Tag Archives: self employed

Encore! 6 Lessons My Cat Taught Me About Time Management.

Annie

My cat Annie is full of useful lessons. And for those of you who say that lack of time is keeping you from getting your life story told, here’s what Annie knows about good time management… More

16 Penny-Pinching Ideas to Keep Your Small Business Afloat.

Are you struggling to survive in these tough economic times? I’ve been self-employed for 30 years and know what it’s like to keep going through lean years. If I’ve one key piece of advice, it would be to watch the small stuff. You’d be surprised at how a few dollars a week can add up over a year.

Here’s are 16 penny-pinching ideas worth trying:

1. Check out thrift stores and garage sales. Don’t spend a fortune on office furnishings. Local thrift stores and garage sales are a good bet for desks, chairs, and filing cabinets. Even better get stuff free through organizations such as Freecycle.

2. Buy used equipment. I’ve used refurbished computers for years and been very happy with them. The savings are considerable. Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer who has a warranty on parts and labor.

3. Meet over a coffee rather than lunch. A few business lunches a year can add up.  Your local coffee shop is  a more practical alternative.  Better yet,  invite a client to your home. The coffee’s cheaper. ;-)

4. Save on gas. Consolidate your car trips. If you’re driving to pick up groceries, combine it with a trip to the post office, office supply store, or library.

5. Use VoIP. Don’t  spend money on long distance calls. Use a VoIP service such as  Skype . It’s free and easy to set up and use.

6. Become friends with your library. Stop buying books and magazines and renting DVDs. They’re all free at your Library.

7. Go online. Before spending your hard earned dollars, check out the wealth of excellent free resources available on the Internet. To get you started, here’s a previous post I wrote 100 Free Resources for Personal Historians.

8. Only buy what you absolutely need. It might be fun to have the latest iPad and smart phone but are they essential items in your business? I’m still using a cell phone I bought 5 years ago. It suites my needs just fine. Don’t be seduced into spending money on electronic devices and software that’ll do very little to help your business.

9. Be a savvy shopper. Clip coupons, check out sales, and compare prices. And find out the best time of year to buy things. Here’s a start: The Best Times to Buy Anything, All Year Round.

10. Negotiate a good deal. Whether you’re dealing with a salesperson or a subcontractor, don’t be shy to ask for a discount.  I always ask salespeople if that’s the best price they can give me. Sometimes paying by cash rather than a credit card will lower the price on an item.  With a subcontractors,  pointing out that you’ll be using their services regularly  might lead to a reduced fee.

11. Market on the cheap. This is not the time to be producing glossy brochures and business cards. I’ve written about some low cost or no cost marketing ideas here.

12. Try bartering. This involves trading goods or services with another business. For example, you might arrange with a web designer to create a website for you. In return, if you’re a personal historian, you could organize her photo collection.

13. Monitor your energy consumption. Shut down your computer when you’re not using it for a few hours. Turn off lights that you don’t need.  And avoid phantom energy loss by literally pulling the plug on all equipment that operates in standby mode such as computers, monitors, computer speakers, and cell phone chargers. Phantom loss can add hundreds of dollars to your yearly electrical bill. To make it easy,  plug these standby mode items into a power bar that you can shut off with the flick of a switch.

14. Tax deductions. Don’t forget that if you’re home-based, you can deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage interest. And keep in mind that some of your utilities and home services such as security, cleaning, and yard maintenance are eligible for tax deductions.

15. Use recycled printer cartridges. Printer ink is hugely expensive. Check for a recycle dealer in your area or go to an online source such as Whole Toner.

16. Consider free web hosting. It’s not perfect but the price is right! For a list of some of the best, check out Best Free Web Hosting.

What are some of your penny-pinching favorites?

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Photo by Alan Cleaver

7 Tips on Creating a Winning Outgoing Voicemail Message.

Have you listened to your outgoing voicemail message lately? Does it sound professional? Like someone you’d want to do business with? If not, you could be losing potential clients. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Avoid old answering machines with poor quality audio.

What kind of business impression do you create if your prospective caller can hardly make out your voicemail message because of static and a barely audible voice? If I were hiring you to do a video or audio recording, I’d have second thoughts!

Be smart. Use a telephone company answering service or a good quality digital answering machine.

2. Make it clear as to the person the caller has reached.

You might say something like, “Thank you for calling. You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions.”

Don’t leave an announcement like, “Hi, I’m not in. Please leave a message after the tone.”  Callers have no idea if they’ve reached the correct number or if their message will actually reach the right person.

3. Leave instructions.

Many voicemail messages end with something like “Please leave your name and number after the beep.”  It’s a start. But if all you get is “Hi, this is Bob call me at 200-4000,” you have a problem. Who is Bob and what does he want? Does this call require immediate attention?

A better outgoing message provides the caller with some guidance. Here’s a sample: ” Please leave your name, the reason for your call, a number where you can be reached, and the best time for me to call you.”

4. Be concise.

Callers don’t want to listen to a lengthy monologue before they can leave a message. Your voicemail announcement shouldn’t be more than 20 seconds long.

5. Avoid being cute and clever.

Even if you have the wit of a Mark Twain, cleverness can wear thin if a caller is hearing your message for the third time. Keep it simple and business-like.

6. Script and rehearse you message.

We’ve all heard voicemail messages that covered the spectrum from flat and bored to breathless and rushed.

The tone of your voice is as important as the words being spoken. I once worked with an actress on some narration for a documentary of mine. At one point she said, “I can do that line with a smile in my voice. It’ll work better.” She was right. She actually spoke the line while smiling. It sounded friendly and welcoming.

Begin by writing down what you want to say. Read it aloud. Edit your message until it sounds right. Now try it on a friend or family member and get a critique. Before recording your message do several rehearsals so that you can deliver your lines flawlessly and with a  smile in your voice.

7. Record your message in a quiet environment.

Nothing reeks more of amateurishness  than a voicemail message  with a background cacophony of dogs barking, kids screaming, and TVs blaring.  Find a quiet room to record, preferably one with lots of sound absorbing material like a bedroom.

And finally…

Here’s a sample of an outgoing message that you can adapt to suit your needs.

Hello.  You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions. Please leave your name, telephone number, the reason for your call, and the best time for me to reach you. Thanks for calling.

Photo by Christomopher

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Encore! Are You Part of “The Great Vacationless Class”?

Are You Part of "The Great Vacationless Class"? Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed that,  for the most part,  mothers and housewives were the “great vacationless class”  because they had little time off. I would add the self-employed to her list. If you’re self-employed as I am, it’s often difficult to see your way to a holiday. You’re either too busy or too broke or both. Here are a few tips that you might find useful if you’re still struggling with the notion of taking a vacation. …Read More


Encore! 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.

10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian. I’m not Moses or even a prophet for that matter. But I’ve been around for a while! As a freelancer for thirty years,  I’ve learned some key lessons that can be summed up in these ten commandments that I try my best to follow. Not always successfully!  For those of you starting out, these might provide a useful checklist. For the experienced among us, perhaps the commandments will be a  useful reminder of what we need to keep doing. What are your … Read More


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


Want to Know What Betty White Can Teach You About Your Personal History Business?

1989 Emmy Awards

Who doesn’t  love Betty White? I’m a huge fan, first encountering her as the sugar-coated tough cookie  Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This past weekend I was reading an interview with White.

I was struck by the fact that her life has lessons to teach those of us who run personal history businesses. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we can all possess the good health and talent of a Betty White but we can certainly learn from her example.

Keep going

Betty White has been working hard for over  six decades. She’s done it all, constantly reinventing herself. She started out in radio in the 1940′s. Her first television appearance was in 1949 with Al Jarvis on Hollywood on Television which she later hosted.

Through the 50′s she created, co-produced, and starred in the syndicated comedy Life With Elizabeth for which she received her first Emmy Award.  Through the 60′s  and early 70′s she appeared regularly as a celebrity panelist on game shows.

Her big break came in 1973 with The Mary Tyler Moore Show where she was a regular until the series ended in 1977. Her next starring role, for which she received her second Emmy Award, was on The Golden Girls from 1985 through 1992.

Through the 90′s, White guest starred in numerous network television programs. She also lent her voice to a number of animated shows. Most recently she’s hosted Saturday Night Live and is starring in the comedy series Hot in Cleveland.

LESSON: Success doesn’t happen overnight. As a personal historian you’ll need to put in many years of hard work. You might have to take on a second job to pay the bills. Like Betty, who continually reinvented herself, you’ll need to learn new skills such as public speaking, book  production, blogging, or workshop design. Doing all this with determination and a positive attitude will help you through the tough times just as it did Betty White.

celebrate your uniqueness

Betty White embraces her age. She makes no apologies for being old. From the Golden Girls to Hot in Cleveland she’s demonstrated that you can be old and still be funny, smart, outspoken, and sexy.

Receiving a lifetime-achievement award at the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she gushed sincerely about how lucky she’s been to work with so many in the room, and then seamlessly added, “And I may have had some of you, too.” Back on that podium again in 2011, she stroked the statuette’s bare bottom and smiled lewdly.

~ from the Globe and Mail  The Betty White tornado

LESSON: Be yourself. As a personal historian, I bring decades of experience as a documentary filmmaker. I value my graying beard and wrinkles. I see my “advancing years” as a plus in this business. Age suggests experience and a life lived – all valuable and marketable traits for a personal historian.  Look hard at what makes you special and unique. This will be a selling point with your potential clients who are not only looking for competency but also authenticity.

Embrace curiosity and learning

“You have to stay interested in things.” White said in her Globe and Mail interview. “There’s so many things I want to know more about that I’ll never live long enough to do. But it’s something to reach for.”

Betty White is a marvelous example of life-long learning. Starting in radio, moving to television, then becoming a producer, starring in feature films, hitting the quiz show circuit, and now releasing her fifth book  If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t).

Given her six decades in the entertainment business she could have easily succumbed to its changing technologies and tastes as many did. But she rose to the challenges, got even better, and survived without any bitterness. As she says, “Sickeningly optimistic.”

LESSON: To survive in the personal history business we need to adapt or be swept aside by the the digital revolution. E-books, print on demand, social media, and HD video all require learning new ways of doing our work. Sure,  it’s not easy at times but sticking our heads in the sand or complaining bitterly won’t work. Grab on to your inner “Betty White” and just do it!

look Fantastic

Have you noticed that throughout her career Betty White always looks fabulous and stylish? She’s not afraid to show some flair and sassiness.

LESSON: Hire a designer to ensure that all of your marketing materials – business cards, brochures, and website are first class. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to come up with a design that speaks to your uniqueness. And don’t forget your own appearance. Looks do speak volumes whether we like it or not. You want your business attire to read confident, impeccable, trustworthy, and appropriate.

Photo by Alan Light

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From the Archives: How to Stop The Clock And Make Time for Yourself.

How to Stop The Clock And Make Time for Yourself. If you’re self-employed as I am, you’re probably all too familiar with the trap of filling most of your days with work. There are deadlines to meet, marketing activities, clients to see, and  administrative chores. Maybe you’ve found a way to manage all this and still have a life. If you haven’t, here are some lessons learned from my three decades of experience that you might find helpful. To be honest, sometimes I  “mess up” and don’t follow my … Read More


Want to Start a Personal History Business? Here’s How.

Interest in personal history as a career is growing.  When the Association of Personal Historians was formed in 1995, it had a handful of members. Today that membership has swelled to over 500.

Increasingly people track me down and ask if they should start a personal history business. In order to help you decide if this is your kind of work, I’ve pulled together these articles I’ve written over the past 3 years years.

If there’s a topic you don’t see here and would like covered, please let me know and I’ll address it in a future post.

  1. What You Need to Know About Becoming a Professional Personal Historian.
  2. Three Crucial Steps to Starting Your Personal History Business.
  3. The Best Advice Ever for a Personal Historian.
  4. 12 Key Tips for Successfully Working Alone.
  5. The 10 Best Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  6. The 10 Worst Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  7. How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian?
  8. What Makes a Personal Historian a Professional?
  9. Are You Doing a Good Job of Conveying the Value of Personal Histories?
  10. 12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails.
  11. When Should You Quit Being a Personal Historian and Move On?
  12. Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  13. More Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  14. 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.
  15.  How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

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The Costliest Personal Histories in the World!

How many of you would have the nerve to proclaim, “We will NOT be oversold”? Yet that’s just what designer and retailer Bijan Pakzad did.  For thirty-five years he reigned over his exclusive Rodeo Drive establishment in Los Angeles. Bijan died last week at the age of seventy-one.

From his by-appointment-only boutique to his claim as “the most expensive clothing designer in the world”, Bijan was an unapologetic promoter of exclusivity.

You might be asking yourself, “But what does opulence and exclusivity have to do with personal histories?” Good question and here’s where I see the connection.

People buy products for their perceived benefits not for their features or functions.

We purchase a computer not for its technical specifications but for its benefit to us – namely fast research capabilities, entertainment, communications, marketing, and so on.

Bijan wasn’t selling clothes. He was selling celebrity, exclusivity, and glamor.

As personal historians what are we selling? If you said books, videos, or CDs, you’d be wrong. Those are the products of our work. What people are buying are:

  • Time. People are busy and don’t have the time to document mom or dad’s story.
  • Satisfaction. People feel good honoring someone through a life story book or video.
  • Expertise. Generally people  aren’t skilled in the many aspects of producing a personal history and need our help.
  •  Closeness. People perceive that a personal history will bring families closer together.
  • Understanding. Participating in the recording of a life story gives people a better understanding of who someone is and how that person got to be that way.

people will pay a premium price for specialty products and services.

The truth is that while  Bijan’s clothes are priced at the high end of the designer market at $1,000 for suits, they are hardly the most expensive in the world. His clients are drawn by the cachet of exclusivity and pampered service.

On a more pedestrian level, Starbucks pioneered the brewing of premium coffee in North America.  Before  Starbucks  opened in Seattle in 1971, a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee and could be had for 10 t0 15 cents.  Many a skeptic would have questioned the wisdom of charging 10 times that amount for a “fancy” coffee. They were proved wrong. The story of Starbucks success is now part of pop culture history.

In a previous post  Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work? I wrote:

Something else to think about. A  Stanford University study showed that when subjects were given the same wine and told that one bottle was $5 and the other $45, people unfailingly found “the expensive wine” tasted better. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored the research report.

What do these studies  say about how you price your personal history services? They show that pricing too low can be perceived by your potential clients as you’re offering an inferior product. People still believe the old adage – you get what you pay for.

Personal historians provide a specialty service and product. Like Bijan and Starbucks, we need not apologize for charging a premium price.

I’m not suggesting that every personal historian should  sell exclusive products at eye-popping prices. What I do want to emphasize is that we  need a shift from seeing ourselves solely as “craftspeople” toiling away in obscurity for the love of our work. That’s okay if you’re into this as a hobby. It’s not okay if you want to build a successful business.

So, who will proudly proclaim that they produce the costliest personal histories in the world?

Photo iStockphoto

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