Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do you need to go on an information diet?

Do you use your smart phone as an alarm clock and then immediately start checking e-mails?
If so, you might want to think about embarking on an information diet. Clay Johnson, the man behind Barack Obama’s social media strategy, shared highlights from his book, The Information Diet, at this year’s MESH conference
According to Johnson, when we search on the Internet, we are often looking for validation of our existing opinions rather than information that will help us become informed. We already have our biases and so if we want the details of a specific news story, we tend to search the websites of the media outlets which most conform to our own point of view, whether that’s TMZ, Fox News or the Toronto Star. If we are annoyed with our spouse, worried about our kids or concerned about our appearance, we search for others who are experiencing the same things and who react the same way, rather than seeking out different opinions.
Johnson believes many North Americans are over-consuming useless information because it’s readily available. To prove his point, he asked the audience to name Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband. Many people yelled out the answer. He then asked if anyone knew the child poverty rate in Toronto and the room went silent.
In his book, The Information Diet, Johnson recommends we take the following steps to trim our information waistline:
1. Become a conscious consumer of information – Every time you visit a website, ask yourself if it’s vital to what you are trying to achieve in life. Rather than mindlessly consuming information all day, schedule time for different types of Internet use.
2. Seek whole news – Johnson says the life cycle of an event starts as actual truth, becomes reworded truth, turns into processed truth, is reported in the media and ends up on TV, where it’s furthest from the truth. While it’s not always possible to find out the truth, get information from multiple news sources and points of view.
3. Be a producer more than a consumer – If you check emails and news sites before breakfast, you’re starting your day as a consumer of other people’s thoughts and opinions. Try to start your day as a producer of your own content, through your blog, Twitter stream or website. Johnson recommends writing 500 words before 8 a.m.
4. Subtract junk from your daily intake – Remember that your clicks have consequences and, because the Internet stores information about you, your reading patterns affect everyone in your demographic. Remember that the next time you stop by Perez Hilton.
5. Content is not a commodity – Until we are comfortable with the concept of paying for filtered, fact-checked, responsible content, we will continue to be spoon-fed a steady diet of misinformation.
6,000 people have already taken the pledge to go on an information diet. To learn more,

Sunday, June 17, 2012

5 Lessons I've Learned About Freelancing So Far

Snazzy new logo? Check.  Website? Check.  Solid business plan? Well, sort of.

Just over six months ago, I started a freelance communications business.  With two decades of industry experience under my belt, including 7 years owning an agency, I was ready to truly work on my own.  When I shared my plans to go solo with acquaintances, the response ran the gamut from, “You’ll be surprised how hard it is to make a go of it” to “They’ll be lining up to pay for your services as soon as you hang out a shingle”.  The advice was well-intentioned but not particularly helpful as the people who provided it were speaking from their personal experiences which were informed by the economic environment in which their own freelance endeavours had flourished or floundered.   

I didn’t prepare a formal business plan when I started and it would have been a waste of time if I had because the ups and downs of these two quarters have helped me clarify the kind of work I truly enjoy, the emerging trends I need to focus on and the amount of hours I want to spend building my business and more importantly, my personal brand.  I also know that meaningful freelance work will always be a part of my life, even if I choose to become an employee or take a contract somewhere.

As I completed my own mid-year review, I challenged myself to write the five most valuable lessons I’ve learned so far.  Here they are:

1. Flex time isn’t free time – As a freelancer, you need to be hyper-vigilant about carving out, organizing and protecting your work time.  Sure, you can do your grocery shopping on a Wednesday morning but in order to meet client deadlines, you’ll probably spend a sunny Saturday afternoon holed up in front of your computer.  The ability to work when and where you want is a selling feature of the freelance life but if you’re easily distracted, it’s probably not the life for you.

2. Do what you do best – When you freelance, there is no workforce, team or department to share your mistakes, absorb your poor judgement or fix your mediocre work.  It’s just you and while it’s tempting to be a jack of all trades, you need to zero in on your strengths and build your business around them.  Work only with clients who are a good fit with your skills, approach and expertise and only accept assignments you know you can excel at.

3. Build your brand relentlessly - If a potential client Googles you, what will they find? If you’re a freelance communicator, their search should reveal a current website, a showcase of your content in the form of a blog or newsletter, a professional presence on Twitter and Linked In, examples of how you give back to the industry through volunteering or mentorship.  You need to make time to cultivate a professional reputation that goes beyond your paid work.

4. Network strategically – As a sole practitioner, you can spend your life in coffee meetings.  A few will yield paid work eventually.  Others will spark new friendships.  Some will frankly be a waste of time – time that could have been spent meeting deadlines, building your brand or learning something new.  Networking is imperative to your success but decide how many hours you will devote to it and be judicious about how you approach it.

5. Learn to say no – The word “no” is a freelancer's best friend so learn to use it and use it with conviction.  Say “no” to people who want you to work for free, family members who need you to pick up dry-cleaning, work that doesn’t fit your abilities, and endless, drawn-out RFP processes with minimal chance of success.  Learning how to effectively say “no” will enable you to say “yes” to more of the things that will make you happy.