The Do’s and Don’ts of Delegating

The Do's and Don'ts of Delegating for Entrepreneurs

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, I wanted to experiment with other formats of posts (including audio posts)…this is my first go at it! Let me know what you think!

Do’s & Don’t’s of Delegating: the transcript

Hi guys, this is Michelle Nickolaisen with and today’s audio post is about delegating. Delegating is a sticky spot for a lot of business owners, especially if you’re operating as a one-person business because it is really, really crucial to grow in your business. Even if you don’t ever want to expand past one person, getting started delegating is crucial so that you don’t wind up with a super-low income cap and just so that you have more time and ability and energy to do the things that you want to do in your business instead of getting bogged down with other stuff. Right?

The potential catch-22 in getting started with delegating

The problem though, is that there’s a lot of issues that come up around delegating and one of them is that to start delegating, you need to get ahead. If you’re always operating on a really tight deadline, then you don’t have time to delegate to someone else. That’s a common excuse and sometimes it’s actually true. Because if you’re used to being able to assign things out and have them done 12 hours later because you’re the one doing them, then you actually don’t have time to delegate. You need to have, if you try to hire someone and start working with them like that, you’ll have them running around like a stressed-out headless chicken, which is not good, right?

How do you get ahead without delegating? That’s the problem and there’s a potential catch-22 to get stuck in there. What I’ve found really, really helpful is being really organized and productive, obviously. But that’s like, that sounds like a really pat answer but it’s very true. So, things like systems. Things like blocking your time. I have a post that I’ll link to in the notes that’s all about blocking your time and about how I increased my productivity by quite a bit (50% or something like that, on a daily basis measured by word count). [Here’s that post!]

And something that I do that’s been really, really helpful and has been super crucial in this, is setting aside Mondays and Fridays. So the way I have my business set-up and this might not work for you depending on what kind of business you run, or your model, but there might be a way that you can modify this framework.

Build in padding (or: how I block out my weeks)

Mondays are my administrative days. So Mondays are entirely internal business. That’s when I do things like data entry or reviewing things, looking at the work my assistant did last week, all of the stuff like that. Pitching, like if I’m pitching agents for the non-fiction book that I’m working on, that’s on Monday. All of that stuff, or follow-up, invoicing, is on Monday. Right?

Fridays are more about business development. So that’s when I work on internal content or marketing, or scheduling things out for next week. It’s less, it’s still internal work but it’s less of administrative and more with a focus on business development and marketing and strategy and things like that. And also just my internal projects, right? So like working on my NaNoWriMo book, or working on the non-fiction book proposal, things like that.

And that way Tuesday through Thursday are slated out for client work. This gives me a bit of padding. Because if I need to have my assistant do something for client work that’s going to happen on like Thursday, then I already know that I’ll be assigning it out on Monday and she can get it done on Tuesday or Wednesday. So having your week set-up so that there’s already a little bit of padding built in can be really helpful.

Learning curves & onboarding

And it just, it does, there’s definitely a learning curve involved in delegating. The onboarding time and process is going to take more time than you think and it will probably be more annoying than you think it will. Right now I am using Zirtual; it’s just like “virtual” but with a Z like Zebra instead of a V like Victor. During the first month–I’m on their 8-hour a month plan–during the first month we tore through that eight hours so fast that I had to buy an extra three hours and a big part of that, like honestly, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty annoyed about it.* A big part of that was part of the on-boarding process and now that we’re in our second or third month together, I actually had to go back through my project list (which I’m going to talk about in a second) and send her more stuff because we were on like week two, we are on the last week right now and at the end of last week we had four hours left.

Once you get into a groove, if you can make it past that initial learning curve and that initial on-boarding process, then it will take way less time than you think and they’ll learn and they’ll be getting it done faster.

It’s taking stuff off your plate and freeing up your time and energy to work on the things that you want to work on, and they’re doing it faster and faster. A couple of ways you could get started delegating, even you can get ahead and build in that buffer time, so it takes less time to teach them when it does get to on-boarding because if you’re trying to delegate and do your normal workload and on-board at the same time, like there’s going to be a couple of weeks where you work way too much, and you want to avoid that, right?

The work before the work (or: preparing to delegate)

One of the things that you can do is that you can make a note of what can be delegated; as you go throughout your week, just have a note in Google Docs or in Evernote, something like that, and make a note of what can be delegated.

And then once a week, (on like for me it would be on like Monday or Friday, it would be on a Monday really), record how-to videos or write documentation for those. Or you can do the opposite method and instead of batching it so it’s once a week, you can do like one thing a day. Because we always think it’s going to take us a long time to create this documentation that’s so necessary to delegating effectively, but if you’re just recording a video, instead of trying to write out this long comprehensive document, it doesn’t really.

You can either batch that weekly and work on that for like 2-3 weeks before your assistant starts, or you can do 1 or 2 of those how-to videos a day. At the other option, which is pretty effective too, is recording it as you do it.The only thing with that is that for the video to be effective, you need to be talking as you’re recording it. Right? And if you’re prone to working in public spaces, then you’re going to look like a crazy person because you’re going to be sitting there in the corner talking to your laptop all day as you go through your normal workflow explaining what you’re doing. So that might be better left for a day when you’re working at home or working in your office.

Another thing you can do is create a document that has project-based work as well, for after that time gets freed up and after you get past the onboarding process and you find that even though you have the same amount of hours, they’re moving slower. So that way when, especially if you are on a retainer plan like I am, I pay $200 a month for 8 hours a month and if I only use two of those hours, the other six don’t roll over from month-to-month. So, and a lot of assistant agencies have that sort of set-up, right? So if you start to reach Week 2 or Week 3 or Week 4, and you’re not going through things as fast, then you can turn to that project-based document and you can get those things done that are more back-burner, maybe very back-burner, just something that would make your life a little easier but not so easy that it needs to be prioritized right now, and you can start handing off those projects to the assistant.

Creating how-to videos & documentation without hating it

A couple of times here I’ve referenced how-to videos. My favorite tool for how-to videos for delegating is Jing. It’s really good; the only catch with Jing is that it’s for videos up to 5 minutes in length. The thing that makes Jing more usable than the other alternative that I’m going to talk about in a second, for this specific purpose is that when you record the video, up to 5 minutes, and then you just click a button, and it uploads it to their servers and gives you a link.

My set-up is that I have a folder in Google Drive called Bombchelle Internal Documentation, and then I have a folder in there that has the how-to videos and I just have one document so that it’s searchable and it says like the title of the video, what it’s for, like “How-to video for uploading a newsletter into MailChimp,” and then a link to the video. Then that way if my assistant gets confused or lost or something, she can search for it in the folder and that document will pop up that has the master list with the link to all of them. And the process is really streamlined with Jing.

The alternative is ScreencastOMatic, which is a cheesy name, but it’s a really great product. It’s very accessibly priced. They have a great free version that I don’t think has a time limit. Then they have a paid version that’s $12 a year, $12 or $15, something crazy low like that. For the free version, there’s going to be a ScreencastOMatic watermark on it but if you’re just using it for internal purposes that doesn’t really matter, right? That’s not a huge deal-breaker. The only thing is that I don’t think they have something like Jing, where you can just upload it and get that link, but they might. [Note: they totally do, for both the free & paid version.] They do also integrate with YouTube and Vimeo, Dropbox, GoogleDrive; so if you wanted to, you could just upload it to any of those venues from inside ScreencastOMatic. ScreencastOMatic is what I use for all of my video reviews and I love it. The YouTube uploading is totally seamless, it’s wonderful.

That’s a little bit about getting ahead while delegating and it does take some getting used to. One of the things for example, is that I have a newsletter that goes out Fridays for my business. And what I used to do was write and schedule the newsletter on Thursdays. Now, obviously scheduling the newsletter inside MailChimp doesn’t take a huge chunk of my time, but like it’s 15 or 30 minutes, even after I’ve written it. So that’s one of the things that I delegated. The thing is though, that for her to get the newsletter scheduled on Thursday, I need to get her the content on Wednesday. And the first couple of times, I just totally blanked on that somehow. I had it tasked out to her to schedule it on Thursday and then she’d hit me up like 10:00 AM on Thursday and be like “hey, where’s the content for this?” And I’d be like “oh yeah! I need to write that!”

I had to adjust my internal schedule a little bit and that’s something that I have to plan for when I’m doing my marketing activities. All of this is a learning curve, and you might drop the ball a couple of times, but it’s just really important to stick with it because like I said, if you stick with that first month or two of on-boarding, then you’ll find out that it’s really worth your time because it saves a lot of time and energy and things just get done automatically.

Once you get past the onboarding process, once you have all that documentation, things get done automatically and it just takes this huge weight off your shoulders that you didn’t realize was there as a business owner or as an effectively delegating freelancer.

Be like Elsa, guys. Not with the snow castle and abominable snowman. Just with delegating. 

Last but not least: Let it go

The last thing that I want to touch on is that you need to learn how to let it go. This is really hard for all of us to learn, especially because the people who tend to be business owners are high achievers and perfectionists. We just really don’t want to hand things off to other people and we’re really concerned that it’s not going to get done, and that it’s not going to get done right. And this, it’s hard, it’s hard to deal with, it really is.

You do want to make sure that whoever you’re working with is competent, hopefully that’s being addressed during your hiring and onboarding process. But the best way to address it is just to jump in with both feet and hand off everything that you can and give them feedback as you go along. Don’t expect perfection the first time and don’t be hyper-critical, but because it is important for people to know that they can make mistakes. If you create a super high pressure work environment, it’s not ideal for anyone, right?

But you do need to be able to give them feedback and be like, “Hey, I liked the way you did XYZ. Next time make sure to double-check and do blah-de-blah-de-blah.” Or whatever, right? Just make sure you’re keeping them conscious of what you want without being hyper-critical or that micromanaging boss/client that we’ve all had and all hated.

So, that’s my tips on delegating: how you might be doing it wrong and how you could be doing it better. Let me know if you have any questions. You can hit me up at the blog which will have the transcript and notes for this. I’ll put a link in the audio description. Or you can tweet at me.  Thanks so much for listening and have a great day!

*Sidenote: since recording this post, I had kind of an awful and incredibly frustrating experience with Zirtual customer service and would definitely not recommend them for a typical VA workload.

Workflow Wednesdays: Chrissy Das on effective editing processes

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

Editing has been on my brain as of late, since I’m working hard at NaNoWriMo and contemplating how to tackle the seemingly-massive process of editing it, so I got Chrissy Das to sit down and answer a few questions for this week’s installment:

Can you tell us a little bit about editing and how you got into editing?

The publishing industry has been on my radar since I was a small girl. The first series I loved was Nancy Drew and I tried to do an essay on Carolyn Keene. When I learned she wasn’t a real person, I realized how powerful editors can be during the creation of a book or series.

During my senior year I studied at the feet of Susan Kammaraad-Campbell, founder and publisher of Joggling Board Press. I immersed myself in the publishing world. It was great because I got to see everything from unsolicited manuscripts to the printing of a JBP book at a printer in Columbia, South Carolina.

I have flexed my editing muscles on business correspondence, proposals for government projects, ebooks and web copy. I mastered proofreading and copy editing, and have begun developmental editing. I specialize in non-fiction but also enjoy editing fiction. My area of editorial strength is my ability to hone the writer’s idea into an actionable sentence.

How do you find the editing process different than the writing process?

Writing is more exhausting than editing. I think it’s different for everyone; for me editing is this balance of rules and art. You have this piece to work from that someone poured part of their soul into and you have to respect the energy and time they spent. Editing hinges on the collaboration between the editor and the author.

Writing is a solitary affair. You’re still thinking of the audience but there’s no necessarily a live person involved during the process. I am an ENFJ, almost 99% Extroverted, and I thrive on interaction. Right now I edit more than I write and one of my goals for 2015 is to even that out a bit.

When it comes to self-editing, whether it’s blog posts or books, what are the most common mistakes that people make?

People try to edit something they have written right away and that is the worst thing you can do. A little bit of time and mental distance can help you see your writing as a whole instead of trying to make it better piece by piece. Another common mistake is knowing what you meant to write and reading it as you intended instead of as you actually wrote it down. Trading blog posts or manuscripts with a friend lets you both get feedback and make improvements.

When you start to approach a new editing project, is there any specific process or workflow that you find really helps?

I’m more traditional in my editing methods. I print out the entire manuscript and read the words in print. The first time I read through, I pencil notes in the margins. The second time through I use a blue pen (red pens are harsh) and make more detailed corrections.

My clients receive a Word document of tracked changes and comments I made. They also receive a clean revised copy of their manuscript. This means that for a Michelle Manuscript it would be Michelle_title_edit1 and Michelle_title_clean1.  Clean1 would be a workable Word document you could keep writing on and making changes to. Edit1 would have a log of my change suggestions and my comments.

So, as you know, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month. It’s the single largest thing I have ever written in my life, and I’m already dreading editing it. Do you have any time-saving tips or processes for people that are editing a large-scale project for the first time? Or just maybe a few suggestions for handling the difference between editing small-scale and large-scale? I mean, my Kindle book is around 11,000 words, so not exactly tiny, but as of writing, this novel draft is over 25,000 words…so it’s significantly larger and very intimidating!

Whew! Kudos to you, Michelle, for taking on NaNoWriMo! If you want to edit your own manuscript, I would set specific times to review your work. For example, if you write from 7 – 9 every morning, wait until after lunch to edit your chapter. It can get overwhelming to edit your own work. You may also miss some spots that aren’t working because you stared at them too long. Get around fatigue or self-blindness by reading great writers and setting up a trade system with other writers. Peer editing is a good way to see if your manuscript is on the right track.

When you create a manuscript, you put a lot of yourself into it. You know your whole backstory and you know your idiosyncrasies; the reader does not. You want to create a manuscript that connects with people who don’t even know you, have never met you, and have never met anyone like you. When you pass your manuscript along to a peer, they can tell you which holes are there from their reading. The best trick is to find a fellow writer you don’t know well and whose background is different than yours. You’ll both notice different points of weakness in each other’s work.

One of the things I’m contemplating when it comes to NaNo is that I’d really like to get through the editing process as fast as possible. I’m not sure how to do that, though, because even having someone else do the editing, I’d also still like to have a few sample readers, and give it at least a cursory glance over myself, too. Do you have any rapid-cycle editing tips? Is that even a thing, or is it always just a slow process?

I have both writing clients and editing clients. For my editing clients, my manuscript turnaround is usually 2 – 4 weeks depending on my workload. I can do rush jobs but I prefer to savor the story rather than “hit it and quit it.”

If you’re editing your own work with a firm deadline in mind, set mini-goals or milestones to get through. Let’s say you have 50,000 words that you want to edit in two weeks. Edit 5,000 words a day, take the weekends off, and you’re golden!

Are there any editing apps or writing tools that you find really useful?

I swear by Evernote. I use it for everything from brainstorming to working out outlines and chapters. For editing, I stick with Word and my pen and paper. I do occasional work in InDesign if an author requests it, but I leave the layout to the experts.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am running an editing sale to reward my NaNoWriMo friends for their hard work! Writing a book is always a challenge and I am proud to know people working on one in such a short timespan. If you want more information, you can check out the details here.

More about Chrissy:

Chrissy DasChrissy Das edits fiction and non-fiction novels for first-time writers and award-winning published authors. She enjoys attending the theatre and running with her husband. Her fondest memories are the year she spent abroad when she met her husband and attended many Royal Shakespeare Company performances.



Workflow Wednesdays: Martin Stellar on how to write more and write faster

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

This week, I’m talking to Martin Stellar, a monk-turned-tailor-turned-copywriter-turned-teacher (say that three times fast!). In our interview, we talk about why NaNoWriMo works, why you keep getting stuck in your writing, and Martin reveals his “thumbtack hack” that’ll make you a better writer. Curious? Listen in:

The transcript is at the bottom of the post, and here’s the show notes:

Martin’s four tips for writing faster (and thus, writing more):

  1. Don’t use spellcheck
  2. Don’t backspace
  3. Don’t stop
  4. Write every day

Useful apps to help you implement what we talked about:

  • If you want to get into the habit of writing every day, 750Words can help–it gives you a minimalist space to work, tracks your writing streaks, and sends you reminder emails to keep you motivated.
  • If you’re not necessarily into the thumbtack idea (for whatever reason 😉 ), you can use the typewriter mode with Write or Die to train yourself not to backspace or edit while writing.
  • If you want an easy way to keep track of your ideas on the go, but are more digital than analog (and don’t feel like carrying around a notebook), installing Evernote on your phone can let you have constant access to an idea file, that you can then access on your computer (or through the Evernote site) when it’s time to write.

Resources mentioned on the show:

People tend to be starkly divided on the topic of listening to music while working. The science itself is even conflicted, with one researcher saying that music improves productivity because it puts you in a better mood while working and several other articles I found saying that music can actually downgrade productivity for cognitively-draining tasks.

This article gives a breakdown of what tasks music works with/against, although the writer concludes that lyrics-based music is awful for writing or other language based tasks. (They also suggest video game soundtracks, which I’m personally quite fond of–Chrono Cross OST for the win!) Music with lyrics works for me, although I typically steer away from lyrics that I don’t know or super-lyrics-driven music.

Any questions? Hit us up in the comments or on Twitter! (I’m @_chelleshock and he’s @martinstellar.) And if you want to be the next Workflow Wednesday interviewee, head your pretty lil face over here to sign up.

The interview transcript:

(You can also download it as a PDF, if you like.)

Michelle: Hi guys, this is Michelle Nickolaisen with, and this is another interview in the Workflow Wednesday series. Today, we are interviewing Martin Stellar, who is a monk turned copywriter. Actually, monk turned tailor turned copywriter, among other things, and he’s going to give us some tips on improving your writing workflow. So Martin, for those who are new to you, can you give us a quick introduction into your background and how you came to be doing what you’re doing now?

Martin: It’s mostly like you said. I was a monk for twelve years, or six years as a monk while twelve years in a monastery. I became a tailor there and made fancy suits by hand. When I left there, I decided to start my own company, and it didn’t really go so well. It lasted a few years, but because I didn’t do any marketing other than some blogging and in the end, I just couldn’t keep it up. At that point, I decided to move to a bigger city, Marbella, where there’s more wealthy people, and to keep paying the bills, I started writing some articles, because I’d always been able to write, and I discovered that I actually liked the work of article writing. Somebody said at some point do you do sales copy as well, so I took on that job, and discovered that sales copy can be profitable, I can do it as well. And then I decided to spend a number of years without any tailoring whatsoever, just doing the copywriting. That, at some point, started to get me down because I had trouble finding the right kind of clients. There were many people trying to break out of cubicle nation who didn’t understand how to use the tool when they wrote copy, so they would send the wrong kind of traffic at it, or they would go and edit the copy. I’m sure you’ve had that experience as well.

Michelle: Mm-hmm. [laughs]

Martin: Which usually means breaking the copy.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: Yeah. So earlier this year, I came into a situation where I was wondering about new direction, and I realized instead of selling people the tool, why not teach people how to use the tool? Meaning teach people how to be in business, how to put all the things together, what the site is for, and how to relate with your customers, because over the years, and this is partly, too, because of many years of meditation, I’d become good at understanding psychology, and business and sales are made of psychology. It’s what makes a sale happen. It’s understanding the other person, being able to relate to them, and understanding their frustration, their pains, their fears. So that’s what I started in May. A monthly newsletter, which is a pretty long issue that I write, teaching the ins and outs of how to be in business in a profitable way, and added to that is a mentorship program where I teach people how to do email writing. So they learn how to write a daily email that people actually enjoy reading and buying from.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, that’s great, and it reminds me … your trajectory kind of actually reminds me of a friend of mine, Shenee Howard, and she started doing out design and sometimes doing copywriting, but what she discovered was that a lot of times, it was kind of like you mentioned with the copywriting, is that like a lot of times, it’s just kind of glossed. It’s like putting a shiny coat of paint on something that’s not necessarily working if they don’t understand…if they don’t understand what they’re actually selling or the pain points of their customers or why people are buying. Things like that. Good design isn’t going to save your business if that’s the case.

Martin: No.

Michelle: So it’s kind of a similar thing, right?

Martin: Yes, quite. To me, it’s really a tool. Copy is not going to save your business, no matter how good it is written, and if you don’t know how to use that tool, you can take a hammer and try to drive a screw into the wall. It’s not really going to work. You need a screwdriver for that.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: So that’s what I observed with a lot of clients, that they felt that good copy was going to be the saving grace. Like I had one client starting a telephone midwife service, because in the UK, the National Health Service doesn’t have enough time for you, and expectant mothers were suffering the consequences of midwifes who just didn’t have the time. So they figured we’re going to start a telephone midwife service which goes along with the NHS midwifery, which is great, you know? You can book an appointment. This lady will have all the time that you need. They can even come and visit. It’s a fantastic program. But they came at it with the idea that, well, we’re going to do a proof of concept, we’re going to drive a whole bunch of traffic at it, and see if it works, if it converts. And the way they built the website with the copy that I wrote for them, they sent all the traffic from ads to a sales page. But look, if you’re about to give birth, you want to trust the person who is going to be giving you the advice, and if you click on an add, and it’s going to say this is 300 pounds and then you get your midwife, that’s not enough to have somebody trust that you actually know your stuff. You need to start by signing them up to a list, then you start a communication process with daily emails or weekly emails showing them that yeah, you know your stuff. That you can be trusted. That you can rely on this person on the other side of the phone. You don’t just send ad traffic to a sales page for something that difficult.

Michelle: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I think that’s a lesson that a lot of business owners need to learn.

Martin: Yeah.

Michelle: One of the things that I think is interesting is that I feel like people don’t necessarily effectively outsource, and I think that this is why some service providers end up teaching as well. People can’t really effectively outsource something, and design is one thing because it requires a whole specialized set of software as well as skills, but with something like writing, I feel like people can’t really outsource it until they’ve done it to some level of effectiveness themselves, because otherwise, they aren’t going to be able to give the person the direction that they need, and so I think that’s probably why what you’re talking about is such a valuable service, because even if people who learn from you wind out outsourcing later, they’re going to be so much better equipped to give the writer what they need.

Martin: Of course. Yes, absolutely.

Michelle: So as far as the stuff that you teach people, I know that one of the things that you talk about is the speed of writing. Can you talk about why you put a focus on writing faster, and maybe from there, we can talk about some of the ways that you teach people to write faster?

Martin: Mm-hmm. The faster you write, the better you get at it, basically. You see, people come at writing, most people that I work with, from a very rational, intellectual point-of-view, that it has to be quality and you have to sit there and create something that people are going to like, and that’s counter to the process of writing, which is very intuitive, emotional, creative process. You can’t really let your mind be involved. Not in the first stage, right? I like to think of it in terms of three writer’s hats. You’ve got the visionary who comes up with the idea. That’s the guy who says, you know, you’re driving down the road, and suddenly an idea, pull over and write this down. “This is fantastic. I’m going to write about this later.” That’s your visionary, that’s the first one.

Then your second persona is the actual writer, and that’s the creative, non-rational person. The one who takes the idea that the visionary gives him, and blurts out 500, 1000, 1500 words, preferably as fast as possible and as ugly as possible. That first draft should be fast and it should be ghastly. It should be shitty. It should be terrible, because if you write without judging the way you’re writing and the quality of it, you let your creativity flow unfettered, and then you end up with a long piece, and you look at it, and you think, “Man, that’s a mess. What am I going to do with this?”

That’s when you call your third persona. That’s the editor. That’s the rational guy. He comes and looks at that piece that the writer created and he rubs his hands and he’s like, “Let’s make something out of this. There is gold in here.” And he’ll probably delete 30-50% of what the writer created, but what’s left in that reformatted and edited way that the editor goes about it, it becomes a good piece. And the worst thing that a writer can do, whether it’s an email that you’re writing or sales copy or a blog post or a guest post is to have that editor looking over your shoulder and saying, “No, no, no, you’ve got to go back there. There’s a typo there, and that’s a wrong spelling, and the grammar is broken.” So you’re constantly backspacing going into edit something. That action, when the mind comes in, that stalls the creative flow, so if you can train yourself to not go back and continue writing even if the stuff is bad, you become much faster at it, and you make life much easier for your editor as well.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. And it reminds me…so, I had this discussion. I’m doing NaNoWriMo right now, which for those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write. There are a couple different variations on it. There are people doing blog post challenges and things like that. But the idea is that you write 50,000 words during the month of November. And I think technically, you’re not supposed to start until November 1st, but I’m using it to get the first draft done of a book that I’m working on that I had started before November. My goal is to write 50,000 words on that book in November. Last weekend, I had did a couple writing dates with my boyfriend because he’s also a writer, but he’s also an editor. Like, he writes, but editing is something that he really, really loves, and he’s really into editing. He’s also really into writing, but I’m definitely a writer first and foremost. I’ll edit things for some people sometimes, but I would much rather honestly pay someone else to edit my stuff than go back in and do it myself. I’m one of those writers that definitely needs an editor. And so we worked. I was talking with Chris, and it was at the end of the day on Sunday, and I did like, I think about almost 9000 words in between Saturday and Sunday last weekend, and he was just like, “Oh, man, I can’t even imagine.” And I was like, “Well, yeah, because you’re an editor.” Like, because the urge to go back and fix things must be so much worse.

Martin: That’s perfect proof of what I’m saying. That if you’re in the creative process and you go back to edit things, you keep stopping yourself, aren’t you?

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: It just doesn’t work.

Michelle: Yeah, you need…yeah, it’s so much better, it’s so much more effective if you just get the raw material to start with, and then you can carve…it’s like sculpting. You can’t sculpt out of a raw block if you keep trying to go back and add pieces of marble back in. You start with something, and then you carve it down. So the writing should be all about getting that raw material out there.

Martin: Yeah, and it’s not so difficult, you know. It’s something that you can train. We are being taught from very early on that what we do has to be good, and that we have to be perfectionistic, and so that judging self is very strong in people. But if you make it a practice to everyday just try to write something without being judgemental about what you’re writing, but to just get ideas out, just let it flow, just get the story down on paper, you’ll find that it becomes much easier. And there are certain tricks that you can use for that. Like don’t use spell check when you’re drafting. Because when you are writing something and you see those squiggly lines that you made a typo here and there, that’s telling your subconscious that you did something wrong, and you don’t want to have that impulse. You want to just continue the flow, continue writing, so turn it off. Another thing is I have this really nice low-tech solution to make sure…and I actually tell that to my students when I notice that in their writing drafts, they keep getting … because you can tell. Right? If somebody is very rational and keeps sabotaging themselves, you can tell from the way they write.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Martin: So you go to the hardware store, you buy a box of thumbtacks. You take one and you put it upside down, and you glue it to your backspace key. You’re not allowed to hit that thing. You want to just continue writing, and if there’s something wrong, look, your editor will come in later and fix it. Don’t worry about it. Continue writing. If some point you…you know, you run into a dead-end sentence. You don’t stop and go read back. You just hit enter and start a new sentence with the same thought, or with a different thought that’s going to lead to a different, better place. The whole exercise is really about writing without stopping. And if you practice that, it will become really fast. The daily emails that I write, I send an email to my list everyday, and in most cases, it takes me 15-20 minutes to write one. Sometimes, I’m done with a 400-500 word email in six minutes flat.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: It’ll take me more time to put it into Mailchimp and to copy it to my blog than it does to actually write the thing. And that’s just a matter of practice. What is that practice? Don’t stop. Continue. That fast.

Michelle: I like it. Sorry, I was just writing that down for my notes. Yeah, no, I like that, and I really imagine…I know that there’s at least one app designed to sort of create that environment where you can’t backspace, but the thumbtack one is certainly a low-key alternative that I imagine is very effective.

Martin: Yeah, it is. That thing hurts.

Michelle: I’ll bet you quit hitting backspace real quickly.

Martin: Real quick. I get great results with my people.

Michelle: So okay, so we’ve talked about writing faster and general ways to do that and the mistakes people make. The things you need to do to start writing faster; don’t use spell check, don’t backspace, just don’t stop, and write everyday. So how do you recommend that people keep their ideas flowing? How do you…because one of the things you teach people is how to have more ideas, right?

Martin: Mm-hmm, yes. The best way to have ideas everyday is to write something everyday. Because the effect on your mind of sitting down every single day and ask yourself, “What can I possibly pull out of my head? What can I write today that’s going to interest them?” starts to change your way of thinking. And as you go through your day, you talk to people, you read articles, listen to podcasts, you will start getting more ideas the more you write, so you should constantly be taking notes, basically. Every time that an idea comes, just jot it down. On paper or in a text file, doesn’t matter. But that effect of having those ideas comes from the practice. And that’s something you can’t really experience until you try it, but it does work. It’s a sort of ear worm. When you’re writing something everyday for a specific audience, for your people, especially if it’s for your own email list, then that becomes a red thread throughout your days. That you’re always thinking about: “What can I be telling them tomorrow?”

You start getting feedback on something that you wrote that morning, and oh, that’s really nice, that resonated with them. So maybe I can write something more about something else. Then when you think about it, there’s actually nothing that’s off limits. Everything can be a topic. I remember earlier this year when I started with the newsletter, which was a big thing to start, and I’d never written a newsletter before, and I didn’t really know how it all would go together, and sixteen pages is a lot. And I’d started rock climbing with a friend a few weeks before that, which is a lot of fun, I really like doing it, but at some point, I was hanging on this rope, reaching, grappling for another hold, and thinking, “Hang on, I actually don’t want to be here. I mean, I’m really enjoying this, but I want to be at home writing my newsletter.” That’s what I want, I want to build that thing.

So the next morning, I started my daily email, and I started…”I was hanging off the side of a cliff, grappling for another foothold, and I realized…” and there I was. Just off to the races with something that had happened the day before, and I connected it through what I was going through with the process of starting the newsletter, and there was an email and it was done and people responded and said, “Oh, that’s really great. That’s really interesting. Pity you stopped the climbing, but so good to hear you’re starting something new now.”

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, and that’s …

Martin: Everything can be a topic, you know. Sorry.

Michelle: No, sorry, go ahead.

Martin: A conversation that you’ve had with somebody. Tomorrow, I’ll probably be writing about the conversation that I had with you.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: I’ll find some sort of connection on…I don’t know, the moment I open my computer, there’s always something new that becomes a topic, because I am always, everyday, trying to find something that might be interesting to people.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s definitely been my experience as well, because as I’ve picked up client work, it’s got to the point where I have…I used to really, really struggle coming up with blog post ideas because I wasn’t writing as often, and now that I’m operating on a full writing workload, I have more ideas than I could ever…I’m going to start doing audio posts, because I just can’t…on top of a full client workload and NaNoWriMo, I can’t write all the blog posts that I have ideas for, and I think that it’s definitely what you said. It just trains…it trains your mind to be constantly looking for the next thing, if you’re constantly writing.

Martin: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Michelle: So you’re writing an article for…in my case, it’s like I’m writing an article for client A and it gives me an idea for an article for client B.

Martin: Yup.

Michelle: I’m like, oh, I bet they would have something interesting to say about that, and then that gives me an idea for my site, and it all just feeds back into each other. And of course, daily life is a constant source of inspiration as well.

Martin: Oh, yeah. Once you start thinking about things to write about for your people, then everything becomes an inspiration. It’s a domino effect. It’s a chain reaction.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: And all it takes is a couple of weeks of dedicated practice of writing everyday. I’m pretty sure that anybody, even if you’re only a half-skilled writer, or you don’t feel that you have that much to say, if you commit to sitting down and write something for 30 minutes, whether you’re planning to send it or not, but you just do it to train the writing muscle, and you do that for two or three weeks, you will find that it’s going much faster, and you have no limits to the amount of ideas that you can write about.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. I think actually…that made me think, one of my friends, her name is Ellie Di Julio, she wrote this post about…she’s an author, a novelist, and she wrote this post about how a couple of years ago, and part of it was just that it was the first novel that she was working on, but a couple of years ago, she would do about 500 words in an hour, and part of that was that she was going back and editing. But what she did for her second novel is instead of doing that, she basically just set a timer for 30 minutes, and the goal was to write as many words in 30 minutes as possible. And I think that that works, because like you said, there’s writing fast, number one, but it’s also that turning it into a game like that makes it a little easier to turn the editor off.

Martin: Oh, absolutely.

Michelle: If it’s less about I’m writing, and more about, let’s see how many words I can get done in 30 minutes. So now her hourly rate is typically between 2000-3000 words, which is an insane increase.

Martin: That’s very nice, that’s really good. But what you’re saying there about that focus to just…the best results I get is when I use a timer. They call it the Pomodoro method, which works I think with 30 minutes. For me, the best is 20 minutes. But I set a timer on my phone, and it lasts 20 minutes, and then the timer goes. I disconnect Skype, email, I put my phone on airplane mode, and I’m not even allowed to go to the bathroom. I have to stay glued to my keyboard and do nothing but write, and I’m allowed to go backspace or go anywhere else. I’m just there to write. And that focus, when you’re not interrupted, you’re not tempted to go look at Facebook, that also helps a lot to become faster at it. Because they did some research, and I think it’s 11 minutes. Every time you get interrupted from something that you’re trying to focus on, it takes 11 minutes for you to come back to full focus.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: So think about it. Throughout the day, people get interrupted all the time.

Michelle: Oh, yeah.

Martin: You get your text messages coming in, and you get Skype, and your instant messaging, Facebook goes ding ding, email, and all of that breaks your concentration. So people are actually performing, in general, most people are performing at a much lower level than they’re capable of, just because they allow themselves to keep getting interrupted. If you’re talking about productivity and workflow, one of the best things that you can do for yourself is turn off bubble notifications and sound notifications for incoming things. Even if you’re not in Pomodoro mode and writing for 20 minutes straight. Whether you’re designing something or shifting papers around, planning your things, don’t let…because when a message comes in and your computer goes bing, that pulls your mind away. That breaks your concentration. And then you use 11 minutes before you get back to full concentration again.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that is really helpful to me, the only problem is that sometimes I do it, and then I’m prone to forgetting about appointments, because I rely on my phone reminding me about appointments, but I’ll set my phone to do not disturb so it doesn’t vibrate, it doesn’t make noise, it doesn’t do anything, and then I put on noise-canceling headphones and listen to music, and that’s one of my big, big productivity things.

Martin: That’s another thing, what you say now about music. I experimented a lot with that, and I have different kinds of music that I use for different kinds of work, because I’ve discovered that in my experience, I don’t know about any research about that, that if I have very complicated music, like jazz solos, guitar solos, really challenging music, that triggers enormous creativity in me, because I’m sort of a musician and I know a bit about the theory. A solo often sounds like it’s somebody just going off and improvising, but solos are actually a very structured and logical thing. It all fits within specific frameworks.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: Especially if you’re talking about jazz. That’s not improvisation. It’s improvisation within something extremely scientific, actually. Very logical, rational thing. And that, in some way or form, focuses my attention on being very creative, and it’s really nice. If I’m doing something like answering emails and I’ve got 25 of them that I need to go through and I have to go through forms to answer the questions of people and it’s all this quickshot, fast, short tasks, then I like to put on James Brown, because then I’m standing here with my standing desk and I’m boogying around, and because the music is driving and energetic, I don’t lose my focus. I go from one task to the next. It takes one minute, it takes three minutes, and I get a lot done, but if I’m trying to write, by contrast, and I put on something that has vocals in it, especially if it’s in English, which you know, I’m trying to write in English and somebody is singing about who knows what, then the fact that they’re talking to me in their song means that Martin’s concentration gets distracted. So the type of music that you choose to work with is very important.

Michelle: Yes.

Martin: And you can use it to stimulate your productivity. It’s something that you need to experiment with basically.

Michelle: Yeah, so actually, I did a bunch of research on this, because I think I might be an anomaly, or maybe…I mean, maybe, I probably should experiment more, but in general, I’m happy with my productivity levels. I listen to music…well, I have a playlist that’s like work songs, and it’s all really upbeat, fast tempo stuff, and it does have vocals, but it’s all songs that I know, and I think that makes a difference. But a couple weeks ago, I did a bunch of research on this for a post I was writing, and it turns out that in the studies that they’ve done, in general, they’ve found that listening to music that could increase productivity. There was one study that said that especially if you’re doing word-based tasks that listening to music with vocals can decrease productivity because your brain is multitasking. Like it’s thinking about those words at the same time as you’re trying to write another word.

Martin: Mm-hmm.

Michelle: So there’s that, but in general, listening to music does increase productivity, and they found that listening to, for tasks like writing, that statistically, listening to music without vocals was better, so the science actually backs you up there.

Martin: Hey there. You’ve got to link me to that. That’s very interesting. I’d like to read that.

Michelle: Yeah, I’ll dig up the link, and I’ll post it in the show notes, too. Alright, so we’ve got a lot of good stuff here. Don’t use spell check, don’t backspace, don’t stop. Write as fast as you can to get better at writing, even if that seems counterintuitive. Listening to music for productivity. Is there anything else that you’d like to touch on as we wrap up that you really want people to take away from this interview?

Martin: Yes. You can write. You can write very fast. It’s a muscle that you have, and if you feel that you’re not able to put it off, then it’s because you’ve not trained it. Writing something is basically inherent to human nature, so the idea that a lot of people have that they can’t or that it’s not for them, no, go to the writing gym for a couple of weeks. Just try it. Because you’ll very likely find that if you put in dedicated practice, you will become a very apt writer.

Another thing is you don’t have to be a good writer. You don’t have to write perfect prose. You need to be able to write a message that resonates with the reader. Not the reader out there at the whole web at large. You want to write a message for just the people that you care about and the people that are your perfect audience, your best mates. I like to think of it, the Stephen King example, when he writes a book, he doesn’t care if it’s going to be a bestseller or if it’s going to be published or not, he doesn’t care if it’s going to bring in money. He wants his wife to like it. He writes a book, and he writes it for his wife.

And when I learned that, I realized that that’s a very, very powerful way to become a good writer, because by focusing your intent on communicating a message with just one person or just a specific group/type of people, your perfect readers, you focus your attention, you’re intent, on just those people, and the consequence is that they’re going to go, “Yeah, this guy is talking to me. It’s like he knows me. He’s in my head.

Michelle: Yeah.

Martin: So don’t try to please everybody. Please the people who matter most to your business and in your messaging.

Michelle: Awesome. I think that’s a great note to close on. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, Martin. Listeners, you will be able to head over to the blog to get a transcript and the show notes, which will have links to everything we talked about in here, and I think that’s everything. Martin, what’s your website?

Martin: My website is, and if you like the idea of daily emails and you wonder if that’s something you want to use for your own business, because it really gets you sales, feel free to sign up. You can get the first issue of the newsletter for free, and you can see the daily emails that I send. They might not resonate with everybody, but it’s one way that you can use any kind of idea to write something that people just might like, and I don’t know, have a look at it, see if it works for you. I can recommend daily emails to everybody. People want to sell more, send an email everyday.

Michelle: Awesome. I like it. Yes. Definitely go check out his site, guys, because as you can tell, he’s a very smart person. Thank you so much for being here today, Martin.

Martin: Thanks a lot. Really appreciate it.

App showdown: Proposal apps (Bidsketch vs. Quoteroller)

Head to head review and comparison of two popular proposal apps

Head to head review and comparison of two popular proposal apps

Two apps enter, one app leaves!

A few weeks ago, I had a need I don’t usually have, which was to create a proposal. I figured this was the ideal time to try out a few different proposal-creating apps and compare them in a review…the results are below!

(It’s worth noting going in that I don’t regularly create proposals and have never used a proposal creation tool before, so I may have missed a few things or had a harder time than someone who comes from that background would have.) 

The Bidsketch video review:

The Quoteroller video review:

Price comparison:

As you can see, they have slightly different pricing methods; Quoteroller is priced per user for its $15/month and $25/month plans (the $200/month plan includes up to ten users), while Bidsketch has a built in user limit at each price tier (the second tier is $79/month for up to three users.


  • Bidsketch includes analytics, electronic signatures, and custom domains on its basic plan. Additional plans add the features of realtime team collaboration on proposals and permission/role management for your team. The higher priced plans also include more users and more storage.
  • Quoteroller’s most basic plan doesn’t include custom template design, and neither does the $25/user/month plan. The most basic plan does include drag and drop design with “content blocks” that you can customize/create templates of, analytics, and custom branding (logo adding and customizing the background–which is interesting because I didn’t come across this feature when creating the test proposals, so it could be a little more obvious). The higher level tiers include custom subdomains, Salesforce integration, customized fields, team user permissions, and an account manager, among a few other features.


  • Bidsketch integrates with Basecamp, Freshbooks, Harvest, Highrise, Salesforce, and RightSignature.
  • Quoteroller integrates with (among others–this is just a sampling, seriously) Harvest, Freshbooks, Xero, Nimble, Base, Insightly, Highrise, Capsule CRM, Podio, Basecamp, and RightSignature. *whew*
  • Both integrate with Harvest (my time-tracking tool of choice) and say that there’s a one-click ability to convert a proposal to a project in Harvest afterwards. I didn’t get a chance to test this, but if it works well that’s a big bonus. Quoteroller also allows for payment directly from the invoice, with the ability to add a Paypal button.
  • The Paypal button feature from Quoteroller probably wouldn’t work as well if you were doing a subscription/monthly retainer type service, but for what it’s worth, you could convert a monthly retainer proposal to a Harvest invoice/project, and then make the Harvest invoice automatically recurring on a weekly/biweekly/monthly basis.

Other notes:

When dealing with both instances of customer service, I had no complaints–I had to contact both of them to ask to extend my trial for review purposes and they were prompt and friendly. I also had to ask Bidsketch customer support about a glitch (still not sure if it was on my end or their’s); I couldn’t customize the design on the PDF at the end, but their support was fast and friendly.

Review/showdown conclusion:

  • Bidsketch has more features overall, but I found Quoteroller a lot easier to hit the ground running with.
  • I had an easier time setting up monthly retainer options on Quoteroller–though again, it’s worth noting that while doing the review I found an easier way to do that–where on Bidsketch, I had a hard time with that.
  • Bidsketch, though, has more design customization options. I really liked Quoteroller’s drag & drop blocks and the sections, but I wish I could have at least changed the font options. (In the video, I said that you can’t change the background, and apparently you can even on a basic account, but I didn’t see that as a noticeable option during the proposal creation process.) 

In short: 

  • If aesthetics and customization of the final proposal is your top priority, Bidsketch is probably going to be your winner.
  • If quick and super-easy proposal preparation is your priority, Quoteroller might be the way to go.
  • Also, Quoteroller kinda beats Bidsketch into the ground as far as integrations go, so if creating a well-integrated suite of applications is a high priority for you (and/or you use several of the apps that it integrates with already), that could be a swaying factor.

They’re both great options, each slightly better suited for different needs…hopefully the breakdown helped some, though! (Also, I’ve got at least one other idea for a similar breakdown/head-to-head comparison post–let me know if you like this format and want to see more of them.) 

Review: Calendly

Review: Calendly (a scheduling app)

There’s an assortment of scheduling apps available out there in various price points and they are definitely not all created equal. My current favorite? Calendly, which is super easy to use and has a great starter plan. Here’s a few key features:

  • Syncs to Google Calendar
  • Allows you to set and customize (both the timing and the content of) reminders, cancellation notices, and confirmation emails
  • The free plan has limits to customizations, one event type (for example, a 15m meeting or a 30m meeting, but not both), and “Powered by Calendly” branding
  • The paid plan is $8/mo annually or $10/mo monthly and allows for creation of and customization of automated reminders, extra customization of other notifications, and branding of the pages/emails

Overall: Really easy to use for the account owner and appointment setter, pretty UI that’s not distracting, and a great price point (I’m on the free plan since I don’t really have an appointment-driven business, and it’s more than enough for me). Highly recommended!

Behind the scenes: September recap

Behind the Scenes: September recap

We’re almost halfway through October, but here’s my September recap!

How I spent my time:

September time report

In September, I tracked just shy of 125 hours again–pretty much the same amount of time as August (August was 124.95, September was 124.23); so this might be my new normal/average. Again, it breaks down to about 30 hours a week. October’s time might actually be slightly lower, because I’m doing less pitching/hustling now that I have several longer-term clients acquired.

Out of that time:

  • 72.98 hours (about 58% of my time, slightly down from August) were spent on my business/internal work
  • The other 51.25 went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time)
  • I spent less than an hour meeting with prospective clients (less than half of August and July), and 2.29 hours pitching (which is slightly over half of August, and August was half of July). It makes sense that these numbers are trending downwards, since I’ve put my focus on acquiring longer term/repeat clients.
  • Slightly less email time than August (just over 16 hours instead of nearly 17), about the same amount of time on social media (4.5 hours), 5.27 on marketing (instead of almost 3), and about 8.5 hours on admin work (down about four hours from August)

The marketing and social media time increases were, I’m guessing, due to both the onboarding time of my ZA and the fact that I was launching a course. But the decrease in admin time is solid and a good sign (especially as that should continue to decrease now that my assistant knows the ropes more). I also anticipate my email time going significantly down since I FINALLY worked through my entire 6+ month backlog of email, which took several hours, but now it’s mostly a matter of maintenance and I’m doing much better at staying on top of it.

If you wanna see the whole breakdown of my internal work, here’s a screenshot. (If you notice a discrepancy with the total internal hours, it’s because I have a few projects set up that are internal but not strictly Bombchelle Industries related; my fiction trilogy, my nonfiction book, etc.) It might be useful if you want to set up time-tracking for your biz (which you totally should! Harvest is my jam). I like to drill down and be really specific about what I’m spending time on, which comes in handy for things like client audits.

How I made my money:

  • Total invoiced for freelance writing services in August 2014: $5,044.97 (whether paid or not by EOM; I got tired of doing all the math instead of running one report in Harvest, heh)
  • Products/courses: $219 (slight decrease on the product front, and skewed on the course front because of payment plans)
  • Kindle: $21.24 (also a decrease)

Total income: $5,285.21

Which is insane to me (because it’s like, a $1,500 increase from LAST month, which was a big increase on the month before…what?! I guess all that hustle paid off) and makes September one of my best months of self-employment ever.

Business expenses:

  • SAAS tools (Google Apps, Coschedule, Harvest, Clicky): $32
  • Coffee shops/meetings: $151.77
  • Web hosting: $15
  • Transcription and audio editing services: $193.04 (see “Thoughts” for more on this)
  • Accounting: $200
  • Administrative assistance: $450 total (in between Zirtual and Alexis; double-billed this month, because of payment periods)
  • I also did an experiment with Facebook ads that wasn’t a total failure, but wasn’t what I’d call a rip-roaring success either

Total: I don’t even want to do this math. I know it’s part of a growing business but dang y’all. My coffee expenses went back up again because I had a lapse in my Entre membership due to a minor processing error (part of using an in-beta service), and also because I started hanging out longer and getting food to eat so I didn’t have to go back home; I expect this to level out again. And I’m not experimenting with any type of ads for a while–thank goodness I did that on a month when I did exceptionally well.

My personal expenses were up too–it’s weird, because even though the tracked time is pretty much the same in September as it was in August, I just have this memory of especially the last two weeks of September being crazy-can’t-hardly-stop-busy. I ordered out a lot. I’m already trying to curb that cycle (because I expect September to be an outlier of the last half of 2014, though it’d be nice if it wasn’t…minus the stress) by preparing a little it more and being all strategical about leftovers and shit.


  • The numbers for these reports are getting a little more complicated, because I’m starting to have expenses related to clients. For example, I have one client where I’m paid on a per-post basis, and my per-post fee includes me managing/acquiring a transcript and audio editing. Another client, the transcript isn’t required but it makes me work so much faster that it’s worth it.
  • At this point, admin assistance is a must, but at the moment, I’m not quite blown away by Zirtual. It’s hard to say though, because the onboarding period is always a pain in the ass. You can definitely tell that it’s intended more for personal use than business use, but the assistant I was paired with is certainly competent and quick to learn, so I think it’ll be fine (until it’s not, at which point I’ll have to decide what the best solution is).
  • I need to be better prepared for the next ungodly busy month I have, which I’m working on now.

September client audit:

I did this last month, and the results were so helpful that I decided to do it again and make it part of my monthly routine from here on out.

Last month, when I did the audit taking into account June/July/August, my hourly rate varied from $45-117 depending on the client and project. Way too much variety. And, interestingly, most of my time went to the two clients that I had the lowest hourly rates with. I stopped working with both of those clients and replaced that income. In September, my hourly rate ranged from $57-164–an improvement, but still quite a lot of range. More notes:

  • The lowest rate ($57/hr) was for a new retainer client during the onboarding process; I’m already seeing a big jump there now that we’re past that (I did the math for October thus far and we’re averaging more like $85/hr now). Which means that I don’t need to take further action here.
  • New average hourly rate: $85.50 (if you factor in for the closer-to-normal average with the aforementioned client, it’s $113 now; last time it was $69 or $88 minus outlier clients)
  • Though the range is still wide, it’s narrowing quickly now, and it’s an increase overall on both the low/high end of the range and as far as the average hourly goes.

Looking ahead and lessons learned overall:

  • I’m finally starting to see the results from the strategy mentioned here where I wanted to up my Youtube ad revenue. I’ll get a decent payment this month and they should be far more regular going forward. Of course, part of the problem was that I realized about halfway through August that I didn’t have the damn ad revenue enabled for my last six months of videos. And I’ve also fallen behind on doing the video reviews lately, which is because I wanted to do a few round-up posts (i.e. Quoteroller vs. Bidsketch, email app round-ups…) and they take substantially more time than doing a one-off review video.
  • Probably my biggest lesson from this month is that something’s gotta give. I had this whole plan going in to September about how I was going to post three times a week and be SUPER-ON my social media game and do all my client work and have an incredibly successful launch of Six Weeks and have a book proposal done and…yeah. I did all my client work, had an okay launch, did 6 blog posts (so about 1.25 a week on average, hah) and got v1 of my book proposal done (and pitched it), and I could tell that I was bordering on being seriously burned out by the end of the month. I have no desire to be stressed out or anxious or burned out. I can’t do it again after the tailspin that was last year, and I won’t; so even if it means less product/course income, my social media activity and blog posts here might get fairly minimal.
  • The sister lesson is keep it simple. I’m still going to do the review-roundups as previously mentioned, but I’m aiming for “done + helpful” rather than “insanely thorough and detailed.” I’ll probably be experimenting more with video or audio posts in general, and I might seriously consider (since I have a very fast + reasonably priced transcriptionist) doing audio blog posts with an accompanying transcript instead of writing out the posts.
  • These two lessons are especially important because the message I keep getting whacked on the head with is that I need to devote my time to my art. (I feel like that sounds pretentious, but it’s verbatim, so *shrug*) For my continued sanity, creativity, and longer-term happiness, it’s necessary for me to make it a priority, even if it isn’t income generating right now. And my art is writing; I love teaching and speaking and I have no plans of stopping, but the realization that’s dawned on me over the last few months is that those are things I do. Writing, being a writer, it’s part of who I am. Given that, I’m going to plan on taking the time I would normally spend

Given those realizations/experiences, my current plan for the next six months or so is: 

  • Tweak/refine products (I have plans for another Kindle book which shouldn’t take too long to do, the existing shop items will be narrowed down/consolidated/refined into 4 products, one of which is a larger/more comprehensive/expanded version of the Kindle book)
  • Let the freelance writing stay where it is, with no intentions/plans of combining it into an agency style model with Bombchelle (which is something I considered, but I want to spend my days writing, not project managing)
  • Finish book one of Worldslip (zomg I’m already 5-6k words in yay yay yay) next month for NaNoWriMo; I’ll edit it in December (probably with outside assistance) and start publishing it serially in January (as well as making it available to buy on Kindle)
  • Spend the next 4-6 months refining the proposal and pitching the nonfiction (productivity) book and if I get like, no traction whatsoever, I’ll self-publish the mofo anyways
  • Not sure where the classes/workshops will go; I love them and I’d like to keep doing them, but launches take a lot out of me (and a lot of time/energy away from writing); I think I’ll do 2-4 one-day workshops for planning in December and January again

Action steps: 

  • Plan for writing time for personal projects on at least Mondays and Fridays–I’d like to block these out almost entirely, which might be doable now that I’m not in launch mode and the ZA is onboarded
  • Plan on being pretty minimal as far as unnecessary online time in November (NaNoWriMo!)
  • Work on systems for editing/scheduling/sharing blog posts and get my ZA up to speed on that so she can take it over (and other systems as necessary)
  • Prioritize my writing projects over nice-but-not-super-necessary tasks (which, unfortunately, for now blogging here falls into that category, at least as far as text posts go)
  • Keep outsourcing/delegating wherever possible

Whew! So…there’s my September notes and some planning notes going forward. How was your September? 

Previous monthly recaps:

Workflow Wednesdays: How I Run Two International Businesses While Living with Chronic Illness

Today’s Workflow Wednesdays post is a contribution from a dear friend and colleague Grace Quantock–she’s truly a joy to know and I’m so happy to have her contributing to the series!

Workflow Wednesdays: Read about how Grace runs two businesses while living with chronic illness

Running your own business can be a huge challenge, and sometimes it feels like it’s a PhD in patience and confidence, just entering that arena. Running a business while living with a health challenge can seem like it requires a super-power. But many people are turning to entrepreneurship due to chronic illness. It has lots of positives; you can often work from home, set your own hours, take rests in between tasks and make a living doing what you love.

However, adding the pressure of work to a life already struggling with pain and exhaustion can be a powder keg. I have been working with chronic illness for several years and in that time I’ve tried the good, bad and ugly in terms of what helps and what doesn’t. I’d love to share the processes that work for me in living and working with illness.

Step One: Set Up Systems

When you are living with illness it’s likely that your energy is going to be limited. And so anywhere we can save some energy is going to be very useful. Systems are super for the disabled entrepreneur as they save so much time and energy.

Michelle is of course, The Systems Goddess, and if you do one thing, I really encourage you to implement systems.

What are systems? What do you do in your business that you repeat over and over but rely on memory for?

For example, in my company Healing Boxes, we sell boxes of ethical healing goodies for people with illness. And so we need those goodies in stock. When stocks get low, what happens? We need to:

  1. Notice those stocks are low
  2. Make a note to order more
  3. Find the details of the supplier
  4. Contact them by email or phone
  5. …with all our wholesale order numbers
  6. …and bank details
  7. …and know what size order we need

And all that information needs to be written down somewhere. In working with Michelle, I developed flow-charts for my business. So now, when I need to do something, I go to the appropriate flow chart and all the information is there, at hand. It’s simple and saves so much fussing, searching for details, trying to remember things and repeating myself!

Step Two: Adopt a Re-Frame Mindset (turn your problems into possibilities)

Write down everything that you think is holding you back right now. This could be: a day job, debt, can’t get a loan to start up, lack of business knowledge, feeling un-confident, having small children and no time, being ill and unable to work, not thinking your idea is good enough, not having support of people around you and so on.

Next we are going to reframe each of those challenges into a positive. For example:

A day job is an asset because….you get to set up and launch your business without the financial pressure of making it support you from the beginning, as you already have you day-job income!

Debt is a positive because… it’s making you examine and shift your relationship with money. Can’t get a loan to start up makes your business better because…you have to re-think what you really need to launch and what you can do without. No loan means you are bootstrapping the business – and running on a shoe-string means no loans to pay back and you turn a profit, and can invest money back into your business to grow it so much sooner. 

Lack of business knowledge is useful as it means you don’t have any preconceived ideas or aren’t beginning your business based on incorrect information. You are in a perfect position to seek out the best teachers, mentor and allies and learn as you grow.

Feeling un-confident is an opportunity as it allows you to dive deeply into aspects of business like communication, sales, networking and pitching. These are things many people aren’t good at but just get by with. They are essential to any business and you are about to excel in them.

Having small children and no time may seem like it’s holding you back when actually it’s teaching you to work incredibly effectively. Most people waste much of their time. 20% of their time gives 80% of their results. But they waste 80% of their time on inefficient things and procrastination. If you only have 20% of time and energy to work on your business you learn to be incredibly organised and effective. So imagine how much you’ll achieve when your children are older and you have more time but the same level of amazing efficiency? Anyone who has had to look after small children has to be innovative and deal with crises – and these things can be transferred to business.

Being ill and unable to work….can hold you back, but it can also be a great training ground. Being ill teaches you negotiation (with doctors), patience (when dealing with the benefits systems), how to fill in forms and deal with bureaucracy, prioritisation (when you are ill and can’t do much you learn to do the most important things first). Not to mention managing set backs, taking the long view–you have to do this when living with chronic illness and the skills are needed in business too. I looked at the skills I had learned from managing chronic fatigue, dealing with medical frustrations and the red tape of the benefits system then used the subsequent patience, time management and negotiation skills to help my clients via coaching and training.

I have very limited energy, but that meant that I could focus what energy I had on the things that were most important to my business, and that in turn streamlined all the work I did.

Not thinking your idea is good enough…is actually a bonus as this means you examine it, question it and re-work and refine it until it’s the best it can be. 

Not having support of people around you…forces you to seek out mentors and entrepreneurial communities that will support you!

Now you try. List out your problems and how it can actually be a positive. This mindset can take time to develop, but it’s a great tool for any entrepreneur!

Step Three: Practice Batching

In an entrepreneur’s day, one can be a writer, a marketer, a social media strategist and a PR maven, all before lunch. It’s all necessary, but doesn’t necessarily have to happen in this way.

We talk about this in depth in The Phoenix Flight School, my upcoming course for entrepreneurs and would-be-preneurs with health challenges.

May I introduce you to the awesomeness of batching?

In an average week (not that my weeks are average, they are totally awesome!) I need to do:

  • administrative tasks
  • client work
  • content creation
  • editing
  • financial tasks
  • social media contacts
  • and more!

If I am getting ready to say, email a newspaper or blog to see if they’d like to feature my writing, I need to: 

  1. Get into the mindset of what the media want.
  2. Go through my media folders of sample pitches and successful past pitches.
  3. Get all the contact details of the blog/magazine/outlet I’m pitching.
  4. Research the blog/magazine and know just what they want.
  5. Look in my file of ideas and write a pitch tailored to the outlet.
  6. Focus on my value and feel energetically ready to collaborate with this outlet.
  7. Write the email and send it.

Personally, I find all the work around this task much more than just the writing of the email. Once I’m in that space, the writing is swift and flowing. It’s getting into that space that takes the time. So once I’m set up in media mode, I write all my pitches. That’s batching.

I batch together similar tasks and do them together to maximise my time and energy.

Why not try and see what works for you?

Grace Quantock is a wellness provocateur, writer, speaker and founder of The Phoenix Fire Academy and Healing Boxes CIC. She lives in Wales, UK and loves reading, gardening and early mornings. Read more at | and follow Grace on Twitter.

(can I just note how much I love that she included the following with her guest post submission? a woman after my own heart!)

Grace’s Buffy trivia:

Favourite Buffy character: Willow, naturally.
Current workout training goal: Be strong like Buffy.
Favourite Buffy quote: “Damn it, man, we *have* to get inside! Our, um, uh… Our families are-are-are in there. Our, uh, mothers and-and, tiny, tiny babies.” – Giles

Workflow Wednesday: Elinor Predota and effective client intake systems

Workflow Wednesdays: Elinor Predota on creating effective client systems

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

This week, I interviewed Elinor Predota, who is in a pretty niche industry (nontraditional weddings), but whose insights apply no matter what type of service-based business you’re in. Unfortunately, the video didn’t come out, but there’s still audio!

Listen to the audio:

Elinor’s tips:

  • Road test your systems. No matter how good they look on paper, it doesn’t matter if the systems don’t work in the real world.
  • Communication templates! Stop reinventing the wheel–just create some templates. Elinor goes over all the ways this repeatedly saves her bacon in the interview.
  • Have a system for when they say no, too. This lets everything come full circle and ends things on a positive note.

Workflow Wednesdays: Behind the scenes of how I use Asana

What separates productive people from business owners that are constantly stressed? This post is part of weekly feature, Workflow Wednesdays, that aims to find out, with a weekly post going in-depth on a specific part of a business owner’s workflow and what they do that makes it rock. Interested in being featured in a post? Sign up here!

This week’s Workflow Wednesday post is about how I use Asana! I focused on how I, specifically, use it in my workflow. I didn’t get too into the details of the delegation aspects of Asana because it’s really pretty self-explanatory–you assign something to a person, they do it, if they prefer to work out of their inbox they can reply to the email to comment, files can be attached from your computer or from Dropbox/Google Drive, etc.

All in all, I LOVE Asana and you can’t beat the price (free!). I’m planning on doing a video review of it at some point, but this is how I specifically use it and gives you a good grasp on it. If you’ve got any questions, let me know–I’m happy to answer them!

Review: Blimp

Blimp‘s claim is beautifully easy project management–but does it stack up? Watch the video review to find out. Here’s my notes:

  • Free plan for one project with unlimited users, $19/month for unlimited projects, users, and file uploads (very budget friendly, especially for the feature set)
  • Easy to learn, clean aesthetics
  • Can add discussions via email, drag and drop tasks, show when a task is being worked on vs. being done, easy at-a-glance view of projects
  • Ideal for team-based project management, specifically with businesses that are entirely project based
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