A Tale of Two Kitties

Cat

Actually, this is a tale of 17+ kitties, to be exact. I’m freelancing at an advertising agency this week and am enjoying the corner cubicle of someone who has the good fortune of a full-time job with paid vacation time (sigh…). Like any good armchair sociologist, I looked around her space today to get a better idea of who its resident is. Granted, I have no idea who she is, but I do know that she is married with four cats, a dog and a husband. How do I know this? During my inspection of her cube, I noticed several framed photos of her beloved furbabies and only one of her husband, in addition to several cartoons and clipped photos of cats, her cat calendar and an usual amount of kitty knick-knacks. In fact, the feline artifacts seemed to multiply during the day. I may have unwittingly stumbled into the cube of a crazy cat lady.

That’s the beauty of being a freelancer. We take on brief projects and sit in your cubicle while you’re on vacation. So what do freelancers learn about you while you’re luxuriating on the beach? Let’s see…

Daydream Believer

There’s a delicate balance between a hobby and an obsession, so if your cube is covered with photos and artifacts of your favorite hobby, we wonder if you spend more time daydreaming about your hobby than actually doing your work.

Outgoing Creative Type

Photos of your family and candy dishes are great conversation-starters and the beginning of a great creative space. This is obviously the spot where people want to hang out and collaborate. Sweet office supplies, bright décor and interesting knick-knacks help make sharing a cube a little more bearable.

Mommy Dearest

This is an easy one to spot. The cube walls are plastered with kid artwork and there are countless photos of toothless smiles and sweet little faces. You’re proud of your kids. We get it. Freelancers with kids will sigh and miss their own little ones, while freelancers without kids wonder if you’re secretly a crazy Tiger Mom. They’ll also rifle through your desk drawers for candy and fruit roll-ups.

The Boss

Name plaques, certificates and large books signify importance. Count on us to not touch your hidden snacks and to put your office supplies back exactly where you left them.

The Slob

Is messiness a sign of creative genius? Or an utter disregard for hygiene? Either way, there is nothing like temporarily sharing a space with someone who leaves stacks of paper everywhere and half-eaten food in their desk drawer. Germophobe freelancers will be loathe to touch anything on your desk. Well played, Pigpen.

The Minimalist

This no-nonsense person likes to keep his or her work and personal life separate and isn’t especially interested in making their workspace cozy.  You’ll find the basic office supplies in their cube and that’s about it. This person could also be new to the company or on their way out.

The Jokester

This person has random photos on their desk that scream “inside joke,” office supplies fashioned into creative décor and weird novelty items on their desk. Obviously, this is the fun person in the office.

Ballpit Cube

As for Crazy Cat Lady, while I love my cat, I don’t quite get her feline obsession. But I’m willing to overlook it because she left a very detailed description of the things I need to know while I’m filling in for her, which makes her aces in my book.

How to Suck at Social Media

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There are two kinds of companies in today’s world—those who rock at social media, and those that don’t. The following is, obviously, a collection of things not to do, unless you prefer to fly under the social media radar. And, in that case, go forth and suck with style. You have my permission.

 

Be self-centered

Everything you do in social media should drive sales, right? Wrong. Your social media accounts are tools to build relationships and turn casual fans into brand evangelists. The best way to do this is to start the relationship slowly and follow the 90-10 rule: 90% of your content should be educational and only 10% should be sales-oriented. Repeat after me: social media is NOT advertising.

 

Ignore, ignore, ignore

If you want to be truly awful at social media, ignore comments and questions from your fans. And, for heavens’ sake, if you absolutely have to answer your fans, take your sweet time. Sure, if you take longer than 24 hours to respond, your fans will be disappointed, but maybe the delay will keep them coming back to your page to look for an answer (and in the meantime, they can read all about your latest sale).

 

Consistency is for chumps

Engagement is the key to truly great social media, but so many companies fall short because they don’t post enough. You should try to post at least twice per day. If you’re confused about when the best times to post are, SocialBro is an amazing site that lets you know when your fans are the most active. If you don’t have time to post, I highly recommend Buffer for scheduling tweets and Facebook posts.

 

Metrics? Please.

If you’re going to invest your time in social media, you need to know if what you’re doing is paying off. SproutSocial and Facebook Insights have tons of stats about your posts and how well they’re being received.

 

Engage in dysfunctional relationships

Loving only those who don’t love you back is the stuff of Lifetime movies, not social media. Dump those you follow who don’t follow you back. Likewise for people who haven’t tweeted in the past 60 days. Again, SocialBro is a great tool for determining the dead weight you need to eliminate.

 

Make like Mr Roboto

There is nothing like an automated direct message on twitter to make someone want to engage with your brand, right? Don’t engage directly with a fan unless it’s an actual message—that means no more “thanks for following” messages. Got it? And, for the love of all that is holy, stop sending direct messages to people who don’t follow you.

 

Entertain yourself

Finally, the best way to suck at social media is to post content that isn’t relevant to your brand. If you sell furniture, post the occasional recipe. If you run a non-profit organization that feeds needy kids, post Grumpy Cat memes. There’s nothing wrong with posting content that your fans will love and share (and maybe even keep the brand-relevant content you posted along with it!), but everything you post should be an extension of your brand.

The Day I Went Sleeveless to an Interview

Um…no thanks!

 

Last week, I had an interview for a job, so I planned my outfit down to the last detail. I was going to be the epitome of lady-like style in my jacket, dress, perfectly polished pumps, and sleek hairstyle. Mother Nature and my car had other plans for me: all week, the weather was about a thousand degrees and the car has no air conditioning and currently has a predilection for overheating. Lucky me.

 

Knowing that I was in for a hot ride to my interview, I set out to find an outfit that would keep me cool and potentially conceal any sweat stains. However, the sleeveless dress I chose required me to break the cardinal rule of interview attire: always wear a jacket. Meh. I could live without a jacket, right? So, I went…gasp…sleeveless to a job interview! The interview itself went great and perhaps I impressed them with both my ideas and my fashion moxie.

 

Why am I telling you this? I guess it’s because that moment of panic in front of my closet led to something of epiphany about all of the other times I had been too afraid to break the rules, even a little bit. I’ll be honest—the idea of breaking the rules and doing something unexpected scares the beejeezus out of me. But maybe that’s a good thing.

 

So, here’s my challenge to you. Do something this week that scares you, just a little bit, and report back. I want to know what it’s like for you when you reach your toe ever so slightly outside your comfort zone. That could mean reaching out to an old friend you haven’t talked to in years, reconnecting with a lost love, calling the HR lady to find out why you really didn’t get the job, etc. You get the idea. Post your stories here.

 

In the meantime, breathe into a paper bag. You’ll be just fine.

40 in 40

ImageI am down to the final 24 hours of my 30s. While most women feel dread about reaching this milestone, I’m not sure what I feel. I was a little busy in my 30s—I buried 1 mom and 1 fiance, found myself, refined my career (despite its refusal to define itself), got married, made a home, and had a baby. I feel as though this birthday is a defining moment.

It’s no secret that I have always been very involved in community service. In high school, I was involved in leader’s club, which was a service organization. During my radio years, I worked tirelessly as a spokesperson for causes that eventually shaped who I am, and, today, I am involved in Junior League of Columbus, as well as Girl Scouts.

So, my 40 in 40 project should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well—I made the commitment to perform 40 random acts of kindness during the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday. What I didn’t expect was the profound affect it would have on my soul.

The project began in earnest—pay for the tab at McDonald’s for the car behind me in the drive-thru line, smile at random strangers, hold doors open, etc. But, the project began to take on a deeper meaning for me around the second week.

Act #18 was to learn to forgive the guy at work who was a total prima donna. I’m sure we all know this guy—he only deigns to work there because he has to, and he thinks all of his co-workers are talentless idiots and that we should all kiss the ground he walks on. For a while, I resented this guy because of his attitude and sense of entitlement. I found out that he didn’t like me because he finds my perky attitude annoying. Rather than immediately take offense, I started to delve into what made this guy the way he was—talented, but lonely and miserable (admittedly, initially, I took some joy in torturing him by being extra perky around him). My resentment quickly turned to compassion. I was eventually able to forgive him and overlook the disdain in his voice and the eye-rolling that occurred whenever someone else gave him direction. His ire wasn’t really directed toward me and I couldn’t hold on to the resentment without feeling a piece of my soul die every time I took pleasure in egging him on. It was time to let go—he was miserable, and it really had nothing to do with me, specifically. I was a nothing but convenient target for his misery. Sadly, he may never realize what really makes him the way he is, but he’ll always have my compassion.

This birthday is all about definition for me—clarifying who I am as a wife, sister, and friend. However, the one thing I will never forget about 40 in 40 is the insight that it has granted me, and, for that, I will always be grateful.

Confessions of a Digital Hoarder

This week, thanks to a post on my friend Sarah’s blog, I became fully aware of my digital obsession. I’m a multi-tasker. On second thought, it’s entirely possible I’m a hoarder in the digital space. Pass by my desk at work and you’ll see multiple tabs open on my web browser—on a good day it’s only two (Gmail and Hootsuite), but on a typical day, there are several tabs open. In addition to my email and social sites (where I monitor 2 Twitter accounts and 3 Facebook pages), I’m also listening to something on either Spotify or Pandora while bouncing between articles that I can’t live without reading. And then there’s work—luckily, in my field, a certain degree of online research is perfectly acceptable. Even at home, I’m multi-tasking—as we speak, I have 12 tabs open in my browser. Seriously.

So, what would I do in a non-digital world? Read?

Remember these?

I’m still surprised by how few people read actual books. Since when did a Kindle or a Nook become a replacement for the feel of an actual book in your hand or the sound of a page turning? I can’t be the only person who loved the slightly musty smell of an older book from the library, can I?

Sadly, I have replaced my newspaper obsession with an online one, but this is mostly an economic decision, given the number of newspapers I read on a regular basis.

Need to look up something?

Remember when research involved a trip to the library? And don’t get me started on the Dewey Decimal System and card catalogs.

Happy Birthday to…


A sorority sister mentioned to me that she never receives birthday cards, Christmas cards, or letters anymore, now that everyone and their mother is on Facebook. A sobering thought, considering how we pride ourselves in our ability to communicate anytime and anywhere with anyone. Hell, I couldn’t even find a picture of an actual card. How sad is that?

Fess up, fellow hoarders! How bad is your habit? And what do you miss?

Junior? Senior? Does it Really Matter?

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Before we answer that burning question, allow me to address another one—where have I been (or, more specifically, why haven’t I been keeping up with my blog?)? Truthfully, I’ve been busy. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to do some pretty incredible work with some of the smartest people I know, so like a good little careerist, I went for it. Along the way, I got to help launch an amazing product for kids, got to see my words on a billboard in Times Square, and even put a serious dent in getting started writing my book. All in all, it’s been a really productive break from blogging.

So, back to the issue at hand. Titles kind of annoy me because  I don’t think they’re indicative of the level of work you’re capable of doing. I know of several writers and designers who have been on the scene for a handful of years. They’re naturally talented and are more than capable of turning the lamest ideas into pure gold (see also: turd, polishing a). However, their relative lack of experience defines them as a junior level creative, which is actually kind of a professional insult, when you think about it.

The whole junior-senior level thing also affects us on a much more fundamental scale—money. Juniors make less, yet, in this economy, seniors are either forced to be ultra-competitive for even fewer jobs, or those few jobs go to juniors because they cost less to the company/client, which can have a lasting impact on the quality of the finished product, depending on the talent of the creative chosen to work on the project. Either way, we don’t really win this—talent no longer determines employability.

So, here’s my question—what determines whether or not you get the job? Is ability enough anymore?

What Kind of Creative are You?

During an interview, hiring managers often ask cringe-inducing questions. Of course, these questions are designed to get an insight as to how well you’d fit within their organization. If you’ve done your due diligence, you know exactly what they want to hear, but wouldn’t it be liberating if you could be completely honest?

The question I’m referring to in this case is the dreaded question about what kind of work environment you prefer. It’s a pretty straightforward question, but I honestly don’t know why they always seem to ask it. If you’re applying for a corporate job or an agency position, this is obviously the type of environment you want to work in, right?

Creative environments are typically broken down into three archetypes:

Agency

Diehard creatives are usually found here, though the types of agencies vary, based on specialty, size and location. Agencies tend to be looser in their corporate structure than other companies (note: there are exceptions to this), and their dress code tends to be more casual. The work environment is usually designed to foster creativity, so holding a meeting across a foosball table isn’t an unusual occurrence. The work tends to be done on a larger scale and the personalities are often equally large.

Working hours, however, are flexible—rather than working bankers’ hours, expect to stay until the work is finished, which can sometimes be late  (this isn’t good news if you share a car with a spouse and have to pick up a child from daycare by a certain time or else.). Yes, this includes weekends if your agency is the middle of preparing a pitch.

Also, in agency world, the client is king, so expect several rounds of revisions before the client finally approves the project, which, toward the end, looks nothing like what was originally pitched.

Corporate

Corporate environments are usually the exact opposite of an agency setting. Cube farms and the ubiquitous business casual dress code abound, plus the hours are long, but predictable.

Office politics can play a major role as to how the office environment evolves. Departments tend to silo themselves, as do executives from the rank-and-file. In this setting, you have to remember two things: the bosses are not your equals, so don’t expect to go out with them for drinks after work, and always copy everyone involved on a project on every email you send.

Meetings run rampant on the corporate side of things, as do acronyms. PSMs (Project Status Meetings), GSMs (General Status Meetings) and PUs (Pipeline Updates) are often a part of one’s daily vocabulary. Also, the “suits” tend to live and die by spreadsheets, so get used to reading and referring to them constantly.

Freelance

The other place to find diehard creatives is in a freelance setting. They’re usually either forced into freelancing by the economy or they really enjoy the freedom of working for themselves. These folks are usually found in their home offices are coffee shops, but many have also settled into the communal environments found in coworking spaces.

Freelancing can take one of two forms: either working entirely for yourself or temping in one of the aforementioned settings. Temping can be an easy quick-fix when you’re strapped for cash, but understand that you’re expected to do the workload of a full time employee while receiving none of the perks, plus this arrangement typically has a definite shelf life.

Working for yourself can be tough. You’re often starved for human interaction, plus you will spend at least as much time marketing yourself as you do actually doing the work. While your time is flexible enough to accommodate doctor’s visits and school events, a full client load also means that you may find yourself working well into the wee hours. Plus, working for yourself can be a feast or famine situation when it comes to your cash flow. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it does require an incredible amount of discipline and strategy.

However, aside from the flexible schedule, the most prominent perk of freelancing is being free to cherry-pick the projects you want to work on and for whom.

So, what kind of creative am I? Truthfully, I’m the type of creative who likes to eat, so I will find a way to make myself happy in whichever arrangement I find myself in. Now, if only I could be that honest in an interview!

What would you love to tell an interviewer, provided you could?