Reflections

My general thoughts about things

A Blog Post About Pens

I’ve always been fascinated with the art of writing, which is strange considering I have writer’s cramp. My love began in middle school when I became bored of the standard issue BIC pens my parents bought me. Every week, chewed-up pens filled my pockets and pencil cases, many of which ‘spontaneously exploded’ in my book bag, on my homework, and in my coat (sorry mom).

Pens were my blessing and my curse, and it seems like I was always holding one.

Around 7th grade, I became more interested in what pens do, when I picked up a book on graphology in the public library. In case you aren’t familiar, graphology is the study of handwriting – an art heavily dependent on pens. As I read further down the rabbit hole into ink pens and cursive, my hand became increasingly uncooperative.

By the time I was 14, I could no longer use those BIC pens, and I moved into the comfort grip models. I started investing in $5 pens, ugly therapeutic writing devices that did not fill my need for expression. They looked like the pens my doctor used – not something a 14-year-old girl would hold while scribbling down poems on the back of her notebook.

And so, the collection began.

I began collecting the oddest pens I could find. I had bendy pens, a carrot pen, furry pens, giant pens and smelly pens. I have a pen made from wood and a pen made from metal. I lost pens and bought more pens. It was an obsession that made writing with my increasingly damaged hand more fun.

I discovered the internet at 16 and began typing all of my writings onto a floppy disk. Soon, all of my pens faded away to the background, as did my study of graphology. The keyboard saved me from pain but took me away from my love of handwriting. I mourned my lost hobby but was grateful for the technology that allowed me to keep writing.

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I Don’t Answer my Phone

If you know me or have done business with me, you may have learned that I do not answer my phone. Unless it’s from a family member, it’s probably not going to get answered. The funny thing is, I am always near my phone, and most of the time I am looking at it. I simply don’t have the time to tap the little button that would connect our call.

You can’t do business without a landline phone…

Years ago, my father would have said something like the above. It’s probably due to his years of business consultancy combined with constant traveling. Being the daughter of a mobile businessman helped me learn the power of constant communication very early on. He also taught me a little bit about great customer service, the biggest lesson being:

If customers cannot reach you, they won’t do business with you.

Well, my father is from a different generation, because I have not had a landline phone since 2001, yet I have been a self-employed professional for nearly 10 years without one. It hardly seems like a business requirement anymore – especially if you are a solo –entrepreneur. Technology has created new (and cheaper) ways of communicating across distances.

Cell Phones Are Not For Talking

My reluctance to answer the phone skyrocketed this year when I purchased my first smartphone. Yes, I said first. This is because I find the vast possibilities of a smartphone to be distracting from phone calls. I mean, why would I answer the phone, when I could be skype chatting or tweeting? It just doesn’t make much sense.

That is why I am convinced cell phones are no longer designed for phone calls. If they were, they’d have a longer battery life, be more comfortable to hold, and wouldn’t include YouTube. I can’t possibly be the only independent professional to feel this way…

Maybe I should just send an email…

The last ten years, the Internet has proven that it can solve nearly any problem- including the fact that I never have time to answer my phone. First there was Netmeeting. It came installed on my Windows 95 computer but strangely disappeared in Vista. Then there was the handy dandy Magic Jack, which I cautiously purchased from Radio Shack only to lose interest after a few weeks.

By the time most of the world had adopted Skype, I had already used and disposed of a Google Voice number, forgotten the password of numerous GoToMeeting credentials, and pretty much loss hope in terms of what the Internet could offer for voice communications.

A Beacon of Hope?

The great thing about technology is that is always evolving, and it appears voice over internet protocol calls (VoIP) has now reached a point of being worth my consideration again. I have been fortunate to meet two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (yes, Silicon Valley like the genius’s behind Facebook and that ridiculously humorous HBO show) that understand the problems I am facing.

They have created technology that helps busy professionals like me continue to not answer their phones while still making money.

In yo’ face, Dad!

Their company, Smith.ai, combines real receptionists with the best in technology to create a marketing and customer service solution that does not involve me answering the phone. Considering the fact that I plan to stay in business for a while, this is a total win.

 

Why I Chose Microsoft Over Google (Cloud Storage Review)

I have always been pro-Google. Ever since I signed up for my Gmail account nearly 10 years ago, I have loved the simplicity and usefulness of their products. I watched eagerly as they rolled out new solutions, sometimes even spending time in Google Labs- where I stumbled across Picasa.

Picasa was probably my favorite Google product. It used the power of search to quickly organize a growing problem on my computer – photos. I simply turned Picasa on and it showed me where all my pictures were. It even included editing features – all of this for free!

Then my computer started going very slow as it categorized all of the photos on my hard drive. I needed to clean some of them off. It was Picasa that convinced me to buy an external hard drive so that I could start backing them up. It helped, but it wasn’t the same. I loved having all of my photos in a single location, but carrying it around on a small drive worried me.

The Cloud- Based Revolution

There were times when I couldn’t use Google products as much as I wanted. For a long time even, it was my guilty pleasure. When I first signed up for my Google account, I worked at Microsoft. The two tech giants were just entering their technology war, and as an employee of one, I had sworn allegiance in the form of an employment contract. All Google URLs were banned from my company computer. So for years, I logged on my email from personal devices, almost as if I were looking at something way worst.

At work, it was my job to sell Microsoft products, but I rolled my eyes when product development said we would now be competing with Google. Introducing Office Online! I thought it was a dumb idea, and swore silently to myself that I would never leave Google for Microsoft in regards to any online service.

I left my Microsoft job shortly after that and was free to use any cloud-based software I chose. I downloaded Open Office and opened a second Gmail account.

Am I Eating My Words?

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, and I have an entirely online business of my own – one involving a lot of online content (plus, all of the pictures I kept taking). My post-Picasa external hard drive is now too full to accept any more documents, and I am in need of an online storage solution.

Immediately, I turned to Google.

I am not a novice to Google Drive. Although I initially questioned the sanity of having all of my files linked to my email, I appreciated having separate Google drives for clients. It was an easy way to share large files, and it included a basic document editor. Why wouldn’t I backup all of my files there?

Well, in the end, my initial concern became the reason. I don’t want everything associated with my personal email.

Here’s an example of my real-life challenges:

  • Photo of youngest child – saved to personal Google Drive
  • Web content for client A – saved to their Google Drive in a personal folder
  • Blog Post for jennmariewrites – saved to business Google Drive
  • Blog Post for client B – saved to their Google Drive in a personal folder
  • Video footage of family vacation — no room

That is four different Google drives, (out of a possible 7). Remembering which drive has the space and where certain content is located was beginning to become maddening. I suppose I could upload, log out, and log back in as needed, but I thought the idea was to make it easier, not harder?

I needed something simple and easy, and for once, Google was not it.

Out of desperation, I turned to Microsoft. It’s been years now, and I’m sure the product development team has had plenty of time to work out their bugs, right?

I signed up for a free trial, and within minutes I not only had 1 TB of space but an entire suite of Microsoft programs to go with it. Yes, I still swear by Open Office, but industry standard is still MS Word.

Because it is Microsoft, it looks exactly like my Windows, which meant no learning curve on how to create a folder or organize anything. I downloaded Word, typed a blog post and saved it to my One Drive. There were very few extra steps, and no “click here to upload documents”. Save. Done. Best of all, there was no cutting and pasting into Google Docs, and then fixing the formatting because of the sworn “we will not be compatible” feud. There was no file converting. I simply wrote, saved, and moved on.

Microsoft Tools in Google World

Okay, so Microsoft won the simplicity test, but would the solution work with my four Google drive clients?

Well, considering I am running a Windows 7 desktop alongside a Chromebook, this question was sure to come up. So I went to the Microsoft Online website, logged in with my ridiculously cumbersome username, downloaded my files to my Chromebook, uploaded it to my Google drive, changed the format to whatever the Google doc equivalent is, and shared with the client.

Okay, so 6 steps… but at least it worked.

I mean it’s not like I was going to compose the writing on a Chromebook.. the keyboard’s too small and it isn’t compatible with Grammarly.

Baltimore, Opportunity and Freelancing

I’m from a small town in South Carolina. I wasn’t born there, but I spent most of my formative years imagining life beyond the local Piggly Wiggly. My father lived there as a child, and his father lived there. Prior to that, his father likely lived there … The story continues as far back as slavery when they picked the cotton that still grows there. It’s an upbringing that I am thankful to have because it keeps me grounded, although I have never set foot in the town as an adult.

My grandfather left our small town during the segregation era as a young adult to pursue work in Baltimore. In the big city, he found opportunity on the boats. My father left during the Civil Rights Era headed for New York, after a short stint in the military, he found opportunity in entrepreneurship. I chose a different route. Opting for college and a family I jumped from city to city, eventually laying roots in the Seattle area.

How does this relate back to freelancing?

I come from a legacy of people that search for opportunity when presented with little. From the moment I left my small town, I knew it was going to be an uphill climb, and I sought out that challenge. On the backs of those who had left before me, I knew there was opportunity in front of me… I just needed to find it.

That opportunity presented itself online. With the exception of part-time retail jobs, every job I’ve ever had was courtesy of the Internet. From freelance reporting to modeling, to mystery shopping… I found my opportunity through a system of information that connected me with the world.

I have been ‘online freelancing’ for 17 years now… and as I watch the environment change – I am saddened by what it has become. Just like Baltimore was once a Mecca of opportunity for my grandfather, it is now a city of despair. Similar to how my father ran to New York in the 60s, he ran from it in the 80s. The online marketplace has become overrun with the second-wave of hopefuls looking for their next opportunity. Many of them come underprepared and under-qualified and aren’t willing to put in the necessary work.

As a result, they have cheapened the definition of what it means to be an online freelancer and made it difficult for the quality ones to stand out.

Take, for example, the million dollar freelance copywriter. …

He brags about how easy it was for him to make money. He brags about how little education he has. He suggests that anyone can do what he did – if you just click here — it’s no wonder why anyone would have a difficult time putting a value on quality copywriting.

Am I suggesting he’s not good? Not at all; I don’t know anything about his work. What I am saying is that he is not unique. Time Magazine reported last year that 1 in 3 Americans freelance. If so many of us are going at it alone, how does anyone know who is actually about their craft and who is just looking for the next opportunity?

I’m not going to say I’m the best to have ever done it. Actually, I will be the first to admit that I am not. What I am, however, is dedicated. I am dedicated to freelancing, not because it’s what’s popular and not because someone suggested I could make a whole bunch of money. I am freelancing because it was the best opportunity for me- a small-town girl with big dreams. The Internet is my Baltimore. Freelancing is my New York.

I am committed to defending ‘my city’ from decay, and helping others succeed here as well. You deserve to be online. Read about my services and let me know if I can help.