Why You Need to Say No In Order to Grow

Just Say No with a flower box of daisies

As a solopreneur, there’s only so much work I can take on. Even if I work with my favorite trusted freelancers. Even if I work a few extra hours. Sometimes, I have to say no.

But, it’s tempting to take on just one extra project. Or to say “yes” when a favorite client asks you to take on a project that’s not part of your core capabilities but that you could potentially take on.

We tell ourselves that doing these things will help us grow our business when in reality, the opposite is true. As solopreneurs, it’s what we say “no” to that will actually help us grow. Let me explain.

That Extra Project Can Burst Your Dam

Many of us say “yes” to things we don’t have time for—to clients, friends, and even family—without thinking through the consequences. We become women who do too much and are miserable about not doing any of it up to our standards.

It’s hard to know exactly when you’ve gotten to your maximum capacity for doing. Plus, that capacity can ebb and flow over time and is affected by your health and relationships in addition to your work.

So, unfortunately, we find out we’ve taken on too much only after the fact when we crash—hard.

How to Know if You Are Overcommitted

Here are a few signs you’re nearing your capacity or are already overcommitted and about to burst your dam:

  • You aren’t practicing self-care. Yes, a latte can be self-care. But if it is the only self-care you’ve done in months, you need a reset.
  • You are ignoring health issues.  It can be hard to find time to exercise, go to doctor appointments, and other things maintaining our health requires. But the consequences of not doing so is even more costly.
  • You’re not getting critical tasks done. You have a stack of unopened mail you haven’t gotten to, including bills that need to be paid. The kitchen light has been out for weeks. You can’t seem to get to important day-to-day tasks because they seem exhausting.
  • You are working longer hours without seeing results. Tasks that used to take you an hour are taking two. Projects that could be completed within a two-week timeline are taking three. You’re tired and burnt out.
  • You’re skimping on sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a nice quip, but it’s a bad motto to try to live by. Your body needs at least seven hours of sleep each day for you to feel rested and be productive.
  • Crying at your desk (or in the ladies room) is the new normal. We all need to have a good cry every so often. But if every so often is every day, that’s your body’s way of telling you things are NOT alright.

When you are seeing these signs, it’s imperative you start to say no.

How to Say No And Improve Your Client Relationships

Overcommitment isn’t the only hazard that comes from an inability to say no. As I mentioned in a recent post over on Hey Orca’s blog, saying yes to client requests can actually be a great way to ruin a solopreneur or small agency’s biggest advantage—their specialization.

Before saying yes to a client that asks if you can do an activity that’s outside of your team’s core capabilities, you need to do a frank assessment. Can you deliver what they need at the same level of excellence as the rest of your work for them? If you can’t answer with a confident “yes,” then don’t branch out!

Your clients are drawn to you by what you do best. Any additional work you do for them needs to be at that same level of competence. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining their opinion of your work overall and damaging your brand. No client wants you or your team to be learning on their dime. They want to hire you because you presumably already have experience with what they are paying you to do.

And this is where having a network of trusted associates comes in. I know a number of small agency owners and freelancers who offer services that complement mine. I’ve worked on some of their client projects, and I’ve referred my clients to them for other projects. These are all people I enjoy working with and whom I know will give my clients the same level of service I provide. And while I’m not going to have a direct financial benefit from referring client business to my network (i.e. I’m not paying out or asking for referral fees) it pays off when it comes to that client relationship.

How to Get Comfortable With Saying No

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to know you need to say no and it’s something else entirely to actually do it. Especially when it’s saying no to a big client. Here are a few ideas on how to approach it:

  • Reframe your “no” as a positive. It can help to reframe how you think about—and present—your “no” as being a helpful statement, not as letting your client down. “I’m honored you’ve asked us to [request]. It’s a little out of our wheelhouse, so I’d love to introduce you to [person] who specializes in that. I’m confident they can deliver on it for you.
  • You’d love to, but you’re booked. Realistically, every solopreneur or small agency only has so much capacity. Use this to your advantage as a way to buy an easy out with a client who may not want to take “no” for an answer.
  • Focus on the fit. Be direct and let them know the project isn’t the right fit for your current staff and their core skill sets. And then refer them to someone else who is.
  • Don’t say no, say “yes, but”. Let them know you’d love to help them. However, since it’s outside your area of expertise, it’s going to take X amount of time, plus X amount of external resources or training or tools, so it may be a better fit for [your referral].
  • Delay the no. If you’re just not comfortable saying “no” on the spot, buy yourself some time by thanking them for the ask, and saying you need to talk it over with the team (even if “the team” is your cat) and you’ll get back to them. Then, you can get back to them through a channel you’re more comfortable using for your no.

The good news is, it gets easier to say no every time you say it. And a client you have a solid relationship with will respect your boundaries and accept that no without it having an adverse effect on your relationship. And in the best case scenario, you’ll be the rock star who introduced them to a specialist that knocked their critical project out of the park.

Have a helpful tip for saying no? Let me know in the comments.

It’s Time for Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

It's Time for Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

Living well is the best revenge. This is true when it comes to your career as well. But we can forget that when we are in the middle of a career crisis.

It’s easy to get caught up in obsessing over the unfair performance review. Or to sit around in your sweats binge-watching Netflix after getting fired. Or to obsessively read the Facebook and Instagram updates of the person who got the promotion you were gunning for but didn’t get.

You can spend days obsessing about what went wrong, and drafting and redrafting emails that show how you were wronged. But none of those activities are going to help you get your career back on track.

Take 24 hours to find some way to release that anger. Go to the gym. Take a hot bath and scream under the bubbles. Do whatever you need to do to address your anger and let off some steam. Now you’re ready to take all that negative energy and channel it into something productive. And that’s where the revenge career communications plan comes in.

What’s a Revenge Career Communications Plan?

Just to be clear, a revenge communications plan is not where you lay out a plan to undermine your current/former/potential employer by talking smack about them. Rather, it’s a communications plan and content strategy you devise to get your career back on track after a setback.

For instance, let’s say you had a boss give you a performance review with your area of improvement being your communication skills. You’re a marketing communications manager, whose prior jobs have all been communications roles. You think you’ve got some pretty solid communications skills, but your boss apparently does not.

Now here’s the thing: sometimes we get tough feedback we don’t want to hear. But that’s entirely different from getting flat out incorrect, career-limiting feedback. When the feedback is wrong, it’s up to you to show your boss that side of yourself to help change their opinion. And that’s where a revenge career communications plan can come in handy.

A revenge communications plan is, at its heart, a content and comms strategy that fully aligns with your career development plan by positioning yourself as a thought leader in your field with those who can help you on your career path. It’s the means by which you are going to show the world—including that company/peer/boss who has the wrong picture about you—what you can do when you set your mind to it.

4 Times You May Need a Revenge Career Communications Plan

Over the past 20+ years as a manager and consultant, here are a few of the situations where I’ve recommended putting together a revenge career communications plan:

  1. You earned a promotion but had it suddenly withdrawn without cause. You then received negative feedback regarding your skill set that you feel is not accurate.
  2. You were passed over for a promotion. You made a strong business case for the promotion, but your peers didn’t see you as demonstrating the right skill set.
  3. You were fired from a job that made poor use of your skills. You don’t have work samples you want to show anyone as a result.
  4. You were second runner-up for your dream job. They went for someone with the same amount of experience but who had a more developed personal brand.

In each of these examples, you need to change public opinion regarding your skill set and area of expertise. And that’s exactly what your revenge communications plan is all about.

What to Include in Your Revenge Communications Plan

Before we dive into the plan itself, just to be clear, this plan is for you. It is not something you are going to share with your boss. You are not going to post it on Facebook and tell everyone this is how you are going to show them what a big mistake you made. It’s just for you. It’s your personal action plan for how you are going to use your communications skills to get your career on track.

Here are its basic components:

  1. Your objective. Start with your why. What are you trying to accomplish with this plan? An objective could be “Improve my reputation as a knowledgeable content strategist and valuable member of the marketing industry.”
  2. Goals to support your objective. What does “improve my reputation mean” in a quantifiable way? Goals to support this example objective could be have your LinkedIn profile appear in 50% more LinkedIn searches, to increase your overall personal social media engagement rate to 5%, and to increase the average number of social shares of any content you produce by 25%.
  3. Strategy for reaching those goals. What is it going to take to reach your goals? For example, it could include build relationships with industry influencers and invite them to collaborate on content creation, join and participate in relevant industry communities, and identify opportunities for more 1:1 connections and conversations on LinkedIn.
  4. Measuring your progress. How do you know that your actions have made an impact? For example, your metrics could include the following actions — publish a weekly blog post, include influencers in 25% of all content creation, and contribute two guest blog posts per month.
  5. Your differentiator. What can you offer your audience that no one else can? For instance, perhaps the other prominent experts in your field have only held consultant roles for the past 20 years while you have been in-house in the trenches doing the work. Your differentiator will influence the key messages you include in all your communications and your content creation.
  6. Your audience. Who are you specifically trying to reach with your content and communications? Whose opinion are you trying to sway? For example, you could be trying to reach those who influence the opinion of your boss or future employer.
  7. What’s in it for the audience. What will your audience get that’s useful to them from the content and communications you’ll produce? Yes, your content needs to help you with your goals. But how do you make it a win-win? For example, you could host a meetup for other content strategists. The get to mingle with and share ideas with their peers and your newly engaged audience might help influence your current boss’s opinion of your skill set. Or they could even be potential new employers.
  8. Your topics. What are the topics you’re going to focus on to reach your goals? Be sure to focus on topics where you have expertise and passion. For example, don’t decide to focus on Facebook video just because it’s a hot topic. You want to find a niche that combines your personal expertise with something that will engage your audience.
  9. Calls to action. What do you want people to do after they consume your content? Do you want them to share it on social? Are you looking to start a conversation? Clearly define the next steps you want people to take after interacting with your content and communications.

Choose the Right Activities to Support Your Revenge Career Communications Plan

One of the most difficult parts of all this can be identifying the right activities that will support your objectives and prioritizing your time to do them. After all, you can’t spend all day on social media, crafting creative content, and networking in Slack communities. You’ve got to prioritize.

Start by identifying a couple of content channels that appeal to you. A few thought leadership-building content creation activities you could consider include:

  • Blog on your own site
  • Guest blog for industry blogs and publications
  • Start a podcast
  • Host a meetup
  • Create an online course
  • Host a webinar
  • Provide free office hours where you use your skills to help nonprofits or SMBs
  • Submit presentation proposals for industry conferences

Next, identify the communications activities that can also work towards your goals. These could include:

  • Update your social media profiles to focus on the topics you identified
  • Overhaul your LinkedIn profile to better reflect the career path you want versus the jobs you’ve had
  • Curate a list of key influencers to engage with on social media and in-person
  • Attend relevant industry conferences
  • Participate in online communities or forums related to your topics
  • Become a regular in a popular industry Twitter chat [shameless plug: check out #ContentChat, the weekly chat I moderate, if you’re a content marketer]
  • Share your career accomplishments—both internally and publicly

It’s tempting to try to do all the things. But it’s not realistic. Think about how much time you have to commit to your revenge career communications plan. Which of these activities have the highest likelihood to help you meet your goals? And it’s OK if this activity mix changes over time! It may take some trial and error for you to find the right types of content and communications to connect with your ideal audience.

Measure—and Bask in—Your Success

As you put your revenge communications plan into action, hold yourself accountable by regularly tracking your progress against your goals. Did you pick the right activities to help you reach your objectives? If not, it’s time to revise your plan. Did you hit a milestone or achieve one of your goals? Take time to celebrate that win!

We all have those moments when all we want is to get even with someone we feel has wronged us. But instead of wasting time daydreaming about getting even, putting together and acting on your own revenge career communications plan puts all that creative energy to work for you instead of against you. And who knows, you just may find your true career calling in the process.

Header image made with original photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship | citygirlcareer.com
Photo by Mariya Pampova on Unsplash.

When you’re freelancing, it’s great to land a juicy project. But it’s even better to build relationships that continue over time. It’s so much easier to do outstanding work for a company and a client you’ve gotten to know over the years.

But all too often, creative projects are one and done, leaving freelancers scrambling to find their next client. So, what does it take to build longer-lasting relationships? Start by understanding the challenges companies face when working with freelancers.

This infographic from Robert Half sums up their recent freelancing survey results:

The Future of Freelancing infographic from Robert Half
Infographic from Robert Half (Source: https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/the-future-of-work/the-future-of-freelancing)

5 Ways to Stand Out as a Freelancer

So, how does this help you, as a freelancer? It gives you some helpful insights into how to stand out from the competition by addressing the top challenges companies reported. Here are five concrete actions you can take to help address your freelance clients’ challenges:

  • Get involved. Give your client ideas for how to make you feel like part of the team. This could include your working on-site on a regular basis, being invited to team Slack channels, or even taking part in annual kickoff meetings. Get yourself added to internal email lists and subscribe to their newsletter. Follow the company on social media. Show you’re taking a proactive interest in getting to know them and their business challenges.
  • Provide project pricing. Everyone hates negotiating rates, including freelancers. And when it comes to hourly fees, many companies have a set maximum rate that can’t be exceeded without special approval. By setting a deliverables-based fee, you can get paid what you’re worth and provide the client with a concrete budget number. That’s what we call a win-win.
  • Toot your own horn. Are you looking for new freelance clients? Let your network know. Have you added some new skills or areas of expertise to your offering? Update your LinkedIn profile and your website to include those new skills. Finished an especially creative project you’re proud of? Share it with your clients so they can see what you can do!
  • Communicate early and often. Each of us has our own communication preferences. While some clients spend their day in Slack, others prefer a quick text or email. Find out the best channel to use for communicating with your client, then use it to ask questions, provide updates, and generally keep your project moving. No one likes a deadline to come and go without the promised deliverables. But when you keep a conversation going, deadlines or scope can be adjusted, keeping everyone happy.
  • Have an onboarding plan. When I take on a new client, I ask for their content strategy, brand style guide, and brand voice documentation. If they don’t have all of these items, I make sure to obtain a solid creative brief that we go over in a meeting, to ensure I’m up-to-speed on their brand. What do YOU need to know to make your project a success? Ask for it up front and give yourself enough time to go through it before starting your project.

While these five actions won’t guarantee repeat freelance work from a client, they should go a long way towards running a smooth project and creating solid deliverables. And that’s a good recipe for earning positive referrals and repeat business.

My Portfolio Career Update

My Portfolio Career Update

In 2013, when I started this blog, I was just fully taking inventory of my portfolio career.

After a decade working in marketing for Fortune 500 companies, I was ready for a new challenge. I found it in working with start-ups on content marketing strategy.

But like many portfolio careerists, despite being able to successfully make the leap to self-employment, I wasn’t quite ready to commit full-time to the  solopreneur life.

When my biggest client gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse to come onboard as a full-time employee, I accepted.

But growing a global content marketing team didn’t leave much time for my portfolio career pursuits.

After a year with a full-time singular focus, I decided to pursue something different.

It’s my long-term goal to operate my own content marketing agency. But I hadn’t ever worked as a full-time agency employee.

I went to work for one of the Bay Area’s top high tech PR firms to head their content studio. The job gave me the variety I craved. I got to work with dozens of different, fascinating start-ups.

But I missed the autonomy of working for myself. And the ability to pick and choose only clients who were a good match for the content marketing activities I’m the best at and most enjoy doing.

Welcome Back to the Solopreneur Life

Even once I went solo again, I still wasn’t committed to the solopreneur life. I instead took on a 30-hour per week client that had the potential to become a full-time job.

But this past Spring I realized I’m not looking for a full-time position working for someone else.

What I really want is to work full-time for me.

And once I made that decision, the right projects started coming to me.

I found some great co-working spaces so I can get out of the house. I started a private Slack channel and invited my favorite content and social solopreneurs and departments of one. I opened a business checking account.

I finally 100% committed to doing this.

It was while working with a career coaching client that I realized I needed to come back here, and revive this blog.

There’s already some great tools here for identifying your core competencies and creating a social media plan to support your personal brand.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more ideas and resources for creating the career path that fits your life. And I’m also working on some online courses to help you through crafting your own career development plan. Stay tuned. And let me know what you’d like to hear from me.