Friday, April 27, 2012

Mining the Freelance Goldfields

I’ve been watching a lot of Gold Rush and Bering Sea Gold on The Discovery Channel lately.  My four-year-old son really likes Gold Rush, and I can’t blame him since I’ve had a long-time interest in gold mining myself.

While I’ve never made my gold mining dream a reality, as a self-employed freelancer, watching these shows has made me realize just how much freelancing is like gold mining.  So in a way, I am realizing my gold mining dream, just in a different form and way.

Lots of Hours and Hard Work
As I watch these gold mining shows on television, I realize just how much work is involved, and often for a not very big payoff.  While I might not be getting down-and-dirty panning for gold or running heavy equipment, there’s certainly plenty of work involved in my freelance activities; and like gold mining, sometimes for a not very big payoff. 

My day typically starts between 7 and 8 a.m. (which I admit, isn’t all that bad); however, work often doesn’t end until eight or nine at night.  Pair this with caring for a four-year-old, and you’ve got a pretty work-filled day.

Management is Key
Gold miners must know where to dig, how to dig, what equipment to use, where to focus their time and efforts to make the most money, and in a larger operation, understand employee management and how best to utilize those employees.

While I don’t have any employees to worry about, the rest of these aforementioned aspects of gold mining do apply to my work as a freelancer.  I have to be able to know where to look for work, how to do the work, what equipment and applications I’ll need to accomplish my work, and where and in what amounts to focus my attentions and efforts in an attempt to make most efficient use of my time.

It’s a Constant Hunt for the Mother Load
In gold mining, it’s often a constant hunt for the big score, the “mother load” if you will.  And there can be a lot of “grunt” work in the search for that discovery.

In freelancing, I’ve found that you must often pay your dues and shovel through all the tailings (a term for previously mined gold rich material in which there might still be some gold, but in smaller amounts), pick up work that others didn’t find worthwhile, or dig through large amounts of work that just isn’t worth your time in search for employment that offers the opportunity for a bigger payday.

There’s Only So Much Pay Dirt in One Area
For many gold miners, a claim only offers so much pay dirt in one area.  Once that pay dirty has been processed, it’s time to making a decision -- either take a new approach to the same area or move on to a new claim.

I find that it’s the same for me in my freelance work as a writer.  There is only so much I can rake a particular topic such as “How to save money at the grocery store” over the coals until it’s played out.  Then I must decide whether it’s time to take a new approach to the subject, maybe something along the lines of “How to save money on name brand products” or “Money Saving options for single individuals at the grocery store” or decide whether to move on to a new subject area completely.

I Might Strike it Rich, I Might Strike Out, but Either Way, the Chance is There
It’s fun when I’m watching shows like Gold Rush and I see the guys catch “gold fever”.  They get a little taste of some gold-rich pay dirt and they’re suddenly running their operation late into the night to process as much of the dirt as possible.

The same thing happens to me as a freelancer.  I’ll be running along smoothly, staying productive, but not killing myself, when suddenly, BAM!  There’s a big opportunity or chance for a good payday and I find myself really pushing to get more work processed.  It’s hard work, and it might not always pan out the way I’d hoped, but the chance for a big payday is there, and for me, chasing the dream is half the fun!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Emergency Work Fund

I recently wrote an article called “Solar Flares and the Demise of the Internet: I Have a Plan, do You?” The article was largely about my backup plan regarding what would happen should the Internet fail to be a viable work and communications option for self-employed people like me, over a lengthy period of time.

During the article, I mentioned my emergency work fund and how it was an integral part of my plan to be able to continue working for a significant period of time without available Internet service.

One of my readers asked me to go further in depth regarding my emergency work fund, which for me, consists largely of writing projects, since I’m a freelance writer; but that I think is a formula could that work for many other types of jobs as well.

Finding Work that Will Keep
As a freelancer, the Internet is an integral part of my work life. I use it as a resource for writing projects, a way to find new work and clients, and a way to stay in contact and network with customers and readers.

However, in the event of a lapse in Internet service, I need a few work projects upon which I can count. This means that such projects that I hold in reserve must have a longer shelf-life. Holding back on writing an article about current gas prices or the state of the economy and keeping it in reserve probably wouldn’t be the best idea. However, holding onto a more “evergreen” article idea regarding my experiences with a past garage sale might not be a bad move and would have a longer shelf-life.

Compiling Resources
However just having such an idea set aside might not do me much good if the time comes that I need to use it but find that I can’t gather the requisite information to complete the work. Pulling information from the Internet ahead of time and stockpiling it with the idea can have me prepared for if or when the time hits that I don’t have access to such information.

Prioritizing Higher Paying Projects
I don’t want to stockpile a bunch of my highest paying work, as in most instances, I want to get it out there and realize the profits from my efforts as soon as possible. This means that I like to keep a variety of paying work available when it comes to my emergency fund stockpile.

Depending upon the duration of my time without Internet access, I typically work on what’s left of my higher paying work first, preparing a couple decent paying pieces of work should the Internet be back up and running fairly quickly. Once I’m through with this higher paying stuff though, I’ll slowly move through the ranks down the payment scale. I’ll work on pieces that may not pay as well or that might not have the residual earning power of others but that are still viable earning options.

Outlining and Organizing
If or when I’m kept from the Internet -- or it’s kept from me -- I tend to spend part of my time outlining and organizing various work projects. This allows me to stay productive and preparing for certain aspects of work while not necessarily turning out finished work per se.

As a freelance writer, this might mean brainstorming and coming up with article ideas, outlining, proofreading, and organizing certain office and work-related housekeeping issues for which I don’t typically have a lot of time. There may also be long-term projects such as short stories, books, and similar items that often don’t have the immediate income results that short-term projects like article and blog pieces might, but that could offer bigger rewards down the road.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Month of May is Almost Here!

I still remember listening to this Indy 500 race on the radio as we drove back from a trip to Florida. I think my fingernail marks might still be on the steering wheel of our car.

No wonder our four-year-old is a Sam Hornish Jr. fan!

And of course, we can't forget last year.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Tips for Small Business Owners

Running my own operation was be a tough proposition, but once I made a go of it, it was greatly rewarding. While a small business may range from just one person to dozens of employees or more, certain tips and techniques can run the gambit of operation size when comes to running a business. And it’s not always the operation that makes the most money, but the one that manages that money and the operat
ion the best that lives to see another day.

Here are some of the rules that I tend to follow as an independent operator myself, and that help me maintain a steady course as I sail my own ship.

Maintain Healthy Reserves Whenever and Wherever Possible

Whether it’s in inventory, cash, credit, or supplies, I find that it’s extremely useful to have reserves on hand whenever and wherever possible. In the initial days of my own self-employed venture, had I not had the financial reserves to maintain myself through that first year when income was virtually nil, it would have been difficult to outlast that cash drought.

Now that I have my legs under me, and my work is more where I’d like it to be, I find that maintaining a cash reserve serves as peace of mind. Meanwhile, keeping inventory reserves available acts to bolster confidence while allowing me to endure increases in demand and smooth over periods where productivity may drop due to inactivity related to travel or a vacation.

The Little Things Add Up

Whether it’s expenses or income related, the little things can add up. It’s not always those big costs that can kill a business, but the little ticky-tack items that slowly creep up on you.

My first year out, some of my greatest operating costs were related to office supplies and postage. And while some of my income streams in those first few years seemed mighty miniscule, only adding up to $40 or $50 here or there, some of them grew to provide me thousands of dollars in income. Had I simply given up on them early on, I could have missed out on tens of thousands of dollars in extra revenue over the years.

Be Ready and Willing to Change

What you plan for yourself and your business might not be what ends up earning you your income. There are plenty of small business owners out there who have entered one industry or niche only to find that they are better suited to something else altogether.

Tis is exactly what happened to me. I entered one area of an industry only to realize that if I wanted to pay the bills and earn any sort of real income that I was going to have to adjust my strategy and type of work to better fit the demand that was out there rather than try to force the issue with work that just wasn’t earning me any money.

Know Yourself and Know Your Business

While it might take some time to get to know your business as a small business owner, hopefully by now, you’ll already know yourself. Understanding how far or hard to push yourself, when to take a chance, how to balance risk versus reward, and when it’s time to pack it in and call it a day can make the difference between success and failure in a small business venture.

I realized that self-growth when it came to running my own show was a combination of learning myself through learning my business and vice versa. It took me time to learn how I would react and grow in an environment where I was governed by my own rules rather than those of a company or corporation. I understood that the quicker I could meld myself and my business into one, the sooner I could make decisions that benefited both rather than one or the other.

Disclaimer: The author is not a licensed financial professional or small business advisor. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, financial or small business advice. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Garage Sale Prep Tips

Properly preparing for a garage sale can be a lot of hard work. But if you do so ahead of time, being ready can save a lot of stress and running around the morning of.

I’ve been a part of as well as been to so many garage sales over the years, that I’ve pretty much got the whole garage sale experience down. Here are some of the things that I do ahead of time when I’m preparing to have a garage sale to ensure that I’m ready to go and that there aren’t any delays when I head out bright and early.

Change at the Ready
I don’t always have to go to the bank to get my change for a garage sale. Sometimes I have enough cash and change around the house to handle my needs. I always make sure I have plenty of five dollar bills, ones, and quarters since those are the mainstays of my garage sale change needs. I rarely price things in five or ten cent increments, therefore largely negating the need for such change, but I carry a little bit in my change container just in case.

If I don’t have my requisite change needs met at home, I’ll stop by the local bank and pick up what I need in advance of my sale. I don’t want to have to make time consuming or troublesome trips to the bank the day of.

I ensure that I get things out and priced ahead of my sale. While I risk a few price stickers or tags falling off before the sale by doing so, it’s worth it to avoid the scramble of trying to get everything priced that morning. I also don’t want people showing up to my garage sales with me not being ready, possibly risking lost sales in the process.

Tables Set
Having things on tables and organized the way I want them ahead of time, means that the morning of my garage sale is much easier. My wife and I can just moved the tables out (carefully mind you) where we want them, position other larger items, and voila! We’re set.

Signs Made and Ready
I will put an ad in the local paper the week ahead of my sale. My other form of advertising besides the ad is self-made signs. I typically place my wife in charge of signage creations since she has better handwriting.

We tend to save our old signs that have survived previous garage sales so we can re-use them. Having our signs made and ready ahead of time can save costly delays creating them the morning of our garage sale.

Have My Tool Kit Ready
I typically go into my garage sales with a “tool kit” of supplies that I’ll likely need throughout the day. I’ve found that certain items are good to have during a sale, and help keep my trips back and forth between the house to a minimum.

Here the things that I usually keep in my garage sale tool kit:

• Extra price stickers/tags
• Money box
• Scissors
• Tape
• White and colored paper (for sign making if needed)
• Pens, markers, and permanent markers
• Plastic and paper bags, and boxes (for customer purchases and after sale cleanup)
• Drinks and snacks

Be Set and Ready an Hour in Advance
If you’ve lived in the garage sale world long enough, you’ll likely be aware that even if you set your start time for 7 a.m., someone will probably arrive before that, sometimes quite a bit before.

I know that some people don’t like or appreciate early arrivals to their sales. I’ll admit that I don’t always like it myself. What I do like however, is the money they bring to these sales, and it’s worth it to me to be up and ready an hour in advance to catch these early customers.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When My Retirement Plan Falls, I Look for the Silver Lining…Dividends

I’m not a huge fan of the stock market, but I’ve learned to look at certain aspects of stocks and stock funds in a more positive light. I don’t actively invest in the stock market, but I have an IRA account that I rolled over from my previous employer’s 401(k) before I became self-employed. Since I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of my money being at risk, I have pooled the various funds in my IRA into one fairly evenly distributed equity/bond income fund, which means I have dividends paid out (and reinvested since I’m not yet of retirement age) each month.

While this fund rides the hills and valleys that are bound to accompany any stock market, my reinvested dividends provide a silver lining of sorts when it comes to those down years that many of us with money in the stock market would prefer to forget.

Breaking Even isn’t Always a Bad Thing
I don’t really mind breaking even when it comes to stocks. Breaking even means I likely haven’t lost anything, except maybe some sleep or a few bucks to inflation while my money’s been asleep at the wheel. But otherwise, breaking even isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might seem like between stock prices falling and dividends being paid out, I’m just treading water, but I could actually be gaining in the process, even though it doesn’t appear to be that way upon first inspection.

Dollar Cost Averaging
Dollar cost averaging can almost turn a down stock market into a good thing. Having my monthly dividends paid out in shares at a lower price, means that I can buy more shares. And the more shares I have when prices go back up, the more in dollars I’ll have in my account. Therefore, by regularly receiving shares over a long period of time at a variety of prices that are high, low and somewhere in between, I can get a pretty good average of share prices over the course of time and hopefully even out some of those bigger loss years.

My Long-term Approach
With this being the case, I tend to take a long-term approach to my stock/bond based retirement plan. In the near-term, I actually like that fund shares prices might be low. Since I’m continually gaining shares, I hope that over time these prices will eventually rise. Even if they don’t go up significantly, I’m at least gaining more shares by way of the dividends that are paid to me and being reinvested at lower prices. And if shares stagnate at the same price over the next 20 to 30 years, it’s like I’m gaining interest on my money anyway by way of the dividends I’m being paid, even if the stock shares really don’t budge much. So it’s kind of a win/win…hopefully at least.