Tag Archives: organization

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

I love restoring order from chaos. I don’t enjoy the chaos part, but I like to organize. It’s what helped me keep my toy department neat during my brief Kmart career, and I think it’s why I don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after a party or dinner. I’m a big believer in “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and I enjoy putting those things in their places. 

I believe this trait has been an asset for Nenn Pen, Ink. My need for order and my ability to organize have helped as I set up my writing business. After all, it requires more than a little organization to stay on top of assignments and requests from multiple clients, meet various deadlines and work with a fluctuating income. (This variety is what I was looking for when I started, though, and I enjoy the process.)

– If this sounds less fun for you than it does for me…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– If you’re not scared off by a bit of organizational effort, then you should be ok pursuing this career. (Or, maybe you can afford to hire an assistant – but that requires some organization, too!)

– If you don’t mind a little work (or a lot, if you’re not naturally organized), you should be fine.

This aspect of the job simply comes easier for some than others. For those of you who don’t naturally color-code your sock drawer, I’ve put together the following tips. These four areas cover the basics you need to get your business organized.

Deadlines

Let’s start this section with a confession. I had originally planned to write this post weeks ago.

I’ll give you a minute to stew in the irony…

Ok – moving on to what we can learn from this…

I’m typically very dedicated to meeting deadlines. The problem with this one was two-fold: I had no accountability, and I had no income riding on it (which is actually another aspect of accountability).

If you’re setting your own deadlines (to publish a blog, release a book, etc.), it helps immensely to have accountability. If you’re trying to finish paid projects, this helps as well. There are three main types of accountability to consider for your business and writing goals.

 

  • Individual accountability: Put the deadline on your calendar. Yes, it’s self-imposed, but it’s still a deadline. If you put it in writing, it carries more weight. Plan a reward for yourself when you make the deadline.
  • Personal accountability: Choose a person or some people in your life (up to four) that can help hold you accountable to your personal deadlines. These are good friends who will ask you how things are going and encourage you to meet your goals. You know they’re going to ask you this weekend if you entered that writing contest or worked on your new book. This spurs you on to make the effort so you can say, “Yes, I did!”
  • Professional accountability: This naturally occurs when you have a deadline to meet for a client. Let them know when you will complete the work, then deliver the finished product on time (early is even better).  If you miss your deadline, you have an unhappy client, you might not get paid, and you lose future business. Hopefully, this is motivating enough to keep you on track with client deadlines.

Once you get some accountability in place, you also need a system to stay organized. As with personalizing other aspects of your business, myriad options exist for a deadline system. I simply use a couple of Excel spreadsheets. One is titled “Open Projects.” It lists current projects and their deadlines. The second is my weekly calendar, on which I assign myself work each day based on what is due when.

I am sure there are hundreds of apps out there to organize a calendar, so you simply need to find one that works for you. The important thing is to get in the habit of scheduling your days and weeks so you complete each task on time. Break down large projects into manageable chunks and schedule a realistic amount of work for each day.

Remember, your deadline for a client is likely one in a domino-set of deadlines for their own projects and clients, so missing it causes fallout all the way down the line.

Hint: It’s much less stressful if you avoid both procrastination and overbooking – and your work will generally be better quality.

Follow-up

How often have you contacted someone, and they failed to get back to you? Or, maybe they did get back to you, but it was days or weeks later. How did you feel? Did you want to contact that person again? Did you wait around for them, or did you take your business elsewhere?

Get back to people ASAP. Don’t keep people waiting. Remember, if someone contacts you about a job, they may be contacting several other potential sources, too. Be the first to get back to them so you get the business. Let them know they are important to you.

Hint: Set boundaries as you start. Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to answer emails at 2 am or work through the Sabbath. Either post your hours and stick to them, or let people know what to expect when you start working with them. (For example, if you receive an email on Friday after 6 pm, clients know you will respond first thing Monday morning – not before.)

Appointments

Depending on what types of writing projects you complete, you may need to set phone or in-person appointments. You may interview a source, gather information for a project, or conference-call with a client team. Part of staying organized means making these appointments.

Set reminders, then make the calls or meetings on time. Make it a habit to be reliable when it comes to scheduling and follow-up. This quality is rarer than you might think. It will make you stand out above the competition. On the flip side, missing appointments will sink your business.

Use your calendar, phone reminders, or whatever system works for you (just be sure to have a system). Do what it takes to ensure you never miss an appointment and are always on time.

Finances

We’ve already discussed the challenges of living on a variable income. The aspect I’d like to cover here is the logistics of your finances. Here’s what I recommend as you start your writing business.

Keep ‘em separated: You’ll get this same advice from just about every business professional. You need a separate financial account for your writing income. Create a checking account for your business. Deposit all payments you receive for writing here. The only funds that go in this account are ones you earn from writing jobs. Any expenses you incur related to your writing business come out of this account, and only expenses related to writing are taken from here.

Schedule payday: Pay yourself regularly from your business account. Budgeting is easier if you space this out as if you worked a “normal” job. Pick a pay period you like and stick to it. Maybe you pay yourself every Friday or every other Thursday. When payday arrives, simply transfer the money you have earned since the previous payday into your regular (non-business) account. This is your earnings to spend on bills, a date night, or a new toy for your cat.

Don’t forget S.E.T.: It might be tempting to transfer all your earnings on payday. Don’t do it. When tax time comes, you’ll be one unhappy writer. Set aside a portion of your income to pay taxes when they are due. The amount varies depending on your tax bracket and your state of residence, but 25% of your earnings is a good figure to use for federal taxes. This covers regular taxes plus your self-employment tax (S.E.T.). In Illinois, you’ll need another 3.75% for state income tax.

That means, on payday, you’ll only transfer 75% of that pay period’s earnings into your checking account (or 71.25% – whatever the total is with your state tax added in). The rest will remain in your business account to use for quarterly estimated tax payments. Don’t forget to put these tax due dates on your calendar and set reminders to pay them. They are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.

Ready…Set…Organize!

Are you feeling empowered to organize your efforts for a successful writing career? If “overwhelmed” is a better description, don’t despair. Keep in mind, you’re free to try different systems of organization until you find one that matches your personality and needs. Don’t give up. If you “whiff” on a deadline or a phone call, that’s not cause to call it quits. Learn from the situation and add to your organizational system for the next time.

That brings us to the next question: When should you call it quits? Is there ever a time to say no? Watch for answers in the next post…

So you wanna be a writer…Step 9: Know When to Fire a Client (and How)

Garage Makeover

Go ahead, call me crazy. Who makes over their garage, right? I won’t argue my sanity, but I did discover if you Google “garage makeover,” you will find some pretty intensive projects that are actually way more involved than mine. So, I feel a little better about my reaction when my husband suggested we spruce up our garage a bit. What he meant by that was slap on a fresh coat of white paint to brighten and clean the dingy walls and replace the dilapidated cardboard boxes that have housed our Christmas decorations for 15 years with some sturdier totes. Good ideas, but…my response was: Ok, I’m fine with the idea of fixing up the garage, but, if we are going to go to the trouble of painting, let’s add some color! And, if we are going to reorganize the storage section, let’s do it right! In short, I said we should give our garage some personality – our personalities.

Being intense game geeks (the board and card kind, not the electronic kind) we decided to extend the gaming theme that permeates much of our house to include the garage. I had quite a few ideas for how to do this, and had a tough time deciding, but finally chose cards and dice. These are the basic building blocks of gaming, after all. This meant white, red, and black for the colors, and dice and card décor for finishing touches.

Following is the step by step transformation.

Step 1:
Repaint the ceiling and top half of the walls white.
It was really nice to use the same paint on the walls and ceiling to avoid worrying about spillover at the edges.
We put small pieces of painters tape at 42″ from the floor around the room, to mark where we could stop painting. (No use wasting time and resources on the part that wasn’t going to be white!)

before door before   chris That’s my handsome hubby hard at work.

Step 2:
Add some color.
We marked 36″ up from the floor to show where the next color would stop (roughly – no hard line was needed, just a general stopping point to overlap where the third color, our black stripe, would start.) I was excited to be adding a splash of color to the garage, and red was definitely going to be more fun than the previously boring all-white. Playing card red is a pretty rich color, so it took two coats, but it was worth it.

red

We let that dry for a couple of days or so, then…

Step 3:
Paint a black stripe.
I looked up YouTube videos beforehand on how to paint stripes, and I asked friends for tips. I discovered everything from laser levels, to Frog Tape, to “measure with a friend” solutions. We decided to simply measure, tape, use a level to check the tape, then adjust as needed. (And it was needed…a lot.) This part of the process was, let’s say, less than fun. I have no desire to ever paint a stripe again. Although, I do think it was worth the effort in the end. We taped off the six-inch section between the white and red, carefully pressing down the tape edges with a putty knife to ensure no paint got under the tape. Another tip I found and used was to roll the paint horizontally rather than vertically, so paint is less likely to get pushed under the tape.

This is the part I was most nervous about. If the stripe ended up less than straight, due to measuring or taping poorly, or paint got under the tape and the edges weren’t sharp but lumpy bumpy splotchy messes, my OCD would simply not be able to handle it.

Praise the Lord, it turned out ok. We painted the six-inch black stripe all the way around the room, and I really like the results. A couple of imperfections after the tape was removed were easily touched up, and the line looks straight to me!

stripe

Step 4:
Create an organized and fun system out of the old ugly boxes that held our seasonal decorations.
To stay with the theme, we needed black and red storage totes. A search online yielded several results, with the best sizes for our needs and the best prices coming from Walmart.com. It was a bit of a math project to order the right combination of totes to fit on the existing garage shelving, and get the sizes we needed for our stuff, too. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the totes came in sets, not individual bins. We ended up with two sizes, large and small.

Here’s what we wanted to replace and no longer gaze upon:

shelves before

Step 5:
Organize the contents of the new totes.
After loading up the new bins with the freshly sorted and organized decorations, I went about making labels for the totes. (I don’t want to have to peak inside all of them to find the one item I need, do I?)

We bought 3 1/3″ x 4″ packing labels, and I used a card-theme border I found online to design the stickers. (I searched for “playing card border” and got plenty of results to choose from.) Armed with my list of tote contents and an Avery template in Word, I printed up the labels.

toes tote label

Step 6:
Wall decals.
Meanwhile…back at the beginning phase of the project, I consulted with a friend to help me design my other brainstorm for the makeover: His and Hers decals for the walls in front of each of our cars. Of course, just plain text “His” and “Hers” wouldn’t do. I wanted to incorporate the theme. I envisioned how I wanted to use dice in each of the words, found a font I liked, but had trouble finding the right clip art and getting it sized properly for printing, so asked a design-savvy friend for help. I think she did a fabulous job! I uploaded the PDF she created for me to http://www.walldecalworld.com and ordered 24″ prints. They turned out great!

his

hers

Step 7:
The final touches.
We splurged and spent $4.00 on a new cheap mini blind for the window. The dingy old one of the same cost would have required more than $4.00 in labor to clean it up, so I think this was worth the investment.
The door into the house usually had a seasonal decoration hung on it to welcome us in. Now, however, this would be part of the new look too. A pair of fuzzy dice seemed very appropriate for the garage. Done.
Of course I couldn’t simply put back the boring white switch and outlet covers that were there before. Another online search, and I had fun covers on their way. (Tip – be sure you actually look at the outlet to check what shape it is before ordering an outlet cover. Standard two-hole ones won’t fit if it’s a GFI oulet – oops! I’m glad that company does easy exchanges.)

blinds and shovels      plate covers

Step 8:
Take pictures of the completed project and write a blog post sharing the experience. 🙂

I am excited to now have a fun and inviting space to welcome me home!

before door

his hers wall

shelves before

shelves