It's hard to imagine that FireMane Studio is officially 10 years old this year. A lot has happened since my last (last) blog post for the New Year in 2018. Aside from COVID sending everyone home to work remotely, things around the studio didn't change much.

I set up FireMane to be remote first back in 2014 because I knew where the future of work was heading, even back then. The work I was doing was 100% through the internet. While I did meet with clients face to face when we were both in the same area, I expanded my client base beyond my city metro area. Cincinnati was a thick hub of design agencies and advertising giants at the time. I was a company of one. I didn't try to offer what I couldn't deliver on but had the resources to bring in more team members as needed. As 2019 was winding down, my personal life took a turn into the unknown.

Long story short; after a trip abroad I got the idea in my head that I wanted to build out a cargo van and live on the road full time. Yes, I wanted to live the Vanlife! The notion to travel more had always been on my mind, all the way back to high school and early college. But with the looming expectation to live where I worked, I tried to settle somewhere. Fast forward to 2019 and I found the best (or just plain insane) notion to save up, buy a van, and turn it into a tiny home on wheels. I had dedicated 2020 to be my "No Spend Year" where most of my income went into savings. COVID certainly helped that goal. With nothing open and everyone at home, not spending money became the least stressful part of that year.

Jumping to November 2022, the van build is complete and I hit the road to New Mexico for the winter. Since then, I've visited six new to me states, several National Parks, and expanded my sticker collection ten fold. It has been a wild ride!

Now that you're all caught up, I'm getting back into blogging more often. Not just about the importance of having cohesive visuals to support your business, but also musings from being on the road. I promise this won't become a travel blog. There are enough of those already!

But traveling is one of my passions and I chose to make it a big part of my life. Freelancing remotely has given me the opportunity to pursue full time travel in a way I never thought possible. So if you're new to my site, welcome! If you're a current client, you know my flavor of crazy pretty well.

Let's hit the road!

Staying positive in a difficult situation is tough. You know what's going on, you might not have control over any of it, and now you need to fight your emotions and stay up-beat. I've been there and it's tough. Fighting through your own emotions to mask what's really happening is just as hard as dealing with what's going on behind the scenes. But I can tell you this, perfecting the positive attitude can be your saving grace.

Story Time

I recently attended a networking and marketing event. Though I normally dress more professional for these I went in my casual clothes, as 8a.m. was never my favorite time of day to dress up. When I arrived, I was the only one dressed in a t-shirt and capri pants. Everyone else was business casual or in a suit. I've long gotten over feeling weird about walking into a room and feeling like the beginning of Pretty Woman. I found a friend in the group and said hi. She introduced me to a gentleman named Jim, who was dressed very smartly I might add, and we had a lovely conversation. I was happy to talk about my business and how well things have been going this year. He seemed keen to see my work and possibly run into each other at other networking events. We exchanged cards and took our seats for the event.

After the talk, there was another designer chatting to Jim. While she was dressed much better than me, her attitude as pretty bad. Nay, deplorable. She talked at length how terrible things were for her. How she had just gotten into the freelancing world but was woefully unprepared. No online portfolio, no fall back savings, no clients or contacts, just jumped in because she didn't like the company she was working with before. While I can attest to the work situation, I tried to share some of my years of wisdom playing the freelance game. She was closed off to anything I said. She kept holding back tears, or screams, at how she went into a business venture with two other people and how the bank was screwing them over. Jim was visibly uncomfortable, but was stoic and professional. When he asked for her card she didn't have any. Jim gave her one of his and excused himself. Before he left, he gave me a vigorous hand-shake and said it was lovely to meet me.

After Jim left, I tried to get this other designer to say something nice about herself or her work. Aside from being a print designer, she had no excitement. Her situation was obviously tearing her down. I started to feel uncomfortable so I said good luck to her and left.

Be Aware

All I can say is attitude is everything. It's a skill worth devoting time to as it could mean the difference of a good or bad reputation. Cincinnati is a little-big city and the creative field is very much a close community. I've gone to various networking events, hosted by different organizations, and met a lot of the same people. As a freelancer, you must be aware of how you behave. It sounds nerve-wracking (and it is) but it is far more beneficial to stay positive than to be a downer. Leave your personal issues at home and step outside with your professional face on. That doesn't mean you have to be in work/selling mode. Behave as you would in a professional office you're visiting for the first time. People don't want to hear about your sob story. They might sympathize, but they didn't come to an event to feel sad. They won't be interested in it and will be turned off from talking to you at length. You'll also be forever pegged as the one with the sad story or bad attitude.

What do you do then? Ask people more questions. Everyone loves to talk about themselves (admit it, you know you do). You give them the opportunity to lead the conversation and that will reflect well on you. You'll be seen as inquisitive and a good listener. People will take notice and thank you. And if you're still not feeling up for it, fake it.

Fake it till you make it. Cliché yes, but it works. Hence why it's a cliché.

It's difficult sometimes to push myself through a networking event. Somedays I'm not up for it, or I'm stressed, or I'm just feeling anti-social. It's rare that I skip an event if there's any chance I'll make one connection. So when I do go, I don my positive mask and try to keep a good attitude. Trust me, it's worth the effort!

There is nothing more satisfying than clocking out after a long day at work. It's a fairly routine thing for offices to encourage everyone to leave between 5pm and 7pm, depending on the type of office. Watching the clock count down to the end of the day seems to take hours longer than it did yesterday. The simple satisfaction of getting your things and heading to the exit is a thrill I don't often have anymore. Many freelancers don't end their days at 5pm. Though maybe we should.

Work Knows Nothing of Time

As a freelancer, I often work from home. My goal is to one day rent a small office space where I can go and use it for nothing but work. Until that day comes, my home office does the job just fine. What happens is there is no clear definition of when I'm working or when I'm not. I always track my hours but when I'm taking a break, I look around and I'm at home. Mentally, I'm in home time. Are there dishes that need to be done? Is the laundry put away? Does the dog need to go for a walk? It's taken some discipline, but I've managed to avoid getting swallowed up by house-hold chores while stepping away from the computer. Projects that allow me more flex time to complete can be put on hold until I have the right wave of inspiration. That wave often comes either in the early morning or the early evening. The middle of the day is the slump time, and often I'm not making my most creative work then. Setting hours of what time is work time vs. not work time were slowly forgotten over the last few months. I catch myself checking emails at 10pm or later on nights I have to get up early the next day. Or making that one last tweak to a logo before sending it off after midnight. At my home office, it's near chaos to how I operate my projects. Everything gets done, but it's like a winding back country road, going up a mountain, in the snow, and you're low on gas.

Setting Your Hours

Some freelancers work best working within the normal 9-5 time range of weekdays. That's great if you can stick with it. I've conceded that I have broken my own rules and worked on projects well after I should have stopped for the day. Emails and other forms of contact with clients happen during the normal work hours of typical businesses. I have to consider what my clients' time schedule and when they're most likely to respond to my messages or calls. Most of them have offices but they have access to their business email all the time. Unless it's an emergency, I wait till 8am to send emails. As we're still in January and resolutions are still pretty fresh for 2016, I'm setting my clock out time to 9pm. Any emails that come after then will still be in my inbox in the morning. I might check it one last time before bed, especially if a project just left for the printers. There's no way of knowing what might go wrong there.

This might be a complete failure. In fact, I'm writing this blog at 10pm. I would have to count blogging as a violation to the clock out rule as it relates to work. But then again, when inspiration strikes you cannot let is pass you by.

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is the most difficult time of the year. For a freelancer that is. From my experience one year ago, unless you have established contracts or a large project to work on, businesses slow down during the holidays. Holiday campaigns were started months ago to be ready to launch live right before or on Thanksgiving. Retail companies stay ahead by three or four months of the current calendar. How do you think all those new holiday store graphics get in the windows so fast after Halloween? It's because they were approved back in July, went into production in August, and then were shipped to the stores for display by October. For freelancers that didn't come on board until the fall, the holiday season can be difficult to find long term work. It does, however, allow some time to get your ducks in a row that you might have been neglecting for a few weeks. Or if you're like me, a few months.

This year I already know money will be tight and my friends and family aren't expecting a barrage of gifts. I'm relying on my crafting skills to make gifts for people on a very tight budget. It's a hand craft skill I've been itching to get back into and it gets me away from the computer screen for a few hours a day. I'm also using this time to organize my old artwork files and get everything ready for a yearly "dump" on to my back-up drive. My laptop only has so much storage space and moving all things 2015 and older off will only help it run faster.

I also use the month of December to get my tax documents in order. I have several W2's and 1099's coming in January, so I have to get all my invoices and deductibles organized. An organized shoe box of papers is better than missing something important. Taxes are never fun for me, even when I had a full time job.

I'm also sending out holiday cards to my business clients. It's another expense that seems unnecessary during a time of thinner income, but it's a gesture that means so much more. I want to keep in good relations with my clients and most of them are wonderful to work with. Family and friends know how much they mean to me, I want my clients to feel just as important. Without their faith in my abilities to produce work they love, I wouldn't be doing any of this. And that really means something to me. Their continued flow of projects means they want to work with me and know what I do is worth the expense. They allow me to set my own hours, have creative freedom, and do what I love for a living. A card is the smallest gesture I could do for them. Of course I designed something unique for this. Sending a store-bought card would be an insult to my profession. It's always a good idea to think like the retailers and have something ready months ahead.

With all the free time I'll have from a down turn of project work, I'll be hunting for short term projects. This gives me time to go through all those job links I've marked over the year and see which ones I want to keep and pursue. I bookmark so many pages then forget if they were worth looking into. December has become my digital cleaning month. I want to start January with a faster computer and less cluttered list of bookmarks on my browser.

So to all freelancers out there, don't fret. The holidays are a trying time for work but it will pick back up in January. Take it easy and get ready to hit the ground running on New Year's Day.

Have you seen a freelancer working in the wild of a locally owned coffee shop? The mental picture that fabricates might be: a young-ish hipster dressed person, with extra ear piercings and visible arm tattoos, working on a slim Mac laptop computer, drinking a $10 cup of coffee, while using the free WiFi at the cafe in the early afternoon. They are looked on with envious eyes of the workers that are dashing in for a quick to-go cup of caffeine while on their way into a florescent lit room of cubicles, often mistaken for an office, as they wear uncomfortable button up shirts. Other coffee shop patrons are stay-at-home parents, mostly moms, with their newest offspring in tow while they get a much needed coffee before running errands in their matching track suits. At least that was the impression given to me by movies and television. It all seemed so glamorous and carefree. I knew that wasn't the case, but oh how I wanted it to be true.

In fact, the amount of times I actually went to a cafe to sit and use their WiFi as I sipped casually on a cappuccino has been a total of three. Three that I can remember anyway. Some cafes didn't have the most comfortable chairs, so I didn't end up staying much longer after I was done with my drink. Other places got too noisy and I'm not a huge fan of wearing my headphones while out in public. Most of the time it was a hassle to pack up my work station, drive to a coffee shop, and set up to work for maybe an hour or two. No, I spent the majority of my time at home in my elastic waist-banded sweat pants and a comfy t-shirt. I was anything but the model of what a freelancer would look like. But for the past year, my method worked just fine for me.

After a year freelancing full time, all I can say is it feels much longer than that. I'm still in contact with some of my past co-workers from my last office job. Occasionally we have lunch and chat about work and how things are currently. They tell me in so many ways "You aren't missing anything." For the first few months after departing I missed only the people, not the work. And a few months after that I missed the paychecks, still not the work. Another reason I didn't drive out and patronize local coffee huts; money.

Over the summer, my boyfriend and I took a once in a lifetime trip to Alaska. It might sound like I was making oodles of cash in order to pay for that trip, but I'm still feeling the sting of the cost four months later. It was worth every penny I spent but it knocked me back in a way I wasn't prepared for. I had work coming in but it wasn't nearly enough income to pay all the bills. After a few weeks of sporadic clients, I started looking for a "real" job. Something part time that would get a little cash in during the lull in design work. Believe me, I tried every avenue I could before I made this decision. After a half dozen interviews and some time gone by, new clients started coming in and I no longer had to find extra work. Did I luck out? Maybe. None of the jobs I was interviewed for wanted to hire me, even though the interview went spectacular. If nothing else, it was good practice for when I interviewed for a freelance in-house position with an agency downtown.

Like most new businesses, there is very little show in profit for the first few years. I was expecting that but I didn't plan ahead like I needed to. This past year has been an incredible learning experience. Everyone at every creative brunch or happy hour says the same thing, so at least I don't feel quite so out of place. Even this far in, I know I'll never stop learning. My methods are becoming more streamlined and my file of resources steadily grows, making my interactions with new clients much smoother. I know how I want to present myself and have gotten a stronger back bone when I need to say "no" to someone or something. And when I say no, it isn't immediately scoffed at by a potential client. They walk away and later come back with more understanding that I don't sell myself short just because their project is important to them and they think they're special.

Here's to another 365 days out in the wild. And many, many more.

There is nothing quite like a project that fully engrosses you. The campaign, Be a Part of Something Mammoth, has done just that to me for the last few months. I knew very little about the park, only a few mouthfuls about the non-profit group running the campaign, but I have learned a great deal in a short amount of time. The IndieGogo campaign was launched last Wednesday the 15th, and so far I think the reception has been positive. While it hasn't quite hit our first $1,000 mark, we're very close and not even a week into it. Granted the final goal is $70,000, but any amount is amazing. It gets them just that much closer to their goal.

While I'm not a member of the non-profit group running the show, Friends of Big Bone, being so close to the action and neck deep in it has made me passionate about their cause. They made me care! That's one of the great perks to being a freelancer and getting to work so close with my clients; their passion for their projects can rub off on me and make me want them to succeed just as much as they do. If not more so since my work is the face of their project. When I worked for a large company, I may have never met the clients or even just their liaison for a project. I heard names of the decision makers, but never saw their face or had a reason to meet with them. I was in the background, making graphics according to a sheet of must-haves or avoid-this items. I had no reason to be emotionally invested or even excited for what they were doing. I was so far removed that I couldn't care. Now, after breaking out solo, I WANT to care about each client and project.

I meet new clients in the flesh, in a relaxed environment, chit-chat with them and get an opportunity to understand why they do what is it they're doing. I get to see the people behind the brands/products/services/causes and that makes it worth while for me. Who wouldn't want to work with people like that? Granted there are some clients I've never met in person due to the distance between us. But I still treat every client the same; like a person.

If you want to see the glorious final product that is the Be a Part of Something Mammoth campaign, you can check it out here:

Feel free to donate and/or share the campaign with everyone you think would want to help out or would enjoy the perks being offered. The

Friends of Big Bone made me care, and I want everyone to care too!

The campaign runs till May 15th, so get to it! And thanks!

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The hands of a clock only go in one direction. Your choices: learn to manage your time or be swallowed up in moments lost forever. As grim as it sounds, those really are your only options. If you decide to cruise on time and not let it get to you, that is time you'll never, ever, get back. If you freelance in any field, time is your boss. Whether you like it or not; you answer to the clock. One of most important skills anyone can learn is proper time management. Here's what I've learned on my journey through time.

Chicken vs. Egg? It's still just poultry.

When project launch dates pop up or new projects roll in at the same time, the first step is to determine which one needs to be completed first. No matter what the project is, who the client is (hear me out first), how much money the job will bring in (wait, I'm getting to it), the calendar will always tell you which one to start with.

When you're starting out as a freelancer, it's difficult to turn down a job. You take on everyone you can because you don't have the luxury yet to turn anyone away. It's less complicated when projects bring in the same amount of money and are about the same amount of time needed to complete. But longer and more in depth projects that take weeks or even months, those need internal calendars themselves. In those big projects, you won't necessarily be working on it 12 hours a day for the next six weeks solid. There will always be a few lulls when you're waiting for content or feedback from a client. In those pockets of a few hours, or a few days, you can pick up another short term project.

Make a calendar of everything you're working on and see what needs to be completed by when. If there is no date for one project, work on the ones that have closer completion dates. If it's a mix of personal projects vs. clients, give your clients the attention they deserve. Even if they aren't paying, do their work before your own.

I'll do it right now, for one million dollars.

Here's a scenario: you're up to your eyeballs in one huge project from a long-term loyal client. Every second counts to get it done on time. You're focusing on just this one project, because you want to do it right the first time and you really love this client. Suddenly, a mystery client sends you an email. They say they'll pay you an ungodly sum of money for something that would take you less than an hour. You don't know this client and you've never worked for their company before. They'll even pay you up front the entire amount they promise, just send them your PayPal info and it'll be done. The only catch is they want the completed work by tomorrow at 8am (and it's already 1am). Do you take the mystery client's job at the risk of putting your loyal client's work behind? My answer: just say no (wait, how much money was it again?).

Hear me out. It's much more than money here. If you did get the mystery client's work done, you're damaging your relationship with an already established client. You have a *friendship, not just a working relationship (*not all clients will be your friend). Being a freelancer, your word is your bond. Would you hurt a close friend just because a stranger with a huge stack of cash told you to? Of course not. In this scenario, you're not only bound by time but also by your loyalty and reputation towards your work. How you treat their project is a reflection of how you treat them professionally.

Keeping a good reputation means doing good. As in keeping to milestones, keeping clients in the loop when needed, completing things on time, etc. The risk of faltering from a tight schedule might get you a nice pay check, but your loyal client will feel the sting because you put them last. They might pull the plug on the project and never send you additional work. Tainting your reputation and might even steer new clients away from you. Was it still worth that paycheck?

Six degrees of separation.

In the freelance world, it's far less than six degrees between anything. It's a giant web with everything tied together, on the same level of importance and need for maintenance. Time is one of those points that it has deep roots within the rest of the web. There is no way to ignore it because it runs with or without you.

Take this blog as another example. I've made the tough decision to work on a large client project rather than post twice a week recently. The blog is marked on my calendar, but my client's work is more important. Sure, the blog would take me an hour or two to think of a topic and jot it down. But my client's project is more important. Even though the date for the blogs are sooner and more often, I value my client's work more.

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Pursuing your dream is scary. You walk into the deep end of the unknown pool and figure out how to swim with little to no guidance. Even if you know how to swim, you have to continue to push yourself to swim stronger than before. There may be a life guard on duty, but they can only pull you out when you start to drown. They can't swim for you.

I quit my full-time office job in November of 2014 and I knew that was the last time I would quit something full stop. It was also the last time I would have the luxury of quitting. Going alone in the freelance profession is full of obstacles and millions of moments that make you want to quit. Mental floundering is perfectly normal. Self doubt is always present, but how influential it is waxes and wanes with time. Some days it's almost non-existent, other days it's at the forefront of your mind and cripples everything you try to do. Days like those are where the idea of quitting come up. Those are the moments when you might need to look for your life guard or other support system.

I used to assume that other freelancers were the most self-assured people. Only people like that could or would go at this career choice. I never considered myself as someone that could do it. The idea of a "job" was working for someone else, collecting a paycheck, and doing the same thing till I was too old to do it anymore. I knew I didn't want that for myself. But quitting that idea of a "job" removed the barrier of who was responsible. It was now my job to find work in order to make money. I assumed all the roles that other people in administration offices did. I was no longer just a cog in a machine; I was the whole machine. Taking up that role removed the luxury of quitting. If I quit, it's completely on me. No boss pushed me to do it, no one project ruined it for me, it would all be on me. And those excuses are lame.

So I've quit quitting. Everyday I push on, even when it is THE most difficult thing to do. Some days are easier than others, and I have to remember to give myself a break from it. It's a long road ahead, but I'm not going to quit.

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