Thanks to Andrea, I have recently found some really helpful business/life advice and I thought I’d share some of it with you.
I started my own business a couple of years ago and after the first flurry of finding a few clients, I haven’t really worked that hard on growing or maintaining it. The work comes in big waves at predictable times of year and as long as I do a bit of work contacting existing clients at those times, I get enough work to keep those peaks maxed-out.
I’m making a reasonable amount of money and have lots of time to homeschool and do other things. I went to a conference a couple of years ago where I met one new client. I got another new client by word of mouth. That client was also an organizer for another conference and hired me to give a presentation at that conference, out of which came a couple of new clients.
I love the work I do. Getting word-of-mouth recommendations is a good sign. As is all the repeat business. I also get lots of direct thank yous from people I work with, both the people who pay the bills and the people I help directly.
I help university professors with their research plans and grant applications. Right now my clients are mostly university research offices or deans. They hire me to give presentations about grants to faculty and to review draft grant applications and provide comments.
Like I say, they are happy with the work. And so are the faculty that I advise. And that work is some of what I want to be doing. I think it will remain a big part of my business. But it isn’t all of it.
One problem with that work is that the demand is concentrated in two 6-week periods. During those times I’m busy but the rest of the year is pretty slow.
I can’t really do more work in those periods, so I can’t take on any more of that type of client because they will all want the same times of year. I started the business before I was homeschooling and one of the reasons that I slacked off on growing it was because I started to homeschool and needed to figure out how much time that would take and how I could balance the two.
Now that we’ve been homeschooling for a couple of years, and Tigger is getting older, I think I can see how growth could be compatible. But growth means thinking differently about the business.
What I’d really like to be doing is something like life-coaching for academics. So still the focus on academic research planning, including grants, but working directly for the individual researchers/professors to help them be successful in their own terms and reduce their stress.
Helping with grant applications might be part of that, but also helping people make longer term plans about their research and figure out when and where to apply for grants, helping with publication strategies, helping find time to do research and maybe provide some accountability so it doesn’t fall off of their to do list (as it so often does in favour of things like teaching preparation and administrative duties that have real deadlines and other people expecting things).
I know people outside of higher education think that all academics care about is their research but most of the academics I know really struggle to find time to do their research because they are committed to teaching and it really can fill up all the space available.
Things that are helping
Andrea pointed me in the direction of The Fluent Self. Havi Brooks has a bunch of interesting products and maintains a blog. She calls herself a “habits educator” and procrastination is one of the habits she can help with. I have her free sample material and thought it was interesting.
Recently I took the plunge and purchased her Procrastination Dissolve-o-Matic. And I’m really liking her approach. I’ve been procrastinating about growing the coaching side of the business.
I always wanted to do that kind of work, but when I started, the easiest way to get going was to use my contacts in research offices, to get the related work for them. Because the other thing was hard, I put it to one side and have basically been ignoring it. And I was getting enough work so it just stayed in the background and I didn’t pay it much attention.
This kind of procrastination is what Havi refers to as “life procrastination”. It isn’t the little day to day stuff where you can say “If I didn’t spend so much time futzing around on the internet, I’d get that done.” It’s more of a big thing looming in the background that you are just ignoring while you get on with all kinds of other things, many of which are good things, like homeschooling, doing the business I am doing, … and a bit of futzing around on the internet.
What kind of help is it?
I should note that Havi’s approach is what we in this household call (affectionately) “hippy shit”. We mean that in the best possible way. But it isn’t for everyone. (She has a page about what kind of people she wants to work with.)
In fact, most people probably think it isn’t for me.
When I was pregnant I signed up for an ante-natal yoga class (in North America you’d say “pre-natal”). It ran in 4-week blocks. And a few weeks in my partner admitted to me that he had expected me to come home from that class swearing and complaining and never go back.
It’s not like I got pregnant at the beginning of our relationship or anything, either. We’d been together on and off for about 6 years at that point. He knew me pretty well.
I started going to that class when I was about 14 weeks pregnant and went every week right through my pregnancy. It was great. A bit of yoga. A bit of “what went right, what went wrong this week”. Some cool breathing techniques. Some basic anatomy instruction about birth. A bit of aromatherapy. All in all “hippy shit”.
And it was great. My memory of labour is that it was tiring. Although there was some pain, it was all manageable. I had no drugs. I was in labour for many hours and did not swear once. Not once. In the normal course of a day, I swear frequently. I did not swear in labour. Most people who know me IRL think that is completely implausible. That’s how good that particular brand of hippy shit was.
As I was reading through the Procrastination Dissolve-o-Matic the other day, I come across similar things. A bit of yoga. A bit of breathing.
And this piece of advice: “Resistance is futile.”
The ante-natal class teacher said it this way: “What you resist persists.”
This sounds crazy the first time you come across it. But it works. Really. I figure if it can work for labour pain, it can work for crazy emotional baggage. So I’m all up with not resisting (fighting, beating, or other violent resistance metaphors) my procrastination.
And even just doing a little bit of Havi’s technique got me to write 2 e-mails today. One a response to someone I helped (paid for by her employer) who had asked me if there were any opportunities for me to help her with longer term research planning and one from someone I met (paid for by her employer) last spring who was very happy with how I made sense of her research plans (as presented less than clearly in a draft grant application) and wanted more of that “life coaching” for her research life.
I had no idea how to respond to these people who wanted the service that I most want to provide. I was stuck. Mostly on questions of how much to charge. But the intermediate stage in figuring that out is figuring out how much time people need in what kinds of intervals to do what kinds of things. And so I just e-mailed them and asked. I told them that I was stuck but this is what I really want to do and that I’d give them a deal on the coaching in return for some help with the figuring it out. Scary. But totally okay once I stopped worrying about it. And Havi’s techniques helped me do that. Hurray!
That was step 1. Which is more steps than I’ve taken in a couple of years on this particular project so Woo! Hoo! I’m celebrating that little step. And feeling like the next step might be easier.
The to do list (for growing the business) in no particular order:
- sort out a website (I’ve made some small steps on this)
- decide whether it is feasible to do in-person sessions with people or a workshop or something during a big academic conference in May
- figure out this pricing thing (there is a different brand of hippy shit to help with that here; I need to read his blog more because I bet there is more in there that would help me)
- talk to some more individual (potential) clients about how this thing might work
For those of you who are academics or know academics who might be interested. Here is my list of “who I want to work with”: social sciences and humanities; no economists (possible exception for feminist economists or other non-mainstream economists); working in Canada (or wanting to work in Canada). And one of my special skills is what one client called the “bablefish for humanists”. If that makes sense to you (or your academic friend), I can help. When I get my business website sorted, I’ll have more information about my background and qualifications, what services I offer, and all that stuff.