When the going gets tough

This is how awkward I feel in a 1 on 1 yoga class

Ever show up for a yoga class just to find out that you’re the only student? Most people would be thrilled for a $7 one-on-one yoga session with an expert.  Not me. I like to blend my non-bendy body and jagged breaths  into a crowd. This is admittedly hard because at 6 feet tall I tend to quite literally stand out. There was no hiding my clumsy body from my yoga instructor and he apparently didn’t want to hide his from me in a 100% spandex outfit.

Instead of just proceeding with the class, he wanted to engage in a long conversation about what type of yoga I like, what positions I wanted to concentrate on etc, etc. Again, a lot of people would be thrilled about this situation but as he asked more and more questions in an attempt to accommodate me, I just kept thinking. “Crap. Now I’m not going to get a good workout.” The reason I knew I wouldn’t get a a good workout is because I would cop out on the tough poses and typical challenges that go along with a class filled with moderately experienced yogis.

When given the option of a difficult task or an easier task, I will almost always do what I perceive to be simpler or faster. I once took a personality test that told me that my main characteristic is “likes to save effort.” It’s absolutely true. I won’t go back even 4 aisles in the grocery store if I forget something. It’s too much effort; I’ll just do without. As you can imagine, exercise is difficult for me owing to the fact that the main characteristic of exercise is effort. This is a real problem for me.

So now I’m trapped with Mr. Spandex and he keeps giving me options like, “We could do Fish or Dancer or Blah-vanassana now. Would you like that?”

“No thanks,” I reply. The poor guy had to go through about 200 different poses before he found the 5 that I was willing to do. Then I asked if the class could be over early. He apologized profusely which I didn’t understand. I am clearly the one with the issue here. I actually had to use the, “it’s not you, it’s me” line on him.

You might be wondering where the nugget of business wisdom is in this TMI post. Me too…tune in next time for the answer.

Unmet Potential

I ran as fast as I could to get outside. It was sunny and inexplicably bright. What wonderful delights would the yard hold today? Would I climb a tree, turn on the sprinkler and run through it? Would I dig a hole?  A light breeze flicked the leaves on the big cottonwood tree. I watched it as I ran. I grabbed the corner of the kitchen island so I could whip around faster.

I woke up on the floor. My head hurt. Mom cleaned the sliding glass door to an invisible sheen again.

Unmet potential.

I could have done more. I could have made a bigger impact. I could have changed things/people/lives for the better. I feel this swelling inside my chest. It’s somewhere between the lump you get right before you cry and the kind of utter exploding happiness you feel when a puppy wriggles in your hand or you watch two baby bunnies squirm.

Possible but not yet actual.

What to do with the utter certainty that you didn’t get to go all the way with your plans, your passion, your inspiration, your life’s work? Were you cut off at the pass? Did someone beat you to it? Did you sabotage yourself?

I had this great job once. A perfect job, really. The kind that hundreds of people wanted and didn’t get. I got it. I planned on working there for 26 years. For 86 days I ran so fast I lapped myself. I ran at full speed while I looked so far in to the future at what *could* be that I didn’t see the obvious barriers right in front of me. Instead of running in to a door, it was shown to me.

Undeveloped excellence.

That’s what they call potential. Undeveloped excellence. I sure had a lot of potential in that job. Bursting with ideas, alive with passion and well regarded by most of my coworkers as “the best [insert job title] person I’ve ever had.” Too bad I didn’t have even a cursory idea how to implement my big ideas in a way that wouldn’t result in my swift termination.

Do it anyway.

So I started a company. My very own squirmy bunny that I could raise up right in the vision of my own potential. Now I’ve got the developed excellence and ALL . I . WANT is to go back to that dream company and set the record straight.

I’d step off their elevator in impossibly cute shoes and say in an impossibly articulate way, “I was great for your company. I had the vision, the passion to carry it out and a whole boatload of employees who STILL WANT what I have to offer. But I’m Cohere’s now so I can’t come back to you. Your sprinkler is on and I can’t run through it.”

And they’ll smile and weep and hug me and offer me some ridiculous compensation to just hear my thoughts.

It’s possible.

Raise your rates

We determined earlier this week that you aren’t charging enough for your services. Greg Fuhrman (Freelance CFO) helped us through the nuts and bolts of rate raising.  We also got a butt whooping from Redhead Writing too.

Once you have landed on your new (much higher) rate. You can use these tips to break the news to your clients.

Existing Clients:

  • Will appreciate a little lead time.  Don’t say, “Hi, I doubled my rate, effective 4 minutes ago.”  Start with your longest term and favorite clients.  Call them up and let them know that your rate will be increasing on X date (about 3 months in the future).
  • You can go for broke and do the whole increase all at once on X date BUT
  • Consider stepping up the rate over time.  Your long term clients will appreciate being put on an adjusted rate schedule.  This allows them to project their budgets more accurately which will cause any good project manager to hug you. For instance, you might increase your rate by $10/hour every month for the next 3 months or until you hit your target rate.

New Clients:

  • You have the benefit of historical ignorance here.  New clients probably don’t know how much you were charging last week so you can implement your new rate ASAP with new clients.
  • Consider giving a discount on your normal rate when the project will be very large or long term.  You can afford to cut them a bit of a deal for the sweet security of a long term contract!  A good rule of thumb is to discount your rate by about 10-20% for these situations.
  • There’s no harm in trying to get new clients on a retainer deal.  Retainer=they get a special rate for committing to X number of hours per month.  In return, they get your special “retainer rate.”  Again, the security of a long term contract frees you up to work on your craft instead of being out scrounging up new clients.
  • Remember that clients on aggressive deadlines get to pay you A LOT more for your expertise.  They need the product of your brain in a hurry so they’ll have to pay for it.  Consider doubling your rate when you get these types of calls.
  • If you are writing proposals for clients on the east or west coasts, adjust your price UP by 25-50%.

Let us know how your rate setting/increasing conversations are going!

Your daily butt kicking

You are not a freelancer.  You are a business owner.  So start acting like one.  Enjoy this honest and much needed slap about how you should be conducting yourself.  Written by honorary Cohere member, Redhead Writing*.

*language is not for the faint of heart! ;)

#financefriday: Setting your rate

Normally a superhero dons a cape and mask before saving someone.  Today, Greg Fuhrman arrived at Cohere Coworking Community in relatively inconspicuous attire: a blazer. Greg is a “freelance Chief Financial Officer.”  I’ve given him that title because he works p/t or interim for small and growing companies that need a little CFO love.

Greg helps the group understand rate setting

Greg taught us what a CFO’s role is, why we might want a CFO’s help, how to set and raise rates, adding employees and tips and tricks for securing venture capital!  Yep, all that in just one hour at #frankfriday today.

Today’s financial focus will be on RATES.  How much are you charging and is it enough?

  • Never undersell yourself.
  • Longer projects can be at a lower rate in return for the security of a long term contract.
  • Urgent projects demand a premium rate, sometimes double what you normally charge.  If a company expects you to drop everything for them, it’s going to cost ’em!
  • Measure yourself against your peers.  Your peers are people in the same industry with similar experience.
  • What seems like a lot of money to you may not phase a company with deep pockets.
  • You should not be charging less than $50-60 per hour.  Yep, you read that right.
  • Know what your minimum dollar amount to survive is and work backwards from that number factoring in how many billable hours/month or week you can tolerate as a creative.  (Angel’s note: I’ve noticed that many technically creative people can only produce high quality work for about 5 hours/day. This 5 hours/day is in addition to the more functional parts of freelance like billing, writing proposals and catching up on twitter).
  • When setting your rate, factor in taxes, retirement, insurance and the cost of doing business in your field.  What software or equipment do you have to keep up to date?
  • Get off on the right foot with a new client by telling them your normal rate and then discounting their project.  “My normal rate is $120/hour but I can do $100/hour since this is a large project.”

In summary,  you probably aren’t charging enough.  What could you accomplish if you doubled your rates and worked half as many hours?  Marinate on that and tune in later this week for Greg’s advice on how to raise your rates.

Contact Greg (gregory@fuhrmanconsulting [dot] com) if your business needs an interim CFO, business planning or a long-term strategy.

How Cohere saved my sanity

Mom! My dinosaur is sick!

“MOM!  I NEED SOMETHING TO EAT!”

“Hold on a minute, I’ve just got to finish up this email.”

“MOM!  I just stepped in dog poop and it’s on the kitchen floor!”

“Alright.  Take off your shoes and I’ll clean it up after I finish this post.”

“MOM!  I want to play with the dinosaur but he won’t let me!”

“For the love of God.  Stop fighting before you’re both sent to your rooms.  I’m trying to get some work done!”

This is what my day looks like while being a work-at-home mom.  It’s not easy trying to multi-task; taking the kids to playgroups, returning emails requesting meetings, making healthy lunches while trying to do research for the next restaurant review.   It’s also not easy to balance the ever-present mommy guilt.  But, I still wouldn’t have it any other way, even if it would be easier.

I’ve always known that I wanted to stay-at-home with my boys and we’ve done everything possible to keep that our reality.  It was very important to my husband and me that our family had that type of lifestyle.  But, after being a stay-at-home mom for a while, I got the itch to do something more.  I felt a bit lost and needed to do something to find my voice, to regain the person that I was before I had kids.  I’m not the crafty kind of mom who is constantly keeping the kids engaged and I needed to do something that wouldn’t drive me insane.

That’s where writing came in.

I’ve always been a writer.  It’s in my blood.  More specifically, I’ve always been a blogger.   It started with our simple family blog that gained national recognition. Then, I was inspired to create a fitness blog when our family needed to make some money in a crisis.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons when it came to blogging and it all seemed to come naturally.

As sort of a fluke, I started a food blog for Fort Collins.  I saw a need, knew how to make it happen with the years of blogging under my belt and thought it would be more of a creative writing space for me than anything else.  I was wrong, way wrong, but in a good way.  It became a business and soon I was a Professional Blogger, writing Fort Collins’ #1 food blog.

I had deadlines, meetings and massive amounts of emails to return.  I had marketing plans, budgets, and explosive growth to manage.  It was the most fun I’d had in my entire life, even though I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water.  Maintaining the balance between mom and professional blogger was challenging.

That’s where Cohere came in.

Through the magic of the online community we have here in Fort Collins, I met Angel during a particularly scandalous time on my blog after writing a less-than-glowing review for a local coffee house.  Word spread quickly about what was going on and our paths crossed on blog comments and email.  I loved what she was doing but since Cohere had daytime hours, I could only lust after the idea of coworking with other Fort Collins freelancers.  While taking the boys to daycare is nice every once and a while, it wasn’t something we wanted to do permanently.

That’s where night coworking came in.

The minute the Night Owl Lite membership was created, I was completely on board.  I felt like it was perfect for me!  I didn’t have to find childcare for my kids and I had a specific amount of time dedicated to my business.  In the few hours I’m there a week, I can accomplish more than I ever imagined.  All while surrounded by great people full of answers, advice and support, to boot!

My membership at Cohere is one of the best memberships I have.  The dedicated time and networking with other online professionals is helping me take my business to the next level.  I couldn’t be more excited about it, even if I’m still cleaning up dog poop that’s tracked throughout the house during the day.

Business Growth: An argument

Have you ever been part of a company that didn’t want to grow?  The owners were just happy enough with how things were going and decided to stay on that course?  I never have.  The only companies I’ve been a part of that weren’t growing were, in fact, downsizing b/c they grew too quickly or too stupidly for their own good and wound up laying off the people they couldn’t live without 6 months prior.

Why do companies always seem to want to grow?  Is business growth necessary, optional, delightful or some combo thereof? As a somewhat resource-limited kid, I had a certain number of Legos with which to play.  I’d build just about any iteration of a house or car and as long as I used all or nearly all of the pieces at my disposal.  I just didn’t have access to any extra Legos and I don’t really remember yearning for additional Legos (except maybe around my birthday).

So why do I now yearn for more Legos? I don’t really NEED any more building blocks.  I’ve got a pretty sweet Lego house that I’ve built right here.  The walls, floors, ceilings and furnishings are just right. Not to mention it’s filled with just about every kind of ridiculously awesome person in town. What kind of DNA mutation occurred that makes me think that my business needs to grow? I blame years in front of the microwave as a latch-key kid.

Weigh in, my 4 faithful followers. Should a business grow for the sake of growth? Can a business owner ever just be okay with business as usual?

Entrepreneurial Amnesia

Many coworking communities have started in coffee shops all around the world

Bringing coworking to Loveland has been an adventure. We’ve roved around looking for fast, reliable and secure internet. We’ve picked up shop and moved mid day for greener pastures.  We’ve celebrated milestones and then suffered disappointment when things didn’t work out after all. I’ve asked myself several times if I can really do *this* again.  Can I?

It seems like a hundred years ago when the Fort Collins crew was crammed into that reception area at RMI2  for free coworking.  I have to think hard to remember how every Tuesday morning I would arrive twitter-pated to start the day and explore the concept of coworking with my new little circle of friends.  I’d drag tables and chairs together and arrange them in some sort of semblance of a “real office” and then wait for the first freelancers to start arriving.  We did this for just 5 weeks.  Five weeks was all it took to grow a little community of coworking addicts in Old Town.  6 weeks after that Cohere opened.  Ah, Cohere.  Our (near) perfect little slice of historic Old Town with exposed brick, original hardwood floors, sunlight everywhere, sweet high back chairs and fun furniture. Comfort.  Bliss.  Sweet productivity and calm all at once.  Hasn’t it always been this way?

Flash to today: in the back room of Dazbog in downtown Loveland.  Four freelancers, 8 cups of coffee and the weirdest collection of music playing over the loud speaker (think The Beatles, funk and Bruce Springstein together at last).  Don’t misunderstand me.  Dazbog has been great.  The owner has been flexible and helpful (the free snacks didn’t hurt)!  But we’re in a coffee shop.  You’ve all heard me talk about the horrors of freelancing from coffee shops and yet here we are again.  We’ve found about the best possible coffee shop situation.  To have a private room with a door, windows and a caffeine source 12 steps away is really, truly delightful.

I have to keep reminding myself that our beginnings in Fort Collins really were humble and not the perfect, flourishing community that we are today.  Remember dragging those tables around?  I mean, really dragging that stuff from the way back of the building? Remember those not so comfy plastic chairs?  How about trading off and on for power with the only outlet?  Remember that?   What about the day we browned out the internet connection because there were 14 of us in a room built for 6 on an internet connection that was probably meant for 4?

In discussing the current coworking situation in Loveland today, we realized that the reason the U.S. economy needs entrepreneurs is because entrepreneurs can’t remember what it was like to start the first business.  Much like child birth (or so I’ve heard), I just can’t remember if or how much pain there was when I started Cohere Fort Collins. I can remember the facts of having to move furniture back and forth but I don’t really remember the irritation or exhaustion of it all.  I remember having a hundred things to do each day but I have no idea what I was feeling other than excitement.  I think that this is the ONLY reason that entrepreneurs carry on.  We take the risks, we take the plunge, and we’re never, ever looking over our shoulders into the past to remember how it was the last time. We just can’t remember the pain.

So we lost our free internet connection in Loveland today and will remain in the coffee shop for many more weeks.  So we’ll be cold and need to wear jackets while we cowork. So we’ll be distracted by the weird music playing.  So what? The most important part about coworking is being together.  Just being together.  We did it at RMI2, we’ll do it at Dazbog and we’ll keep doing it until we crash their internet and use up all of their chairs!

Sure, I don’t really remember the pain of starting Cohere the first time around. I’m sure to forget the little quirks that Loveland has held so far.  But when we open in Denver next year, I’ll be just as excited and just as blissfully unaware of the past points of pain as I am today.

Cohere: Working without walls-NCBR

Cohere: Working without walls
Old Town space brings freelancers together to collaborate, connect
By Jessica Centers
Published May 7, 2010
Source: Northern Colorado Business Report
As a freelance copywriter working from her Fort Collins home, Julie Sutter found herself craving human interaction. She’d heard about the concept of coworking, but she didn’t get it at first. In her experience, working in office suites wasn’t much different than working at home. The climate of working in coffee shops was a little better, but she still didn’t feel like she could lean over to her neighbor and ask him what he was working on.
Now that’s exactly what she does at Cohere LLC – a membership-based coworking community that opened its doors in Old Town Fort Collins in April.
“It’s more about collaboration and getting to know the people who share your space,” she said. “Being happier makes for better work. I’m getting more done and the structure is helping me create balance between what’s work and what’s life.”
Cohere is the brainchild of curator Angel Kwiatkowski. It was just last December that a friend – Kevin Buecher – introduced her to the concept of coworking.
Kwiatkowski calls Buecher a community organizer; he calls himself a platform builder. He’s been an organizer for conferences like Podcamp, Laidoffcamp and Ignite Fort Collins, and says the concept of coworking grew out of barcamps. The network of conferences use a many-to-many communication approach rather than the traditional method of one person, such as a politician, keynote speaker or CEO, talking to an audience.
But coworking is a movement for people who want to have that many-to-many collaboration every day, according to Buecher. There are no walls, no private spaces. Coworking is a mindset that embodies the Internet’s method of communication.
“I decided to research and found a global community of coworking,” Kwiatkowski said. “I decided that was definitely what I was supposed to do with my life.”
She started a meetup group to pilot coworking in Fort Collins. Freelancers met once a week to test it out and see if they liked working together.
She was working with the Rocky Mountain Innovation Initiative at the time, and RMI2 donated space to the group. After just five weeks, they had grown to 15 people, all crammed into a reception area. Kwiatkowski found Cohere’s current home, upstairs at 215 Jefferson St. in Old Town, and planned her business with the help of a mentor, RMI2 COO Kelly Peters.
Space historical, sustainable
The building was built in 1890, and it’s sustainable, with wind credits and a 40-foot skylight that eliminates the need for artificial light during the day. It has great character, with exposed brick and an open floor plan. Its 1,100 square feet include 12 work stations, two smaller areas to get away to make phone calls or have meetings or brainstorm sessions, a lounge with couches and comfy chairs, a loft called the tree house that’s good for meeting deadlines.
They’re even in the process of testing out reclining work stations, where programmers and others who work at night can actually lie down with their laptops on big circular work pods.
The 16 current members pay dues ranging from $48 to $249 a month depending on the level of access they want. There is a $19 pop-in rate for those who want to test-drive the idea before joining, and non-members can rent the conference room for $15 per hour, depending on availability. Sutter went to full, unlimited access after just a week because she knew she wanted to be there all the time.
“The two primary draws are being around other likeminded people; they come here to be happier,” explained Kwiatkowski. “They have been isolated and bummed out at their home office maybe for years. Other people come here to be more productive; they feel like their work life and home life now have a separation for the first time. Many freelancers lose the ability to separate home from work.”
Sutter comes from that camp. Now she relishes the days when she leaves her computer at Cohere and decides she’s done working for the day. Before, she would tell herself she was just going to check her e-mail in the evening and before she knew it she’d been working for four hours.
People connector
The other draw for Sutter has been Kwiatkowski herself.
Coworking is the perfect marriage of Kwiatkowski’s experience in management, career counseling and organizational development. “I created a company where I just get to be around awesome people all day long,” she said.
“What separates Angel and Cohere is that she’s there,” Buecher said. “Her role is to connect people and help people be themselves. Most (coworking spaces) don’t have this connector person there, someone there who cares about you as a person.”
Already, Sutter is finding opportunities to collaborate with people in the Cohere space who are working on projects that also call for a copywriter.
“My main mantra about coworking is not about office space,” Kwiatkowski said. “It’s not about a physical thing. It’s people coming together and building community and working collaboratively and being passionate about their work and sharing that with other people.
“We don’t have any walls; we don’t have physical walls or mental walls here.”

Duck, Duck, Choose

One of the most difficult challenges you’ll face as an entrepreneur or freelancer is choosing (people, projects, helpers, well wishers, friends and competition).  These decisions go beyond day to day decisions like which coffee shop to land in (if you’re not already coworking).  Many people will offer you their help as you start out and if everything goes right, so much work will eventually flow in that you’ll need to make some tough decisions about where to apply your time and energy.  Here are a few tips to help guide you:

Have a strategic goal that you are trying to accomplish with your business.

The standard, “I create websites” just won’t do.  There are at least 5 different web developers at Cohere right now and they all have very distinct niches.  Saying, “I create visually appealing, high traffic websites for science fiction authors”  will serve you much better in the long run than scrambling to take every bit of work that comes your way.  Having vagueness around what specific skill you bring to your industry will confuse your potential customers and actually decreases your net worth in the mind of the consumer.  Being good at 1 thing instead of mediocre at many bumps you up “expert wise” and allows you to charge more–BONUS.

Give “helpers” their first task as quickly as possible.

Many people just like offering help but have no intention of doing anything for you that will actually help your business.  For every 12 offers of help I got in starting Cohere, only 1 or 2 actually came through at crunch time.  Give those who offer to help a very small task.  If they complete it well and ask for more, keep them on tap.  If they flake on you at the first sign of even a little work, politely ignore or deflect their future offers of help.  For the small percentage of valuable helpers, always be thinking of how you can return the favor when they need help.

Shed what you hate.

Befriend other people in your industry.  This will allow you to contract out the portions of projects that make you want to tear your hair out.  Chances are, your dislike for a particular part of a project is someone else’s perfect cup of tea.  Work together using your individual strengths to hammer out projects more quickly.  You’ll procrastinate less and sleep better knowing that someone else is on it (and loving it).

This also goes for outsourcing.  As soon as you can afford it, outsource any business task that gives you heartburn.  For me it was accounting.  I lost about 35 pounds in mental baggage as soon as I ponied up to get a book keeper.  You can also outsource any activity that you can pay someone a lower hourly wage than you pay yourself.  If your time is worth $100 dollars an hour and you save one hour by outsourcing accounting at $35/hour, you just made $65 in billable hours (extra time you are available to do what you get paid to do).

The reality is–starting out as a freelancer or starting your own business will be HARD.  They do this on purpose to weed out the weak and un-passionate.  How do you stay on track with your business?

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