The Boss-less Existence

In the very old days (think covered wagons and polyester jumpsuits), I worked in a cubicle.  I was expected to be in that cubicle at 8:00 am every morning, even when I was tired, and I was expected to work continuously, even when it was sunny outside or my dog needed a little attention.

It was a sad time.  I dreamed a lot of staying home, working bralessly and bosslessly, writing the great American novel or at least some dime novel crap that made a little money.  (I didn’t know about FileMaker Pro yet).

Then one day, I began working at home.  (sorry to skip the story arc, but we’re jumping ahead to the wisdom-gained part).  I learned some hard lessons very quickly, including these:

  • Dime novels often live up to their names
  • Dogs never need a little attention.  They need all the attention.  All the time.
  • Working bralessly is great, but working bosslessly is hard.

I’ve never been one for soap operas and the internet wasn’t quite the wonderland of cat pictures and political arguments that it is now, but I still found ways to be distracted.  I could go through strings of days without getting anything done.  I had to learn how to work at home.

Skipping forward again (if you want story middles you’ll have to read my life on Facebook), I went through some stuff and wasn’t able to write for a while.  Then I went through some more stuff and became a FileMaker Pro developer.

FileMaker provides a great opportunity, and I was anxious to share it with other smart women I knew.  For most of them, it didn’t really take.  They loved the idea, but when it came to downloading the trial, going through the tutorials and doing the practice work, it didn’t happen.

I get it.  Work, life, kids, and the infernal pleading brown eyes of a dog who has gone minutes without being petted.  I still have all those things too (most — I switched from dogs to cats).  It took me a while to figure out the difference.

All those years of writing had prepared me to be a FileMaker Pro developer.  At some point, probably when I was disgusted with myself for flittering months away, I’d gone and learned to “be my own boss.”

I can’t tell you exactly how I flipped that switch, but I can give you some ideas of how to build your work-at-home muscles.  I’ve used all these tricks at different times both for writing and developing, rotating them in and out as my moods and needs change.

  • Pomodoro.
  • Written?  Kitten!
  • Write or Die
  • Charting and graphing.  I’ve kept time cards, competed with myself for word counts, graded myself on achievements, given numerical values to achievements . . .   I respond to accruing values, so I assign values and accrue them.
  • Working for charity.  I’m obsessed with certain social issues, so I’m constantly tempted to argue on the internet instead of working.  It’s easy to justify — combating racism is more important than completing these scripts!  Combating racism, yes.  Arguing on the internet, not so much.  So instead I pay myself by the hour.  For every hour I work, I earn a dollar to send, that very day, to my biggest worry.  I have literally sent donations in the amount of $9.50 to our local community service center and 10.25 to a pet rescue.

What are your best strategies for keeping your focus when you work at home?

 

 

 

Find That Client

I admit I’ve been lucky with clients.  I started off, as most do and most probably should, by writing a FileMaker Pro solution for a non-profit organization.  It was a great way to do my first solo project, and it was such a great cause that I don’t mind the free time I’ve had to give since then (to fix all my novice mistakes).

Since then I’ve had a variety of opportunities and several large projects that have allowed me to work in many different industries, meet lots of people and become a more seasoned developer.

That doesn’t mean I get to relax.  I’m self-employed, people.  I’ve got to keep the lights on.  And maybe it’s just me, but I find marketing b2b more challenging that

If you’re in the same (fascinating, fun, adventurous, terrifying) boat, you need to internalize one rule:

  • Never.  Stop.  Marketing.

That doesn’t mean doing a presentation when you’re asked to say the blessing at Thanksgiving dinner.  On parent’s day, don’t insist that all the kindergartners take brochures home.  Don’t make a point of knowing the industry and job titles of all the puppy mommy and daddies at the dog park.  Don’t be a jerk, in other words.

Marketing is like a big old game of whack-a-mole.  There are plenty of things you can be doing at any given moment, but you’re not going to get to them all and you can’t always know which ones will be effective.  So just make a habit of hammering away as fast and as often as you can.

Here are some moles you should aim for pretty often:

  • Be prepared.  Have an “elevator pitch” memorized so you can quickly explain what you do.  Have a longer explanation ready if someone seems interested.  More importantly, have questions ready, so you can get the potential client talking about her needs and how you can help her.
  • Leave your home.  If you work in the warm comfort of your home, surrounded by purring cats, dinner cooking in the next room and the melodious sounds of your children playing nearby (I know you’re laughing at this description), you may not want to leave.  Leaving means you have to put on grown up clothes.  Find your keys.  Remember how to make eye-contact with grown-ups.   Go meet humans.  And sitting in the Panera eavesdropping doesn’t count — you have to actually talk.
    • Join networking groups
    • Look for speaking opportunities
    • Volunteer for worthy groups
  • Vet your online presence.  We’ve all been warned — whatever you do on the internet will live forever.  So no matter how compellingly wrong someone is, stay civil.  Don’t air out family arguments or post pictures of yourself being the main entree at a kinky food party.  However, and this may seem counterintuitive, avoiding the digital limelight isn’t the solution.   If you have no online presence, then a single negative thing will always be the first thing people see.  Trust me on this:   Because of my unique name, I only used my penname online.  Then a single vindictive person took his bitterness online to to sabotage my career as a FileMaker Pro developer .  I’ve spent years trying to create enough content to bury that thing, and it still comes up on page one or two.
  • Build on what you’ve got.  Not to sound all MLM, but it’s not a bad idea to write out people you know and brainstorm how you can build from there.   Ask clients for referrals and reviews.  Chat with family members about their work and feel for opportunities.  Offer your expertise to help out and introduce your services, but draw a clear line so you don’t get taken advantage of.

And, finally, my favorite strategy:

  • Delegate.  Some people struggle with reaching out and finding new business.  Some people have fun with it.  If you are in the first group, hire someone in the second group.

 

 

Working for Yourself

For many of us, it was the dream — working from home.

“Ah, I can put the laundry forward, throw something in the crockpot, and gently guide my children toward adulthood while putting in many productive hours at the computer!   It’s perfect.”

Even with all the warnings out there, the fantasy persists — possibly because, while it’s not even close to being so simple, working outside the home is no picnic either.

One way or another you have to keep the bills paid, food in bellies, children alive, pets fed, and clothes clean.  While working enough to pay for it all.

I tried for years to be a housewife who made money.  Then I tried to make money while also keeping up with the house.  I’m not sure there was any detectable difference in the two.   Maybe with the second one I stopped making pancake syrup and bread from scratch.

Anyway, regardless of how you try to manage it all, you may be feeling overwhelmed.  You may even have plummeted into full fledged despair.

The best advice I can give you is this:

Something’s gotta give.

Seriously, unless you can arrange to connect with the two quirky, mysterious old dudes that wander through the night dispensing super powers (and I’ve tried), you have absolutely no shot of being able to freeze time or give up sleep completely.  You get exactly 24 hours a day, and around 70-80 years of those days but no guarantee on that last part.  That’s how big your canvas is.

What’s worse, you have to use a third of your canvas for nothing — for sleep.  Such a wasted.  Believe me, I’ve fought this one.  You can resist for a while, but it always wins.  So if you get 90 years, you really only get 60 years plus 30 years of blank space used for sleeping. (What a RIP OFF).

Do I ever mention the necessity of sleep without going off on a little rant?

Anyway, make a list of all the things in your life that you have to do.  Write an estimate of how much time those things take you.  Remember to include sleep.

Now do math.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll see that you have too many minutes of things and too few hours of day.  That’s when I would always go back and start revising reality:   “Oh, come on — laundry doesn’t need to take four hours.  I can do it in two.  I’ll just . . . make the washer go faster.”

Spare yourself the decades of frustration that will bring you.  Because, for real, you can’t make the washer go faster.  Chances are, if you allotted three hours to finish your work project, it will take six.  That’s real life.

Instead of fighting it, accept it and deal with it head on.  Make tough decisions.  Borrow my wisdom, attained the hard way, instead of earning your own the hard way:

  1. Figure out how much sleep you actually need.  Arrange your life so that you can sleep until you’re done sleeping.  That may mean going to bed earlier, or, like me, making sure that life doesn’t require anything of you until 10 am.  85% of the time, I set my alarm for 8 1/2 hours from whenever I go to bed.  I usually require 7 1/2 hours of sleep, but if I don’t leave enough time to fall asleep, I try to fall asleep quickly, which stresses me out and keeps me awake.
  2. Sorry, but Number 2 is also about sleep.  There are a few people on the planet who only need 5-6 hours of sleep a night.  Statistically, you are almost certainly not one of them.  So . . . seriously.  You have to allot yourself enough time to sleep.  Sleep deprivation makes you dumb and fat.  Research supports this.  So does my personal anecdotal evidence.  Somehow, you have to find a way to be amazing in your life while still sacrificing close to a third of it to the darkness.
  3. Television is the worst kind of time suck.  I’m not talking about your family’s Sunday night Walking Dead ritual.  Family time is everything.  I’m talking about you being tired (didn’t get enough sleep, huh?) and depleted from the sheer volume of your evening to-do list.  I’m talking about the mental and physical collapse that involves eating Oreos out of the package and watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that you’ve already seen four times.  If your days feel too short, turning off the TV might lengthen them by quite a bit.   (If I seem too holy here, remember I’m sharing wisdom gained by sad experience).
  4. Decide what matters.  If you have a choice of cleaning the bathroom or snuggling with your kid, snuggle.  If you have a choice of marketing your company or scrubbing the kitchen floor, market.  If you have a choice of taking off for the weekend with your spouse or spring cleaning, take off.  It’s becoming evident that this tip is actually — work as hard as you can and hire help for the house as soon as you can afford it.
  5. Trust yourself.  Like many people, I’m super sensitive to criticism.  I used to live for approval.  I wanted people to believe I was doing a good job with everything, that I was mature, a good mom, a good person.   That was then.  Disapproval still briefly jars me, but over time I’ve flexed my “trust myself” muscle a lot.  It’s the one and only way you can describe me as buff.  Check out these “trust myself” guns!  Mwah!

Life is so very short — it’s a shame if you waste some of it making the same mistakes I have.  Take what seems useful to you, and then maybe you’ll have more time to make mistakes that are uniquely your own.

 

 

 

Cutting Back to 60 Hours a Week

I was at a professional conference, surrounded by people who love FileMaker as much as I do.  Another developer started telling me about his previous happy week.  His young son had stayed with him and they had spent lots of time together doing fun things.

“I took the whole week off,” he told me.  Then he jerked upright and glanced around.  “By that of course I mean I cut back to sixty hours a week.”

Really, dude?  Who are you trying to impress?  You work for yourself.  Are you afraid you won’t give you a raise?  That you’ll give yourself a bad quarterly review?  And, really, if that’s your concern, maybe it’s time to look for a new boss, because your current one is completely unreasonable.

We’re all working hard.  We’re in a cutting edge business.  The sand is shifting under our feet every second, the clients can be demanding, and business volume is unpredictable.  If you work for someone else, you’ve got the pressure of maintaining communication, meeting expectations, and making that extra-good impression that moves your career forward.  If you work for yourself, your lifestyle and family are counting on you to deliver.  Everything depends on you.  Every.  Thing.

Nevertheless, I call BS.

We all have lots of 60+ hour weeks.  But if it’s every week, if you can’t even take some time to play with your kid, then something is wrong.  Did you take on too much work?  Do you work too slowly?  Fail to delegate?

Or are you just trying to make the right professional impression?

I actually think the latter.  Because, math.  I know you’re a couple of years younger than I am, but unless you are an android, you do require sleep.  I’m guessing you showered, ate, maybe spent a bit of time in the bathroom every day or so.  The activities with your kid took some extended chunks of time.

I at least hope the latter.  Maybe you hurriedly worked every time your kid got distracted by a cartoon or had to go to the bathroom himself.  I have known developers like that.  Halfway through dinner parties, or as soon as the birthday candles are blown out, or once everyone else is into the movie, out comes the laptop.

It’s your business, really, if you want to work that much, but I object to the ethic.  It wasn’t that developer that made me feel momentarily inadequate anxious.  It was the ethic.  It was this skewed expectation that anyone who truly dedicated to their career is willing to give their soul to it. I mean, is it okay that I eat dinner with my family?  Am I showing a lack of commitment to my career?

I love my work and I’m having a fun and often terrifying time building my business.  But I’m also rather fond of My Tom, my kids, my art, my writing, my music, and, increasingly, my 7.5 hours of sleep.

When I’m 80, I seriously doubt I’ll be gumming my white-bread-and-bologna sandwich thinking, “Darn it.   I should have skipped that trip to Vegas and worked that weekend.  What was I thinking?  And why did I take time to attend my daughter’s graduation?  That was like four hours I could have been working!”

Filemaker Pro isn’t the stuff of life.  Ideally, it’s a tool to free you and your clients up to immerse yourselves more into the stuff of life.

Get on the floor and play with the babies.  Ride bikes through the park, even if it’s drizzling.  Patiently listen to your elderly neighbor indignantly tell you the same story she told you yesterday with the same level of indignation.  Sit and hold the cat, even though you’ll be covered in fur.  Make love.  Stay in bed all morning and read — a book, not emails. Paint, write and sing.  Eat a pomegranate.  (You cannot work while eating a pomegranate — they are way too messy).  Play guitar badly.

And for God’s sake, If your kid stays with you, play with him.  And when he’s too tired to play any more, watch him sleep and shower good thoughts all around him so he has sweet dreams.   He’s way more important than any of the colleagues you see twice a year.

“This is the sort of thing you lifeforms enjoy, is it?”

Marvin the Robot is arguably the most memorable character from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  He was built with a brain the size of a planet and infused with  GPP (Genuine People Personalities) technology.  It definitely worked, because I’m sure we all know people like Marvin.

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Marvin is fiction, but so is our understanding of many things around us.  My cat isn’t actually plotting my death (pretty sure) — he just wants to eat.   The washer doesn’t hate me.  The garbage disposal doesn’t fear me.  My GPS . . . is definitely harboring resentment toward me, but that’s a different blog.

In that vein, your database also doesn’t have human motivations, feelings or traits.

I promise this is true, even though I may have, just this morning, described my current FileMaker Pro project in terms usually reserved for the worst of the Real Housewives of Anywhere.

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The beauty of FileMaker Pro is that it’s easy for you, a business owner or project manager, to get it up and running.  “Track that inventory,” you tell it, and it complies with apparent cheerfulness.  “Let’s get those contacts organized,” you tell it.  “We’ll do!” FileMaker Pro answers with a snappy salute.*

Once you’re set up, your new solution takes over many of the repetitive tasks that have been gobbling up your team’s time and your patience.   Your information is more reliable and easy to locate, and your reports become really useful tools for strategizing and making quick decisions.   You’re able to really grow your business.

Yay!  You are happy.   Your team is happy.   Your accountant is happy.  Your vendor is happy.

Your FileMaker Pro solution  . . . seems a little resentful.

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It’s sluggish running reports.  Data updates in one place, but not another.  Your attachments are hard to retrieve.

One evening — probably after everyone else has left for the day — you sit down with your solution for a little heart to heart.

“Why?” you ask, making sure to keep your tone calm and loving.  “We go back so far.  It’s been you and me, against the world. ”

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“You really are.   Have I done something?  Have I hurt you in some way?”

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“I don’t!” you insist.  “I just want to get us back to work.  I want us to be what we used to be — partners.”

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This could go on all night (you’ll get bored long before I do, if you haven’t already), but I think you see the problem.   If your database is giving you a hard time, it’s not holding a grudge.  It doesn’t hate you.  Isn’t spiteful.  Doesn’t care if the moon is full.  Doesn’t have favorite users.

The problem is so much less entertaining than a Borderline Database Disorder.  Your company grew.  You added tables here and there, pulled fields into relationships, slapped in an unstored calculation here and there.  And at some point the balanced tipped from ad hoc design to . . . *searches for diplomatic term* . . . not optimal design.

You haven’t outgrown Filemaker Pro, but the complexity of your needs has outgrown your design, and possibly your knowledge.

You built the thing originally.  With a little research, you can probably get that mutt running efficiently again.  So the question is, do you want to spend the time taking your Filemaker Pro knowledge to the next level, or do you want to keep your focus on your thriving business and bring in a reliable expert to get everything running smoothly again?

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Guess which one I think you should do?

 

 

 

*This is a little hyperbole for effect.  There’s actually a bit more to it than that.  While you don’t need to be a programmer to create your first Filemaker Pro solution, there is a learning curve and some time spent getting it set up.

Also, no hands.  So it doesn’t salute.

 

UGH! I Can’t Edit This Record!

With everything you’ve got to do today, the last thing you need to see is the dreaded warning from your FileMaker Pro database:

 

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Great!  Keena (Developer) probably isn’t even at her desk!  She’s gone to lunch!   No — she probably left for the rest of the day, which means you can’t update this client total to $1234.00, which means you can’t send the invoice!  Which you have to send today because she’s waiting for it, and you have GOT to leave on time today because Brian has football practice!

For the love of God, WHY??

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So let’s alter this scenario just slightly.  Let’s say that, for the sake of convenience, FileMaker Pro will allow multiple users to edit a record at the same time.  And, let’s say that Keena (Developer) hasn’t gone to lunch.  She is, in fact, working diligently at her desk even though it’s right before the holiday.  She’s modifying, again, the very record that you’re working on.  Based on the information she just got, she’s changing the invoice total to $6789.

In this alternate universe where Keena (Developer) has a legitimate reason to modify a total amount, you and Keena (Developer) both enter your data into the same field in the same record.

The invoice now has a total amount of $16273849.00.   If you and Keena (Developer) have both been updating a lot of records, you’d better call Grandma, because there’s no way you’ll be leaving in time to get Brian to practice.

In a word processing document or other collaborative creation, it can be beneficial for multiple users to access a single record at the same time.  However, your database is only as true and reliable as its data.  As annoying as it is for Keena (Developer) to have left you in this predicament, your data is safe and uncorrupted.

Her screen saver lock probably already activated, so try pulling the plug so her computer powers down.

 

She deserves it.15657997_699522770215666_164761322_o