Focus on Your Goals at Least Two Hours Every Day

Back in April, I wrote four pieces for the Professional Writers’ Alliance regarding cash flow issues for freelancers.

In addition, the PWA interviewed me for a podcast, and one of the questions asked was, “I’m busy writing for clients. How do I find the time to focus on growing my business?”

“Finding time” can be difficult for just about anyone. Whether you’re a parent who freelances in order to be at home with children, or you’re an empty nester, it seems the days are filled with a seemingly endless list of “to-dos” — both personal and business.

Having been in business twenty years now, I can definitively tell you I’ve struggled with this issue. I’ve spent money on time management apps, read dozens of time management books, and have tried all sorts of things to eliminate distractions or create new habits, such as 30-Day Challenges.

In fact, I had charged myself with a 30-day challenge in January 2018: Spend a total of two hours every day working toward my business and personal goals. Doing this challenge was a huge stretch for me because who has an “extra” two hours, right?

Even though I’m an empty nester, I’m still pretty busy with client and volunteer work, my hobbies, getting to the gym at least four days a week, etc. etc. Two hours seemed tough!

But a funny thing happened: that 30-day challenge became an integral part of my life, and since January, I’ve made considerable changes. In fact, I put myself in a whole other zone. Here’s what transpired.

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When Quitting Your Goal Turns Out to be the Best Decision Ever

I’m not a serial quitter

I love achieving big goals: I’ve run a marathon, biked over 200 miles in 3 days, started a business, driven cross-country, and traveled to New Zealand to meet my colleague Rachel Cunliffe.

Next on my list was to ride my bike across America. This required a great deal of logistical and financial planning — everything from getting myself and my bike to the starting line in California to saving enough income to cover expenses while I was on the road, plus the first few weeks on returning to work.

Crunching the numbers, I figured I needed $25,000.

I had a goal, but I also had a dream

The problem was, I had this other goal that had been on the back-burner for ten years. It was more than a goal, it was a dream, and a huge part of my overall vision for my life: renovating my classic 1960 mid-century ranch, including completely gutting the original kitchen down to the studs.

I had already gotten estimates for the kitchen work, which also totaled $25,000. (Funny how that worked.)

I kept looking at these two goals, my cash flow, and my budget. In my budget, I had included all the expense categories for my bike trip but no matter which way I moved things around, I couldn’t fit in my house goals, too.

I spent a great deal of time wrestling with this issue, and finally came to realize I made the bike goal for all the wrong reasons (more on this in a bit). So, I cancelled the trip.

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Giving Thanks for Money

To help out my college-attending son, I send him money each month. Each time I sent the funds, I wouldn’t receive any response. No quick “got it” or “thanks, Mom!” Nothing.

After a few months of “crickets” on his end, I started to feel just a tad resentful. I could feel the angry thoughts building up in my head as I began to think through scenarios on how to best “teach him a lesson.”

But thankfully, before I did something I would have regretted, I had a huge epiphany. Here I was, judging my son for the very same behavior I myself was doing.

What do I mean? Anytime I received money, for example, a payment from a client, I never said thank you. Thank you to whom? God!

I found myself asking, “If I feel terrible when my son doesn’t thank me, how does God feel when I don’t thank Him?”

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The State of the Cash Flow Report

I published Cash Flow for Freelancers in January 2016. It’s been incredibly important to me that I prove to myself, and to the people who purchase the guide, that the system I lay out actually works.

The reason it’s important is because in the past, I had purchased many financial self-help books and programs — some costing hundreds of dollars.

Many of these programs were big on what I call the “woo woo” and very short on real advice for how to solve the freelancer’s dilemma: erratic cash flow.

So, this post is my “State of the Cashflow” report where I outline the progress I continue to make with smoothing out my cash flow using the Cash Flow for Freelancers system — and how, as a result, I’ve transformed my life and my relationship with money.

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Make it Easier to Achieve Your Business Goals: Create a Fabulous Office

I’m a huge fangirl of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. I read it for inspiration whenever I need to remind myself to stay focused on my goals — both for fitness and business. I love reading all the things he did to become the best bodybuilder of all time.

In his “Total Preparation” chapter, he talks about tanning, posing oil, body hair and even posing trunks. Yep, posing trunks are super important! Color, shape, size, and material — get any one attribute wrong, and you could possibly blow your entire competition!

Reading this chapter for the first time, I immediately realized one thing I had totally overlooked with regard to my own goals: my office.

I had rented commercial space for five years, and when I moved back to my house a few years ago, I painted the spare room, moved my furniture in, and went to work.

But the walls were bare, the window lacked a “treatment,” my desk chair was close to 20 years old and quite icky, and my one lamp was a cheap purchase from Target.

I also had a very ugly rug. It had looked good in the photo online but when it arrived, I realized I had made a mistake. But since it was too big and too heavy to rewrap and send back, I kept it — and hated it ever since.

My office was bare and very low energy. It was depressing going to work each day.

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Improve Your Freelancer Cash Flow: Track Your Time (Accurately)

I learned about the importance of tracking time from when I worked for a small, woman-owned manufacturing company.

One of my responsibilities to was to determine the profit / loss on each job we completed. The process flow worked liked this:

  • We received the signed PO from a company.
  • A job card was then created, along with all the paperwork associated with job (e.g. blueprints, drawings, etc.).
  • Once all the materials were received, the people on the shopfloor would get to work. We used time cards that had perforated slips; as people punched in and out of jobs, they would affix these slips of paper to the job card.
  • Once the job was completed and shipped, I would then add up all the time and materials and divide these numbers by the dollar amount of the job to arrive at profit / loss.
  • Then each week at our staff meeting, we’d go over the jobs to figure out ways to improve our process and troubleshoot why we lost money on a job.

I carried that process into my own business and have been tracking my time now for 19 years!

I’ve used various time tracking tools over the years. When I first started, I noted my time manually on a sheet of paper and then as technology improved, used software applications. For the last seven years I’ve used Harvest time tracking software.

I can’t say enough good things about this application (and I don’t want this to be a post about why you should use it specifically), but suffice to say, Harvest is flexible in that you can set up projects and associated tasks based on how you work.

Harvest Project Screen

Harvest Project Screen

It’s quite reasonably priced at $12 a month per user (e.g. employees or contractors) with no limit on projects. It also includes invoicing, allows you to track material costs, and syncs with a number of applications you might already use, such as Xero or Basecamp.

If you’re not using a time tracker, be sure to check it out. The link is non-affiliate.

Why tracking your time can improve your cash flow

In the last two years, as I’ve worked to improve my cash flow, I’ve relied on Harvest to help me understand where my time is going. The more I rely on it and the data it gives me, the more efficient and profitable I become.

Here are some of the ways tracking your time can help you with regard to cash flow.

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Cash Cushion Success: Think Micro Amounts

Big changes happen incrementally. It sounds like a cliché but it’s the truth. I’ve learned this since publishing Cash Flow for Freelancers and with my journey of becoming a cyclist.

Five years ago, I signed up for a 20-mile ride through MeetUp but I hadn’t been on a bike in years. My ancient clunky hybrid had been hanging dormant on the wall in the garage. After taking it in for a tune-up, I began riding around in preparation. I was scared to death of the upcoming ride: I didn’t have the right clothes or clip-in shoes, my bike was old, blah, blah, blah.

Taking that first step changed everything. During the ride up the NH seacoast, I remembered I absolutely loved riding my bike — so much so that five years, one new bike, and a couple thousand miles later, you can’t pry me off it. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences and have met so many nice people that I cannot imagine life without biking.

In fact, last month, I completed a 3-day, 200+ mile ride from the NH/Canadian border to the NH/MA southern border. Talk about a blast!


Loving the rain – TransNH 2017

What I find remarkable is not so much where I am today . . . but instead, all the small changes and steps I took to get here.

The same goes for finding ways to meet my goal of saving for a cash cushion. (Quick review: What is a cash cushion.) What I’ve learned in the last 18 months or so is that micro changes can make a huge difference to your cash flow — and your life.

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Cash Flow Hack: Keep Your Finances Tidy

It’s only the middle of February but my business taxes for 2016 have been completed and filed. My personal taxes are in progress.

Granted, I use an accountant who completes all the complex forms for me; all I have to do is gather up all the necessary information and drop it off at her office.

Even so, this year has been relatively stress-free in terms of reconciling accounts, fixing errors, gathering up supporting documents etc. I attribute this ease to the fact that over the last two years, I’ve built some really good systems for keeping my finances tidy.

It didn’t used to be this way, however.

In fact, my financial systems were such a mess that one year, I made a huge error, which I discovered after my accountant had filed my business tax form with the Feds. The error meant I had to redo my W2/W3, and submit my corrected forms; my accountant then had to resubmit my corrected tax form. Ouch!

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What I Learned Tracking (All) of My Inquiries for 12 Months

For a long time I’ve wanted a clearer picture of my sales process — namely, how many inquiries I get each month, where these inquiries come from, and how long it takes to close sales.

Even though I use and love the CRM application Nimble with its handy sales pipeline feature, the data I get from it doesn’t give me all the answers I want. One reason for this is that not all inquiries make it into Nimble, e.g. inquiries for services I no longer offer or if I’m not a good fit for the prospect. And, while Nimble has lots of great sales reports, it doesn’t tell me how long it takes to close each sale — which is what I really wanted to know.

Last November, I decided to track this information manually by creating a simple spreadsheet using Excel (Figure 1).


Figure 1: inquiry spreadsheet

Then, I trained myself to diligently record every single inquiry I received — including the ones for services I no longer offer or where someone would email me to say, “I referred you to so-and-so” but I never received a call or email from this referral.

At about mid-way through this tracking process, I realized a few things.

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To Give or Not to Give: My Love-Hate Relationship with Tithing

My son attends Yeshiva University in New York, and last week, the university held its first ever Day of Giving Campaign. The goal was to raise $5 million in 24 hours.

Two amazing things about this campaign: first, it was “all or nothing.” If YU didn’t meet its goal, all donations would be returned. Second, each donation was quadrupled due to three groups of matching donors.

An $18 donation became $72; $25 became $100; $100 became $400; $500 became $2,000 and so on.

I ended up watching the clock and the donations roll in on the IAMYU page — and was simply blown away by people’s generosity. People gave all amounts — from 25 cents to $10,000 — and because each donation was quadrupled, the amount raised started to increase pretty fast.


It was an AMAZING campaign and quite exciting — and yep, the university hit their goal, as you can see in the screenshot above. In fact, they ended up raising over $6M in two added bonus rounds.

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