Thursday, July 5, 2007

Creating that "Accordian" to Give Yourself a Break

Yesterday, sitting under the tent at Bruce and Joe's 4th of July party in Amherst, Mass., I met a number of virtual company owners.

It didn't take long for that old complaint to rise up: "I'm either working like a dog or not busy enough. I don't dare turn down work when I see jobs in editing like mine going to India, but then I never get a vacation. I love this lifestyle, sort of . . ."

Ah, yes, the stickiest issue in virtual company land (sometimes called freelancing) -- how to have a life and live that virtual American dream?

I can't say my work life is perfect, but I have resolved this issue to a degree over the last 17 years. I've learned to hire and train other subcontractors to assist with work. I NEVER turn down a project unless it's inappropriate to my business, and I DO take time off.

That's because I have a crew of back up researchers and writers I can call on when there's an overload. And when times are a bit slack, I don't utilize my folks as much (and that hurts, but it's the way of the work world).

I call this approach "the accordian." It requires knowing the following:

1) How to break up work in chunks that even a teenager could handle;

2) Training people to do some work that may be out of their realm of knowledge;

3) Managing people remotely.

If you're interested in the particulars of how I make the accordian work, then post some questions and I'll do my best to answer you. In the meantime, it's back to work and checking on my top researcher to make sure he's got the information I need for a client.


Roots Odyssey said...

Ah yes, the feast or famine syndrome. How about the balance between stoking long term projects and paying the bills. What say you there?

amyz said...

Hey roots odyssey!

The only way around it is to market fairly constantly and create a pipeline of work. Even when I'm riding high with pretty set clients, I'm always scoping and building out (as you well know).

But to do that means having backup help --hence the accordian approach. You need to have a team of subcontractors you can rely on to handle the overload.

Saying "no" to decent work is the death knell. But taking on too much can kill you too . ..

Amy Z

Roots Odyssey said...

That's true, but sometimes it is hard to switch gears, like if a new enterprise requires sustained attention. Can you offer tips for keeping the mind nimble and capable of keeping multiple strands going simultaneously?

amyz said...

My goodness -- keeping the mind agile!! You ARE asking a lot. . .

As for handling multiple strands, that takes being very organized. And, again, it means creating agreements with other subcontractors so you can parcel out help as needed. You become as much a project manager as a producer.

What's really crucial is knowing how to break down projects into chunks that another person can handle under your supervision.

Then you have to know how to price those chunks so the support person is being paid decently.

We can take the pricing issue another day . ..

Amy Z