Category: freelancing

Name Your Thing!

Name Your Thing!

I spoke at AltConference 2017 about how to name things.

Last year when I spoke at AltConf 2016, things went really well… and I was invited to speak again in 2017 on the spot! (And I accepted on the spot, haha.) I actually started brainstorming this talk right then and there, so I had an entire year to ruminate on what I wanted to cover.

However, life takes its turns, and I was about 8 months pregnant on this trip–needless to say, my life has been a lot busier prepping for a new baby in the family! I spent a lot of time thinking about this talk in my head, but not nearly as much time actually prepping, writing, rehearsing, polishing my slide deck, etc. I was also sweating profusely and having trouble breathing, thanks to the little guy taking up space for all my vital organs and wreaking havoc on my physiology, haha.

All in all though, I still feel pretty good about how it went–the content being more pragmatic and technical actually lessened the impact of my relative lack of preparation, since the content was actionable despite not packing the same emotional punch (by design). At least that’s what I’m telling myself, based on the fact that many people stopped me in the hallways or reached out on Twitter and mentioned that they found my talk helpful!

Lastly, I want to thank and shine a spotlight on Nancy Friedman, and her blog Fritinancy. She’s an enormously helpful, friendly, and accessible resource, whom I would absolutely hire to name something if I were in that position again. (Yes, despite all my great advice, I think the best advice I can give is that it’s worth paying for qualified expertise in this domain, because there’s SO much you can get wrong!)

Thanks a ton for watching, and please share with anyone you know who is working on a project that they’re struggling to name. And now, on to the naming resources I mentioned in my talk!

Name Your Thing Resources:

My blog post on domain hacks

    • – tl;dr; don’t use them

United States Patent and Trademark Office

    • – check your name ideas here if you’re based in the USA

Fritinancy

    • – Nancy Friedman’s wonderful naming blog. Look up her naming brief exercises in particular!

Every Frame a Painting – The Marvel Symphonic Orchestra

    • – video about how easy it is to ship movies with temp/default music instead of something more original. Temp music discussion starts around 6:00, but I recommend you watch the whole thing!

Name Your Thing template (Google Spreadsheet)

    – please save yourself a copy

And here is the URL slide choosing hierarchy I promised to include:

    1. Your name dot com
    1. wording compromise (getsquare, etc.)
    1. Hyphens or .net etc.
    1. Funky Tlds (.party, .io, .fm)
    1. domain hacks (don’t ever do these)
The Internet ROCKS.

The Internet ROCKS.

I swear, I don’t know what I’d do if we’d never come up with this whole interconnected awesomeness thing.

I re-launched my business earlier this year, which involved picking a new business name. It was incredibly hard to come up with a name I liked that was also what my business needed, and I was so much better at it when I had help from lots of Twitter and ADN friends. People were so generous and pragmatic and willing to share their expertise. Plus, I found a couple great blogs with loads of helpful naming advice. I wasn’t able to shell out for those experts like I hoped to, but they were still incredibly supportive of me, and I know I’d go to them if I had to name a more grown-up company with a proper budget in the future. I learned so much about this entire naming field that I didn’t even know existed when I named my thing this time around. Which is clear, because that name and URL sucked, and they’re much better now. :)

IMG_3978Since the big rename and relaunch, I’ve predictably had many woes getting the technical details of my new website together, not to mention the graphical stuff that just totally loses me. My husband Grant has been my biggest helper in the graphics department, but the amazing Berklee has been a close second. He’s been ever so generous with his time and energy, throwing business card ideas and mockups at me faster than I can download the files. This was the final design*, in case you were wondering, although I plan to change the “consultant” terminology to something that better encapsulates what I actually do. (“Coach” is the closest I’ve got right now.)

Bryan Redeagle of Capsule DX offered to help me with web stuff, and he was so appalled by some of the shoddy code in my former theme that he just full-on wrote me a new one, all custom from scratch and designed to fix exactly the stuff that was frustrating me. He never charged me a penny, because we worked out a special deal, but mostly because he’s fucking awesome and he honestly just wanted to help (and wanted code to shine like all perfectionist programmers do). I can’t thank him enough, or recommend his work loudly enough. I’ve never gotten this level of service out of anyone I’ve hired for any project, except for the amazingly affordable florist at our otherwise overpriced wedding. Most of you who know me know that praise does not come from me unless it is sincerely deserved.

Marie of Code it Pretty has also been a very generous donor of her time and expertise. She already generously writes a blog that just helps people figure out frustrating web crap, and she’s so cool about chiming in when I have something tricky to solve. And oh, remember when I wanted to make that app? Well, it’s still in the works; I’ve had to kind of put it aside in favor of earning money via my main business. But Marie is weighing in about user experience and will probably help with an Android port someday.

Martin and Doug and some other generous folks all piped up wanting to assist me, which is fan-freaking-tastic and also incredibly generous. (Oh, and I never would have gotten in touch with them if it weren’t for Rob Rix by way of The Modern Scientist, who connected things via Twitter, and whom I met via Keith Bradnam whom I originally connected to because of some Marco or some 5by5 thing.) Oh, and I’m totally going to connect with Brandon Wright to make completely different apps down the road, because we just find each other awesome to work with and he reached out to me because of Quit.

Dude, even my ergonomics are improving, not as much as I’d like but still some. Fellow standing desk enthusiasts, from Lex Friedman to Kelly Guimont have chimed in about footwear and other tips for making my home work setup more reasonable, and Twitter-whining about various aspects of it has often produced helpful results. The most helpful thing of all, though, was a visit to the Fully showroom in Portland. I urge you to set up an appointment if you’re near there. Either way, some of the best recommendations  and price quotes I’ve gotten were from them, and of course I discovered them online.

Oh, and you know how I suck at being new to Mac? Well, of course loads of people have helped me out with that. Heck, Paul Holbrook sent me a PayPal contribution towards buying the damn thing because he could tell how badly I needed to switch, and Michael Clifford straight up bought me a license for Moom because he knew it would solve my problems. Oh, and the fantastic Jean MacDonald reached out, helped me get settled with some fantastic software, and has generally been insanely helpful and fun. So all those folks and everyone else I’ve mentioned and then some have just been so full of great links, tips, and advice. Let’s see, what other resources have I fallen in love with online, thanks to Internet connections? Mixergy. Marie Forleo. Heck, even Jenna Marbles inspires me. Laura Roeder. So many more I’m forgetting. But I never would have found any of those sources on my own!

And how did I forge most of these connections? Why, by listening to shows on 5by5 and communicating with that network’s general audience. A huge chunk of my most interesting Twitter following also grew out of me baiting Marco Arment into retweeting something useful or funny or silly or random I posted, and then following every single person who favorited or retweeted whatever that thing was. And you know what? That strategy has put me in touch with some of the coolest Internet pals I’ve met to date. I’ve had great conversations with many a jackal, and I’m also launching a podcast soon with Kai Davis and Chris Zaborowski.

And, of course, Quit. Most people who are bothering to read this know that I’ve called in to that show a good number of times, and that I’ve finally taken my online dating coaching business full time thanks in large part to the nudges I’ve received from Dan Benjamin, and to the inspiration that a number of shows on his network have provided. I continue to seek ways to make it more sustainable thanks to his relentlessly business-minded approach. And, of course, his shows inspired me, but so do the connections I’ve made from listening to them and appearing on them. I even got one (just one so far, but still) paying client who heard me first on Quit! Altogether, the social aspects of the Internet and of 5by5 in particular have skyrocketed my own success and happiness and ability to easily and quickly find affordable and effective solutions to at least 75% of my tech problems on this earth.

Lastly, I made many of these connections happen because of my own output, lest you think it’s ALL just Internet magick [sic]. I made them because I was open to socializing with people and learning new things. I was willing to put myself out there even when exhaustion or shyness or House of Cards would rather prevail. I followed up on leads, wrote things down, Skyped/FaceTimed/GooglePlusHung my little heart out, learned a bunch of new stuff, flared up my tendinitis, lost sleep, called 5by5 and waited on hold for hours, checked my email/DMs/etc., read, wrote, retweeted, subscribed, shook hands, followed back, spent money, and generally put myself out there and followed up on shit. But that effort has been so incredibly rewarding, and SO much easier than it would have been without all this great Internet infrastructure.

So to my friends and family members who don’t get why the Internet is so important to me and why I sometimes can’t stop checking my iPhone, well, you’ll probably never read this anyway so never fucking mind. But the Internet rocks. :)

 

 

 

*Special Business Card Footnote: Futura on the front, since I know .05 people are going to ask, and a weirdly condensed Franklin Gothic Medium on the back logo. Vistaprint; wouldn’t use ’em again; saving up for proper letterpressing but first things first financially, thanks Dan. Going with a press guy in Chicago who can paint the edges red too because OMG sexy. Curt Stevens of Lithocraft if you need ANYTHING printed in Seattle; tell him I sent you. Avoid Allegra Graphics in Greenwood no matter how good a deal you thin you’re getting; you’re welcome.

A love/breakup letter to Big Tech

A love/breakup letter to Big Tech

As you might know from my recent QUIT post, I recently left my year and a halfish of various contract positions as a corporate stooge in a major Seattle tech company. That active verb “quit”  is a little misleading; said tech company is most certainly the one who decided to end my short-term contract this last time around, but the timing was pure serendipity for me since I was conflicted about having accepted this most recent leg of work with them. I had been itching for a graceful exit, yet majorly chicken about initiating one myself. (I had been having an amazing summer focusing on fun, gardening, getting healthy, and growing my consulting practice,  and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give all that fun and freedom up just yet. But a job is a job and a paycheck is a paycheck, so I went back to Big Tech even though I wasn’t quite ready to return.) My corporate stooge overlord was both an amazing and an amazingly frustrating employer, and when I didn’t get hired on full time the first time around, it really broke my heart like no one has broken my heart since my early twenties. Like all heartbreaks, I came away from that bummer having learned a lot and figured myself out a bit better. I gained so much from my time working there, and I’ve been ruminating on how to quantify and describe those huge gains in wisdom and experience.

The positives:

Metrics matter. My stooge overlord former employer is very vocal and public in said corporate values about metrics and data, and thanks to working there, I’ve learned to better quantify my successes and back them up with numbers. (I always fumbled at this during actual interviews, but I feel like I’ve learned how to do this better in other areas of life, including what used to be just my side business.) I’ve installed better analytics tracking on all my sites. I use data-driven decision making now, when before I would call it “gut instinct.” One of the most helpful tips I got while interviewing there was about said gut. My interviewer gave me a helpful note about how, when she was working with non-data-minded people, she wouldn’t accept “it just feels right” or “my gut says X” as an answer. She would ask targeted questions to drill down into WHY someone felt that way in their gut, and invariably this would produce a more quantifiable, justified, analytical line of reason than the opinion-holder even realized they had in them. Her approach stuck with me, and I think I analyze everything that draws my attention more, well, analytically after that conversation. If I do ever go back to a Big Tech role, I think I’ll be able to represent my successes and strengths better with hard details instead of just enthusiasm.

Adapt or die! Unlike many corporate stooge overlord companies, this particular one does not appreciate people or processes that are stuck in old ways, or unable to cast aside prior notions and reevaluate their goals or methods. That Office Space archetype? Totally not applicable. The place is constantly shifting and changing, and they value culling the old out more than any environment I’ve ever been in. As someone who enjoys spotting and fixing the holes in an organization or team or its processes or documentation or whatever, I really liked that they valued my input that usually went beyond QAing my assignment and encroached upon QAing our specs, tools, policies, management, QAing the company itself, etc. Even if half my ideas were rejected for various totally reasonable reasons, it helped me learn to adapt better in my own ways. I’m now pursuing new and different revenue streams in my business and am open to approaches that in the past I had shied away from.

HUSTLE. I haven’t worked my ass off in quite that way for YEARS. When we burned the midnight oil or churned through craziness, we really really churned. I appreciate being able to really burn rubber at a major Forture 500 company; not since working for a crazy busy law firm have I been reminded how to buckle down and get shit DONE. I learned not just to get loads done but to be proactive and solve problems myself, and develop excellent judgment about when to self-help and when to escalate (and how much to holler about it). It made me better at learning solutions, finding DIY workarounds, and generally solving my problems instead of fretting about them or letting them block me.

Poise and pause. My first role in this stint was very reactive. I worked for an incredibly stressy and tightly-run team, with a powerhouse of a manager who still baffles me with her badassery. (She is literally the only person I’ve ever met who is allowed to use the phrase “works hard, plays harder” in any kind of profile anywhere ever.) My job was essentially to jump when she or any of her higher-ups (or the workflows they managed) said jump, so I did a lot of  putting out fires and reacting to the freakouts of various internal and external stakeholders. However, one note she gave me when I pressed her for candid feedback was about how quick to react I was, and  how that could be perceived as negative even though I was trying for a positive. Even though reacting quickly and taking care of issues smoothly was an important part of my job description, I would get a little too enthusiastically worked up about putting out the Fire of the Hour. She urged me to take a minute, take a breath, step back from what the emergency was, restate it to the requester, and then roll up my sleeves and tackle it, pointing out that such poise in the face of crisis is a trait that many higher-ups in corporate culture displayed. I utterly failed to implement this level of poise and pause when, say, answering questions during a FTE interview loop, but the feedback still stuck with me nonetheless. Now I think I’m learning to handle crisis or perceived crisis a bit better, and I’m OK pushing back on everyone from clients to contractors who are overly demanding when it comes to getting a response out of me. I still have a long way to come in this department, but I’ve never received this kind of high-level critical feedback in the thoughtful way I did from anyone at any other company. I keep the Christmas card said boss wrote for me on display in my office, because compliments from someone like her frankly mean more to me than from just your Average Joe coworker.

Picky coworkers! I LOVED how opinionated and high-standarded (shut up) my coworkers were. The wit and fervor that would emerge on things like wiki pages, For Sale listservs, signs in the kitchen or elevators, etc. was a total delight. If I ever needed a referral for a type of business, not only would I get great recommendations I knew I could trust, but I’d get detailed dossiers backing up those choices. Yelp could never be as useful. The pickypants fights that would sometimes break out were hilarious, too. There was literally an internal wiki page called something like “we are not SAVAGES, people” which contained instructions on how to flush toilets and make coffee properly. LOVE.

Perceptive coworkers. The feedback I received from mangers and from people who interviewed me was some of the most helpful I’ve ever heard in my life. Because this company deeply values reflection and self-improvement, I feel like people were more at liberty to be practical and candid in how they evaluated my strengths and weaknesses, and while the more critical points were never easy to hear, they were always deeply appreciated. I feel like I could have paid a career coach for five years of regular input and not gotten even a fraction of the insight and assistance I received for free from my generous coworkers, friends, bosses, and mentors there. People who work there are sort of conditioned to a certain type of analytical directness that was so refreshing. Mentor-type people there immediately identified the traits in my personality that suited me well for certain types of work, and they honed in on what I enjoyed and what mattered to me better than I myself knew how to do. It was disarming but very welcome.

Concision. While every blog post I ever write including this one might lead you to believe otherwise, I swear working in this particular sector of corporate stoogehood really did help me learn to tighten up my business communication. The company I was at valued keeping it short short SHORT and need-to-know only. Because of that, I’m getting better at getting to the point and summarizing my often complex or confusing feedback in a more digestible format, and I’m better at deciding when to provide top-level information as opposed to going into too much detail. Sort of. :) I’m at least conscious of needing to whittle down to the main message with certain audiences now. Nope, not you; other audiences. :P

The negatives: There were, of course, a few things I liked less about this particular Big Tech stint. Like how, after a year of pouring my heart and soul and sanity and every spare moment into trying to land a full-time role there, I was sorta groomed and encouraged and then ultimately turned down. Yeah, that part stung. I still completely understand why I didn’t wind up fitting that mold, at least for the roles I tried out for, and I’ve learned much about how to present myself better both at lean companies like that and in general to the world. Before I went there, I was considering consulting full time instead of getting a Proper Corporate Stooge Jobby Job, but a dose of that invigorating culture made me recommit to having a J-O-B job and really work at it. I’ve never wanted a corporate stooge position so badly, or tried so hard to get one, only to fall so very hard. In the end, it worked out for the best since I don’t think I’m cut from quite the same cloth as the people that make Big Tech great, but I still say it was like having my heart broken after being, well, let’s say proto-corporate-engaged. Anyway. All that said, here’s some of the stuff that I certainly don’t miss:

Extreme budget consciousness. This is a big one. The company’s desire to cut costs wherever possible was certainly understandable, and definitely had a lot of positive consequences for them as a market leader. But sometimes, when your monitor size is restricted for insane Office-Space-seeming reasons, or when your corporate-kitchen-supplied compostable fork dissolves into mush (yes, like that episode of VEEP) when you stir lukewarm leftovers with it, you sorta wish they’d just spend an extra buck and make their employees’ lives easier or more comfortable or ergonomic. Until recently, I had never been one to expense much in my life, but my very severe tennis elbow that developed in 2008 has meant that I’m extremely sensitive to shitty ergonomic setups now. I had also come from a fairly cushy and accommodating PC gaming company that was sensitive to wanting to avoid RSI in its employees. So in that sense, I suppose I had been a bit spoiled. But still. Curved split keyboards and adjustable height desks, people. They make a big difference! I know such things add up, but I don’t miss feeling like I had to whine and seem like a special case, or deal with constant dumbass comments over the fact that my monitor and laptop were stacked precariously upon piles of dictionaries and reams of copy paper to hack a reasonably healthy setup. (That may be more a commentary on social acceptance of proper ergonomics in general. I’m much more sympathetic to my friends who require special diets or medical aid now—it sucks to feel like the squeaky wheel to get your basic needs met.)

Get there first. I can’t deny that the company I worked for beats lots of other companies at lots of different games because they get there first, and make big-picture moves that sometimes seem baffling in the small picture. But as a perfectionist and a pickypants, I hate the model of placing what I perceived as more value on winning the tech race than on perfecting the journey. I think this is partly unique to QA, so I suspect that only working somewhere as polish-obsessed as Apple could really ever satisfy this itch of mine. (I’ve always felt that we released imperfect stuff at every QA or editing role I’ve ever held. So maybe it’s just me. But still.)

Infrastructure. Many things about working at this tech powerhouse felt slapped-together, right down to its campus. The flow of the numerous lines in the overstuffed cafeterias was exhausting. The friggin’ Starbucks across the way from my building had only one standard width door, so people constantly jammed coming in and out of it. One FTE coworker was on a waiting list for a company (paid) parking spot the entire time I worked with her. One of my contract roles shifted between three different buildings, at numerous different desks and on different floors, and I hear it’s scheduled to move again… partly because it seems like the whole leg of the company I belonged to didn’t anticipate their own success and growth. I don’t miss feeling like everything was done after the fact, or that I have to fight everyone for a spot in line or a parking place or a cup of tea in the kitchen. For all the company valued efficiency on paper (if you will), so many basic human comfort things (like don’t block all the silverware drawers with the only microwave, what?) felt less than efficiently planned out at times. (Then again, I’ve felt that way about other corporate stoogey jobs/buildings/systems, too. I guess I was just hoping that working for the Efficiency Kings would mean fewer silly problems like that.)

SLOW YOUR ROLL! While a huge part of me thrives in a busy and fast pace, I feel like the culture in this last stoogeship engendered a very unhealthy work-life balance for most employees, particularly the full-timers. People raced down the hallways, scrambled through lunch/ate it at their desks/skipped it entirely, hunched their shoulders and carpaled their tunnels, kept their networking-only coffee meetings to a tight 15 minutes, skipped from meeting to meeting, and just generally felt like they were always huffing and puffing from one emergency to the next. I never got that same feeling of constant urgency and upset  during my tenure at other mega tech companies, stressy though everyone was there. It was a less SPEEDY kind of stress elsewhere. I think the place I just left attracts a certain go-get-em wife-and-kids-be-damned attitude that burns people out quickly, but rewards those who get off on cortisol spikes. I loved it while I was there most of the time, but there were definitely moments of not-love, and I’m not sure how sustainable it is in the long run.  I’m still friends with a lot of very stressed-out full-timers there who envy my  newfound freedom despite their fancy résumés and reliable paychecks and whatnot.

The takeaway. All in all, despite the negatives I LOVED the culture of this fast-paced startup-feeling company. I’ll always be grateful I had the chance to soak it up and learn from it. Who knows; maybe someday I’ll find myself back there or at another tech powerhouse. But something tells me that this might have been my last taste of Big Tech from the inside, and I’m kinda happy about it since I seem to have more fun using it than creating it. So thanks, guys, for teaching me lots, mostly that I totally have it in me to make it on my own now that you’ve cut me loose. ♥ I sincerely loved working with the amazing people I encountered in Big Tech, and I hope they all identify with more positive points than negative points from this tome!

A brief note on QUIT! and quitting

A brief note on QUIT! and quitting

I’ve been meaning to craft a more thoughtful and ever-delayed post on leaving my job and going the solopreneur route, but I realized that maybe I should get something out there in the meantime to pimp the fact that I was on QUIT!. Twice! QUIT! is a new 5by5 show, in which Dan and his various co-hosts take calls from listeners about quitting their corporate stooge jobs and/or redefining themselves in their work life. My first call-in appearance was on Episode 2 – Everyone Gets Fired, when I called while squatting in an empty conference room at my corporate stooge contract job. And the next time was Episode 6 – The Voices In Your Head, after actually quitting, in which I got some great advice about how to scale up my business to be more financially sustainable.

Both times were SO phenomenally helpful, and downright fun. In addition to getting valuable input from the actual hosts,I also got loads of great suggestions and resources from the other listeners and chatroom jackals. I’ve had my hands full following up on leads, researching information products and referral structures, and generally getting my head back into the solo game. I’m SO excited to be devoting my whole self to my side thing, and even if it doesn’t pan out in the long run, I feel like I’m finally giving it the shot that it has deserved this whole time.

photo (25)
This guy is my only coworker now.

Here’s a big quitter’s e-hug to Dan, Haddie, Shlok, Mantwan, Michael K, Alex/aomind, T.J. Barber, _Funk, and everyone else who chimed in with words of support. I love what I do, and I’m looking forward to finding a way to make it work and make me enough money to stay at home with future kids and keep doing creative things that make me happy. I even added blog categories for “podcasts,” “freelancing,” and “working from home,” because those things are becoming increasingly important in my quotidian existence and my big-picture plans.

If anyone out there is thinking about quitting their job and/or has always wanted to try a business venture of their own, I urge you to listen live (usually Fridays at 2 PM Pacific) and try to call in if you can. Call in live at 512-518-5714 or leave a voicemail at 512-222-8141. Dan would love to hear from you; I’d love to hear you on the air; and most importantly, I think you’ll love the advice and support you get (even if it’s not what you were hoping for). Okay, mushy PSA over; back to your regularly scheduled complaining in my next post. :)