Tuesday, April 7, 2015

10 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me Before I Became An Entrepreneur

There were times I really needed these.
I’ve had a pretty varied work history. Not all of it was pleasant. Hey, we all have to start somewhere.

When I was in high school I started out as a typist for my Dad’s summer theatre group. I took the marked up copy of the play and composed the director’s notes into legible copy. It wasn’t particularly demanding, just hideously boring.

The pay was crap but with some help I managed to buy my first car — a bright orangey red Plymouth Horizon TC3. In the winter the doors would freeze and I would have to climb in through the hatchback. I loved this car!

After that I was a demonstrator for a national grocery chain. This meant microwaving food and shilling it to the masses. Other than popcorn or leftovers microwaveable food should be outlawed on the grounds of lacking any good taste, but it would always be the same crowd coming in every week for the free eats.

I’m not sure how good a marketing ploy it was for these companies, but folks on a limited income sure loved taste testing. I’d mark down their comments and send feedback to the managers while their ideal clients, the upper middle class, would steadfastly always choose to ignore the sample counter.

My favourite day was when a blind lady came up to me and kept calling me Rose even though I tried repeatedly to correct her.

“You sound like a Rose,” she said.
Not even CLOSE to a rose. I'm @tygerlylly on Twitter.

“I’ve always thought roses were supposed to be more flowery. I’m pretty direct.”

“You remind me of a teacher I had. Her name was Rose, too. She was my favourite teacher.”

“My name isn’t Rose,” I said, shoving a chocolate covered bonbon into her outstretched hand. “What do you think of this candy?”

“Don’t you like the name Rose?”

“No more than any other, I guess. This candy is handcrafted by a local chocolatier. It’s  more expensive than your everyday candy bar, but you get what you pay for, am I right?”

“I think Rose is a pretty name.”

I heaved a sigh. “So do I. I’m going to call my firstborn daughter Rose.”

Thus satisfied she ate the candy and pronounced it overpriced. To this day I have no children.

After that it was more office work until I got hired on at Auto Trader. They had NSCAD trained graphic designers in house who not only couldn’t use the software (QuarkXpress) but possessed absolutely no typing and editing skills whatsoever.

Naturally these designers lasted less than a month.

“Our designers don’t last a month,” the production manager often griped.

“I can do it,” I used to tell her.

I was doing it anyway when she was between designers. The main difference between a designer and a typist back then was I got paid three dollars less an hour. When she finally got fed up interviewing recent school grads she said I could have the job for my current rate of pay.

“Oh hell no.”

It took a couple more designers going through the door before she capitulated. Do I know how to negotiate a pay raise or what?

Once I had six months experience under my belt the plant manager fired everybody — and I mean everybody — for reasons that were never really made clear. We knew it was coming. It was easy enough to recognize your own job description in the local paper.

I went on to work in print shops which was both fun and a headache. Just because it looks good on screen doesn’t mean it’s setup to print properly on an offset press. Since we had the presses in house I took to hassling the operators about project setup before I ever parked my keister in front of a computer screen.

That was twenty years ago and I’ve been in graphics every since, usually freelancing when I’m working a different day job.

For a long time I worked for the post office and I loved being a letter carrier. You get paid to walk around all day with up to 35 kg on your hips so it’s basically being paid to exercise. I suppose I could have joined the military for that too but I’m not so good with guns and getting shot at. For a time I was a banquet manager, and I've even tended bar. Like I said, my work history is pretty diverse.

Now I run my own small graphics design agency and work a lot more hours for a lot less pay and I’m happier. Go figure.

Anyway here are the top 10 things I wish people had told me before I started my own business.

1) You don’t need a business number until you hit more than $30,000 per year in revenue. A dollar less than that and you don’t need to report it, so now you’re just doing additional paperwork for no good reason whatsoever. The BDC got that one completely wrong when they advised me to get my GST number before I even opened shop.

2) The EI program is a lifesaver while you build your client list. It can be another paperwork hassle but at least you’re getting paid for this one.

3) A really great perk to being an entrepreneur is turning away nightmare clients. My job description is defined by me, not by an ultra-demanding high maintenance person who is spending peanuts. Finally I get to just say no thank you to that and move on.

4) You can’t do it all. I’ve had to corrupt my mother and to a lesser extent, an aunt, into helping me. Ditto my father. I buy them booze when I can afford it. Thank God for family.

5) If you’re horrible at organizing your choices are — get really good at it really fast, find someone who isn’t and either pay them or conscript them, or stick to your current day job working for someone else. Organizational skills are not merely a suggestion for self-employment. It’s completely necessary.

6) There are times you’re going to absolutely loathe it. I love designing and creating almost as much as I love writing. They go hand in hand for me. But there are days when the last thing I want to do is sit down and dash off some ad copy for a client’s Facebook page or think up a new company logo. The trick is to walk away for an hour or two and if you have to, make that time up at night.

7) Forget 8 to 4 or 9 to 5. Try 9 to midnight. You’ll work a lot more and make a lot less. It’s not the design work that keeps me past hours. It’s the rest of the daily time consuming tasks no one bothers to mention and you don’t actually get paid for. Time to update your company’s Facebook page? No problem. You’re not billing out for that though, and your prime time daily hours need to be reserved for paying clients. Then there’s the endless paperwork. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

8) You are going to waste a lot of time, particularly on social media. Anyone who says differently is lying. I once got a fairly regular gig by shilling out my freelance designer status to my largely hockey-loving list of followers during a break in play. Social media profile building to grow your client list is key.

9) Depending on your industry, you’re probably going to work for free every now and again. Just be picky about this. I don’t mind helping other new entrepreneurs get started. Then there are the charity requests. Then there are the family and friends who want something. Know when to charge (hint: it’s not your fellow entrepreneurs), when to compromise (even charities tend to have a budget), and when a little gift can go a long way (family).

10) Constantly being bombarded with ads for every conceivable service and product that might even remotely relate to your business is truly annoying. I get what Facebook and Google are trying to do but I spend an extraordinary amount of time blocking all of these stupid offers. Even worse is the staggering amount of unsolicited emails and phone calls I get because I use a contact form for potential clients to reach me, and I have heavy spam filters and protective software. My tolerance for anyone that tries to sell me via a medium I’ve set up exclusively for my own clients is first to block and then send out letters to my own list warning against them. That’s how touchy I’ve gotten about the whole thing. Not only am I never buying from you, I’m doing my damnedest to make sure nobody else is either.

Now if only I could figure out some Top Ten Tips On How To Get Rich Really Fast and Without Actually Working That Don’t Involve A Gigantic Lottery Win.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Parents

My mother. "I can take you out."
The best way to survive a long road trip with your parents is to just remember that they brought you into this world, and they can take you out. Or so I've been told.

I prefer a different tactic based on years of experience road tripping with my family. It's tried and true and never fails, so I guess that's something. You'd think, though, that I would find more sensible alternatives.

I have air miles. There's a bus route. There are private shuttle services. Instead, I chose to drive to Halifax with my mother for a long weekend to visit my brother and collect my father, who had returned to less fanfare and more inclement weather.

Tired of sunning his ass on a tropical beach while chugging down 50 cent beer, he decided to spend Christmas with me.

"I'm doing this as a favour to you," he told me. "So you don't get lonely."

I called my Mom. "He's coming back."

"Oh God help us," she said. Then realizing it would necessitate a trip to Halifax to get him, "I can see Da Nephew! We can do Christmas shopping. Road trip!"

"Oh yay."

I hung up and fortified myself with a few glasses of wine because I've done road trips with her before and this is why I buy wine by the box now instead of a lousy bottle anymore.

This time will be different, I thought, having had a couple of glasses and feeling fortified (aka drunk and delusional). We are due for a good trip with no hassle. Have we not payed our dues to the Road Trip Gods? Repeatedly?

At some point I am going to have to learn to not tempt fate, just not throw down that gauntlet. This trip started out differently all right. The next day my car decided it was done.

"Done?" I asked Mom. "What do you mean it's done?"

"The mechanic said that if it was a horse he'd recommend we take it out back and shoot it. Twice."

I started banging my head against the wall but the nurse told me to stop because it was leaving a dent. "I'm having trouble removing the stitches, too, and you're not supposed to be using your cell phone in the hospital."

Recently I've managed to procure a new family doctor. Dr. Mike is a highly competent, personable doc who knows his shit and has an awesome friendly bedside manner because the health care system has not yet broken him. It won't last, of course, but in the meantime I thought he was just fine up until he told me he was going to slice a wonky mole off my back.

"You're going to what?" I said.

"You'll lie face down and I'll just take out a piece..."

"A PIECE? A PIECE OF WHAT?"

"Your back."

"You're going to cut out a CHUNK OF MY BACK? Don't you think I might need it? I'm just asking because I sleep on it and everything..."

"I'll give you a local and we'll cut out a small section of skin...," he said, holding his hands three feet apart and grinning at me. "There might be some bleeding and there'll be some scarring and pain but I really think that mole needs to come off."

Bleeding, I thought. Pain.

I left his office without fainting or bitchslapping anybody and called my Mom. "He's going to cut out a piece of my back. A big piece."

"Oh good," said Mom. "That mole looks funny to me too."

My Mom has had major surgery and expects me to be made of hearty stock like her and my grandma, both of whom have beaten cancer. But the truth is I don't deal well with blood, particularly my own, and ditto that for pain. I'm a wimp. A big one.

Still, what are you going to do? I don't tell him how to cut backs open and he doesn't tell me how to design logos.

He skinned a whole three inches off, including the nasty mole, about a week before our trip. I was having the stitches removed the morning we were due to leave when I got the news about the car. So basically nothing was going right and we hadn't even left town yet.

I headed home and packed an overnight bag and eyeballed what was left of the box of wine.

"Don't even think about it," my Mom said, waving her cast at me. "You have to do all the driving. Besides, it's not even noon yet."

About a week earlier, around the time I was being told about my forthcoming flesh removal using overly sharp knives with only minimal drugs, my Mom had taken a tumble amongst some rocks. Naturally this was all my fault.

"This is all your fault," she hollered at me through the phone. "I took your stupid shortcut home and tripped on some stupid rocks and my stupid arm is broken!"

Ouch!
She'd gotten casted here in town, and then I took her into Corner Brook to an orthopaedic specialist who recasted her once again after deciding she didn't need surgery after all.

I drove her two and a half hours each way because I am a horrible person who recommends shortcuts where innocent mothers who have celebrated a Habs victory with just a tad too much wine go down in a pile of rocks and break their right wrist in two places.

Not helping was Mom going to a grocery store and a complete stranger coming up to her and saying, "Say, aren't you the hockey fan that goes to watch the game at your daughter's and then you fell down and broke your wrist on your way home? What's your name anyway? Ha ha ha how about those Habs?"

This happened fairly regularly every time she went out so I got disowned a lot that week. So for all you guys looking to get rich by marrying yours truly and thinking huge inheritance, you're apparently shit outta luck.

I consoled myself by calling her "The Gimp", which she enjoyed about as much as the actual break, but since she's not a lefty I could usually dodge out of the way when she tried to smack me.

We kept calling the mechanic who promised that not only would we make the ferry, we'd probably only have to hock one limb to pay for it instead of two.

The ferry was due to leave at 11:45 pm and because Marine Atlantic hates us, they like us to chill our ass on the parking lot for two hours before departure sucking in exhaust fumes from the transport trucks that make up the bulk of their revenue.

We got everything crammed into the car, including a futon (don't ask), and pulled onto the lot two hours early as scheduled only to be surprised to find them loading. As usual we spent the night tossing and turning in uncomfortable seats while freezing half to death and in the morning hit the road to Halifax.

The trip up was blissfully uneventful, and we enjoyed some quality time with Bro and Da Nephew, as well as shopping in stores that did not have a "Wal" or a "Mart" anywhere in their names. Actual choice is nice. Just saying.

Bro and Da Nephew decided to visit friends in Cape Breton so they caught a ride with us as far as Whycocomagh. Once there Da Nephew gave me a casual "Bye Auntie" and ran off without a second glance, which is actually a nicer goodbye than I've had from some ex-boyfriends.

I got in behind the wheel because not only was Mom sporting a cast, she can't see for  night driving. Neither can my father, whom I'm convinced can't see much of anything at all.

"You're blind," I told him.

"I'm not blind," he said. "I just can't see at night. And I can't see distances. And I need new glasses."

"What can you see," my Mom asked, waving her good hand in front of his face.

My Dad. "It's never coffee in there."
"I can see your middle finger sticking up at me!"

"The Gimp and the Darkness," I dubbed them.

It was a dark and stormy night. There wasn't a whole lot of traffic on the road which was unfortunate. When the highway is saturated and the sky is blackened with thick clouds that spit just enough rain to annoy your wipers I like to follow a vehicle and not lead the way. Then if they drive off a cliff I know what not to do.

We made it as far as the Lick-A-Chick before the heavens opened.

Now before I bitch about the weather, let me just point out that the Lick-A-Chick is not, despite its name, a place where one tongues buxom waitresses. It's just a run of the mill chicken shack with a moniker that gets attention. The chicken and service are not bad, but I've been told that if you do try to lick the staff police tend to intervene somewhat vigorously.

Anyway we reached the Lick-A-Chick and I got an email message from Marine Atlantic. "Your crossing is postponed until tomorrow morning due to high winds and inclement weather."

Then the clouds decided it was taking too long to dump their load with the little squalls here and there so they dumped everything at once. I was forced to reduce speed to 40 KPH, put on my hazard lights, and did my best to guess where the hell the road was because the headlights and wipers were both useless.

My parents went silent and let me focus and we rolled up to an underpass where I got another email. It was Marine Atlantic again.

"You're not going tomorrow morning either. Fuck that. Maybe tomorrow night. We'll let you know. Welcome to travel in the North Atlantic in November." It was signed #bitchplease.

"So I'll pay for a hotel," said Dad. "Try the North Star Inn."

We inched our way down the highway and as we climbed the hill to the motel the winds did their damndest to roll my newly repaired SUV. Dad hopped out and went in to see about a room while Mom and I fought the gale force winds and being needled by driving rain to try and find not only our overnight bags, but the stash of hooch we had bought.

"I need a drink," she shouted at me over the storm. "A big one!"

Something went flying out of the trunk and got swallowed up by the darkness. "It's ok," I said. "It's just one of Dad's shoes."

We slammed the trunk and wrestled our bags into the lobby. My Dad, ever gallant, came and retrieved his laptop so he could rush to the room and set up to get his Slotomania credits. My Mom dropped everything but the bag of booze, and I brought up the rear carrying mix and three overnight bags.

"I'm the mule," I told the desk clerk, who was openly admiring my new hairdo and soaked to the skin ensemble courtesy of the wannabe hurricane.

In the room Dad got his credits and had a drink of scotch, then went to sleep solo in one double bed while Mom and I bunked down in the second. What little tranquility we were expecting evaporated five seconds after my father dozed off.

Imagine sleeping next to a jet engine. This is what he sounds like when he's snoring. I was so exhausted myself, though, that I hardly cared. In fact, I was about to nod off myself.

My mother, to her credit, took it well for two whole minutes. "I'm going to kill him."

I heaved a sigh. "Put the extra pillow over one ear."

She tried that for another two minutes, then sat up and flipped on the light. "Fuck this. Get me some drugs."

I hauled my reluctant carcass out of the surprisingly soft bed and rummaged around in her overnight bag until I found her Ativan, then tried to climb back into bed.

"I need water. How am I supposed to take these pills without water?"

I refrained from suggesting she might want to try a suppository method instead and silently fetched her a glass of water because I am a cruel daughter who suggests unnecessary shortcuts. She swallowed it down and was asleep within a few minutes, also snoring. While not at jet engine levels, she at least reached small jackhammer and the two of them snored in tandem, his long double snorts punctuated by her softer gasps.

I lay there, wide awake now, listening to the storm rip at the hotel siding and tried to decide what was louder and more annoying. About an hour later I got up and filched a couple of Ativan from her stash so I could get some sleep too.

My father is a habitually early riser. He got up at five and let us sleep in until just before seven when he came in and announced, "There's a continental breakfast. You should eat."

I looked at the clock. Jeez. Three whole hours of sleep. How nice.

After breakfast we went shopping at the mall in North Sydney, which meant more Walmart.

Before we went in I told Dad, "Come back to the bench here by the main doors. We'll meet you here when we're done."

"OK, ok," he said. "Got it."

Mom and I wandered around to kill an hour and bought nothing because fuck Walmart. We headed back to the bench by the main doors. No Dad. I sat my ass down to wait and after ten minutes he texted me.

"I can't find you guys. Where are you anyway?"

Having reconnected with my Dad we went to Tim's for lunch and I ordered and paid for everything and hauled it all over to them while they waited all comfy in the booth. Because I am a cruel daughter.

For some reason my Dad was bleeding, a small scrape on his finger that in no way hurt as much as a hunk of skin carved out of an unwilling back. "He cut himself on his wit," Mom said.

"I'm going to cut something else," he said. "Eat your lunch, Gimp."

"I may be a gimp but I can still slap a bitch," said my Mom.

"They're not mine," I told the folks in the next booth. "We're not actually related."

"Let's go to Sydney," said my Mom.

"Let's not and say we did," I told her. "There's nothing in Sydney."

"How do you know?" she said. "When's the last time you were in Sydney?"

She had me there. It had been close to a decade. All I remembered from my last trip there was losing $200 in ten minutes at the casino and ordering a pupu platter for the first time, thoroughly surprised when the restaurant had parked a flaming dish in front of me.

"What about the Cabot Trail instead," I said. "That's five hours minimum right there."

"What trail?" said my Dad. "Celtic? Never heard of it."

"And risk missing the boat?" said Mom. "Oh hell no."

I looked at my cell phone. Only nine hours left before boarding was scheduled to commence. So we drove to Sydney. Right off the bat I eschewed the highway in favour of the back roads because I didn't go the right way and my stupid pride won't let me turn around or ask for directions.

"This is not the right way!" my Mom said.

"Look. It says Sydney RIGHT THERE," I said, waving at a sign.

We turned onto an old road that followed the shoreline and meandered past some nice historic old homes. We took to critiquing them because we are heartless judgemental snobs and as we rolled past an retirement home I suggested dropping them off.

This got me disowned by my father too. Bored with critiquing the houses they took to critiquing my driving.

"There's a centre line for a reason," my Mom pointed out. "Just saying."

"You've got traffic backed up ten miles behind you," said Dad. "You'd think we were out for a Sunday drive."

"It IS Sunday," I told them. "And we ARE out for a drive. God, I wish one of you would drive then."

"We can't!" hollered my father. "I'm blind and she's a gimp!"

We made it to Sydney and were thoroughly delighted to see all the Walmart stores. Mom decided she needed to go to the bank anyway, then got irritated when the guy in front of her at the ATM decided to do a series of deposits.

"On a Sunday!" she said, returning without any cash. "Can you imagine?"

"The horror," I agreed.

We went into a Giant Tiger for no good reason, because fuck Walmart. My mother found a six foot long tube filled with various glitter nail polishes.

"Tyg, what do you think?" she asked me.

"It's you," I told her, which set a nearby sales clerk to laughing. My mother swung at me with the polish, but missed because she's got the gimp hand. I bought some more packs of cookies for my Dad because it's a staple of his diet and they were on sale.

At the cash register I got a text from my Dad. "Where are you?" He was literally standing three feet away and found me because my phone dinged.

"You need new glasses," I said.

We got detoured on the way back to North Sydney. "This is not the way we came in!" I said, my stress levels red lining. I don't deal well with sudden unexpected detours anymore.

"It IS the way we came in," said my Dad.

"How would you know? You're blind!"

"There's only one highway!"

Actually really good chicken. No guy named Chuck though.
I grit my teeth and we kept going until Mom decided she knew where she was. "Oh there's the Cluck a Chuck," she said.

"The Cluck a Chuck? You mean the Lick-A-Chick?"

"Turn here. I want to go to Canadian Tire."

Set up outside the Canadian Tire in North Sydney a lone protester braved the cold and brandished a sign questioning the parentage of the store manager and strongly suggesting that not only were they never married, but likely closely related.

We meandered through the aisles and I found an ass warmer. "It's for you," I told my Dad. He is only skin over bone, maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet despite his height, so anything less than 20 degrees celsius is akin to an Arctic blizzard.

He refrained from buying it and we decided to hit KFC. I pulled a U turn and accidentally found the highway.

"You two," said my Dad, "could get lost in a fucking teapot."

After a couple more turns we found chicken and gas, then pulled onto the parking lot. We munched on chicken and Dad asked for the orange soda.

"I drank it all," said Mom. "You want a root beer?"

"No!" he shouted. "I wanted the fucking orange soda!"

He gave her a couple of dirty looks but settled down to read by the dim glow of the overhead light until his phone started dinging with text alerts.

"Who the hell is texting YOU?" asked Mom, huddled under a blanket and very comfy what with having the back seat all to herself.

"I have no idea," said Dad, pointing at me. "The one who nags me is sitting right here."

"I don't nag," I told him. "I chat. Who are you texting? Christine?"

"Christine?" he gaped at me. "Who the hell is Christine? No! Steve!"

He went on to text for several minutes but I wanted the light off so I could snooze because I was bored, achy and cranky. He ignored me so I sent him a text from the front passenger seat.

"Please turn off the fucking light."

Unlike my Gimp Mom, Dad doesn't have a broken wing. He successfully swiped at me, but had to give it up because the ferry was finally boarding.

I had hocked something else unimportant, like probably another limb, and had booked us into a cabin because I had been cooped up in a car with my parents for over twelve hours and was considering bloodshed. Either mine or theirs. I wasn't sure which.

"And unpleasantness," I muttered. "Bloodshed and unpleasantness."

"What's that?" said my Dad.

"Nothing. Nothing."

Because I was neither blind nor a gimp I was lucky enough to procure a top bunk, which meant climbing up and down some teeny tiny steps while the boat lurched around like a drunken sailor. Fun times.

"If I fall and break my neck," I told my parents, "sue Marine Atlantic."

"Just don't land where I'll trip over you," said my Dad. "I'm blind."

"Get my Slotomania credits," said my Mom as I settled in with my laptop to do some NaNoWriMo writing before bed.

"God forbid I don't remember to get your credits."

"Mine too," said Dad.

"Of course. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Please turn off the fucking light."

I complied and unscrewed the cap off a bottle of Coke I had generously topped up earlier with some rum when they weren't looking.

It's the only tried and true method I've ever found to surviving a road trip with my family. But I'm always open to new ideas.