Category Archives: Home Office

Encore! How to be Self-Employed and Stay Motivated.

How to be Self-Employed and Stay Motivated. “When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.”  ~ Greg Anderson

Most of my working life I’ve being self-employed, first as a documentary filmmaker and now as a personal historian.  There have been ups and downs but on the whole I’ve been able to stay motivated. What’s the secret? Here are the things that have worked for me … Read More


From the Archives: Shut Down Your Computer!

Shut Down Your Computer! If you’re like most personal historians, you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen. I certainly do. Lately, I’ve come across information that suggests that I need to shut off my computer and get outside. In fact, if I don’t, it could kill me! A recent Swedish  study reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that  prolonged sitting can lead to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. While this isn’t earth shattering … Read More


How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

Disclosure. I’ve contributed one small item to this book but I will not be receiving any renumeration from its sale.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Campbell’s recent book  Start and Run a Personal History Business published by Self-Counsel Press. If you’re thinking of making personal histories a business, you owe it to yourself to get this book. Jennifer knows her stuff. She’s been a professional personal historian since 2002 and prior to that had a 25 year career as an editor, writer, and interviewer.

This 180 page book is packed with the kind of information I wish I had when I was starting out. The 16 Chapters cover:

  • the world of personal history
  • the business of personal history
  • getting started
  • business foundations
  • pricing
  • producing a sample
  • a guide to producing a personal history
  • interviewing
  • marketing
  • an online presence
  • publicity and promotion
  • sales
  • client relations and customer service
  • time management and project management
  • growing your business
  • accelerating your success and managing growth

In addition, the book comes with a CD-ROM which includes all of the sample templates used in the book as well as resources to help you in your business.

If you buy Personal History Business for nothing else than the chapter on pricing, it’s well worth the investment. For personal historians who are starting out, determining what to charge clients is a challenge. Jennifer’s detailed step-by-step approach will give you the help you need to ensure that you keep your business profitable.

What struck me about the book is that Jennifer makes it clear that running a personal history business takes more than just a love of people and their stories. Her book is like a splash of cold water.  After reading it, if you’re still enthusiastic about establishing a personal history business, you’ll  go into it with your eyes wide open. A word of caution. Don’t become overwhelmed by the content. There’s a lot to digest. Read it through once for an overview and then come back to chew on smaller portions.

I like Jennifer’s candor. For example, on business plans she says, “Like a lot of small business owners, I resisted doing a business plan for a long time. I think it was a psychological block…I finally got some serious business coaching…”  In my eyes, her honesty makes her more credible because I know that she’s writing from personal experience.

The book is also sprinkled with useful tips. They’re terrific. And I wish she’d included more of them and highlighted them so they stood out from the surrounding copy. This brings me to my only real concern and that’s the overall layout and design of the book.

My personal preference is for some breathing space around blocks of text. I found the information on the pages visually congested. I longed for more white space, bolder titles, and little sidebars with tidbits of information, like her “tips”.  I would have found it easier to absorb the wealth of material with more visual help. Having said this, I’m aware that there are production costs to consider when designing a book. And Self-Counsel Press, the publishers,  probably have a standard layout from which there can be  little deviation.

Layout and design aside, this is an excellent book. If you’re serious about establishing a personal history business, you need to do two things -  buy a copy of  Start & Run A Personal History Business and join the Association of Personal Historians.

From the Archives: 12 Key Tips for Successfully Working Alone.

12 Key Tips for Successfully Working Alone. I’ve been self-employed  for twenty years. I’ve loved being my own boss. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There have been some real challenges and some hard slogging. Over time I’ve learned some things about working alone  and I’d like to share them with you. Maybe you’ve got some additional tips. If so, please share them by leaving a comment below. Create a home office. It’s important to keep your overhead down so don’t spend money on … Read More

From the Archives: The Power of “No”.

The Power of "No". Saying “no” politely is a necessity if one wants to lead any kind of stable life. ~ Richard Chamberlain

The “N” word has a bad reputation. It’s seen as negative and mean. Many of us find it hard to say. But saying No will help you not only with your work as a personal historian but also with your life in general. I’m getting better at saying No but there’s room for improvement. The reality is that saying No is a healthy way of providing us with  … Read More

From The Archives: The Cluttered of The World Unite!

The Cluttered of The World Unite! I don’t rant very often. In fact the last time I ranted was here in December 2008.  I feel another rant coming on. It’s been building. So stand back! We seem to be inundated these days with exhortations from neatness mavens to declutter and organize our lives for a happier and better tomorrow. The implication seems to be that a cluttered existence is a sign of failing. There’s a whiff of Puritanism to all this. We are told that being cluttered … Read More

What Gardening Can Teach You About Growing Your Business.

Do you want your business to grow? Then why not apply some basic gardening know-how to your enterprise?

It’s  harvest time here in Canada.  And I have a bumper tomato crop. Well, it’s just one pot but it’s outdone itself. It got me thinking that running a business is not unlike  nurturing a garden.

Choose appropriate plants. Experienced gardeners know that to grow the healthiest plants they need to select varieties that suit the local climate. How do you select your clients?

  • Aim your marketing at those who need your service. There’s no point in wasting time and money going after clients who have little interest in your product or service. Take the time to  research carefully who your potential clients are and where you’re likely to find them.  If you’re a personal historian, one of your client groups will be older people wanting to leave a legacy for their children or grandchildren. Another group will likely be parents  who want a record of Grandma or Grandpa’s story to pass on to their children.

Fertilize. Every garden needs an appropriate amount of good organic fertilizer to replenish the soil and ensure long-term growth. What are you doing to fertilize your business? What would you add to my list?

  • Conferences. A good conference is invigorating. It connects you to new people and ideas. That’s why I’m attending this year’s APH Conference in Victoria.
  • Courses and workshops. These are great ways to learn how to  enhance your business skills.
  • Downtime. It can be a mini-break in the day for exercise or meditation or a longer absence such as a vacation or sabbatical. Whatever you decide, downtime is an important way to nourish you and your business.
  • Networking. Getting out and meeting people is one of the tried and true methods of growing your business.

Dig out the weeds. If you let the weeds overrun your garden, they soon sap the strength of your plants and in some cases kill them. What weeds are growing in your business? What others would you add to my list?

  • clients from hell
  • unorganized filing systems
  • time-sucking distractions like daytime TV or social networking
  • lethargy
  • scattered or non-existent marketing plans

Watering. Not all  plants need the same amount of water. Over or under-watering can be the downfall of many a gardener. Here are some examples of over-watering or under-watering a business. What are your examples?

  • Over-watering. Overwhelming potential clients with too much marketing, e.g. fliers, e-mails, telephone solicitations, and newsletters.
  • Under-watering. Failure to acknowledge the person who sent you a referral or not sending former clients a greeting at special times of the year like Christmas or birthdays.

With patience and good gardening practices you can better your chances of growing a flourishing business. How’s your garden growing?

Photo by Ajith Kumar

How to be Self-Employed and Stay Motivated.

When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.
~ Greg Anderson

Most of my working life I’ve been self-employed, first as a documentary filmmaker and now as a personal historian.  There have been ups and downs but on the whole I’ve been able to stay motivated. What’s the secret? Here are the things that have worked for me.

Believe in what you’re doing.

This is crucial. If you’re not happy with what you’re working at, then it’s almost impossible to stay motivated. For me, I know that being a personal historian satisfies some of my deepest values. It’s something I wrote about  previously in Why Are You a Personal Historian?

Take a break from your work.

No matter how passionate you are about your work, your motivation will wane if you don’t take time off. Now it doesn’t have to be a month in Tahiti although that does sound enticing. I’m talking about something simpler – things like getting away from your computer for 15 to 20 minute breaks every hour or two, making sure to take a day for yourself at least once a week, and planning a major  holiday every year. I previously wrote about vacations here and here.

Ensure you have an attractive place to work.

If your heart sinks every time you head to your work place, something’s wrong. Take a hard look at your office. Is it dark and cluttered with ugly mismatched furniture? You’ll be more motivated if your office is a place where you actually like to work. Make sure it has some natural light, ergonomic furniture, your favorite colors, and some attractive pictures on the wall. I love my office which occupies the front of the second floor of our house. It has two large windows that face east and look out on a small park across the street.

Remind yourself of the benefits.

I only worked as a salaried employee for a fraction of my work life but I know what I didn’t like about it.There were the office politics, incompetent managers, endless, often nonproductive meetings, and commuting, to name but a few. Being self-employed I have the benefits of setting my own goals and pace. I can select the kind of projects I want to do. I decide the fees to charge and when to take a break. Reminding myself of these benefits is a great motivator.

Have your very own cheerleaders.

If you work on your own, it can be  isolating. You need to have people who’ll be there to sympathize with you, give you a boost, and offer timely advice. The Association of Personal Historians is another source of support. This is a group of colleagues who understand what I’m going through and provide great advice 24/7.

Create variety.

No matter how much you love your work, it can become a bore and a drain on your motivation if you’re always doing the same thing. That’s why I like to challenge  myself to find different or better ways to deliver my personal history services. I started with video life stories and then tried my hand at books. Now I have this blog.  I find I’m stretched and stimulated and continually motivated.

What do you do to stay motivated?

Photo by h. koppdelaney

Shut Down Your Computer!

If you’re like most personal historians, you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen. I certainly do. Lately, I’ve come across information that suggests that I need to shut off my computer and get outside. In fact, if I don’t, it could kill me!

A recent Swedish  study reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that  prolonged sitting can lead to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. While this isn’t earth shattering news,  the discovery that no amount of exercise  eradicates this risk certainly was.

A similar Canadian study published last year tracked more than 17,000 for an average of twelve years. It also found that exercising had no effect on reducing health risks in sedentary people. Clearly, if I want to live longer, I’d better get up from my computer more often and start moving!

If that’s not convincing enough, here’s another reason to unplug your computer. This week I came across an article in The Harvard Business Review, For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More. The author Tony Schwartz argues quite persuasively that working ten or twelve hour days is counterproductive. What we need to be doing is following our natural ultradian rhythms. This is a cycle that runs from higher to lower mental alertness every 90 minutes throughout the day. Schwartz says we should take meaningful breaks after every 90 minutes of work. He himself has a routine that sees him have breakfast after his first 90 minutes, jog after his second, and lunch after his third. It makes sense to work this way. It’s how athletes train. They work hard in short bursts and then rest. So for me no more sitting glued to my computer for a couple of hours without a break.

Finally, I’ve started to read You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier, the father of  virtual reality technology. Lanier’s provocative book is a passionate call to reclaim our individual humanity from the  anonymous hive mind of the digital world.  Beware of “cybernetic totalism,” he warns. I’m only a third of the way through the book and already I’m beginning to look at social networking with a much more critical eye.

Well, enough for today. I’m shutting down my computer and going for a good brisk walk. I’ll drink deeply of the sweet spring air, talk to the odd neighborhood cat, and smile at strangers.

CLICK !

Image by Florin  Hatmanu

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

How to Go For The Gold in Your Business.

The Winter Olympics draws to a close in a few days.  I’ve been thinking that Olympic athletes are a perfect example of what we need to do to achieve gold for our businesses. Here’s how:

  • Goals. Olympians are clear about their goal. They want to be the best in the world.  We can’t achieve the results we want in our businesses unless we aim to be the best. What do you need to do right now to achieve  your best?
  • Training. World class athletes continually train and push themselves to the limit and beyond. As small business owners we need to do the same. What are the skills you need to perfect? What’s working for you and what has to be dropped? How do you push yourself to the limit?
  • Coaching. Athletes can’t do it all on their own. They rely on coaches to help them develop their skills. There are business and personal coaches who can do the same for you. What’s stopping you from hiring a coach? What do you need to do to overcome that obstacle?
  • Perseverance. Elite athletes have setbacks but they don’t give up. Operating a small business can be tough at times. We encounter challenges that can be discouraging. But if we want to go, for the gold we have to pick ourselves up and keep going. What is your biggest challenge right now? How can you surmount it?
  • Competition. Competing with others pushes athletes to achieve their best. Look at those businesses that offer similar products and services as yours. What competing businesses do you really admire? How can you do better?
  • Concentration. Watching an Olympian in motion is to see someone with exquisite concentration. In our businesses we have to be similarly focused. How can you be more focused in your work? What do you need to give up to achieve concentration?
  • Balance. World class athletes know that they must balance their hard work with rest, good diet, and friends and family. When you’re running a small business, it’s easy to go non-stop. How’s your work/life balance right now? What can you do to achieve a better balanced life?

So are you ready to go for gold? What have I left off the list? Let me know. I always enjoy your comments.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

Share this post.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine