with the designer and present things together that you are both happy with – of course, that’s a bit of an ideal scenario, and we should always be flexible!

All in all, my client was very happy with what we created together, and made only minor adjustments to the content. And that was the most important part to me – that she is happy with how her website represents her organization and what it can help them do for others.

And on to the next project!

In the meantime, any advice from writers out there about writing web content – especially about how you share drafts of what you’ve developed with the client?

Too Early to Say “No”?

Since I finally made the decision to pursue freelance writing seriously with the intention to make it my career once I leave my current job at the end of May, people needing writing and content have come out of the woodwork.

I guess it helps that I have a lot of young and creative friends who always “know someone” who needs a website or a mission statement or an article, and are more than happy to recommend me since they know my skills. A few conversations have turned into a myriad of opportunities, to the point that I had to think about becoming a little more selective about what I agree to do.

“No,” my husband (aka professional consultant by day / my personal life-consultant the rest of the time) objected yesterday when I came home with two more potential client requests, “don’t turn anything down when you’re just getting started! It’s still to early to say no.”

I try to make him see reason as I enumerated the issues, “I am already working a fulltime job that takes about 40-60 hrs/week, I’ve taken on 3 clients already in the past two weeks and am still learning how to do this, I teach an online course, and I have youth mentorship volunteer work every week. I don’t want to agree to more work than I can actually deliver!”

“Just talk to them,” he says encouragingly, “you can work out the timelines with them. If you win them over, they’ll wait for you, or they’ll be okay if you have to renegotiate a deadline.”

Ah, the consultant – always a way to talk through anything. But he has a point – it does seem a bit early to say no to jobs when I am trying to build experience, a portfolio, and a network of clients and contacts.

But at the same time the fear of failure at this early stage is a very real thing – do I even know at this point how much work each client will require? Will taking on dozens of hours of extra work outside of my current job affect how well I do in my other commitments when I want to end on a high note? Might I risk damaging relationships with clients if I can’t deliver what they want and when they want it?

I guess these are all things I have to learn at this beginning stage, but at least I have a lot to work with.

So what do you think – is it too early to say no at this early stage? Or should I be firm and realistic with the amount of work I can comfortably manage?

Seeing what’s ahead

There are times in life that just seem to race ahead of the others. In the past few months (almost a year, really), I have gone through a long phase of trying to figure out for myself what will be my long-term path in terms of work and a career. I am working fulltime now but know that this is just a temporary step and not a career, and have given notice to leave at the end of my contract at the end of May, so the search is on.

After applying half-heartedly to jobs I have little interest in, putting effort into starting a small business that seemed interesting but that I knew I would find little joy in the manufacturing side of, and exploring a wide range of PhD programs while feeling a growing aversion to the lifestyle of an academic, it was hard sometimes not to feel more than a little lost – something I never thought I would be grappling towards the ends of my 20s, with so much education and experience under my belt (relatively speaking of course).

And yet, for some reason I never seemed to feel that anxious – I kept telling myself and those who were closest to me that I have faith that the next step in my life will appear organically, as it always has in my life. That may sound a bit naïve (sometimes it does to me too!), but I don’t think it’s blind faith either. While I didn’t know exactly what I would decide to do, I do know what would guide my decisions, as and in general what guides my life. Through striving to identify and learn about my talents and abilities, it became a rich process of reflection and exploration of new and exciting thing. Through thinking about how what I can do will benefit others beyond myself or simply collecting a paycheck, it avoids an over-emphasis on the self and gives value to a search for meaningful and fulfilling work. And finally, by making efforts and see what doors did or didn’t open before me, try to develop my perception of what I think God wants for me or doesn’t, and where I am being confirmed – and when I am not!

I have learned a lot in the process, about all of those things, and that alone I think has value. Life is more than my career, and although my career will occupy vast amounts of my time, focus, and energy, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact of my purpose.

And so, through all of these efforts, I finally realized what was right in front of me all along – that what I love to do, and have done in every avenue of my education, work and service, is to write. The idea seemed so elusive though – what does a “writer” do every day?? Having devoted time to working on a book over the past couple of years, as well as the odd short story and one-act play every now and then, I realized the impracticality of the idea that requires vast amounts of investment with only the possibility of pay-off, quite later down the line.

But this is where doors started to open. I started to research about ways that writers can earn a living in other markets, and as soon as I started to talk to people about this idea, suddenly opportunities came out of the woodwork – Can you help me write a mission statement for my non-profit organization? Can we hire you to overhaul the content on our website? Can we recommend you as to this client who is asking for a copywriter? Can we hire you as a blogger for our design company?

And thus my career as a freelance writer was born.

My experience is still so limited, and I’m aware of that. I feel a bit like I am at the top of a roller coaster, and there is a voice in my head that is saying to me, “are you SURE this was a good idea?!” But that voice is nowhere near as present as the excitement and opportunity I feel unfolding before me.

I am not blind to the challenges either: I have had to be selective of the opportunities that I say yes to, realistic of what I do and don’t know how to do at this point, researching and teaching myself along the way, and cognizant that I still do an excellent job at my fulltime employment. But it is the glimmerings of something that I think will grow quickly as my time increases to dedicate the space to it, as I learn and make every effort.

And hence the feeling that this time of life is racing ahead of all that has been accomplished in the long months of soul-search that preceded it – and led me here.

I’ve learned to take advantage of these busy times, even if I know they are not sustainable in the long term, because within them I will often grow more quickly and in unexpected ways that will set the patterns for later on.

 

I’d love to hear from those of you who write about your thoughts on the process I’ve just described:

How did you decide that you wanted to write? What is the biggest thing that you’ve learned since you started, that you wish you’d known earlier?