Making time to take time off

If you’re a freelancer like me, chances are you’ve got friends and family who think your work life involves rolling out of bed around noon before spending a few hours in front of your computer in your pajamas.

After more than 30 years hustling for my next gig – first as a musician and since 2004 as a journalist and copywriter – I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

For most freelancers – myself included – anxiety over where the next pay check is coming from keeps us on a perpetual search for new projects. That’s on top of making sure we keep current clients happy by producing consistently high-quality work and (too often) politely chasing overdue invoices.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day just to keep the ball rolling.

time-clock

That’s why it took me almost 30 years to take a real vacation. In fact, last summer was the first time in my adult life that I completely closed my business to take time off.

And guess what? The sky didn’t fall in!

Instead, I returned refreshed and ready to dive back in.

In fact, the experiment was so successful that I decided to do it again this year – for a week in July and another in August. I escaped to Lake Huron, and left my laptop at home.

Here’s how I made it work:

  1. I planned my time off well in advance, so I could manage my workload accordingly.
  2. I gave existing clients plenty of warning so we could make sure nothing fell through the cracks while I was away.
  3. I honoured my time off by making sure I could complete projects before I left, or by asking clients to extend their deadline by a week or two. I learned there can be a surprising amount of wiggle room – if you ask.

Then, I cleaned my office, turned off my laptop – and left it at home.

Did I check emails from my phone while I was away? Yes – once in the morning and again at night.

Did I get sucked in to new work? No. I simply explained that I was away from the office for a week and would follow up upon my return. Then I made a note for myself so I didn’t forget!

Did I lose any gigs by giving myself a break from the daily grind? I probably lost out on a couple magazine assignments because the editorial deadline simply wouldn’t work on my end. Did I burn my bridge with my editors? No. They totally understood.

Will I do it again next year? Absolutely! In fact, I am hoping to treat myself to a few quick getaways this fall and winter. The reality is – life is short, when it comes to work almost no-one is irreplaceable, and if you don’t make time to take time for yourself, it just won’t happen.

Where do you think I should go on my next non-work-related adventure?

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Women who #MakeAnImpact

I’ve been too busy to blog this month, so I missed getting this prepared and posted in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. Luckily, I discovered that women (rightly) get more than 24 hours of recognition.

In the US, Great Britain, and Australia March is Women’s History Month.

For some reason, here in Canada we celebrate women in October. The theme for 2018 was #MakeAnImpact.

As a freelance journalist and copywriter, I am fortunate to meet and write about many amazing women. Here are four who made an impact during 2018.

Nicole Haney

Nicole Haney

Nicole Haney traded in her office job for her kitchen. Photo: London Inc. magazine. 

Many people dream of leaving the security of their office job to launch their own business. Nicole Haney actually took the leap, trading in her desk at Ivey Business School for her kitchen.

As the founder of Boho Bakery, she’s been sharing her passion for healthy and delicious snacks with an ever-growing customer base. I interviewed Nicole for the March, 2018 issue of London Inc. magazine – just as her Boho Bars business was taking off.

You can read the full story here.

Today, Nicole has achieved her goal of breaking into the Toronto market. You can now find Boho Bars in more than 20 retailers across the GTA.

I’m a Peanut Butter lover myself, and I usually have a few bars handy as a healthy snack-on-the-go. Keep your eyes on Nicole and her Boho Bars – if they are not already at a supermarket or health food store near you, chances are they will be soon.

Nicole Girotti

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Nicole Girotti doesn’t let a busy career and family life keep her from learning. Photo: Western Continuing Studies 

Like so many women, Nicole Girotti wears many hats. She holds a full-time position at Western University, is an instructor at Western Continuing Studies  (WCS), and is the mother of two young children.

If that wasn’t enough, Nicole is also a WCS student where she has completed numerous professional certificates and is working towards several more.

I interviewed Nicole about her commitment to learning, and the challenges of juggling work, studying, and a family.

You can read my story here.

For Nicole, there’s no such thing as a “perfect work-life balance.” I love her honesty, her energy, and her determination to keep on growing.

Alison Konrad and Mirit Grabarski

Duet - Ivey

Alison Konrad & Mirit Grabarski study workplace diversity. Photo: Nation Wong. 

Lots of people talk about gender and diversity in the workplace, but Professor Alison Konrad and PhD candidate Mirit Grabarski actually study it.

For them, diversity is more than a buzzword. It’s a social justice issue and a way to create a more equal and tolerant society.

These strong, smart women also work and teach at Ivey – and I had the pleasure of interviewing them for the school’s In Touch alumni magazine.

You can read that interview here.  If you make it to the end, you’ll get to my favourite part where they answer the question:  If you could give your younger self advice about navigating the workplace as a women, what would it be?

Their response might surprise you. And it got me thinking – whether you’re male or female, what would your answer be?

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, freelance writer, and word strategist based in London, Ontario. See what she’s been writing lately at www.spilledink.ca 

Freelance Writing: What’s love got to do with it?

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re paired up, congratulations! Hopefully you’re happy, and your Valentine will spoil you with a token of their appreciation – whether it’s a card, a box of chocolates, flowers, a fancy night out, or a fun night in.

I don’t have a Valentine, so I thought I’d mark the day by sharing a few thoughts about something I do love: words.

Love

After 15 years writing for a living, I still love words! 

2019 marks 15 years since I graduated from J-school and launched my career as a freelance journalist.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004 Facebook was in it’s infancy.  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat had yet to be launched, and mobile phones were simply used to make calls. Today, we carry the world in our pocket and spend far too much time worrying about our virtual life.

The media landscape has also changed beyond recognition since 2004. In fact, my alma matter – Western University – no longer offers an MA in journalism. It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.

Somehow I’ve manage to write continuously through all the upheaval.

Like any job, there are days that seem to drag on forever. But overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do. So in honour of Saint Valentine, here are three reasons why I’m still in love with freelance writing:

The variety.
I’ve written about everything from cheese to concrete. I’ve interviewed farmers, CEOs, artists, researchers, and the odd politician. Some weeks I’ll be working on a magazine article (or two), website copy, and social media posts for several different clients. Every day is different.

Some projects may be less exciting than others, but the brain-numbing ones won’t last forever and a great story may be just around the corner.

The flexibility.
I started a full-time communications job the day after I graduated from J-school. I was also a regular contributor to several different local publications – which have all since folded or eliminated their freelance budgets.

Once my son was born I made the decision to leave the 9-to-5. At the time, it didn’t make sense to return to work just to pay for day care.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my freelance income never had to pay the bills. But it always provided me with my own money and a connection to the outside world.

I’ve worked early in the morning and late at night. I’ve brought my laptop to the hockey rink and to the beach. I’ve done interviews from my car (parked, of course!) Last summer was the first time I closed my office for an official vacation. No one fired me – and I’m doing it again this year.

The ability to set my own hours and control my work load is one of the big advantages of working freelance. I wouldn’t trade this flexibility for the world.

The opportunity to learn.
Writing a wide variety of copy for so many different clients means that I now know a little about a lot of different things. This career path definitely takes an open mind and a willingness to learn!

I’ve also learned a lot about the art of writing over the past 15 years.

When I went to school, I studied journalism. It was a great foundation. I was taught how to research, interview, fact-check, and tell stories. But it quickly became clear that freelance journalism was not where the better-paying jobs were at.

So, I learned about PR, corporate communications and copywriting. I read books, attended seminars, and took online courses. And guess what? I discovered that I enjoy this type of writing too. And people seemed to enjoy working with me.

Today, I’m still learning. I’m currently enrolled in two online courses and I’m sure I’ll take many more. As the world of corporate communications and journalism evolves, I want my skills to keep up. And besides, it’s fun.

So  from this grateful freelance writer to you – Happy Valentine’s Day! What do you love about your job?

Nicole Laidler is the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. She’s passionate about helping people tell their stories, build their brands, and grow their success one word at a time. Visit her website to see what she’s been writing lately! 

 

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

Embracing the summer slowdown

Or what I plan to do on my Summer Vacation

Now that summer has officially arrived, the media is full of articles offering advice on how small business owners can make the most of the summer slowdown.

Summer slowdown

The summer slowdown is here!

Network, catch up on your business-related reading, ramp up your social media presence, revamp your website, and reassess your professional goals seem to be the most popular suggestions. They’re all great ideas – but here’s another one:

Turn off the computer, close the office door, and give yourself permission to play hooky from work and have some fun.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do over the next 8 weeks!

A wonderfully-busy work schedule, a tenacious winter cold, and some family health crises (thankfully resolved) have left me feeling tired and emotionally drained.  So I’ve decided to give myself the same kind of complete summer break enjoyed by people with ‘real’ jobs.

Of course, I do plan to catch up with colleagues over lunch, and I do have two feature stories and two websites to write before Labour Day weekend rolls around. But I won’t be spending the short summer months actively looking for my next gig.

Nicole Laidler, writing

I hope to spend plenty of time doing ‘nothing’ this summer!

It’s a scary thought for a freelancer used to living with one eye on the current project and the other on the lookout for the next.

My goal is to hit September refreshed, re-energized, and roaring to go. So here’s to the summer slowdown, and to having faith that my first fall blog won’t be entitled ‘Help – I need to find work!’

What are your thoughts on taking a self-imposed vacation?

To learn more about my writing life, visit www.spilledink.ca