my captain obvious moment as a freelancer: play nice with all aspects of yourself in the sandbox

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

When I started my career in finance, I learned about the power and peril of diversification. Creating a diversified portfolio carries with it an element of calculated risk–too much and you lose focus and expertise, too little rendered you a specialist tattooed with an expiration date. Your work lies in cultivating balance in the extreme so that in the event the ground opens up and gives way, your fall won’t be precipitous, bottomless. A strategic, well-rounded portfolio is the hedge you need to weather industry downturns and personal catastrophe. When I started my career in digital marketing in 2001, many of my peers were recalcitrant–they considered online commerce a blip, a fad that would inevitably fade and their marketing prowess, experience, and education would prevail. They resisted social networks and failed to learn the language of a seismic behavioral and cultural shift that would become omnipresent, ubiquitous. A Darwinian marketplace rallied against them, rendering smart, albeit stubborn marketers, obsolete because they didn’t diversify–they failed to keep up. On the flipside, you’ve seen what happens when one company or person tries to be all things to all people: they end up being nothing to no one. They end up broken, a whole that would never equate to the sum of its parts. They’re reduced to a spin-off, a division excised from the whole, auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For much of my career, I drew a fine line between work and art. Never have the two played peacefully in the sandbox because one was always kicking sand in the other’s face. Work colleagues were hardly aware that I wrote lyrical, dark books and writer friends were always shocked when I used words like “brand positioning” and “customer segmentation”. One part of me made money and the other derived purpose from writing the small stories that rarely registered on the cultural radar. One part of me paid for the other; for much of my own career, I served as my own patron. I had become my own benefactor. For a while, this strange symphony worked. I wrote my first book and published a successful literary magazine while working in marketing at Time Warner Cable and HarperCollins. I started (and subsequently sold) my second book while juggling brand strategy and digital marketing projects as a consultant. But money sometimes gets tricky and soon I regarded my “work” with mounting annoyance. I was beholden to marketing in order to create the kind of stories that bolted me out of bed in the morning instead of looking at it for what it was: another vehicle that allowed for storytelling.

To use an anti-feminist, subjugating turn-of-phrase: I had become my own bitch. And I didn’t like it.

This week my therapist and I talked about how I fell so hard, so fast when I moved to Los Angeles. Part of it was prolonged grief from not adequating mourning the death of my mother (sound familiar?), for sure, but, more importantly, I had spent the year prior to my move in a state of persistent acceleration. There was a cross-country move to plan, projects to land and conquer, a book to revise with my agent and sell, and the subways, the frenetic rush of people, the axiom of living in New York: do it faster! and it was only after I unpacked all the boxes did I realize I had been running on empty. I’d been forced to settle in quiet and I didn’t exactly like what I saw. I told my therapist that I wanted physical and geographic space, to which he responded: from what, your friends? I laughed, shook my head no, then shook my head yes and then said I don’t know. Maybe all of it? Maybe I’d built my life defined as one thing, stuck in that thing, and moving offered the promise of not being the thing people knew, or expected you, to be. I arrived and wrote a good book in two months and then fell apart.

During the journey back, I created a portfolio–you know, your resume in narrative form with pretty pictures and colorful slide dividers because everyone craves the elevated, derivative state. We want our stories beautifully told. We want our personal brands to be luminous, yet accessible, yet aspirational, but still inspiring and achievable. Yet in creating the outline which would morph into the final presentation, I found it difficult to tell the story of me without including the whole side of my life devoted to storytelling. Suddenly, it felt strange to not talk about the dual nature of my life and the value that it brings to bear. I took on a small project for a successful blogger (and dear friend) where I helped her tell her story in professional form. Gone are the media kits and capes decks–I wanted to create something that started the conversation but wasn’t the whole of it, and I found tremendous joy in using my two loves: marketing and lyrical storytelling and profiting from those lives lived without needing to take a long shower.

Today I had a wonderful chat with an acquaintance who served as my editor on a short essay I’d written about going to Ireland with my pop. I’d be referred to her by a friend and she was curious about my background. Could I edit books? Could I develop projects with authors? Could I help authors structure their books and tell their stories in a compelling way?

Of course, I can.

I started talking about all the work that wasn’t on my resume. Editing at Scholastic, working closely with editors in book publishing, editing and publishing a literary journal, butchering my friend’s novels and helping them create structure and refine their voice in their work. I even trotted out the Columbia MFA, although I’m fairly ambivalent about the degree now, and regret the debt that accrued as a result of it. I’ll be paying for my writing to the grave and so on.

As a freelancer coming out of a long hiatus and finally back in the proverbial saddle, I realized that I’d been myopic about consulting. I failed to create a portfolio that spanned my strengths: marketing, digital, social, editing, brand architecture, organizational design/process, writing, editing, brand development, project management and development. I hadn’t mined a network that would account for my diverse skill set. I hadn’t positioned myself as someone who could create, distribute, analyze and refine. It was only this morning did I see the need to have all the kids playing nice in the sandbox because right now I need all the kids to rally.

Now I position myself as a creator, someone who builds things and tells stories, and what distinguishes me is my range, breadth, and depth. What sets me apart is the fact that I color outside the lines and I also create new books in which to color.

This is why I want to remain here. I want to feel the new, uninhabited and unconquered. I want the space to be able to see.

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play it as it lays

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I’m tired. I’m tired of writing cheerful emails and chasing after projects with follow-up emails that are met with radio silence. I’m tired of Facebook status updates. I’m tired of looking around my home and imagining having to pack it up and put everything in storage as I board a plane to go to a place I don’t want to go. I’m tired of people thinking that everything will be fine, just fine, even after I tell them that I plan to file for bankruptcy, that I’m on the road to financial ruin. I’m tired of the burden I feel as if I always have to bear. I’m tired of getting it up for my friends who think that this period is not as dark as it is–possibly because I’m still editing, still positioning, still angling for that hopeful, magical ending. I’m tired of staring at my inbox willing that one email to come in. I’m tired of wondering why people won’t write back. I’m tired of waiting for Godot.

I’m exhausted. I love Los Angeles and I’m terrified of leaving.

I’m giving notice for my apartment come April 1, and I’ve no idea how I plan to pay the thousands of dollars required for breaking my lease. I’ve no idea how I’ll pay for storage or where I’ll live in New York or how I’ll afford a bankruptcy attorney. I don’t know about anything and the not knowing, the uncertainty, is eating away at me. Sometimes I sit at home and run through all the things I should’ve done (although I know that exercise is futile)–I could’ve moved into a cheaper apartment. I could’ve taken that project in the midst of my depression last November–money that would’ve sustained me for a few more months. I could’ve not taken that trip to Bali and Singapore this past summer and opted to save that money for the darkest days ahead. There are a million things I could’ve done, but what’s the point in playing the record on repeat if the song has already played itself out?

I’m calmer about this than I expected, which surprises me, but this calm is one of the few things that brings me comfort. And today I finally accepted that I’m doing and have done everything that I can possibly do. I humiliated myself by asking my friends for money on Facebook. I’ve applied to every job I possibly could, and took every meeting, sent and responded to emails. I signed up with temp agencies. I made a point of returning to therapy to take care of myself. I’ve done everything I can do and the fact that I can’t control my inbox or people’s decisions or the inevitability that I will lose my home and my credit and my pride, gives me a disquiet I’ve never felt before. I’ve always managed to survive, but this is the one time I haven’t boomeranged back and coping with this is harder than I could’ve ever imagined.

I’m tired, and I’ve decided to take a break and just roll with what happens. Play it as it lays. I’m not going to send the hundred follow-up emails or pen pleas on Facebook. I’m just going to go through my days and if I have to move back to New York with Felix and live on people’s couches, I guess this is something I will have to do.

I’m just sad, you know? I came here in August with so much excitement and possibility, and I could’ve never predicted this. Because how could you? Why would you?

So here’s me, seeing how this story will play out. Keep Felix and me in your thoughts 🙂

competing with toddlers turned strategists

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It must be good to be a thirty-year-old guy, a friend tells me one day over diner pancakes and eggs. I’ve known my friend for nearly a decade and we meet for breakfast to trade war stories of the freelance life. He listens to me prattle on about being outbid my men and toddlers turned strategists, and after a long silence passes my friend, the epitome of cool, calm and collected, confesses that he’s afraid of approaching his “best-buy” date. Do I know what it’s like to be a forty-something, fifty-something man being interviewed by a kid who just learned how to shave? I nod in tacit agreement (about the age, not the gender) and I think about my friend, who’s razor sharp and one of the smartest people I know, a man who looks good for his age and then it occurs to me that in thinking that phrase, looks good for his age, I’ve too been programmed to believe that on a long enough timeline, we’ll all approach our best-buy date. We’ll all face professional extinction.

Unless you’ve been burrowing under a fortress of Winona Ryder movies, Soul Asylum DVDs, re-runs of All in The Family and Different Strokes, or choruses of Conjunction Junction, the world as we know it has changed. My generation (the ubiquitous X) grew up without the Internet or tethered to devices that provided a means for connection/disconnection, and we were taught to believe that you had to pay your dues; you had to work long and hard for professional success. We filed papers in file cabinets, we took unpaid internships (I couldn’t afford to), we faxed, and we didn’t speak unless spoken to because we were groomed to know our place in the pecking order. We were programmed to respect hierarchy as if the corporate world were some aboriginal tribe with the CEO serving as its all-knowing elder.

No wonder we were called Generation Apathy. No wonder the next generation took a look at the ones that preceded it and said, you’ve got to be kidding me. You could hear the collective group-text murmur of hell no. This is a generation who would go on to break ranks and tear apart everything we had come to know about one’s career trajectory. Theirs was a generation that wouldn’t settle.

Most of my peers have perfected their get-off-my-lawn rhetoric. Gen-X’ers love to throw around words like “entitled”, “greedy”, “lazy” and “impatient”. However, a day doesn’t go by when we don’t hear the constant refrain of Generation Fucked — millennials are poor and burning out. But this story isn’t about the plight of Gen Y; it’s about age and struggle.

Many of my close friends are in the 20s and 30s and there’s much to be said for reverse mentorship. Our generations have tremendous, equal value and we’d be insane not to collaborate to undo the ruin that Boomers imposed on us. Millennials have ruffled the proverbial feathers of the status quo and we’ve seen an avalanche of companies focused on impact and social good, an uptick in entrepreneurship, careers based solely on using the internet (or building applications and software for it), and more importantly, they changed the perception of the freelancer as no longer a code for failure. Consulting isn’t a dirty word or what you did when you were in-between jobs. Finally, people stopped asking when was I going to get a “real job” because freelancing has been legitimized. Organizations and a plethora of websites are devoted to the care and feeding of this new breed of worker.

After I left a job that was slowly killing me, I envisioned taking some time off and then returning to the world of sixteen-hour days, supply requisition forms, and 401Ks. However, one client turned into another and suddenly my days were of my own design. Instead of taking on clients I didn’t believe in for the sake of paying employees and managing overhead, I connected with business and brands I believed in. I took on projects that challenged me, and I found that creativity couldn’t be found chained to a desk. I’ve done some of my best work in the past few years, and being a consultant has fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Every freelancer will tell you the hardest part of their job is deal flow. Some are lucky to have retainer clients — a consistent stream of income that provides a financial salve in the months where their inbox is filled with tumbleweed and crickets. I’ve been privileged to have consistent work over the past three years, but a buzz that was once annoying has morphed into a shout I can’t ignore. The buzz being: wow, you’re really expensive.

Last week I wrote about the value of experience, but I didn’t touch on age and how it could potentially be a liability. Last fall I bid on a big global project and I priced it fairly because I knew the work would look stellar in my portfolio and the client would be a coup. However, the client came back to me and told me that my fair rate was “extremely high” (huh?) and that others came in at half or a third of my rate. Considering the work and scope involved, I found it impossible to price south. I wrote the client and outlined what would be needed for the role:

  1. Someone who’s successfully launched products in global and local markets.
  2. Someone who understood the nuances + cultural indicators between markets.
  3. Someone who could create an actionable global strategy with measurable results but also break down the tactical roadmap, budgets, and resources needed.
  4. Someone who had an in-market resource on-hand.

Ultimately, I won the project and the client confided that no one came close to the experience needed for the role but they were willing to cut costs where possible. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. People who have little to no experience mispricing their work or misrepresenting their level of experience. Anyone who owns a Snapchat or Instagram account is automatically a strategist. Anyone who can create a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, is automatically a seasoned copywriter or journalist. Part of me wonders if I could be a surgeon if I binge-watched enough of Discovery Health.

We live in an age of P&L surgeons who are all too happy to take scalpels to their marketing budgets, to settle for “just good enough” instead of successful and extraordinary. Businesses who are willing to sacrifice short-term bottom line benefits for long-term brand health and business growth.

It’s no secret that society reveres the young. Helen Mirren looks “great for her age”, women are encouraged to age gracefully, and people who have dedicated their careers and lives to companies are quietly being replaced by their younger, phone-toting doppelgangers. No one wants to be reminded — in life and in business — of the inevitability of extinction. People feed off the energy and verve of the young, resulting in bottom-heavy staff plans and ignoring the precarious balance needed in weighing verve with experience and perspective. We live in an age where one is endlessly traded in for another rather than playing the long and viewing the composition of a team and company with a level of diversity (gender, sexual orientation, and age) that will drive real and meaningful growth.

Instead, many tenured freelancers feel their age as an indelible mark, a liability and a perception that experience automatically means expensive — as if placing the correct value on our breadth and depth of experience is viewed in the pejorative. Or perhaps they feel age breed a lack of verve and passion. Most of us feel the cost cutting, projects awarded to those with less experience or who are willing to take on more for less. Photo editor and writer, Heather Clark McKinnon, laments, “Content creators and editors are paid less now for the same work. As a photo editor for a huge American company, my contract has gone down 35 percent over the last 8 years. They are now outsourcing most of the work to India.”

While freelancing is finally a viable, respected career option, it’s become Darwinian, and to remain relevant and working we need to maintain diverse revenue streams or capture and own a niche. Otherwise, we find ourselves boxed in forever competing on price as the years tick on and the days age us. Today, several of my peers have shared encouraging words, that there are clients — even if it seems few and far in between — who believe in the power of experience, who understand the need to diversify their teams, who believe in what and whom they invest. We’re grateful for people like Stephanie Faris Berry, who shares that, “as someone who regularly hires designers for the author side of my business, I have personally seen the experience vs. price argument play out. When I hire someone, I know what I hire will represent my “brand” and when someone quotes $25 and someone else is quoting $150, the $150 designer immediately gets my attention. I might settle for something in between those two extremes, but it will be someone who has talent and experience vs. someone who is new and cheap. I think anyone who is serious about building and growing a brand will see that experience as worth it.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the hustle of the young, hungry and inexperienced — but I believe that an environment where clients still pull the strings (regardless of the guise of “freedom” promised to freelancers) creates tension between those who have experience vs. the young and ambitious, creating a severe divide. And what we’re left with is an old refrain dusted off, a record played on repeat: how can I get this cheaper?

We should complement, not compete.

Photo Credit: Pexels

you want to pay me $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy? that’s cute.

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

There’s something many of my peers have been discussing in private groups and behind closed doors but no dares to speak out loud for fear of losing work. We trade emails where editors think $25 for 500-word articles, replete with secondary sources and rounds of revision, to be a living wage. We lament over the fact that seasoned marketers are being outbid by people with little to no actual work experience beyond preening themselves in front of a camera. I’m told, why would I pay X if Competitor A offers a third of your rate, to which I respond: I don’t compete on price; I compete on value, efficacy, and experience. Last week someone told me that she made more money doing the same thing ten years ago than she does now. Her professional life is one of diminishing returns: she has to work twice as hard now to make the same money she made a decade ago. In a private Facebook group, scores of influential bloggers talk about how brands and publicists trot out the word “exposure” in exchange for free work. Recently, writer Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this charade in her incisive essay about the trap of blogging for exposure:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

Another friend seethes when she’s told by her editor that college kids would be willing to work for free (or for a fraction of the standard rate) because everyone wants exposure and experience. In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects, and the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked through college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and a social life. Most of my internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that my compensation directly correlated with my experience, it was unthinkable to compete with full-time employees’ comp, people who had years of experience.

Let me be clear and say that this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle that rivals Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and I believe in the power of symbiotic mentorship. After I left a digital marketing agency where I was an equity partner, I kept in close contact with many people who reported to me, brilliant women who went on to break ranks and with whom I forged close relationships. Although we were 10–15 years apart in age, we knew our respective value, and it was equal and powerful. I mentored women on being a manager and leader, how to negotiate comp and deal with toxic employees, and they kept me fresh on burgeoning trends and social media, and what I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that will satiate you — this is not one of them.

For the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend in some agencies where they’ve skimmed the top (less P&L impact) and hired junior talent in hopes of growing them rapidly into senior roles. A whole middle layer of management was nearly non-existent, so you had very senior people too deep in the weeds and junior talent feeling overwhelmed and non-equipped to manage work and situations in which they had little experience. In The Devil’s Advocate (bear with me), Al Pacino’s character tells a young and arrogant Keanu Reeves:

I know you got talent, I knew that before you got here. It’s just the other thing I wonder about: pressure, it changes everything. Some people you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders and they exude confidence and acumen beyond their years, a talent that’s rare and priceless. A soon-to-be college grad outlines, in detail, how hard she worked to get published in bold-face publications before graduation, and I respect her tenacity, talent, and hustle. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations. I will always believe in the adage “you get what you pay for”.Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to save bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real and tangible value in having a college or intern perspective. There’s value in having someone who knows the nuances of a particular social media channel give input on content and strategy. However, the value is complementary, not interchangeable. Just because someone will do something for free doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of it for the short-term savings, completely sacrificing the value of experience and perspective. Complement, don’t replace all.

Let’s revisit that offer of $250 and what comprises an integrated marketing strategy. Building a strategy requires (I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery/Research: A complete brand and business immersion and discussions with staff across business units — all of this in the context of industry factors and consumer trends/behavior
  2. Key Learnings: From all of the research and discussions, I tend to identify challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues (internal and external) and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives/Goals Discussion: This is lengthy, and often we review past day and performance as well as a deeper conversation about their existing customer base. We discuss quantifiable and qualitative goals and objectives, knowing that our strategy has to satisfy or meet those goals/objectives. We discuss what success is and how to measure/optimize it, by channel, by tactic
  4. Strategy Outline: This is the “What” — What we’ll do to service the goals/objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to bolster our brand” — this is the big idea and plan that will impact the entire business, and will be implemented across paid, owned, earned and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: From the strategy falls the tactics, which brings the ideas to life in a practical way, i.e. the “How”. This will invariably require the collaboration between partners (internal and external) for development of distinct and detailed plans with budgets, timelines, and allocated resources

So you think all that work — weeks of labor — is worth $250? I’ve worked hard for 17+ years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest.

You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely writes: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell people I’m not operating a non-profit. Would I ask my doctor to reduce her rate because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

When will brands and businesses focus on complementary talent rather than bottom-line savings that hurt over time?


I originally published this post on Medium

get over being funny about money: a freelancer’s roundtable (we’re taking your questions!)

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People are funny about money. You can get fired for asking about someone else’s compensation (although companies like Buffer thrive on transparency when others talk about mutinies and chaos should we speak openly about salaries), and often it’s considered rude or gauche to talk about money. Money is what you make but be secretive about it. Certainly don’t talk about. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re anything but white.

Employers use the guise of secrecy because they want to “protect” their employees, however, it’s more like they don’t want people bearing witness to grave inequality and they definitely don’t want an avalanche of comp increases as a result. Because what employers are really protecting is their P&L.

When I went freelance, I was surprised to find that this secrecy around salary, or how one makes a living, is as prevalent and pernicious as ever. I’ve known at least a dozen women who severely underpriced their services because they thought less is what they deserved. Or, they simply didn’t know how to price themselves because context didn’t exist. Sure, there are scores of articles about rate calculations, etc, but most of us really rely on people we know, people who occupy our space. And many people are still not talking, still.

I took on a project with a woman who was, at the time, one of my closest friends. I was interested in what she did, brand marketing and the creation of brand narratives and architecture, and I asked her how much she was being paid for her portion of the project. Not because I wanted to be rude, but I wanted to understand how my peer priced her deliverables and deliverables, and how I, should I want to go that route, can calculate accurate project and day rates.

My “friend” acted as if she were a CIA operative. I was confused. What did she think I was going to? Did she really believe I was coming from a nefarious place rather than one of curiosity? I needed help and it was only when I made my request plain, you wouldn’t help your friend, a woman, a peer trying to make a living, with information?

I’ve met with women (boutique agency execs) recently who didn’t know how to price their services. I’ve known bloggers who had no idea how to quote for sponsored posts. I know women who don’t have their day/project/hourly rates, and the ranges in which they operate based on client, scope, level of client craziness, etc. They didn’t know how to build in payment clauses (or non-payment) into their contracts.

I’m learning that when I get frustrated it’s more productive to share and connect than just bitch about something (and I do that too, don’t worry). So I’ve gathered up a few friends who are successful freelancers to answer YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT MONEY. From writers to consultants to small business owners, all of them have a range of experience and acumen, and I hope they can give you advice you need to feel empowered to promote yourself and your work in a fair way.

Leave your questions in the comments section of this post and we’ll rock out the answers within the next two weeks.

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OUR ROUNDTABLE (and we’ve got more coming!):

Aly Walansky created A Little Aly-tude on SheKnows.com in 2006, as one of the first well-known beauty and style blogs on the Internet. Over time, it became a foremost source for advice, tips, reviews, and commentary across the lifestyle genre.

Her writing can be seen across the Internet as well as in several print publications. She contributes regularly to Beauty High, AskMen.com, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The Daily Meal, xoJane, HowAboutWe, Life &Beauty, Latest Hairstyles, Celebuzz, DailyMakeover.com, The Fashion Spot, New Beauty Magazine, Bella NYC Magazine, and many more.

Aly’s roots exist — pun intended! — in the realm of beauty and style, and she is quoted in countless publications on a weekly basis, and has appeared as a beauty expert on the FOX network and various radio programming, but her focus is far wider. She’s a popular travel and food writer and has traveled across the globe in the name of culinary, historical, and spa journalism.

Aly currently resides in New York City. Contact Aly at alywalansky@gmail.com

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With a background in textile design (Anthropologie, Nordstrom, & Blissliving Home) and an obsession for sharing (favorite products, favorite recipes, favorite dates-gone-wrong), in 2012 Joanna Hawley created Jojotastic as a lifestyle blog focused on runway-fresh fashion, inspiring modern-but-modest home interiors, and her addiction to donuts. (Her cat obsession mingles in there, too.)

A well-established style influencer on the interwebs, Joanna was one of the first Pinterest users (with 4 million followers to prove it). Known for her raw honesty — this isn’t just another blog with pretty photos and flawless stories — Joanna seeks to inspire readers to live their truest lives.

Joanna’s work has been featured in national outlets including Oh Joy!Design for Mankind,  Clementine Daily,Rugs Direct, and Anthology Magazine, where she was an online editor for three years. Recent Jojotastic brand collaborations include Gap, Ziploc, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters, and Airbnb.

Joanna’s passions include filling her passport, rock climbing, freestyle flower arranging, her cat Georgette, her dog Noodle, and questing for the perfect apple pie. Or cupcake. Or donut.

Joanna currently resides in Seattle. Other recent homes include San Francisco and Philadelphia, but her badass spirit is universal. And her spirit animal is chocolate.

Her desk plaque reads “You are doing a great f—ing job.” And that’s pretty much her motto.

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Laurel Anderson is a freelance writer and social media and communications strategist. She provides digital marketing and communications consulting services to individuals, companies, brands and other organizations that need help telling their story. When not telling the stories of others, Laurel is usually hanging out on her front porch or the local coffee shop crafting her own. Her website is http://www.laureleanderson.com and includes her work, social links and Lola Speaks (her intermittent blog).

As a writer of more than twenty years, Laurel has covered everything from daily news stories, people profiles, entertainment, lifestyle, gossip, fashion, trends, movie reviews and more for both print and online publications. She has been known to tackle both serious issues and lighthearted topics during her column run with a local newspaper. Years of entertainment work allowed her to experience both sides of the industry while working on and writing about shows like Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

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Leah Singer helps businesses tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients through writing and marketing strategy. She teaches marketing and branding to college students, and works extensively with institutions of higher education and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments. She is also a freelance writer and has written for The Huffington Post, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor), Edible San Diego, Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and other national blogs and websites. She also blogs personally at Leah’s Thoughts.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Meghan Cleary is Contributing Editor, The Hollywood Reporter, Pret-a-Reporter, and author of two books on what your shoes say about you. She writes primarily about footwear, trends and cultural implications of shoes. She is also co-founder of MeghanSAYS shoes, debuting December 1 on Nordstrom.com. Her website and blog are located at shoeareyou.com

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

freelancer files: people are funny about money

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:

1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).

Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.

Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.

Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.

After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).

One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.

Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.

Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.

See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.

This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.

If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.

on consulting + going out on my own

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You’re never leaving, right? my client jokes last week after I give him a recap of my activity. Even though I’ve been on this assignment for only a short period of time, I feel connected to the people with whom I’ve been working–the ease in which I’ve assimilated into the group shocks me still–and my client, in jest, talked about having me aboard, full-time. I laughed, shook my head quietly, and said no, committing to someone for five days a week just isn’t my bag.

Last week, a fellow freelancer talked about consulting in terms of relationships: I’m dating a ton of people right now, and I have no interest in a commitment. I nodded my head because after seventeen years bound to multiple offices, computers, logins, politics and process, I want something other. And while I’ve been privileged to have been offered a slew of executive roles in agencies and at companies over the past year, I’ve ceremoniously turned them all down because the idea of having ownership of my time was infinitely more attractive than the illusion of financial stability. I’m insanely focused during the hours I’m on an assignment, and then I have the FREEDOM to work on my novel, take Brooklyn Body Burn classes during the day, and meet friends for a meal without having to frantically check my phone. I used to be the person who always checked the time, now I’m someone who allows it to pass.

Although I dare say I miss having consistent health insurance and a 401K.

Another freelancer, my dear friend Alex, and I spoke of the freedom of creating a life of your own design, of experimenting with models, modes of work, and failing forward while devouring the menu at Trattoria il Mulino. Although the risk of failing when you’re constantly hustling for income is a real one, it also allows you the space and time to really analyze your failures and make transformative change in how you act and work. You’re rarely afforded the ability to fail forward in a traditional workplace since failure, by definition, bears a negative connotation–it’s the thing to which we’ve been trained to avoid by all means possible. So we’ve been groomed to believe that running through ribbons is success, while I believe success is falling on your face, tasting your own blood, and getting up to run again. Perhaps considering a new course or direction.

Here’s the thing: I’m often nervous about maintaining deal flow, I loathe networking for the sake of networking, and I generally make less money than I have in the past, BUT, BUT, I’m happier. My days are my own to design; I only take on projects that challenge me; I work with people who inspire me; I collaborate with other freelancers, regardless of peer level and age, as a means to test out ideas and new ways of thinking + working; I’ve always operated from a place of integrity, which has afforded me a strong, reliable network. So when people ask me if I’ll ever go back to full-time {and this question is a constant, as folks somehow operate under the impression that full-time employment is risk-averse}, I talk about marriage. I talk about the seriousness of commitment. I now come from a place where I view a full-time role as a mutually-beneficial partnership rather than a honor bestowed by the employer.

I only wish I’d embarked on this path sooner…

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maple syrup muffins + coming out as an ambivert

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Today I’m working on a project from home and I couldn’t be more deliriously happy. Over the weekend, my sweet friend Amber and I had a long conversation about our predilection for time spent in complete and utter silence. We spoke of the necessity of being alone, about how crowds give us vertigo, and after a long day of talking, all we want to do is be mute. Friends often laugh when we tell them about our introverted side, because Amber and I are the sort of people who are high-octane. We perform. People tell us we have a presence, so the idea that we crave, we absolutely need, quiet is laughable to most.

But trust me, it’s true. I’m an ambivert, which means that while I love collaborating with co-workers and being part of a team, I often need to be alone. This quiet allows me to recharge, rest, and think about the events of my day and what’s next. Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that I’m an only child, but I take solace in my alone time; I’m rarely lonely. I prefer to travel alone. I prefer my company over others, and this clear delineation between these two states affords me to appreciate when great people are in my life.

Right now I’m privileged to be working on a project in an agency where everyone is really nice. They’re kind and collaborative, and I find myself getting excited and worked up and wanting to consistently build processes and structure (I’ve been brought on as a management consultant to restructure and build the blueprint for a division). At the end of the day, I’m exhilarated, but exhausted. So believe me when I say that today’s alone time was needed.

Not only did I wake at 5 and get a start to my day, I managed to make these muffins in the early morning hours. And nothing compares, NOTHING, to being alone with your kitty and a piping hot mini-cake. NOTHING.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
Makes 12 muffins
Softened unsalted butter, for the pan
2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
1½ cups pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
12 tbsp (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup whole milk (I used almond milk)
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°. Brush the insides of 12 muffin cups with softened butter, then brush the top of the pan. (This ensures the muffins don’t stick when they rise.)

Whisk the unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the maple syrup, melted butter, and milk together in another bowl, then whisk in the egg and yolk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until smooth. Stir in the walnuts. Let the batter stand so the dry ingredients can absorb the liquids, about 5 minutes.

Using a 2½-inch-diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter, rounded side up, into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a wire cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 15 minutes more. (My note: Make this 10 minutes if you’re using a cupcake pan)

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely.

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on the business of writing

Part of me feels slightly false posting this video, as I’ve learned that while my novel-in-progress, Mammoth, is ambitious and ferocious in scope, it still needs a considerable amount of work. Right now it suffers from a lack of structure, which will allow for the telling of a story — a novel that feels very much like a nesting doll — to be seamless. The structure needs to allow for you to connect to the characters in a way that doesn’t create dissonance, yet nearly everything I write has an element of dissonance — an imaginary wall separating me from you. Language allows me to do this, create walls and break them, but right now, as I type, my ability to erect walls is preventing me from writing a truly wonderful book. My agent gave me some tremendous feedback that called out all these things, and at first I was angry, but then realized he was right. I’m printing out the 130 pages I have and will try in the coming months to set landmines in areas where I use language as a shield rather than a door you can easily walk through. A heart that is penetrable.

Like life, I guess.

You can’t know how I much I struggle with structure, because it feels confining. It feels as if I have to adhere to rules and order and harmony, yet I need it. I need it to be the frame and foundation for how I tell the story of a woman unraveling.

So Lexee, Stephanie, Arlene and Judy — take this advice with a grain of salt, because I’m endlessly struggling with writing, too.

love. life. eat. of the week

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I’ve always had such profound respect for journal editors like Anh Minh Le of Anthology Magazine, because hers is a labor of love, from her extraordinary essays to her carefully-conceived layouts. I invite you to check out a sneak peek of their latest issue online. It’s a good one.

One of the primary reasons I write is the need to start a dialogue. I couldn’t be more humbled and thrilled that my Kinfolk piece started a meaninful conversation online. Jane wonders in her thought-provoking post, “…why authenticity has been confused with an aesthetic. And if the perpetrators even think about the language they’re using, the dissonance they’re creating, or if they’re just capitalizing on this economic moment, packaging a product with a deep and visceral need (a spiritual one, even).” I was also taken with Cara’s honest piece on guilt, privilege, and all the criticism that falls in between. Along the same lines, a very good friend and trusted business partner wondered if my anger is due, in part, because I exist outside of this rarified group of people, a impenetrable group I could never be a part of. To a certain extent this is true, but I’m rallying against an overall representation of a simplified life. A whitewashing of food culture that is dangerous and one-note.

As a consultant who has expertise in an industry where everyone with a Facebook account purports to have expertise, I have to continuously remind clients that I value price. If they want cheap and inexperienced, they can walk down the street. Krista’s piece so eloquently addresses how consultants need to price themselves based on their worth and value.

This post reminded me that successful people start ventures before they’re even ready. With that being said, I’ve decided to make the leap and launch a new side project, a magazine devoted to gathering and home, with food being the bond that unites the two and empowers us to tell great stories. I want stories like this and reviews like this. From the modest to the sublime, I want to cultivate real stories from real people who enjoy real food.

Speaking of delicious food, Kimchi Grill is fast becoming my go-to spot for AMAZING short-rib tacos. I mean, aren’t you DYING over these snaps?

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