5 Truths about Working from Home (or Wherever)

Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.
Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.

Working from home and running your own business is worlds away from being allowed to telecommute as a permanent employee. There are a lot of myths about it, rumors swirling, and envious glances when you can make that 10am spin class that nobody else can swing. Is it a dream come true? When I think back to my own days of the daily grind as a worker bee, definitely. I haven’t worn slacks, a suit, or hosiery in years. However, that doesn’t mean working from the couch is always glitters and unicorns, either.

Of course, every small business owner, entrepreneur, and telecommuter will have a different experience. Here are a few of my daily realities—for better or worse:

  1. The whole yoga pants/work on the couch thing is true

I actually do work from a couch (sorry, ergonomics) in yoga pants most days. In my defense, I’m also a certified yoga teacher and practice on a regular basis. I just don’t get into the whole home office thing. Working from a desk and in an “office chair” just makes it feel too much like I’m working for someone else. Perhaps it was all those years of conditioning that turned me off “an office” for good.

  1. There’s no such thing as an alarm

The only time I set an alarm is when I have an early morning flight. Otherwise, I’m naturally a morning person, complete with pepperings of insomnia from time to time. My work day usually starts between 5 and 6am and ends around 4 or 5pm.

  1. Yes, the TV’s on

However, it’s on mute and it’s more for “company” than anything else. Seeing flickers of people and colors peripherally keeps me out of tunnel vision. Plus, I know I should be done with Client X’s work of the day by the time Frasier segues to How I Met Your Mother. And if I don’t have Client Y’x stuff done by the time Grey’s Anatomy is over? I’ll be pulling double duty that day.

  1. There’s no such thing as leaving work at the office

Even if I had an actual office, this wouldn’t be the case. I have clients around the world. My contact in Thailand regularly sends me requests during her normal work hours, which is the middle of the night for me. When you have a backlog of requests nagging at you on a weekend and you have some down time, it’s easy to think you’re “getting ahead” by squeezing in just a few more articles. In three weeks, I’ll be taking three weeks off (forced without Wi-Fi thanks to rural India). It will be the first time I don’t work for more than one day, consecutively, in five years.

  1. I set my own schedule (for the most part)

Of course there are deadlines, but here’s the thing: Writers are notoriously flaky (I know, I’ve gone through a laundry list when hiring them myself). That means clients often give me way more time than necessary. Thus, I work when I like, can take any gym class I want, shop in the middle of a weekday, and never have an issue squeezing in appointments.

In the end, there are pros and cons just like any work situation. I don’t miss the commute, the “having” to get ready every day, or the staring contest with the clock when you’re working by the hour. However, the work from home lifestyle isn’t “easy”, either—luckily for me, I just happen to be cut out for it. It’s about finding the best environment, career path, and work style for you (and if yoga pants fit into the picture, that’s all the better).

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5 Options for Writing Inspiration

Food motivated? Cash motivated? Seeing your byline in a new journal motivated? Find what works for you. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at the Alder Foodcart Pods in Portland, Ore.).
Food motivated? Cash motivated? Seeing your byline in a new journal motivated? Find what works for you. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at the Alder Foodcart Pods in Portland, Ore.).

I’ll admit it—there was a time (cough, early 20s) when I felt like I needed to be “inspired” to write my best pieces. This certainly put a kink in homework for my poetry classes. After all, if I wasn’t “feeling” alliteration or the urge to write my own version of a Robert Frost poem, what was the point? Of course, as a Type-A, I always got it done (and there were some real loser pieces that I hope never see the light of day), but that wasn’t the big issue. The big issue was this: A “real” writer, one who makes a living at it, can’t wait for inspiration or motivation.

 

On average, I write between 20-50 pieces per day for a variety of clients. I really aim for a five-day work week, so that’s up to 250 unique pieces every single week. With those kinds of numbers, you certainly can’t wait around waiting for the mood to strike. That’s like a prostitute in Nevada (let’s keep it legal) waiting to be in the mood before taking on the next client. They’re not going to be very successful. You need to suck it up, fake it at times, and get it done.

 

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some “tricks” (pun a happy accident). Here are my favorite ways to up the motivation:

 

  1. Do a quick Google News search

 

Does your client want a piece about mobile readiness with a link to a site about eco-friendliness? Have you written seemingly thousands of mobile readiness blogs or articles in your career? The best way to get a fresh perspective or cutting edge information is to peruse your favorite news source. Mine is Google for starters. Even seeing a headline can give you inspiration for a fresh new angle.

 

  1. Work out

 

Some of my best ideas have come mid-cardio—which means I always have a means of taking notes when I’m working out. Usually, this is most helpful mid-day right before that staple afternoon slump. The pumping blood, endorphins, change of scenery and adrenaline are a great cocktail for motivation. Plus, it counteracts that poor writer’s posture.

 

  1. Work as soon as you wake up

 

Studies have shown that most people are most productive within the first few hours of waking up. It doesn’t matter if you wake up at 4am sometimes to work (guilty) or noon. Take advantage of your most rested, alert and motivated time of day. This is where procrastinators can get in trouble—so make sure a reward (like breakfast) is waiting after a certain number of pieces are done.

 

  1. Track your daily income

 

Once you know how much you’d like to make per year, break it down by month, week and day. If you need a kick in the pants to power through, track how much you’ve made so far for the day. Suddenly busting out a few more pieces to make that mark is a little easier.

 

  1. Do a chore as your “mini break”

 

I’m a big supporter of mini breaks throughout the day. It helps to rejuvenate your eyes, ensures you’re moving on a regular basis, and basically keeps you from going writer crazy a la Jack Torrance. However, if you work at home and your “break” is something like putting away the laundry, it’s a two-part win. 1) You’re getting a chore done and 2) Suddenly writing one more blog doesn’t seem that bad compared to hanging up your t-shirts.

 

How do you get motivated as a writer?

 

 

4 SEO Resolutions for 2015

No matter how you ring in the New Year, make sure it's spiked with SEO.
No matter how you ring in the New Year, make sure it’s spiked with SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical part of any business with an online presence. Unfortunately, the majority of small businesses in the US have no website—even fewer have SEO in place. SEO is an ever-evolving set of best practices that help your website get ranked higher on search engines like Google based on “your” keywords or key phrases. For example, a dog groomer in Portland might have “Portland dog grooming” as one of their key phrases. When someone types that into Google, there’s a reason certain websites come up as the first hit and others come up on page three.

Studies have shown that almost nobody looks beyond the first page of search results. Few people even look past the first few hits. There are many items included in SEO, but content is king. SEO algorithms “want” high quality, unique content with just the right amount of keyword density. There was a time when keyword stuffing (sometimes to such a degree that the content read like nonsense) was a shortcut to boosting your SEO ranking. Those days are over because algorithms are better, and it’s now considered a “black hat trick” and might even result in a Google penalty.

Does your website have the SEO-rich content and other strategies necessary going into 2015? Here’s a checklist to be sure:

  1. Ditch the black hat tricks

Some website owners embrace black hat tactics and don’t even know it. Others hire an SEO “professional” who try to get away with it. If you get caught by Google, it’s tough to get back in their good graces. Learn the basics of black hat tricks so you know what not to do.

  1. Revere quality, SEO-rich content

Just like it’s not easy to be a premium website developer or graphic designer, it’s not simple to be a skilled writer with SEO know-how. It’s not enough to just have quality content on your website. You need SEO-rich content to help move up the rankings.

  1. Speed things up

One of the SEO ranking factors is speed, and there are many factors to consider. Maybe your web developer needs to re-format the images or videos, maybe you need to change web hosts, or maybe responsive design isn’t being taken care of. Google researchers have shown that the average person won’t wait even a blink of an eye (literally) longer than they feel is normal for a site to load. They’re quick to back click.

  1. Optimize for Amazon

For years, “SEO” and “SEO for Google” have been used interchangeably because Google is the most popular search engine in the US. Even though Google is notoriously secretive about their algorithm, guru-employees like Matt Cutts also dish up plenty of SEO advice. Chances are high that what’s good for Google is good for Bing, Yahoo!, or any other search engine.

But now there’s Amazon. If you’re an e-tailer or you’re connected to Amazon in any way, it’s time to start optimizing for this shopping search engine as well as Google. People search differently on Amazon and have different objectives. Your SEO needs to reflect this.

The best way to do this? Hire a reputable SEO agency. You get what you pay for, especially with SEO. If you have a website that’s not optimized—and you’re on page two for all your keywords—you may as well not be online.

 

 

Bartering: The Writer’s Secret Tool

A fair "trade": Offering a cheetah her dinner in exchange for a fantastic experience. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore.).
A fair “trade”: Offering a cheetah her dinner in exchange for a fantastic experience. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore.).

There was a time I paid for everything for my professional site—web development, logo design, professional photos, you name it. I’m not saying that there aren’t fantastic professionals out there who more than deserve their quotes and bids for a job well done. There certainly are, and they certainly do. However, don’t overlook a great barter arrangement when you can swing it.

Bartering: It’s the world’s oldest means of getting and providing services. However, you need to make sure it’s a fair trade. Almost everyone has a marketable skill that someone else wants. Maybe you’re a certified yoga instructor, a contractor, an SEO guru or an amateur photographer with serious skills. What happens when you want a service from a professional outside your skill set? This is the perfect opportunity for bartering.

My Bartering Experience

One year ago, I paid (handsomely) to have a new logo created. I did my research, checked out her online portfolio, and paid the industry standard. However, the end result just wasn’t what I wanted. I’m no graphic designer, so perhaps much of this was my fault. Even as a communicator (writer) for a living, was I just not explaining what I wanted? I didn’t have a specific “look” in mind, but I was open and descriptive in the general theme and look.

However, the end result (to me) just looked amateur, outdated, and not at all how I wanted to represent my business. I accepted it, paid it, and felt like I was playing dress up in someone else’s clothes.

Then I stumbled across a Craigslist post to barter landing page content for graphic design skills.

Just the Right Fit

The logo that I use today (complete with the pen in the “M” of MehtaFor) was designed by Lisa Lynch. You can check out her graphic design chops yourself, as well as her jewelry design. There was never any money exchanged. We both got what we wanted, it was a money saver for both parties—and for me it was proof that bartering isn’t a cheapskate’s way of making something happen.

No matter what your industry, take a look at bartering options and see what’s out there. However, for writers in particular, you already know your skills are in high demand. Why not swap a blog for a massage session, some product descriptions for some free handcrafted goods, or landing page content for complimentary mechanical work?

Quality+Speed: The Equation for Making Money Writing

Passion's great, but it doesn't pay the bills. Define your "hourly rate" so you can work less..and then have time, resources and peace of mind for passion project. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta at the Eastbank Esplanade, Portland, Ore.).
Passion’s great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Define your “hourly rate” so you can work less…and then have the time, resources and peace of mind for passion project. (Photo: Flickr, Chintan Mehta at the Eastbank Esplanade, Portland, Ore.).

The equation for making money writing is simple—it’s just quality plus speed. You need to be able to write exceptionally “good stuff” in as short amount of time as possible. I have some clients (those who pay over a certain benchmark) who demand publication-ready work (others have their own editors in place). In this instance, I use one of my editors to do a final copy edit/fact check, and they get a cut of the final price. However, even after my editor’s fee, I still “have” to make a certain amount per piece (and ultimately per hour) in order to make a project worthwhile.

My first rule of thumb with writing? Never accept an hourly rate.

I offer either a price per word, or a flat rate per project based on an average word count. Your per word or per project rate can be whatever you like, but you need to know what the “hourly rate” will boil down to. Different projects will take more or less time. For example, a 450 word blog with no image curation, no links required, and on a subject you’re really familiar with is going to be much faster and easier than a 450 word blog that requires a quality stock image that’s cited, three authority links, and is about EPDM roof coatings (which you’ve never heard about in your life—at least I hadn’t!).

First, figure out the “hourly rate” you need/want. Then choose projects per word or per hour accordingly.

How a Writer’s Time is Money

You’re going to get paid the same for a $20 blog whether it takes you five minutes to write or five hours. Remember that it’s quality+speed. Does a five-minute blog sound insane? It shouldn’t once you get your writing career rolling. I have numerous long-term clients where it takes me less than ten minutes to read what they want, write the blog, find authority links, and upload it to their system or email back the assignment. From beginning to end, that’s $20 for ten minutes or less—which is ultimately $120 per hour.

Pro tip: If you didn’t learn proper typing as a child, it’s not too late to take a class. I type 120 WPM with a 99 percent accuracy rate. It’s never too late to ditch the two-finger typing approach, and it’ll dramatically boost your speed. Plus, those typing classes can be a tax write-off.

What can you do in 60 minutes?

Personally, my “hourly rate” is between $100-$200 per hour. Let’s break this down. Averaging $150 per hour and assuming 40 hours per week, that’s $6,000 per week. Assuming 50 weeks of work per year (allowing for a two week vacation—crucial for writers!), that’s $300,000 per year. That’s how you make money as a writer: Speed, quality, and knowing your “hourly rate”.

New writers will of course demand less as they’re starting out. Plus, sometimes the experience is worth more than the money in the early stages. If you have the opportunity to write in a lucrative field, there will be a steep learning curve. This might include SEO, a certain medical field, technology, etc. Only you can determine if still getting paid (albeit below your goal “hourly rate”) is worth the learning experience and your time.

It’s not enough to be a great writer. You need to be a great, speedy writer. That’s what makes the difference between the clichéd starving artist and a six-figure salary.

 

So You’re a Writer…What’s Your Real Job?

Do your passion, even when others think it's foolish. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta from An Elefabulous Evening at Wildlife Safari, Winston, Ore.).
Do your passion, even when others think it’s foolish. (Photo: Personal, by Chintan Mehta from An Elefabulous Evening at Wildlife Safari, Winston, Ore.).

Contrary to popular belief, you really can write for a living without the need of a second job, part-time job, inheritance or wealthy love interest. I know because I’m doing it, but there’s still a big, stinky stigma around writers as professionals. Plus, I also boast a lot of cliches myself. Yes, I got my undergrad degree in English (making it even better by specializing in British Medieval Literature, and then going on for a master’s degree in writing). Yes, I love to read, I consider myself a “creative type” and I’ve published books through a traditional trade press. However, that’s largely where the stereotypes end.

Before founding MehtaFor and writing (much more!) than full time, I worked for a variety of non-profits for eight years. My titles ranged from Director of Alumni Relations to Director of Event Coordination. It basically meant I was writing press releases, grant proposals, RFPs, website content, brochures and everything else you can imagine. I was a writer with a different title charged with a bunch of admin tasks to boot.

They weren’t horrible jobs, but it just wasn’t the right fit. Why couldn’t I make a living doing both what I love and what I was naturally good at? The better question was, “What the heck took me so long?”

Happy Accidents

I stumbled into entrepreneurship and then small business ownership (and then training others to do what I do) the way a lot of people get there: Getting laid off during the Great Recession. The department I was working for closed, and I had an opportunity to move to Costa Rica (where cost of living is much lower), so I grabbed it. En route, I picked up my first freelance writing gig from a Craigslist fluke.

A few years later, and plenty of hard lessons later, business has blossomed. Here’s what nobody tells English majors in college: Every single business, regardless of size, needs professional writing. Some businesses figure it out sooner than others. Especially in the digital era and the age of mobile readiness, this means writers who specialize in web content, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, etc. are particularly in high demand.

Writing. It’s a recession-proof job with endless projects, clients and opportunities if you’re good, fast, and know where the best (for you) clients are.

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