Monday, March 31, 2008

All networked out...

One of my biggest complaints about freelancing is the constant search for new work. Sometimes, all the stars align and work just flows in. People just email or call and ask me to take on projects. For a couple years, one big project just followed another. Well, feast or famine as a freelancer means that sometimes we all have to go back into work-hunt mode. I call it trolling for work.

I spent a lot of time last quarter trolling for work, because my well had gone pretty dry. It did pay off, and now I've got a good number of projects to keep me busy for the short term. But it's meant a lot of networking. And for fear of growing complacent with the work I have and finding myself back in the same situation again in a couple months, I've done more networking this past month than I'd like. I feel like I'm constantly running out to a breakfast or lunch meeting, or having coffee with someone. Last week was perhaps the worst -- I had three breakfasts, two lunches and an afternoon coffee, all while I was on a couple deadlines. My family is of course none too pleased with the running out part too, since it leaves a burden on my partner to get the kids off to school when I leave at 6:30 am to get downtown for a networking event.

I've tried to be smart in choosing what events to attend. I only go if the topic and/or speaker interests me, and I look for opportunities to meet new people who might be in positions to recommend me for work. So I don't go to very many business-card exchange groups, you know, where there's one person from each profession all looking for business from each other. I've found over the years that while these are great ways to meet people, they don't put me in touch with people who make decisions about the kind of work I do. Instead I look for board of trade events, or associations in industries for whom I'd like to do more work. Last week I went to a presentation about marketing (met some interesting marketers, who might be good contacts for communications work down the road), a board of trade breakfast about media (met a lawyer whose clients might need my services, and a fellow communicator who I can help get involved in more professional development. But I also found myself at a couple events where I misjudged the crowd. At one breakfast, I felt like the oldest person in the room, with all these Gen Y types who are just starting their careers.

I'm not saying there's not value in every person you meet -- a contact isn't just one person, it's everyone they know. And I know networking isn't about meeting people who hire me, but rather about seeing how I can help them, or connect them with someone they need to meet, in order to show value and build karma. I know what I'm supposed to do at these events and I do it not too badly, I think. But it's tiring, and I've had a lot of it recently.

I guess that's why I'm considering leaving freelance life. Not that I don't love the fresh fruit and croissants, but sometimes it would be nice to do less of it.

BONUS FACT: When I'm at one of these lunch things at a downtown hotel, I always skip dessert. Instead, I ask a waiter if he can get me a plate of fresh fruit. I almost always get it, and it always looks and tastes great. Most of my table usually copies me once they see it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The etiquette of being stood up

What is the proper behaviour when you're sat at the meeting spot, waiting for the person you had arranged to meet, and the time of your meeting has come and gone. When you've been stood up, what is the correct etiquette?

A couple weeks ago I was supposed to meet a woman for coffee at a coffee shop (which is common when you're a freelancer without a downtown office), and twenty minutes after our meeting time had come and gone, I knew I'd been stood up. In this case, I had asked to meet her because I was looking for a graphic designer that I could recommend to a client, so it was in her best interest to meet me. Unfortunately I didn't have her phone number with me, and all I had was my cell phone, not even email (I know, how behind-the-times of me!) Anyhow, I finally remembered the name of her design studio, borrowed the phone book from the coffee shop and called her office. Her assistant didn't know what was up, but called me back within minutes to say the lady I was meeting had been delayed and would be able to be there in 15 minutes. So that would have been 35 minutes past the meeting time. Frankly, I had stuff to do with me and I could have stayed, but decided not to, and told her assistant she should call me to reschedule (which she did, and we did meet another day, and all is forgiven). At that moment, I was feeling like I'd look too pathetic if I waited that long for someone who didn't even try to get a hold of me to say she'd be that late (and I know she had my number that day!). Did I do the right thing?

And then this week, I had a drink scheduled after work with a colleague, one of my discussions. We'd set it up more than a week ago, so I called her office just to confirm. Imagine my surprise when I got her voicemail saying she was on holiday today and not checking messages. So I pressed "0" and asked her assistant what was up. She was equally confused, saying she didn't know any meetings were planned, and would try to reach my colleague and have her call me that day anyhow. Well, no call, so I didn't head to the meeting spot, and haven't heard from her in two days since. In this case, I want the meeting, so I'll call her today and see if we can try again.

But what's up with being stood up? Is there a proper way to say "hey buddy, you stood me up!" in a business context? I think I'll do some research online today and see if anyone has any good advice.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Contract jobs

I've been wondering if the current trend in working is more people working for themselves or more people working as employees. If the labour shortage is so bad, is that because everyone has given up corporate life for self-employment, or is it because everyone is taking jobs and there just aren't enough people left for the vacancies?

A recent article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye on this topic. It's all about the trend of contract work, where an agency places you in a company for a temporary, albeit full-time gig. The article talked mainly about finance, law, and tech contracts -- I know of only one agency in my area that deals in communications, my field, and it's mainly junior jobs or design work, not my thing. But it got me thinking.

Would a full-time, short term project be preferable to many clients? I guess it comes down to variety and flexibility. The nice thing about freelancing for many clients is that I can schedule my own time. Of course, the nice thing about a full time contract is the stability of income for a longer time period than freelancing, but would the client be as understanding if I wanted to take the morning off to go on a field trip with my kid's school?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Big Day is Here!

This is the big day. I've now officially left my 30s behind and head into the next decade. Head held high, smile on my face, I've greeted the day and it grinned back.

I've always said I didn't fear being 40, and now the real test is here. So far, so good. I woke up snuggled in my husband's arms, then my kids ran in and more hugs. They made me breakfast in bed, and when I finally came down I found a bunch of birthday wishes on my facebook page and in my email. I'd say overall it's been a good start to my 40s.

More seriously, I do not fear this decade and never did. I'm where I thought I should be at this time of my life basically. Married, own a home, two kids, decent career to date -- all on track. I'm pretty healthy (despite needing to lose some weight!), training for a triathlon, well read, traveled -- what more could I ask for?

Oh yeah, some clarity on the future of my career would be nice. Just because I've hit the big 4-0 doesn't mean my career trek changes. But for today, I put all that aside and focus on enjoying my day. Now if only I didn't have to deal with two six year olds invading my home office space this morning, but that's the down side of having a birthday during Spring Break.

And I do have a babysitter booked and a lovely dinner out to look forward to this evening. Yup, so far I'm liking 40.

Monday, March 17, 2008


A couple weeks ago I met someone who works in advertising, which is outside my usual field but not so far away that a transition might be made. Anyhow, she mentioned a few people I might talk to about that kind of transition, but she didn't offer to introduce me, she just pulled some phone numbers off her blackberry. And I admit, I haven't followed them up yet.

And then today, the New York Times Shifting Careers blog has a great column on introductions.

I'm a big fan of this blog and read it regularly, and love when Marci Alboher writes something that directly relates to my career discovery. Today she talks about following up on introductions. She discusses the different ways people follow up those kind of "You should meet..." and why it matters.

I've had a lot of meetings lately where people are always naming other people I should meet. I have tried to follow all of them up, but sometimes I don't. It has really depended on the type of introduction offered. Marci has her categories of introductions, but I see them a bit differently. These are the types of intros I usually see, which apply equally to networking for more freelance work as they do to my career discovery.

Type 1: Contact offers to introduce me and does, usually copying me on intro. These I always follow up, and usually find immensely helpful. Sometimes I have to prompt the introduction later, with a call or email asking my contact to make the introduction, but still they do the first intro so when I get in touch, that person knows who I am.

Type 2: Contact suggests someone I should meet, then emails me name and contact details later, but leaves me to introduce myself. I usually follow these up, but it does feel a bit like a cold call so my ego has to be strong the day I do it.

Type 3: Contact names someone and says I should talk to them, but doesn't introduce me or even pass on contact info -- usually saying something like "I can't remember his contact information but I'm sure you can google him and find it." Or they throw a phone number at me during our meeting (nearly always off their blackberry!)., like my advertising contact did. I don't always follow these up. This feels worse than Type 2 because it almost seems like I'm being flubbed off with a couple names. This feels like an even bigger cold call, which means my ego has to be super strong to make this kind of call.

Of course this is what networking is all about, and whether the goal is more freelance work, a new job, or even a first job out of school, this is how you do it. For my part, I'm going to resolve for the next month to follow up every contact given to me, and to make every introduction I promised a "Type 1" introduction. So I guess I have some calls to make today.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Timing the job market, post Olympics?

A friend told me this week she thinks that the job market will freeze up in my province after the 2010 Olympics are over. There's been so much hype about job creation and business booming because Vancouver is hosting the Winter Olympics, that I found her comments surprising. But she makes a good argument.

In the buildup to the big event, everyone is optimistic, spending money, staffing up. Then for a month or so we all work and play full out during the event (well, events plural, really, because the Paralympics are also coming here). But after that, all those people whose jobs revolved around some aspect of the games then become out of work. And suddenly the labour market gets overrun with people looking for jobs.

I had seen it differently. I thought that between the much-talked-about labour shortage and the boom in business from the Olympics and resulting economic development, the job market would stay constant before, during and after the games.

If my friend is right, perhaps I should think about finding a job sinecure before the fall of 2009, because after that I might find it harder to land a job. Or maybe not...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Counting down to 40

Just for the record, my 40th birthday is now six days away. I'm not depressed or anxious, nor am I excited and exhuberant. I've come to realize that turning 40 isn't a day for me. Because of this whole rethink-my-life thing I'm going through, which started at least three months before my birthday and will no doubt continue long after, turning 40 is more like a whole year for me.

That said, I did just get my hair done and dyed out the grey. No reason why I should LOOK 40! ;-)

Is Gen Y pressuring Gen X to get a move on?

I've written before about Linda Duxbury, a very smart lady at Carleton University who is an expert on workplace demographics and its affect on careers and jobs. I was re-reading her notes about the conflicts between generations today and this struck me:
...contentious situations will arise. The Boomers see the youngest generation as lazy. Generation X thinks the youngest generation are spoiled brats...Generation Y feels that no one respects or listens to them. They want an opportunity to learn and a mentor, not just a blunt, in-your-face boss who tells them what to do.

Now that I'm considering giving up the freelance life and taking a job, should I be worried about competing with Generation Yers? And if they're competing with me for jobs, do I need to change my perceptions and expectations of the workplace to be up there with them? One thing about freelancing all these years is that I haven't shared too many work situations with the younger set.

Is there a lot of resentment from Gen Y about Gen X? I know we Gen Xers resented the heck out of the baby boomers when we were in our 20s, because they had all the job and all the potential advancement, and we were under employed and lacking in opportunities. Does Gen Y want us out of the way now, or are they less bitter and actually appreciate our experience?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Asking potential clients what they think

Have you ever considered hiring an outside person to survey potential clients about you and how they perceive you? I know I've written previously about the idea of a perception audit, but this is different.

I met yesterday with a researcher who has his own business, who recently rebranded and refocused what he does. He talked about having spent nearly a year figuring it all out (and I'm not even at half a year, so I guess I'm doing okay). As part of his investigation of what he wants to be when he grows up (still the way I think of all this!), he actually hired an outside researcher to talk to CEOs at companies with whom he wants to work someday, as well as some of his past clients, to find out what they think of him and his skills. It all turned out okay for him, but that must have been really hard to do. Not only do you put yourself out there, but imagine hearing things you don't want to, like maybe you're not perceived the way you want to be, or that they think you're not as good at certain things as you thought, or that they wouldn't contract you at all.

I don't think I'm courageous enough to take that kind of step, but it does bear thinking about. Would you get an outsider to research your prospects?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday morning up and at 'em!

It's been a relaxing weekend with the family and very little work stress, which means I need to get off my duff and get some work going now. Starting the day in my home office, once the hubby and kids are out of the house, takes one of two tones with me:

1. I'm right to the computer and digging into a project straight away, and barely pick my head up until my stomach grumbles for lunch; or

2. I make another cup of tea, read the newspaper, scan the blogs, and try to drag my brain into work mode.

This approach seemed to be pretty constant whether I worked at home or in an office. I remember one job where a co-worker would start and finish early, so when I came in he'd been there for an hour, but almost never seemed to have moved far beyond the tea and newspaper stage. In his defense though, we did work in media relations so we needed to read papers as part of our job, but not the lifestyle section.

Do you find the Monday morning get-up-and-go is any different if you're at a workplace or a home office?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Downside to taking a job?

I was at a work-type reception last night where I did some great networking as well as catching up with some friends/colleagues. One woman who does what I do and is also a freelancer, was surprised that I was considering taking a 9-to-5 job in the near future, and when I got home that night, found she had sent me this article on How to Suck Up to Your Boss. Her comment was "Consider this before jumping to the salaried world."

Funny that this was her first reaction. She's one of the first freelancers I've talked to about the possibility of job hunting, and if this article reflects her reaction to moving from freelance to a job, maybe I should give this idea more thought. My favourite part of the article:
The larger issue at hand is respecting the boss' position. This is a new concept to many people, particularly those employees who are right out of school and are used to working independently. You might try saying something like, "I have these ideas, but I will defer to your decision."

If all this feels icky, just hold your nose and remember it's about career advancement. And that's something most people can support.

I know it's a big adjustment to move from freelance to a job, but is it really this bad?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Changing my image

I've recently written about perception and trying to upgrade how I'm perceived by others in my profession. So this article about fixing your image was very good reading.

One of the easiest ways to change peoples’ perceptions of you is with your clothes. ...The world is not tracking the number of outfits you have and when you wear them. So if you can afford it, buy a few well-made outfits instead of a lot of cheap outfits. Low rotation is your best long-term strategy. Build a wardrobe of good clothes that fit well and you look like you’ve got your act together.

It's advice I've heard before, but since I've just come back from the US for a short holiday, and shopping in another city is so much more fun than shopping at home, it was good to be reminded about the kind of wardrobe for which I should aim.