The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month

whatilearnedfromstartingabusinessinonemonth

Yes, it was rash. But was it too soon? I argue that it wasn't.

Here's how it happened.

The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month

Back before my days of social media strategist/writer/consultant, I mainly did just one thing: acting. And when I say "mainly" I don't mean like "most of the time." I mean that was what I viewed as my career even though I'd spend anywhere between three months and nine months out of the year not doing the thing I loved. 

During one such period of working survival jobs I got a quirky gig as a princess with a character performing company in Nashville. Yes, I literally dressed up in costumes, brought my own soundtrack and sang Disney songs to sweet little girls wearing plastic tiaras and lip gloss. They loved it. I loved it. Everyone was happy*. :-)

*(Except when I was tasked with portraying Hannah Montana. Couldn't escape the skeptical side eye I got at those parties.)

I moved away from Nashville at the end of 2009 and spent another year performing in dinner theatre (while lightly freelance writing on the side) before embarking on a new parallel path to performing: the business side of show business which led to social media for live experiences which led to grad school which led to launching my full-time freelance career as a writer/social media strategist. All along I was still performing professionally when a good opportunity came along. 

Cut to fall 2014. (5 years since I had retired my glass slippers). It was Halloween. I was the candy passer-outer at our abode. 

And my mind was blown.

*Ding dong.*

Aren't you a pretty Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh! Queen Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh look! Elsa.

I began to feel a bit like Bill Murray in that film about February 2. How many Elsas could come to one door on one night?

That's when ideas began to come together in my mind. Einstein called this "combinatory play"--when you begin to piece together ideas that didn't necessarily originate with you and you create a new idea out of them. 

I set about researching. Were there any princess-type companies in Lynchburg? How about Roanoke? Charlottesville? Was this actually legal to do? (Lucky me--I've got a lawyer sibling!) I had a slew of actress friends who would be perfect to hire. Would they be interested? Available? I could use independent contractors. Pay roll wouldn't be a worry. I had experience performing at princess parties before. I could train the performers. I knew how to create a website. Marketing is my sweet spot. 

So all I needed to know was how to conduct research, make a website, get some friends on board and buy costumes? 

I needed a name. I needed some friends to say it was a good idea. And I needed those costumes by December 7--the date of a big public event where we could make a splash. 

I crunched some numbers and figured out that if all went well I could make back my investment by early March. It was low risk. It was exciting. Why not give it a try? 

Perhaps it wasn't as easy as all that. Did I oversimplify it? Would it have all gone better if I had created a long-term business plan, got funding, launched a perfect product?

The answer is "no." I didn't oversimplify it. You know what would have happened if I hadn't just gone for it?

Nothing at all, dear friends. 

In short, I would've over-thought it. I would've talked myself out of it. But instead, in this instance, in this low-risk instance, I just gave it a shot. What's the worst that could happen? 

I'd be out a grand and I'd fail in front of my friends, family and community. 

Worth the risk.

So on December 7, 2014 Enchanting Entertainment was born. A cool five weeks after the idea popped into my head. 

You may be toying with an idea. You may have a dream passion project or have thought "somebody should really do that." What if it's you? What if you're that somebody?

It may be worth the risk. As one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin says, "Choose the bigger life"--whatever that means to you. 

Go do it. And sprinkle some fairy dust while you're at it. 

The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

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Conversation with a Creative: Meet John Carl

 I always get pretty excited to talk about creativity with anyone who wants to broach the subject. There's so much us creative-types can learn from one another: from strategies to battle the fear of rejection to the ways we get inspired. Today I'm starting a new regular feature in which I take these offline conversations online and share them with you.
First at bat: John Carl. 
John is a New York based videographer and filmmaker. We’ve been close friends since our college days and it’s been fascinating to witness John’s rise from computer lab assistant to director of photography for shoots with household names like Microsoft, Sharpie and Motorola. (Oh the places you'll go between 20 and 30!) John and I have had plenty of conversations about creativity, entrepreneurship, art and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. So today I wanted to kick off a new interview-style feature on the blog with this chat with John. 

HS: Can you share with us a little about your career trajectory? How did you arrive where you are now?

JC: Let’s see. Video by way of photography by way of graphic design by way of music by way of computers—a circuitous path. I never knew exactly where I was going but I wanted to keep my engine on. My cousin Davy says, “You cant steer a parked car.I just knew that if I kept doing what I loved that I would eventually find a way to turn it into a career. That’s the short answer.

The slightly longer answer is that I got a camera that could shoot video, a DSLR in 2009 and just started shooting video for fun. After posting a couple videos online, I got a call from Levis about a job and it was a bigger job so it seemed to be the right time to go freelance and start a company. I reached out to some friends and we started a company (DuckDuck Collective). The first year or two were very scrappy. We had to hustle a lot and accepted any work that came our way: weddings, senior portraits, events—not the most glamorous work in the grand scheme of the industry but we were paying our dues. Lynchburg was the perfect place to do that because it was so cheap to live here. Eventually clients wanted more video work and our numbers began to grow. Then on one of our bigger jobs in California we learned that the client had asked the agency why they were hiring “some kids from Virginia” as opposed to professionals from LA or New York. That was insightful and when I realized that even your zip code communicates something about your perceived level of skill. So we decided to move. I wanted to put off LA for as long as possible. It feels a little inevitable in this industry. So off to NYC we went and that’s where we are today. We have new office space, a new camera, lots of other new gear and some new services that aren’t announced yet but I’m very excited about. The business continues to grow.

HS: So why filmmaking? How did you find yourself there?

JC: Filmmaking is the only thing that incorporates all of my interests: cinematography, music, audio, people, technology and most importantly, story. And I get bored really, really quickly so I need something that keeps me moving between all those different disciplines. So I kind of feel like my whole life was leading up to filmmaking.

HS: What does creativity mean to you?

JC: Creativity is a way of turning ourselves inside out. [It’s] trying to share truth or create beauty to make something worthwhile that didn’t exist before. To rip off Dr. Prior, its our desire to imitate God. He creates so we want to create to be like Him. When were creating were most god-likein a sense. But I also view it as a struggle: there’s a real terror that comes from staring at the blank page. You have to push through the fear, make something, let it be substandard, then repeat and hope you improve in the process. And sometimes you do; sometimes you don’t. So there’s an anguish and joy that come from it.

HS: Tell me more about the joy.

JC: Well, my love language is words of affirmation so when someone praises something I’ve done I find a lot of joy in that. But the process is enjoyable too. There’s a joy in having done something well after working really hard on it. Sitting down to make a song, film, design, is super enjoyable. I mean, except the parts where you want to throw your keyboard out the window. But it’s mostly enjoyable. Plus I’m not good at anything else. (laughs) I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t create.

HS: How do you combat your tendency toward perfectionism?

JC: Poorly. (laughs) I have a dear friend who recommended this book to me called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking. There’s a chapter on perfectionism and the author basically redefines perfectionism as fear. It’s essentially just overvaluing other peoples opinions and fearing their critique. So you wind up doing nothing. It’s not a good thing. So when I say I’m being a perfectionist about something what I’m actually saying is I’m fearful. Oof. Apparently I’m very fearful.

There’s a story in the book that was pretty transformational for me. It tells the story of a pottery professor who, on the first day, told everyone on the left side of the room that they would be graded based on the quantity of their work, and on the right, by the quality of their work. On the last day of class, he did find several perfect pots, but interestingly, they were all from the quantity side of the room. Those students didn’t concern themselves with being perfect, just with learning the process. So I’ve been trying to learn from that story by focusing on the process of creating to set myself free from the tyranny of perfection/fear.

All that said, there’s definitely a limit to discovering quality through quantity too. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. If you’re truly just focused on quantity that would be bad. You need time, occasionally, to focus on quality too, on making things without spiraling into perfectionism. Moderation and balance is the key. Give yourself permission to do both types of projects.

HS: Can you share a little about your creative process?

JC: Well. There’s what it has been and what it should be. What it has been is that it usually starts with feelings, when I’m feeling strongly about anything (happy/sad/angry/pensive, whatever). I havent been approaching it as a process; Ive approached it with a product view. What do I want to end up with? Doing it that way its easy to go off the rails. For example I’ve recorded tons of songs that are half to two-thirds done but I havent shared them out of a fear of not being good enough. So Im actually trying to learn to love the process or even develop one in the first place. Art & Fear talks about this. The author says your responsibility is not to make people love your art or gain approval. Your job as an artist is to love the process. Judge your value as an artist by how youve grown in the process. Give yourself permission to fail and youll get better. That’s hard. Im learning to sacrifice my ego, be humble. I dont know why I ever started believing I was the type of person that would only put out good work. That’s dumb. Focus on the process. Oh yeah, so back to the process. It generally starts with having an emotion or an idea, then theres a “dark night of the soul” full of self-loathing, then giving up or nearly giving up, then pushing through, then eventually I like what Ive wound up with (quasi). Its about learning to love obstructions.

"I dont know why I ever started believing I was the type of person that would only put out good work. That’s dumb. Focus on the process."

I saw a documentary by Lars von Trier, called the Five Obstructions. He asks a filmmaker to remake the same film with five different obstructions. And over the course of the film he learns to love the obstructions. It’s fascinating. When he “cheats” on one, Lars punishes him by assigning him to remake his film with no obstructions at all and the filmmaker hates it. The point is, we actually love and need obstructions. Even though it’s really fun to complain about them. Whatever the limitation is: money, time, right team, etc. The point is to not let any of it be an excuse to stop. Stopping is the enemy. Whatever the twist or obstruction is you have to embrace it and keep pushing.

HS: Do you ever feel creatively blocked? How do you power through that? Any strategies or techniques?

JC: Of course. All the time. The way I power through is just trying to get inspired by other people’s work, Pinterest, Vimeo, real life experience. For whatever reason my life is really dramatic so I have a lot of real world inspiration for creating things.

HS: What is your advice to a young creative who wants a career like yours?

JC: Do whatever it is that you want to do often and don’t wait for somebody else to come along and give you permission to do that thing. No one is coming. No one is coming to give you your big break. Big breaks are an illusion. Getting lucky is hard work. There’s an agency I do freelance at sometimes and on the wall when you walk in it says, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” I love that. I spent a long time being bitter about my college education. I was dissatisfied about all I was not getting taught about graphic design. But at the end of the day when you enter the “real world” no one is responsible for your success other than you. The greatest skill as a creative [can have] is to know how to teach yourself and acquire knowledge. Especially now, with the internet, there is no excuse for anyone to not know anything they want to know. Any information you want to learn, any creative skill set you want to acquire, you can find it online or in a book and often learn it faster and better than in an academic setting. Even if you’re going to an amazing school, the students who do well are the ones who are self-motivated and self-teaching. The ones who do poorly are the ones who are lazy and expect spoon feeding. I think one of the biggest predictors of success is how well you can teach yourself new things and how well you can motivate yourself to do that.

HS: Parting thoughts?

JC: I tried to have a full time job once and it was by far the most unhappy I’ve ever been. I was a tiny cog in a massive machine. I worked in a cubicle. We discussed things like “printer policies” and had to passive-aggressively label our lunches in the fridge. I hated my life. I took a risk though and quit. It has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I ever made. So to anyone thinking about going freelance: do it. DO IT

Read advice from John and other thriving creatives in my eBook “5 Minute Mentor for Creatives.” Grab your copy here.

John Carl is co-founder and president of Duck Duck Collective, a video production company based in Brooklyn, New York. Connect with him on Twitter @JohnCarl. Have something to add to this conversation? We'd love to hear from you. Just hit that "comment" button below. 

 

   

The Secret to Success for Remote Teams

How to Succeed with a Remote TeamStarting this week I'm going to be sharing some of my favorite slices of my freelance writing work with you. I've gotten to interview over 30 executives in large national corporations and I'd love to pass on some of the nuggets of wisdom they've shared with me.  First up is Kirsten Mellor. Kirsten is VP and GC of CafePress, the Internet mecca for on-demand printing of products through user-generated and licensed content platforms. As of 2014, more than 700 million unique virtual products exist on CafePress, with an average of 100,000 new images added by users weekly. CafePress has 20 million-plus members worldwide and a staggering 11 million unique visitors each month.

Mellor works closely with a team of lawyers who are in her Bay Area offices as well as a team in Louisville. So, how does she keep things running smoothly?

“Over-communication,” Mellor said with a laugh. “The tools of the modern workplace—Skype, IM, email—make it easy to connect with each other.”

According to Mellor, face-to-face meetings also remain important. “I fly out [to Louisville] a couple times a year. The Kentucky people come here several times a year. The camaraderie of my team is very important to me. They need to meet and enjoy the folks they work with to produce at their highest level. We try to do some out-of-office team-building things whenever we get the opportunity.”

In my own work I've found project management tools like Basecamp, Todoist and Igloo incredibly helpful.

Do you work with a remote team? What are your tips for making a remote team wildly successful? 

You can enjoy the full-length original article in Forefront Magazine here.

 

The 20 Essentials: What Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

Over the years,  I've learned in my work as a solopreneur that success of course takes determination, creativity, guts, faith and talent, but there are also a bunch of other things that every solopreneur should be using or doing to achieve great things. Here's my list.

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs to Succeed

1. Website. If you're a solopreneur, I hate to break it to you, but if you don't have a website, you don't exist. Services like Squarespace and Wix make it possible for you to easily create your own. 

2. Twitter presence. Every solopreneur needs to take advantage of this social media platform. It is an ideal platform for anyone who is seeking to leverage their expertise. 

3. A desk with a ton of space. I got this desk from World Market a few months back . It almost doubled my work space. It's been GREAT. Bonus: it was also easy to put together.

4. Google voice number. If you're a solopreneur this saves you from using your minutes on work-related calls. Get that free Google voice number and let them call your "office line." 

5. Buffer app.This let's you pre-schedule social posts with regularity. I'd skip it for Facebook but it's perfect for Twitter and Linkedin. 

6. Pocket. This digital bookmark lets you save pages you'd like to look at later. If you strive to be a content curator around your given area of expertise, this is a great way to save content that you can share later.

7.Tweetdeck(or Hootsuite if you're into that). Every solopreneur needs a way to manage multiple accounts at once. I like Tweetdeck best to glance at my Twitter feed, notifications, lists and sent posts all at once. 

8. An optimized Linkedin account. If someone is searching for someone like you, will you pop up in their search results? 

9. About.me page. It's too easy not to use. Get one. 

10. Solid headshots (and other professional photos for your website and social media would be great too.) 

11.  Wordpress blog. For SEO purposes, for customization options, for credibility--you need a self-hosted Wordpress site. 

12. A lunch break. Get out of your office. Unplug. Go for a run, heck a walk will do. Get some sunshine. Then get back to work. Solopreneurs can easily never stop working. That's why you need to be intentional about time off.

13. A clear list of what only you can do and what can be outsourced. Are you terrible at bookkeeping? What about answering emails? Scheduling things? What about tending to your plants or housekeeping? Could you plausibly use independent contractors so you can focus on the strategic items on your list? Figure out what you can outsource and outsource it. 

14. A group to connect with on the regular—whether it is a remote team, a book club or a business professionals weekly gathering, you need to be in community. 

15. The 4-Hour WorkweekBuy this book. Read this book. Apply the principles.(See #16.) Your life will be better for it. Guaranteed. 

16. Batch similar tasks. Let's save the decision-making brain power for what really matters. In the meantime, how bout you do all your blog writing at the same time once a week--heck, once a month. How bout you do your grocery shopping only on Sundays? Shifting your focus throughout the day is tough on your brain. Shift less. Focus more.

17. Track your time. Afraid you might be wasting too much time on a given vice? Track your time. It doesn't have to be a complex process. Just jot down how you're spending your time throughout the day on a notebook next to your computer. Do you keep to your schedule or do you diverge? Worth investigating to see if you're maximizing your time.

18. Give yourself a cut off for how much time you will spend on social media (or video games or online shopping or TV or etc etc etc) each day. You know how you're prone to waste your precious time. Be a drill sergeant on yourself. You won't be mad at yourself for it. 

19. Do not disturb button on your iPhone. Find the button. Embrace it. Every text message and email doesn't have to be attended to at the moment that it is received. Be a good steward of your time, energy, attention and brain power. If you're easily distracted, employ the power of "do not disturb."

20. Designated time off. In addition to taking a lunch break or exercise break mid-day, I encourage you to make sure you have long periods of time off each week. A Sabbath was invented for a reason! Give your time to rejuvenate, refresh and recalibrate. You'll be more effective the following week as a result.

Well, there's my list of 20 things every solopreneur must have to be successful. It's not comprehensive though. What would YOU add to the list? 

Hilary is passionate about helping people create work and lives that are wildly fulfilling. To learn how she may be able to help you, contact her here.

Top 5 Memories of 2014 & HSL Around the Web: December

My Top 5 Memories of 2014
My Top 5 Memories of 2014

Wow, here I sit writing to you on the last day of 2014. What a year it has been! My top 5 highlights of 2014 that come to mind are: performing in Mary Poppins, attending the Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder after-Tony party with Spotco in Rockefeller Center, visiting Charleston for the first time, running the Virginia 4-Miler, and traveling to California in October.

Work has been incredible this year. I worked a lot of hours but I've seen really solid results. HSL Creative has grown and transformed and so have I. While reflecting on 2014 is fun, I'm way more jazzed about looking forward to 2015. This is a big year. I'll be focusing a lot of my efforts on working as a brand journalist with Pursuant, a fundraising agency. My goal with my work with Pursuant is to help the nonprofit clients we serve share their exciting and moving stories, whether it's through a video, a blog post, a magazine article or even a podcast.

My work with HSL Creative will continue in the form of consulting, strategy and workshops. Our first workshop of the year is Blogging for Business at Toolry on January 17. It's $50--a steal--for the knowledge and practical help you'll walk away with.

More on the excitement of 2015 in my next post. For now a look back on all the places I've been published around the web this month. Happy Holidays!!

The HSL Creative Blog
Announcing the HSL Creative Blogging Workshop
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

The Clutch Guide Blog 6 Tips to Avoid Becoming the Grinch This Christmas

Forefront Blog A Leader's Mentor

Lynchburg Business 9 Secrets to Improving Your Website Content

The Digital Drip Pursuant Gives Back: Repairing Wells Through Global Aid Network
Happy Holidays from Pursuant

And I also launched a side project that brings fairytale and superhero characters to life for children's events and parties in Virginia: Enchanting Entertainment Company. Check it out!

Hilary is an entrepreneur, musical theatre performer, and a brand journalist with Pursuant. Connect with her on Twitter

5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers
Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

When people find out that I do multiple things (writing, social media, acting) they often sort of shake their heads in bewilderment. I want to take them by both shoulders and say, "you should do more than one thing too!" In lieu of that potentially awkward moment, I'm writing this blog post. Especially for my artist, musician, actor, dreamer friends, I want to encourage you to pursue your craft and consider pursuing something else alongside it. After spending four years as a professional actor, I knew to have the lifestyle I wanted to live and to be inspired and engaged with the work I was doing on a daily basis I would need to pursue a second career. Of course there are the exceptions, but by and large, getting a second skill is only going to improve your life.

Here's why you should have two jobs

1. You don't have to let your dream die. I'm not proposing that you give up the keys to your dream for a life in Office Space. If I'm the first person to tell you this, move in a little closer. Pursuing a second career doesn't mean you're selling out, it means you're opening up more doors for yourself. You don't have to give up the certainty that you'll be making a decent living because you want to be in a band or be an actor. Pursuing a second career gives you the opportunity to pursue your passion without resenting it for making you really, really broke. Pursue a second career so you won't get to that dark place of cursing your career when you can't make rent.

2. You become more marketable. Whether it's a second skill directly tied to your first love (learning how to sew so you can step into the costume, learning how to run sound so you can take over the board if a band needs a sound tech) or one completely different (ie me with journalism and acting), having more than one skill makes you more valuable in the overall marketplace. You never know what open door leads to the next, so simply becoming a more useful worker overall is a very, very good move.

3. It gives you options. You know what the problem is with acquiring only one skill in a tough market? If there's no use for that skill at the moment, then you're out of work--or out of the kind of work that you actually like doing. If the idea of waiting tables between gigs til you're north of 60 sounds kind of awful to you, I urge you to rethink your plan! If you are a passionate, talented person, there's no doubt that other industries would jump at the opportunity to use your talent, passion and heck, charm (cause we know you got it!) for their cause. What about real estate? What about social media? What about yoga? What about entrepreneurship? Draft up a list of things that people have told you you're good at, you feel personally are your strengths and things that you like (*besides* your first love career). Start there.

4. You can make an impact in the lives of more people. If you work across several fields you will be making a greater impact on more people. Not only will "show people" know you but so will marketing people or nonprofit people or real estate people or church people. You get the idea. If you want to do something significant with your life and leave a legacy, consider how you may have an even greater impact if you work in more than one field.

5. When someone says "no" it's not over for you. One of the biggest advantages of having more than one skill is that you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. If that gig that you're really hoping for doesn't pan out it doesn't mean you have to go back to the worst-job-ever. You get to go back to your "in-between-gigs" job that is fulfilling, purposeful and rewarding. Isn't that so much better than going back to your minimum wage job where you're really not using your strengths?

Bottom line: your passion/first love career is your main thing. It's your identifier. But don't let your passion for that career keep you from having a meaningful day to day existence in your work. Reinvention is always acceptable. Adding on a second skill or heck, business, is a good thing! So think about what else sparks your interest, the other things you're good at, and how could you use the skills that you've developed for your art in other marketable ways. Remember, the artists who are at the pinnacle of their careers aren't doing just one thing. Whether they create new companies, (hello Jessica Alba), or invest in startups, or go back and forth between acting and music, your role models aren't just focused on one career. So why should you?

If you found this post interesting or helpful would you do me a solid and share it? 

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur: 10 things for that person who you fully expect to take over the world one day

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur

If you have a hustling, creative, self-starter in your life, my guess is that they would go nuts for any of the following items on this list. Happy Holidays!

1. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Full disclosure: one of my latest podcast obsessions is #AskGaryVee. The main thesis of JJJRH is that though communication is still key, context matters more than ever. It’s not just about developing great content, it's about developing high-quality content that's perfectly created to blend in on specific social media platforms and mobile devices. Anybody who has something to promote online should read this book.

2. Subscription to Audible.com. We're all busy here. Why not get a subscription for that busy person in your life and let them read while they exercise or drive? The Audible subscription includes one audiobook per month. Perfect!

3. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. This New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller was written by one of my favorite bloggers and podcast hosts, Michael Hyatt. Recently, Forbes magazine named him one of the “Top 10 Online Marketing Experts To Follow In 2014.” In this book Michael unpacks how to let the world know about your incredible message by building a platform that gets you noticed.

4. Premium Skillshare subscriptionSkillshare is an online community where you can take classes from some of the country's leading experts. Topics range from building a logo to starting a business. It is one inspiring place. Plus, Seth Godin even  lectures here.

5. Fast Company. This magazine has gotten my wheels turning about trends in technology and business many a time. Fast Company inspires a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders who are actively inventing the future of business. When I look through the pages of Fast Company I see role model after role model. This magazine will inspire and challenge your entrepreneur.

6. A photography session. Every aspiring entrepreneur, thought leader or creative needs professional images on his or her website and social profiles. In today's image-focused social landscape, pictures are everything. To say they will enhance your online presence is a gross understatement. (Photographers I've worked with and love: Foster & Asher, Adam Barnes Fine Art Photography, Billy B Photography, Deb Knoske, Ty Hester)

7. The 4-Hour WorkweekThis book has had maybe more of an influence on the way I work than any other book I've read in the last five years. In its pitch the 4-Hour Workweek says Tim Ferris will "teach you how to escape the 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich." Well, I can't say I've quite joined the new rich yet, but Ferris' book is chock full of helpful ideas to help you do more of what matters and less of what gleans you a less valuable pay off. This is a GREAT book.

8. BluehostSo web hosting is not a sexy gift, you say? It IS! I say. Your creative knows he/she needs a self-hosted site to really run with the big dogs and show the world he/she is serious about his/her endeavor. (This very blog is moving to a self-hosted site in January.) Sometimes its hard to make that initial investment. Give them the gift of Bluehost and do it for them.

9. Success MagazineThis subscription was actually not one I sought out for myself; my dad got me a 2-year subscription last Christmas. Oh how I love it. I appreciate that the stories are not dumbed down for the multi-tasking millennial generation. They are long and in-depth. In addition--my favorite part of the magazine--it comes with an audio CD with in-depth interviews based on the focus of the magazine that month. Just last night I was listening to an interview about significance. It has challenged and inspired me on my drives more than once. Well worth it. 

10. Creativity, Inc.  By Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, Creativity, Inc. was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal. This book takes you behind the curtain at one of the most innovative companies of the 20th & 21st centuries. Forbes said it "just might be the best business book ever written.”Listen to Forbes people.  

There you have it! If you read this and see items that you'd love you might ought to reshare it as a helpful hint.

For more posts like this subscribe, follow on Twitter, like on Facebook and double-tap on Instagram
 

6 November Articles You Might Have Missed: HSL Creative Around the Web

HSL Creative Around the Web: November
HSL Creative Around the Web: November

Happy Thanksgiving HSL readers!

November has been an incredible month around here. I (Hilary) got to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina earlier this month. I got to hear from some of the leading digital media and marketing minds in the country. In addition to that, as you can see, I got to write quite a bit! Things have also been progressing with the social media class I teach at SNHU and with the social media work I do with Spotco. I'm writing this today from New York. Over the next few days I'll be seeing several of the shows I work on...On the Town tonight and This is Our Youth on Friday. Very exciting!

Here's where I've been published around the web this month:

Medium Why Two Careers are Better Than One

Levo League What You Can Learn About Setting Goals from Mark Zuckerberg

Forefront Magazine Protecting the Shield By Building Players' Brands

The HSL Creative Blog  How to Write a Blog Post That Actually Gets Read

The Clutch Guide 7 Cool Weather Races to Run in Central Virginia

What has November looked like for you? I'd love to hear the highlights!

On “The Internet of Things” and 10 other actionable items I heard at #ISUM14

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On "the Internet of Things" and 10 Other Actionable Items I Learned at #ISUM14
On "the Internet of Things" and 10 Other Actionable Items I Learned at #ISUM14

Last week I got to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina where I got two days chock full of the latest in digital strategies, content marketing, social media, SEO, email marketing, and analytics. A week later and my mind is still spinning with all the awesome advice I heard and all the ideas I’m ready to implement. Today I want to share with you ten of the best actionable items I heard.

1. Since Google Authorship went away, use Linkedin publishing for credibility & thought leadership. -Cara Rousseau, Duke University (Tweet that!

2. Find someone like me, tell about how you solved a problem like mine, I’ll trust you. -Chris Moody, Oracle (Tweet that!)

3. Websites that blog receive 55% more traffic than those that don’t. -Matthew Capala, Search Decoder (Tweet that!)

4. You have to be as good on social media as Amazon, Walmart ,etc—that’s where your customers are. -Heidi Cohen (Tweet that!)

5. Instead of making it about you, make it about your audience and your customers and what they care about. -Leigh George, PhD (Tweet that!)

6. 80% of people delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their mobile device. -Jodi Wearn, SilverPop (Tweet that!)

7. Asking for and getting money from customers is the best form of feedback on an idea! -Eric Morrow, Google (Tweet that!)

8. 80% of people who open your email are only scanning it. Capture the big idea of your email with a bold image and strong headline. -Christopher Lester, Emma (Tweet that!)

9. The average consumer unlocks their phone 110 times a day. -Robin Wheeler (Tweet that!)

10. The “Internet of Things” is where technology is going. Every item in your home will be connected to the Internet. Your printer will be able to order its own paper. Your car will drive itself. Autonomous everything. -David Pogue, Yahoo (Tweet that!)

11. “What motivates you to do your best? Being personally excited and motivated internally.” -Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder (Tweet that!)

Guys, this was only a portion of the great information I received last week. I’m so energized to implement this stuff for all of my HSL Creative clients.

Be honest with me—have you heard of “The Internet of Things” before this post?

My Top 12 Posts in Honor of HSL Creative's First Birthday

My 2nd birthday.
My 2nd birthday.

I’ve had a stunning revelation: HSL Creative, in its most recent incarnation, is officially ONE year old!

Cue the streamers, candles, and of course cake (my favorite.) In honor of our first birthday I thought I would share a countdown of the 12 most popular blog posts from the last year. (Get it? 1 for each month?)

Over the past year I’ve shared observations on social media trends, productivity hacks, career advice, information about our services, and even personal reflections about not living in a major city or overextending myself. So I give you the top 12 posts of our first year as voted by your clicks. So take a look, check out the ones you may have missed. And thank you, thank you, thank you for coming on the journey.

CHOCOLATE CAKE ALL AROUND, I SAY!

Here’s to year 2. Cheers.

12. Finding Margin: Confessions of a Wayward Blogger Whether you're an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home parent, or an employee of a giant corporation, there are always priorities and choices to make. And sometimes we have to say "no" to good things in order to say "yes" to great things.

11. 7 Hacks for Shaking off the Blahs and Getting Out of ProcrastiNation I have a war within me: lazy person vs. driven person. That conflict can easily manifest itself in procrastination. Here's some ways I combat it.

10. How to Launch Dual Careers I'm a passionate advocate of kicking the status quo in the face. If you are a soon to be college graduate, an early career professional, or just know in your gut it's time for a change, this post gives you the first steps to making the move to dual careers.

9. 10 Secrets to Getting Started in Freelance Writing If you've wanted to get started freelance writing but you're not sure where to begin, this post gives you tips on how to get paid to write.

8. 6 Reasons Someone You know Did the #ALSIceBucketChallenge Why the heck did the Ice Bucket Challenge raise over $100 million? How did that happen? Here's some reasons it worked amazingly well.

7. 10 Social Media Resolutions to Adopt This Year Need a cheat sheet for social media etiquette and smart habits (like knowing your privacy settings)? Here ya go.

6. 10 Ways I've Made Life Easier for Other Businesses, And How I Can Help You Too Don't really know what all we do here? Here are some of the most practical ways that organizations and individuals have used HSL Creative services in recent months.

5. 9 Surprising Things I Learned When I Met a Client in Person Bottom line: in this incredible digital age where I (and many other people!) make a living by never seeing anyone in person--the face-to-face communication remains irreplaceable.

4. The #1 Reason I Feel Ok Even Though I Don't Live in a Major City My industries are media and the arts. Of COURSE, I have a desire to be in a major city where patrons and potential clients flock. But here's why I think this small city life has been GREAT for me and my career.

3. 6 Ways Grad School Launched Me into the Career of My Dreams Grad school gets a lot of flack in creative fields. "It's not worth the money," they say. "You're avoiding the real world," they say. Well, I say it was the exact right move for me. Here's why.

2. Will You Do Anything Social Media Free This Year? Do you ever feel like you've become a little too attached to your technology? Do you twitch when you accidentally leave your phone in your car? Have you never left your phone in your car because you always make certain it's on your person? This one's for you.

And drumroll please...the most popular post of the last year is....

1. 5 Lessons We Can Learn from the Most Retweeted Selfie of All Time Did you retweet it? Do you know exactly which one I'm talking about? What makes us take part in viral activity online? These are a few of my observations from both academically and professionally studying people and their social media habits.

There ya have it! My 12 most read posts of the 1st year of HSL Creative. Do me a huge favor and comment here or on Facebook or Twitter with some feedback on what kind of posts you'd like to see more of in the future. I'm listening!

HSL Creative Roundup: August

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August is winding down and quite frankly I'm ready for pumpkin EVERYTHING, how bout you? It's been an incredible month of writing, rehearsals, going to weddings, running and of course analyzing our social media practices. This month I had fun curating a list of my favorite places in Lynchburg for the Clutch Guide blog. I had a female college freshman in mind when I was writing it. What do I wish I had known about the Hill City when I first moved here? Boom. I created this list.

I also spent some time on the blog chatting about the different ways I work with other businesses, thought leaders, artists and nonprofits. My purpose is simple: I want to help other people reach their goals by supplying a plethora of services within the writing and social media realm. So here are 10 ways off the top of my head that I do that every day.

And finally I couldn't help but analyze the crazy impactful viral marketing campaign that has raised over $80 million to combat ALS. Here's where I explained why it worked so well.

I hope you've had a great month as well!

10 Ways I've Made Life Easier for Other Businesses, And How I Can Help You Too

Photo by Foster & Asher
Photo by Foster & Asher

Here in my one-person studio, I do a lot of different things for a variety of other businesses. Today I want to share with you some real-world examples of what I do for my clients. I'm sharing this because it's not unusual for someone to ask me, so what is it exactly that you do?

I'm sharing this today because I'd love to meet a need for you and to simplify or enhance your work.

1. Creating or revamping web copy for freelancers, entrepreneurs and other start-ups. I've helped make website copy sparkle for several individuals and businesses who don't view themselves as "writers." 

2. Outsourcing press releases. These businesses have needed to get news out about the exciting things happening at their organization. They didn't have a full-time staff member dedicated to communication so they opted to hire me to do basic PR. This has been a really great value for them as they don't pay someone a full-time salary but they get what they value most.

3. Brand strategy consulting. Setting up several rut-busting brainstorming sessions has helped clients bounce ideas off of a creative mind and get an outside perspective. I love rolling up my sleeves and figuring out how to solve problems. 

4. Outsourcing company e-newsletter production. Again, companies who prefer to hire out their communication needs on an a la carte basis have utilized this service. 

5. Writing company annual reports. I tap into my journalism roots when helping a company craft its annual narrative to share with its constituents. I love crafting short articles and stories that tell the story of what has happened in an organization over the last year. 

6. Writing a one-page biography for a professional. I've done this for singers, actors, people with political aspirations, and even people who are embarking on a motivational speaking career. They've told me again and again "it's just so hard to write about yourself." So I step in. 

7. Social content scheduling, maintenance. Some businesses just don't have the bandwidth to create, schedule and maintain their social media presence themselves. I've done this at various levels--from just uploading and scheduling pre-created content to crafting new messaging and scheduling it. 

8. Social brand engagement. Some brands get so much engagement from fans they can't keep up with it all on their own. I step in and make sure the "two-way" communication between customers and brands is happening. 

9. Outsourcing blog writing. I have a few clients who simply don't have the time to write blogs every week. I help them craft excellent communication that lives on and continues to bring traffic back to their website long after we hit "publish." 

10. Editing important letters to constituents. Some correspondence needs a professional writer's touch. When an organization was undergoing some changes that had a sweeping impact, I helped craft positive messaging.

Those are just ten ways that HSL Creative has helped meet the needs of other businesses over the past six months. Whether you need help simplifying your load or you need help enhancing your output, HSL Creative may be just what you need to tell your story.  

Drop her a line if you'd like to make your life easier by outsourcing your communication or social media needs. 

10 Secrets to Getting Started in Freelance Writing

Coffee
Coffee

One question I get asked with some frequency is "so how did you get started writing?" You may be interested in pursuing freelance blog or magazine writing but don't exactly know where to start. Though I started with a degree in journalism, I submit that it's certainly not the only way to launch a career writing. Here's ten steps to take that I've seen work:

1. Start a blog. This is your first stop on the road to getting paid to write. Blogging gives you full control of what you will say and how you will say it. Show the world what you can write and what you're passionate about saying! The world is your oyster. The blog is your step one.

2. Get a copy of the Writer's Market. Pore over it. This annual volume is the bible of freelance magazine writing, poetry and writing contests. It also has a collection of great, informative articles all about the business of writing. You can fork over the money for it or just spend some time at your local library.

3. Offer to guest post on other blogs in which you can provide relevant and helpful content. Can you think of a blog or a website that really resonates with you? Look for their contributor guidelines. Some sites won't pay but if you have a good looking blog with compelling content and a great idea for a post, they will give you a shot. Look you're collecting portfolio pieces already.

4. Master the art of the query letter. This is your pitch. The magazine industry has its own nuances. Make sure your ideas are relevant to the magazine. Show you've read it and you like it. Then pitch.

5. Read On Writing Well by William Zinnser.

6. Get YourName.com. I have several friends in the business who regret that some other joker got their name (ie janedoe.com) before they did. This is a just a good rule of thumb for anyone. Buy your name's URL at GoDaddy just in case. My dad always said: "better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it." A website provides a great opportunity to point potential editors to check out several of your clips in one place. You have full control over this corner of the internet that has your name on it.

7. Spiff up your Linkedin page. Make it clear that you're a writer. Add keywords that people who might be in search of a freelance writer would use when looking for one. Consider eliminating positions you've held that don't add helpful or interesting context to your work story. Yes, I left the fact that I once swept hair from the floor of a salon off my Linkedin page. Gasp.

8. Read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

9. Do your research on the people in your network that are in the publishing business. And when I say "network" I don't mean "people you follow on Twitter." I mean people who you know that would be glad to pass your name along to the proper person. Let friends and family know this is the direction in which your career is headed.

10. Keep writing.

Have anything to add to the list? Comment away!  

9 Surprising Things I Learned When I Met a Client In Person

My friend Erin and I enjoying the most delicious italian food and conversation.

My friend Erin and I enjoying the most delicious italian food and conversation.

I have one of those mainly-just-me-and-my-computer careers. (My 2nd career, acting, is another story--and another blog post.) On an average month my work demands that I engage with people in person four hours or less.

I, like many people these days, have clients that I've never met in person. Recently I got the chance to meet some face to face for the first time after having worked with them for several months. Connecting with them in person was so refreshing and reminded me of why the face-to-face experience simply can't be replaced by conference calls, emails or Google Hangouts.

1. Eye contact. It powerfully conveys authenticity and intentional listening. When eye contact is avoided our first instinct is to think that someone may not be trustworthy.

2. (Appropriate) physical touch. The occasional touch on a shoulder conveys warmth and amiability. Depending on your culture, this conveys a real sense of friendliness and accessibility.

3. Body language/mannerisms. Expressive gestures can contribute equally to getting a feel for someone's personality as their words do.

4. The comfort and joy of gathering around a table. Many of life's most meaningful moments are experienced when dining or drinking together. Ie Starbucks, Cheers, Thanksgiving, The Last Supper--you get the idea.

5. Veering off topic. Sometimes you just need to let conversation wander into unplanned territory. This can help people gain a better understanding of one another. This rarely happens when you're sticking to an agenda on a conference call.

6. Making a joint memory. Whether it's bearing witness to a disruptive person getting kicked out of a restaurant or simply having an excellent customer service experience from a waiter, going through an actual experience together builds camaraderie.

7. Chiming in without it being mistaken for an interruption. When adding onto something someone else has said it's often misinterpreted as interrupting if they can't see your visual cues that you agree or want to interject. When your eyes light up at something the other person says, they're less surprised that you want to add on to the conversation.

8. Shared experience helps to identify with one another. Clients, employees, contract workers, and agencies all become human when you get stuck in the same traffic, experience the same lovely 72 degree weather, and both get a free frappucino sample at the coffee shop. It's a great equalizer and reminder that after work we're all just humans.

9. Getting back to basics feels authentic. Putting technology away for an hour or two is refreshing. Taking it back old school without notifications, vibrations, and friend requests is a great opportunity to simply connect with other human beings.

Technology should be used as support for the in-person connection. After all, communication at its most basic is one person sending a message to another person. It can be done without anything Steve Jobs invented.

Does engaging with others in person make you nervous? Do you hate how technology has overtaken much of professional communication these days?

Hilary is fascinated by the intersection of social media and live experiences. She even wrote her masters thesis on it. 

5 Tips to Maximize the Discipline of Creativity

“The one thing that creative souls around the world have in common is that they all have to practice to maintain their skills. Art is a vast democracy of habit.” -Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is one of my favorite books. Even in the title, it lets you in on a little secret: creativity does not come in bursts of inspiration, it comes in daily discipline and habits.

Today I want to focus on five tips I learned on the preparation and inspiration of creativity from Tharp’s book.

5 Tips to Maximize the Discipline of Creativity

1. Learn from the greats. 

Mozart said: “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”

Read biographies of people who you'd like emulate. What are they reading? What are the trends in your industry? Pay attention to the work of people you admire.

2. Implement a morning ritual that you can count on to ignite your creativity and focus. 

“Although he was not physically fit, Beethoven would start each day with the same ritual: a morning walk during which he would scribble into a pocket sketchbook the first rough notes of whatever musical idea inevitably entered his head. Having done that, having limbered up his mind and transported himself into his version of a trance zone during the walk, he would return to his room and get to work.”

What do you need to do to maximize your creativity each day? Eat breakfast before you work? Listen to a certain style of music? Take a quick stroll around the block? Determine what you need to do to focus and open your mind to what you need to create today.

3. Keep a notebook with you (or the notes app on your iPhone) to jot down ideas when they come to you.

“I’m often asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ This happens to anyone who is willing to stand in front of an audience and talk about his or her work. The short answer is: everywhere. It’s like asking 'Where do you find the air you breathe?' Ideas are all around you.”

Always be ready for new ideas to come together. And never trust your memory. Write it down, write it down, write it down.

4. Prepare daily. And make peace with your lack of control.

"Habitually creative people are, in E.B. White’s phrase, 'prepared to be lucky.' The keywords here are 'prepared' and 'lucky.' They’re inseparable. You don’t get lucky without preparation, and there’s no sense in being prepared if you’re not open to the possibility of a glorious accident...Some people resent the idea of luck. Accepting the role of chance in our lives suggests that our creations and triumphs are not entirely our own, and that in some way we’re undeserving of our success. I say, Get over it. This is how the world works. In creative endeavors luck is a skill."

Tharp said this on trusting too much in planning every detail:

“There’s an emotional lie to overplanning; it creates a security blanket that lets you assume you have things under control, that you are further along than you really are, that you’re home free when you haven’t even walked out the door yet.”

5. Put in the work every day.

“80% of success in show business is showing up.” -Woody Allen

The same is true in all creative fields. Put the time in. Do your due diligence. Wrack up your 10,000 hours. Be consistent and the reward will come.

Have you received any advice on creativity and work that has stuck with you? Share it in the comments.

Be sure to subscribe to weekly updates and I'll send you the Blogger's Editorial Calendar Cheat Sheet. 

6 Ways Grad School Launched Me into the Career of My Dreams

Three and a half years after I finished my bachelor’s degree in journalism I was stuck. My degree could’ve gotten me a job at a fledgling newspaper or perhaps an internship at a magazine. So far it had helped me make about 10% of my income annually. I knew none of that was where I wanted to be. I wanted to have a magical career where I had autonomy and got to help people communicate their stories better. Oh, and I still did not want to give up performing in theatre. I needed more options so I decided to go to grad school. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here are six surprising ways grad school got me to my dream job.

1. I actually saved money. You read that right. No, graduate school did not leave me $100 Grand in the hole. Quite the contrary--I had a graduate teaching assistantship and got paid (not buckets and buckets but something) to dip my toe into the deep end of teaching while I got an education. By spending 20 hours a week teaching and grading freshmen work, I was able to get a free M.A. and get a stipend that helped me pay my bills and function like a 20-something who was not dependent on her parents. Score. This was an integral next step in the process of getting on my feet and starting my business. No debt!

2. I suddenly got credibility in my field.  Over night, the fact that I had decided to go to graduate school to study communication and media gave me major street cred in my field. Suddenly I was called a social media expert because people saw that I was serious about studying the inner workings of digital media. By studying a subject in graduate school, people saw that I was serious about it. I was no more passionate about learning about how people connect online than I was 6 months before, but now people saw that I meant business, so they listened to me and opted to hire me.

3. I was surrounded by people who got excited about the nerdy things I did. I, perhaps like you, perform better with fierce competition. I didn't know to be grateful for my classmates' commitment to the books at the time (sorry guys) but the fact that I was in small classes with people who were at the top of their classes in undergrad lit a fire under me. We had conversations (for fun!) about marketing, social media, and the digital landscape. We debated advertising techniques and product placement. This not only happened in the classroom, but it happened when we left class and went back to our cubicles, when we went to grab mexican food, and it continues to happen through mediums like Twitter. If I hadn't been surrounded by people who were passionate about this field, I would not be as knowledgeable in my field as I am now.

4. It bought me some time to figure out how my dream and reality could jive. I think this is really the reason a lot of people go to grad school. Not knowing what your next step should be is neither a bad reason or a good reason to go to grad school. For me, going to grad school gave me a little time to better formulate my vision for my future. I knew I couldn't and wouldn't be giving up performing any time soon (or well, ever permanently) but I also knew that during time between performance contracts I could not indefinitely go back to folding sweaters (as much as I LOVED that Anthro discount). I knew I needed a second marketable skill to support my arts habit. Grad school gave me time to figure out exactly what that could be and how I could make it all work.

5. I became a better writer. In elementary school I learned to write imaginatively. In high school I learned how to write a snazzy college essay. At university I learned how to write articles. In grad school I learned how to write a well-researched thesis. All of these different kinds of writing have helped me become a well-rounded writer. The academic writing is no replacement for professional writing but it certainly did not hinder my writing skills. It only helped me improve them. The more ways I know how to connect with an audience, the better.

6. I honed the skill of balancing. By taking classes, teaching classes, and working part-time freelance gigs, I learned the art of managing multiple tasks for multiple "clients" (whether it was 19 year-old students, my graduate school professors, or a client who wanted a press release). This delicate skill of balancing has transferred beautifully into my sole proprietor work. On any given week I knock out work for 8 or more clients. I need to balance deadlines, client personalities and their business goals. Grad school prepared me perfectly for that.

So often today experts are saying not to go to grad school. I know for me it was the absolute right decision. What about you? Did you regret going? Do you have plans to go? What are your concerns? Sound off in the comments.