I recently pitched an article topic to a publication with the title, "Am I no longer employable?" I'm not prone to hyperbole, but rather I was reflecting on what I continually referred to as a run of bad luck with nightmare clients.
The thing was, I wasn't taking responsibility for why I had had this run of bad luck. I wasn't considering the huge role I played and that whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was the common denominator in all this.
It wasn't bad luck at all. It was me not taking the time I needed when I started freelancing 13 years ago to determine who my ideal client was. Or maybe I had, but because I've evolved considerably between then and now, they were no longer my ideal client.
Sure, I decided that I could only work in certain industries, either because I didn't want to die of boredom or because I needed to ensure the industry didn't conflict with my own ethics. I knew, for example, that I wouldn't work in industries that I felt were exploitative to people, animals and the environment. And while this covers a wide range of industries, it didn't go far enough to define my client.
Recently, a client I'd been working with for 12 years and I decided to part ways. He's a nice fellow who had plenty of work (anchor client), but I realized our "whys" weren't in alignment. (And if you're unclear what a person's "why" is, this may help explain it better.) But the truth is, they hadn't been in years (assuming they ever were). Neither of us was willing to address this fissure because the work was getting done and he was paying on time.
The really odd thing was that once I admitted to myself that we were no longer working (despite the fact that on paper we were), things devolved quickly. What could have been an amicable parting of the ways turned ugly with unkind things said by both of us. Not at all either of our proudest moments.
I don't know what, if any, reflecting he's done since our dustup, but I can say that the entire experience sent me on a journey that started with me questioning whether I was well-suited for freelancing. Had things changed in the 14 years since I left corporate America (culminating with biotech giant Amgen), moved to Puerto Rico to live on an organic farm and started freelancing a year later? Or had I changed?
Pretty safe to say it was me who changed, which means anything that occurred between ill-suited clients and me falls squarely on me. Mister Nice Fellow really hadn't changed. I just hadn't taken the time to deeply define my "why," and we both paid for it.
As I went on my most recent sojourn, I found myself annoyed. Wait, aren't I getting too old for this shit? I ain't no whippersnapper. I'm middle-aged, and between my corporate experience and freelancing, I've been working for over 30 years. Shouldn't I know myself well by now?
Many far more learned people than me have examined this question. I like Albert Einstein's answer. He said, "Once you stop learning, you start dying." Considered one of the smartest people to walk this planet, Einstein was said to have an IQ of 160, although some suggest it was closer to 200. Either way, he was more intelligent than I am, so I'll go with his perspective.
It's pretty amazing how much time one has to devote to mental and emotional sojourns when their biggest anchor client is no longer there. What came out of this months-long road-less-traveled approach was that I emerged with my "why." I dug pretty damn deep, mind you. I didn't stop at simply manifesting better clients. Again, I had to define what this really meant, not just a bunch of jargon designed to make me look enlightened. I realized that as I focused on myself as the problem and examined myself more deeply, opportunities began presenting themselves.
I kid you not; it was as though I discovered the secret to the USS Enterprise's cloaking device. (If you never watched the original Star Trek, it's a device that for the moment is only theoretical that allows spaceships to disappear to prevent radar detection.) Not only did I emerge with a deeper understanding of who I am and of who my ideal client is, I was able to renew my love for freelancing. Now things are so clear.
The things I have always loved about freelancing are that I get to choose my clients:
- By personality (are we a good fit?)
- The skills they require and whether I can provide them or learn them
- How they'll fit into my non-traditional work schedule
But now I love freelancing more since I penetrated the cloaking device. I made the decision to only work with clients I feel are doing their part to advance humanity.
Most of us around the world have to work. It's by no means a given that people always have the luxury to choose their professions and/or have a real say in the jobs they take. Sometimes any job is better than no job. Many don't have access to the necessary education and mentoring to help them find the career they want and to pursue it, so I fully recognize the privilege I have to even pontificate this.
I wasn't always this discerning and often took on clients whose personalities didn't mesh well with mine or whose job descriptions didn't excite me. Recognizing that I wasn't always in a financial position to be so discerning, either I felt trapped or I'd walk out angry and frustrated. I can't imagine it was a cakewalk for them either. I don't have a poker face, even over email.
No sooner did I explore my "why" and then looked for clients who fit my "why," the cloaking device was removed and I could spot them in a busy crowd and go after them!
I'm truly grateful for the clients I have right now. I admire them for the work they do and the communities they serve.
Because I refuse to rank them according to any arbitrary criteria (and because I love them all, the work I do for them and the teams I work on), I will list them alphabetically. Seems the most equitable.
Oakland, California-based 25Seconds PR is a Black-owned public relations firm that works with startups, tech and the cannabis industry, particularly companies that are owned by marginalized people. I have been writing for Lori since she opened her doors in 2014. Every time she calls me, I know I'll get to write about a company that is doing incredible things to advance humanity. Whether it's sustainable agriculture, a social equity recipient in the cannabis industry or a bootstrapped startup, I feel good from the first word to the last. Over the last maybe six years, Lori and I have become very close friends, which I cherish deeply.
The Blunt Accountant
Accounting in the cannabis industry is extremely complex, given all the regulations and the fact that it's a cash-only business. The Blunt Accountant works with plant-touching businesses owned by social equity recipients, marginalized people and those most affected by the War on Drugs to ensure they are in compliance with all state and federal agencies. Angela could work with any client, but she chooses to work with those who have less access because she wants to see them thrive and be successful. The industry is rife with well-funded businesses owned by white people. It's estimated that Black- and Brown-owned plant-touching ventures account for just 2%. Given the obstacles they faced getting their licenses, the last thing Angela wants to do is compound the issue by not prioritizing them as clients.
Angela has been an accountant in the cannabis industry since 2018. She is the owner and founder of the Cannabis Accounting & Consulting Group (CACG). She is taking her expertise and offering it to folks who are most often ignored and assumed will fail. We are in the process of building the website, which should be up later this month. I provide OBM services to Angela.
Bleach on Colored Clothes
Almost two years ago, I was hired to be a writing coach for a group of women, all of them African American and all of them working on their first book. Every member of that class was a good writer, but one stood out. Joretta King just completed her book called Bleach on Colored Clothes, which is the story of her life. Childhood Abuse, alcoholism, homelessness and repeated sexual abuse by men describe Joretta's life until several years ago.
Her new chapter includes yoga, meditating, clean living, owning her own business and being the best mother she can be. Between her old life and new, what Joretta does to overcome what can only be described as horrific, is why you will want to read her book when it's published. Joretta hired me to edit and publish her book, and more recently, she hired my agency to build her website to support the book and manage her social media. Bleach on Colored Clothes reminds us all that life ain't always pretty and that we have many ways of dealing with that ugliness. I love the path Joretta took and the example she sets for those who have experienced similar horrors. One thing that is constant in this society we live in is that dysfunction between people is no longer the exception but the norm.
The plans Joretta has to help advance humanity will be announced once the book is published. I have googabs of respect for Joretta and consider her a friend and someone to admire and look up to.
In their words:
For home buyers and sellers frustrated with the time and money spent on the traditional mortgage process, HonestDeed offers a safe seller financing platform, removing the need to rely on banks and putting more money in their pockets.
When the taxi industry failed consumers, Lyft stepped in.
When the hotel industry failed consumers, Airbnb stepped in.
When the home finance industry failed consumers, HonestDeed stepped in.
In my words:
HonestDeed works with people who might not otherwise be able to qualify for a traditional home mortgage due to a variety of reasons: access, non-traditional work (i.e., freelancing and 1099), race and others. I write articles for them.
Meshu Creative Services, LLC (Meshu®) is a minority-owned brand engagement and IoT agency founded in Washington, DC. In layperson's terminology, Meshu®, which is Black-owned and operated, works with minority-owned nonprofits to manage everything from building custom websites to managing companies' IT Helpdesk. I provide OBM services for this incredible team. Thank you, Ashanta for introducing me to Lawrence and team.
PetPlate makes and sells completely organic food for dogs. So why on earth would I be proud to write articles for a for-profit company? Most commercial dog food contains unnecessary, even toxic ingredients, such as excess gluten, corn, GMO- and pesticide-laden alfalfa and other ingredients, along with salt, sugar, soy, meat-by-products and seed oils. PetPlate makes human-grade food for dogs because dogs should eat as well as humans, salary permitting, of course.
Their blog, which I proudly write for, provides lots of necessary information for free: training, nutrition, natural remedies to treat common ailments, what dogs see and the myriad mental and physical benefits of living with a dog. I tend to write about topics like social equity and sustainable agriculture, but I haven't had so much fun since I started writing about my favorite four-legged animal.
My husband and I live on an organic farm. In the time we've lived here, we've parented seven dogs. All but one was dropped off to our farm. Most have been seniors or unhealthy, just discarded because they were no longer worth their previous owners' time. Whether they come to us a puppy, a teenager, an adult or a senior, they get to live on a farm with plenty of exercise, fresh mountain air and two people who see them as the children they never had. Dogs are an integral part of a farm and whether we chose them, they chose us or were forced on us, and regardless of their ages, they’re our puppies.
Olivia Miller Smith has spent her entire career helping people: as a trauma nurse, an organ transplant coordinator, for nonprofits, and more recently, as a life and trauma coach. Life coaching is a fast-growing industry with more than 20,000 of them coast to coast. How does one set themselves apart? Life coaching isn't a job one is trained to do but rather is often the culmination of years of personal and professional experience. This is Olivia. Everything she's done in her life has been from a position of offering help in an empathetic way.
Whether she was treating patients in a busy trauma center, having those difficult conversations about transplanting the organs of a loved one into someone who desperately needs them to survive or working with women who have limited resources to recover from addiction, Olivia treats everyone exactly the same: with dignity and humanity.
Bringing Things Full Circle
As it turns out, I'm not unemployable. I just hadn't acknowledged how much I've changed since I left the corporate world. And with change comes the need to be true to oneself by working with clients who bring me joy and remind me why I freelance to begin with.
And for the record, my pitch was accepted. Part of what inspired this stream of consciousness is that I've been considering carefully where I was when I pitched the topic and where I am now that I feel I've solved the problem. My article will read very differently now that I've taken the time to sort all of this out.