Lessons from a Part Time Job in Retail

IMG_3038After years of freelancing and being a one man company, I took a part time job. It’s three months later and time to share a few observations I have made. The job I have is a relatively simple one – I sell cupcakes and make coffee drinks at Cupcake Royale. It’s a far cry from my previous jobs, doing web projects and media content, photography and consulting, and I expected to have a hard time adjusting. Turns out, I was wrong.

The company itself is a good one, which I’m sure makes a ton of difference. Cupcake Royale is a small, local chain, they treat their employees well without any of that corporate feel (I can bring my iPod to work! Yay!). The people I work with are cool, and in about the same age range as any other job I’ve ever had. I work 4 nights a week, being the weekend closer, and though I’ve missed out on a few social events, it’s really not that big of a deal. The important part is, that I have half days and a 3-day weekend to work on my own projects, as well as continuing to do freelance gigs on the side.

Base Income = Stability

The greatest advantage of having a part time job, is that I am no longer relying on client work. Not only does this allow me to be more picky about the projects/clients I take on, but it gives me breathing room to work on my own projects, such as the sim game I’m making (currently being tested for iPad).

Less Stress, Better Sleep

Besides giving me some freedom to choose, the part time work also takes away a great deal of stress. In the months leading up to taking the job, I was having increasing anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. All that improved greatly, now that there’s more stability.

Greater Ability to Focus

When I’m at work, I have found that I switch off the things that would otherwise occupy my mind, and just focus on the tasks at hand. This is good for two reasons. First, it gives me a mental break from obsessing over my many projects, and second, it’s a great mental exercise in focusing in on one specific project for a set amount of time, and then move on to the next one.

It also means that I am not checking my email, social media, reddit and news sites every 3 minutes, like I would when I spent my entire day in the home office.

The downside is a much lower pay rate than I’m used to, but I’m okay with that because…

Productivity Went Up

When I do have time off now, I have become more productive than ever, even though more than half my week is spent working for someone else. Part of it is added exercise from standing, walking, crouching, pulling and scrubbing (as opposed to just going for a walk, which was my only regular exercise before). But there is more to it than moving around more, namely a little voice in my head that keeps telling me to make the most of the time I do have. That voice was always there, but it has definitely gotten louder in the last three months.

People Skills Improved

I don’t think of myself as an introvert per se, but I am a terrible sales person. The pitch, in all its many forms, has always seemed awkward and uncomfortable to me (the same can be said for my dating days, and that whole game). When I sell cupcakes, the situation is fairly simple – the person in line is there because they want the product. I greet them and try to get a feel for their personality within a few seconds. Then, depending on what conclusion I reach, I may or may not engage them in either banter, a light compliment – I deliberately try to compliment people that stand out, to get better at it – or perhaps an up-sell of some sort.

By facing my demon multiple times a day, four days a week, I have gotten better at it. I was a bartender in my mid 20s, but I didn’t pick all these things up back then. Maybe I was too busy partying, maybe I just wasn’t ready to absorb. Either way, I quite enjoy having this part time job.

I’m hoping at some point to replace my current position with a better one, but have come to the conclusion that better doesn’t necessarily come down to just higher pay. Right now, I can walk to work, I have a lot of free time, and I don’t take my work home with me — except to eat it. That is worth a lot.

5 Ways to Promote Your Work

This post was originally written for artists, but its contents will apply to many freelancers as well. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, a designer or a band, all those seeking to make a living off their creative work must also take on the daunting task of self promotion. If you don’t, you will more than likely perish in the sea of other creatives working harder at getting seen than you.

Creating great work is essential, but in today’s market it is not enough. You need to be seen.

In the time I ran Another Passion, I interviewed many different artists and creative professionals, and I started to see patterns. Many don’t do a good job of marketing themselves because they either don’t know what they are doing, or have no interest in it (and thus either avoid it or do a half assed job). I’ve written about this topic before, but this time I will offer 5 specific suggestions.

The thing is, promotion should be part of your process no matter what artform you practice. It is not a bad thing, and you don’t have to “sell out” (which I define as pretending to be something you are not, in order to make a buck). But you do have to put in some time, effort and a little structure.

Here are 5 things you should be doing at the very least. Even if you only do three of them, but do them well, you will start building a stronger following of fans, clients and patrons.

1. Email, email, email!

Few things compare to the power of the email list. There are many good sources on how best to use them, and how not to. There are great services like MailChimp who make it easy and let you get started for free.

Email lists are important, because subscribers on your list are typically more than casually interested in what you’re doing. They want to be kept in the loop, and your job is to do just that. Let them know about upcoming events, progress on current projects or those sweet T-shirts you had made. It doesn’t take that much time to put together a decent email once a month to share the latest news – just keep it relevant and short.

2. Get on Twitter

If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Once you figure out how to use the service, it becomes an amazing tool for both collaboration, networking and marketing. For free. The key is how you approach it, and again the answer is to keep your fans and followers up to speed with what’s going on, share relevant links and stories that relate to the values you stand for. And most importantly, engage with your followers and follow those you admire as well as those who support you. Twitter is all about sharing, so retweet others when they share something relevant or interesting. Have fun with it!

Twitter might not suit your personality, but give it an honest try. You can find me there – I’m @theprint. And if you end up hating Twitter, try taking your efforts to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Etsy (find one or two that fits what you do and the people you want to connect with).

3. Attend Events

As awesome as the web is, nothing beats meeting people face to face. The hardest part is finding the right events to attend, meaning that not everything labeled “networking event” will be for your network.

If you’re in the performing arts, think of every performance as potential networking. You never know who’s watching and might be able to help you later, so try to stay open minded, honest and forthcoming.

Seek out conferences that center around what you do, go to launch parties, performances and premieres when others in your network invite you, or just invite someone you admire out for coffee. Get out there!

4. Share!

You may have already noticed that sharing is a recurring theme here. Sharing is key.

What are the thoughts behind your process? What would you like to achieve through your work? Sharing process, progress and pieces of material is a great way to keep your name fresh in people’s mind, and to assert yourself as an authority within your field.

If you’re a writer, share insights into your work, give away a short story for people to sample. If you’re a painter, show us your sketches as well as your final work. If you’re a game designer, give us a demo! You get the idea.

Being personable and engaging will get you attention, but in the end it’s your work that will make you money. Make sure your work is never far away, so those interested can check it out and get in touch. Which leads me to the final point…

5. Stop Reading and Start Producing

Maybe you’re reading this hoping for inspiration, or maybe you’re procrastinating. Almost all of us do this on a regular basis, instead of spending the time and energy on actually producing work. However, at the end of the day it’s the work that counts.

No amount of self-help books and how-to articles is going to make you successful. Only you and the effort you put in can do that, with help from your network – but you have to take the first step and lead the way. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or some angel patron to pave the way, start producing and shipping right now.

Hard Booting Life

I’m rebooting my life. Not one of those reboots where you’ve downloaded some update and now it has to restart to finalize. More along the lines of: everything froze and I had to hold the power button down until the whole thing shut off, and when I turned it back on, all I could do was hope everything would be okay! Technically, it’s still in the process of starting back up.

What happened? The short version is this: due to health and work issues, our household took a huge financial blow which sent us reeling and scrambling to pay even the most basic bills, like rent and utilities. The situation was so bad, there was no way I could chase down enough freelance work to cover the losses, and so I started looking for a job instead. As in one with a salary and benefits.

Three months into the job hunt, I had landed a few interviews and wasted a ton of time on companies with highly inefficient HR. I felt pretty hopeless at that point, but I had no choice but to power through until something paid off.

Eventually, a friend offered me a job at the coffee shop he’s managing. It’s not exactly a career job and the pay sucks, but it’s better than nothing and I was happy to take it. If nothing else, I hoped it would take the edge off the stress of not having any reliable income — sleepless nights and daily panic attacks are no fun – minimum wage plus tips is way better.

The entire process has made me rethink my priorities. Stability is more important to me now, than being my own boss. I’d love to start my own business again some day, but I would do it very differently today, and it would not be in the form of a freelance career. So here’s my new plan:

The current job is a starting point. My own personal Ground Zero. It allows me to barely scrape by, as opposed to bleeding out. The next step is to get a better job. I’m content making lattes and chai until the right match comes along, and when it does, I look forward to plunging in and getting productive. And paying off the debt I have accrued.

Maybe down the line somewhere, the perfect opportunity, idea or partnership will lead to a new entrepreneurial adventure. If not, it’s probably just because I’m happy doing whatever I end up working with. Besides, I will always keep doing creative side projects in my spare time. It can’t be helped. I must, MUST, create things and tell stories just to function as a human being. Without it, I become a dull boy.

My strength is also my weakness. All my life I’ve been producing content of some sort, as a writer, photographer, editor, even musician. My strength is knowing a lot about content creation. My weakness is not having a single, specific area in which I am the ultimate expert.

I’m a jack of all trades, but I have no regrets whatsoever in that regard. In fact, I think of it as my greatest asset. It’s just a matter of finding a position where my experience fits.

In case you’re looking to hire, or know someone who is, here are a few relevant links: