ShelWriting Blog


Working from Home is No Pajama Party



I have worked from home for years. When someone asks me where I work, and I tell them I work from home, their eyes light up. I can tell right away they think I have it easy, goofing off when I want to, and spending all day in my pajamas. There are definite perks to working from home – no commute, quiet, excellent coffee, relaxed dress code – but a pajama party it is not.

Working from home is still work. I have commitments and deadlines. If I need to collaborate with someone at a certain time or attend a meeting I still need to be at my computer and prepared.

There are many types of working from home. I have worked for a company who expected me to be in front of my computer from nine to five from Monday to Friday. Meetings were held online throughout the workday – I was just sitting at home in front of my computer instead of sitting in the office. I have also worked with a flexible schedule and had to plan my time wisely or be constantly scrambling to finish things, feeling out of control, and actually working longer hours during the week. Both of these types of working from home (and there are many others) have their advantages and disadvantages and experience will help to determine what works best for you.

Discipline is the number one prerequisite to successfully working from home. If I don’t seem professional and meet or exceed all my work assignments then pretty soon I will be out of a job.


A daily routine is essential. By getting up at the same time and preparing for the day, it gives your body and brain cues that you are getting ready to start your work day. I generally follow a weekday pattern of getting up at the same time, sitting down at my computer at the same time, planning time for coffee and lunch breaks, and finishing the workday at the same time. Although I have flexible hours, I try to keep to the standard nine to five work week. My husband is working, my son is at school, and most clients are available during this time which is also quiet and conducive to working. I can still schedule a lunch date with a friend, or help out at the school now and then (I mean they ARE flexible hours), but keeping to pretty much the same schedule for the Monday to Friday work week helps me to perform at my best.

Get Dressed

I can honestly say I have never stayed in my pajamas the whole day while working from home. I just don’t feel like I am in the right mindset if I haven’t at least put on some decent clothes. I definitely do not look as nice as I would if I went to an office, but being presentable and ready for a client to see me at short notice motivates me to stay professional and on track. I also have a weird fear of accidentally enabling the webcam when talking to someone online!


I have learned the hard way that I am still responsible for hitting deadlines whether I want to sit down on Tuesday morning and complete a task or ruin a Friday night because I put things off all week and now have to stay home and finish. Realizing that there are consequences to putting off work, and having no one to blame but yourself, can make you much better at time management. No Friday cocktail hour at the Tiki bar, if you don’t get your work done, can be a strong incentive! On the flip side, working hard and getting things done ahead of schedule can free up the time to work on extra projects – or maybe take a Friday afternoon off and head to the beach!

My current goal in running my own business is having a completely flexible work from home schedule. It sounds wonderful. I picture myself sitting in the backyard with my computer writing all day with lots of breaks to walk the dog and grab a coffee. The reality is Not like that!

Creating and running your own business is not easy. It takes constant motivation to find paying gigs, keep a marketing plan moving so people can find and hire you, and keep up with the business side of things such as website upkeep, money management, and taxes. I am not complaining because I chose this path. It is different than what I thought it would be, but the big payoff for me is that it is MINE. I take on all of the responsibility but I also can be really proud when things pay off. So although it isn’t a pajama party, and it is hard work, I get to do what I want and, some days, wear jean shorts and a Tom Petty concert tee – which definitely wouldn’t fly at the office!



When You Are Your Product – Defining Your Value



You have found a client, the job seems to be a good fit, and then the dreaded question – How much do you charge? This is such a tricky negotiation and can depend on all matter of things on both sides of the negotiating table. Of course, you want to make as much money as you can, but at the same time, you don’t want to scare off a potential customer with rates that are too high.

I recently attended a lecture about learning to talk about money and defining your value. When the speaker asked the audience to shout out their one greatest contribution at work there was a definite gender bias. Women tended to suggest a soft skill (getting along with everyone, facilitating meetings, good with customers), while the men tended to talk about hard skills (tangible contributions, how much money they made the company). Although every person is different, many don’t know how to talk about money and are uncomfortable with salary negotiations.

Define Your Value

If you are your product (for example, freelance writer) you need to know the value of your contribution.

  • How much education and experience do you have?
  • How much direct and indirect (researching, meetings, email) time does it take to do your job?
  • What are the industry standards (research salary sites, such as and specific industry sites)?
  • What continuing education courses do you take to stay current and even become an expert in specific areas?

Sell Your Product

Practice your pitch and make sure you know exactly what you are selling. Find a price that you are happy with and try to sell a little higher. Prove to the client that hiring you would be the best thing for their company.

  • Talk about industry standards and how you provide MORE (mentoring, meeting planning, deadlines met, presentation and speaking skills).
  • Research the company and explain how you will add value (streamlining a process, developing a process to prevent previous mistakes, attracting more customers, making a product easier to use).
  • Quantify your services (last year I had 32 deadlines and met them all, I produced 45 blog posts and had fewer corrections than the other writers).
  • Provide recommendations from people you have worked with in the past that really explain how you helped their company.

The most important part of defining your value is to be confident. If you know your value in relation to the rest of the industry, can prove your services will add value and can provide solid information to back up why you deserve your stated rate then salary negotiation can become no longer scary but actually fun!


Is a Business Plan Necessary?

Blue Click Pen Near White Document Papers on Top of Brown Wooden Table


At a recent networking event, a colleague and I were talking to an experienced business woman about her particular networking group. The woman couldn’t believe that a lot of new business owners came to the group and didn’t have a business plan. We agreed that it was very surprising and as we were walking away looked at each other sheepishly and asked: Do you have a business plan? As we both shook our heads no I began to think – is a business plan important?

A business plan is a guide that outlines your business idea in a written working plan of action. This document not only helps you to clarify exactly what your business is and how you want to run it but also describes how you will manage and grow it in the future. The business plan can be any length from a hundred pages to just a few well-written strategic items – even a small plan can help present your idea and goals clearly. Writing the plan forces you to think about how you will handle every aspect of your business. It can assist you to identify both weaknesses and opportunities that could arise and help you prepare strategies to deal with them before they actually happen. Having a prepared plan in place shows you have thought about the risks and can convince people to hire you or invest in your company.

Most plans usually consist of an outline of the business concept, the marketing plan, and financials. Adding the following sections may prompt you to really think about all aspects of your endeavor and develop a clear and comprehensive plan forward:

  • Executive Summary – summarize your business set the tone for the entire document. Include an overview of the whole operation, what you plan to provide or sell, your target market, how you will manage and operate the business, and financial projections. Keep it concise and informative as you will have a chance to provide details in later sections. Include your future vision to show your goals and how you hope to develop the business in the years to come.
  • Business Description – describe the exact services and products you plan to sell and how these things fit into the marketplace both historically, now, and in the future. Include strategies to reach any goals you mention – not just what you want to do, but how you plan to get there. Ensure the description is easy to understand not only for investors but for anyone that might want to use your services and products.
  • Market Research and Planning – detail how you plan to market your product or service. Include all advertising strategies, sales plans, and competitive pricing. Show that you have done your research by describing any competitors in the market and how you can prove your product or service will do better. Remember to add historical, immediate, and projected future sales forecasts. Review your target market and ideal customer.
  • Operation and Management – outline exactly how you will operate and manage the business. Include the legal structure, key players in all management positions, day to day operations, plans for the future, and how you plan to address risks.
  • Financial Plan – provide all supporting financial documents, start-up costs, how funds were procured and used, and detail the projected financial future of your business. If you want to attract investors or need a loan add any relevant information about how much money you require, how you will use it, terms of payment, and how you will to mitigate risks. This section is where you want to show how you plan to make a profit -make it clear using statistics, facts, and detailed plans.
  • Appendix – add all supporting documentation in this section. Some things you may want to incorporate are resumes, store floor plans, equipment that you own, business items you need to buy, financial graphs, licenses, patents, etc.

Many websites offer free business plan templates. Remember to customize any template so it includes everything you want to say about your business idea. You could also hire a professional business plan writer with experience in market research and business writing.

Even if your business is small (just you) and you only provide one service (for example, writing) you may think you don’t need a business plan. But, remember a plan not only is used to attract other people to invest in or buy your service. The most valuable part of the business plan can be the fact that you must clarify exactly what you want to do, how you plan to do it, and what adjustments you need to make to move your business forward.

The next time I am at a networking meeting and someone asks me about my business plan I will either ask for help in developing one or be able to discuss the one I already have in place!



The Importance of Networking

Networking. I used to shudder when I heard the word. Meeting a bunch of strangers, talking about myself in front of a group, and trying to convince people to hire me sounds like one of my worst nightmares. As an introvert, I used to try to avoid networking at all costs.

But, when you start a new business you simply have to do it. You have to put yourself in front of people and get your name and services known. If the aggressive approach is not your style, a slightly less in-your-face approach can both help your business and take the pressure off.

You can begin networking at any time. I personally feel more comfortable talking to people about the writing services I offer when I have my website and social media set up (it doesn’t have to be perfect – you can constantly update and reorganize while honing your focus). Now, when meeting someone new, I can hand out a business card and direct them to my website so they can really see what I can do.

Your website and social media accounts set the tone as a professional. Your blog showcases your writing style and everything you post allows others a glimpse into your personality. If you want to be taken seriously – act the part. Get your business cards ready (mine arrive this week!) and prepare your elevator speech. You want to be prepared to talk about how you can help someone add value to their business by hiring you. Being prepared allows me to feel more confident and in control when asked questions about both what I am offering and my qualifications.

Join a business networking group in your area. I found a great local business group and it was a great place to start. Attending meetings allows me to meet other business owners, practice talking about my business and the services I provide, and gets my name out into the community. I also hear how others present themselves and can adapt the things I like into my own presentation. When my inner introvert worries about having nothing to say, I counteract by remembering that I have written out my elevator speech and memorized it as well as a few topics of conversation. If you do this and practice at home, even hold a pretend conversation, you might think you look stiff and nervous, but you more than likely look professional and prepared.

An interesting result of networking, for me, is that just like in any other sort of social circle – you find your people. By this, I mean that you can find likeminded new business owners who are experiencing the same new business issues. Those who are just starting can offer tips and advice. Others who are further along in their careers can help you avoid the mistakes that they made. Sometimes creating a smaller more intimate networking group, made up of the people you really connect with, can allow you to talk more in depth about the things that directly affect you and the other few members. A smaller group can give you the space to be more vulnerable and to ask for honest feedback about what you could work on. I have found the motivation, learning opportunities, and support provided by both types of networking groups to be invaluable.

When you are a small-business owner, promoting yourself is important. You don’t have to present yourself as perfect, but as someone who is professional, prepared, and the right person for the job. So far, I have found networking to be the best way to find potential new job leads. In a nutshell – just do it!



Is Vacation Time Worth It?

I know many people who feel guilty about taking time off from work, those who have never taken the occasional “mental health day”, and even some who end up with unused vacation days.

I have trouble understanding why someone wouldn’t take a deserved vacation, and as I was away on vacation for the past two weeks I clearly do not have this problem! As someone who absolutely loves to travel, I have negotiated more vacation time instead of more money in previous jobs. I believe in the power of a vacation – even if you don’t go anywhere and simply shake up your normal routine – to refresh the body and the mind.

A simple consequence of more vacation time off may be that since you know you will be away from work for a longer period that you compensate by working smarter to get everything done in the time that you have.

Another theory is that a vacation serves to reset yourself and you come back refreshed and more productive. If you look at the time-management Pomodoro Technique (that recommends taking a small five-minute break after 20 minutes of work) you could say that if it works throughout the day, why wouldn’t it work on a larger scale?

Vacations can also help you to refocus on short and long-term goals and to figure out if you are going in the right direction at work. During one memorable vacation in Mexico, my husband and I decided that it would be great to work from home and to live somewhere warmer than Southeast Ontario (sorry Canada – I still love you). Over the course of five years, we both managed to obtain work-from-home jobs and had moved to North Carolina!

I believe that vacations are valuable not only to help with your work-life balance but to also allow you to dream, refocus, and be more productive when you get back feeling refreshed. I know it works for me!



Thanks and Hold On

First of all, a great big Thank You to everyone who checked out my website and blog after my launch on Friday. All the positive comments were really appreciated. It is hard to start something new and put yourself “out there”, but I can say that so far this has been a really positive experience!

So now I will be taking a short vacation. WHAT? Why on earth would you launch a business and then take a vacation? What about momentum? How about keeping things rolling?

Yes, I totally agree. But sometimes opportunities arise and you just have to grab them! I promise momentum and continuity if you can just hold on for a little bit!

Check back in a week or so – there will be new blog posts and Facebook Fun!


The Eat That Frog Method – Raw Frog Does Not Taste Good

Brian Tracy introduced the Eat That Frog method of time management in his book of the same name. It is based on the following catchy quote by Mark Twain:

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.”

The Eat That Frog method in a nutshell:

  • Make a list of all the tasks you want to get done today and prioritize them. Select the three most important tasks to focus on no matter how distasteful you find them.
  • If you have more than one task that you really aren’t looking forward to, pick the one that is the absolute worst.
  • Start working on the worst task – the one you are not looking forward to at all.

The main ideas are to:

  • get motivated by jumping in and getting the worst task over and done with, so it is not hanging over your head for the rest of the day.
  • work faster by trying to complete a disagreeable task, so you can move on to a more attractive task.
  • prioritize your tasks and deal with the unpleasant things right away instead of letting them slide.
  • learn that sometimes your list of things to do never ends, but you can decide which tasks are most important (not necessarily more enjoyable) for you to accomplish.

If the very first thing you do in your day (while you are fresh, rested, and ready to work) is to complete your most unpleasant task, the rest of the day will only get better. If you know that after you finish the first task the rest of your day will be easier or more fun, it will motivate you to plow through the task, get it done, and move on. Continue reading “The Eat That Frog Method – Raw Frog Does Not Taste Good”


The Swiss Cheese Method – Love Me Some Melted Cheese

The Swiss Cheese method introduced by Alan Lakein in his book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life serves to help procrastinators break down large tasks and get things done using small pieces of time.

The Swiss Cheese method in a nutshell:

  1. The Chunk of Swiss Cheese – choose a large task or project to get done and divide it into many small tasks.
  2. The Holes in the Swiss Cheese – Begin working on a small task even if you only have a small amount of time. Don’t worry about getting it done now, just do as much as you can in the time you have.
  3. The Cheese Has so Many Holes it’s Gone – As you complete each small task, you work toward the goal of completing your entire project. Eventually, the small amounts of time and the small completed tasks add up until the entire project is complete.

The main ideas are to:

  • prevent procrastination by breaking a large piece of work into smaller pieces so the entire project doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
  • use small amounts of time getting something done instead of ignoring valuable work time usually considered too short to use.
  • eventually putting all the small pieces together to see that a large part or all of the project is complete.

When a project is large, many people have trouble getting started because the project in its entirety seems daunting. Using The Swiss Cheese Method allows you to break down the large project and work on many different small tasks to make headway, even if you don’t have a large block of time to dedicate at once. Continue reading “The Swiss Cheese Method – Love Me Some Melted Cheese”


The Tickler File System – Tickled to Find I Already Use It

The Tickler File System is a proven concept used throughout the years and reintroduced every once in a while to help people manage their time without forgetting important tasks. A recent popular reinterpretation is by David Allen in his 2002 book Getting Things Done.

The Tickler File System in a nutshell:

  1. Obtain 43 file folders and label 31 of them for each day of the month. Label the additional 12 folders for each month of the year.
  2. Place a reminder of each task you need to complete within the current month in the appropriate daily folder. For example, if you need to follow-up on a phone bill on the 15th of the month place the bill in folder 15. You can use anything you like as the physical reminder, for example, note cards, bills, business cards, etc.
  3. Place items that require follow-up in the future in the corresponding month folder.
  4. Every day check the appropriate folder for tasks that you need to complete that day.
  5. At the start of a new month, take all the items from that month’s folder and distribute them among the appropriate daily folders.

The main ideas are to:

  • keep track of things that you need to do each day and in the future.
  • have a physical reminder that you can see every day.
  • allow you to organize your day by looking at all the tasks that must be done that day.

Today you can use electronic tickler files if you don’t have the space for the physical file folder system or if you just prefer the electronic system and reminders. A great example is Google Calendar. Create a new calendar in Google and assign daily tasks to the appropriate day with reminders. Check the calendar every day for the tasks to complete and organize your time appropriately. Continue reading “The Tickler File System – Tickled to Find I Already Use It”