Four things I wish Twitter had rules against

1 Jul

What a happy whale! (For a failure.)

I enjoy Twitter. I’m glad people who aren’t complete spammers have decided to follow me. Because of this, and because I’ve seen my fair share of nincompoopish tweets, I try to ensure my tweets typically include at least one of the following:

  • Humor: I’d say I’m 50/50 here to my readers. I’m definitely running more like 90/10 for how many of my own tweets I’ve found hilarious, though. So that’s a win. Sort of.
  • Information: Honestly, I don’t do this very much. By the time I read someone else’s tweet with information like “Hey, Woot is selling the Kindle for $150,” it’s been sold out for at least 2 hours.
  • A Named Recipient: The conversations I have on Twitter are the most enjoyable, I think. A simple @ can make or break someone’s day. I try only to practice the former. Sometimes I go after @reagent though. But that’s only because his smart ass deserves it.
  • A Link to Something Awesome: A couple times, I’ve shared a link that I found cool and, magically, other people found it equally cool, as well. Whenever I’m turned onto awesome things that I didn’t know existed, it makes me feel happy that the Internet exists. Mostly because there are so many MORE times when I click on a link someone has shared (or re-shared, or re-re-shared) only to be disappointed.
  • Images: People like pictures. I sure do! (Think of me saying that “shore” instead of “shrr” — wait, don’t. Damnit.) As long as they’re not pictures of traffic.

Which leads me to the point of this little post. Here are four things I wish the Twitter community wouldn’t allow.

  1. Taking pictures of traffic. Why must you tweet about congestion on the roadways? I know you’re stuck in traffic. I might be, too. But while I’m trying to distract myself, I don’t want to be reminded of where I’m at! I want to escape, man! Give me a break. (The only acceptable picture of traffic is when you are capturing a scene that could plausibly be on America’s Funniest Home Videos — like a man whose comb over is blowing in the wind while he proudly drives a convertible that’s too small for him. Arguably this isn’t a picture of traffic, though, but, instead, of something universally laughable.)
  2. Philosophical and inspirational sayings. Just cool it, Socrates.
  3. “That is all.” When I run across someone who says something — which almost ALWAYS is either (a) a rant about something or (b) a praise about someone — and then closes with “that is all,” I just imagine the tweeter smiling smugly and thinking, “Boy, I really said everything I needed to say in those 140 characters. Punctuating my statement with ‘That is all’ really drives home how succinctly I [ranted or praised] in that tweet.”  Cut it out already. And no “kthnxbye” substitutes allowed, either.
  4. Re-tweeting references to yourself. If you’re super popular and people are tweeting about you and the amazing things you’re doing, and then you re-tweet it, your amazingness factor degrades. How could it not? Imagine if you were talking to someone and tried to pull that narcissistic tomfoolery. It would go like this:
    • P1:  Hey, I just donated $20 to the Sweet Cupcake fund to save all the children on Earth.
    • P2:  That’s awesome! Keep up the great work!
    • P1:  That IS awesome! I WILL keep up the great work!
    • P2:  ….

And since I’ve written this, if you’re compelled to follow me on Twitter, I demand you hold me to the aforementioned characteristics I attempt to include in my tweets and the four crucial faux pas I hope never to include. Really, it’s all our duties as Twitter users to keep the community as free of lame as possible.

For the love of acronyms like SBDC, HSA/HDHP, and SMLLC

21 Jun

one of life's absolutes

Since deciding to take what has been very part-time, freelance writing work over the past many years and make it my full-time job, I’ve been focusing exclusively on expanding my client base. And, so far, it’s working. Which is SO AWESOME THAT I AM ALMOST AT A LOSS FOR WORDS. Which would, if that happened more often, render me rather useless as a copywriter.

So now that I have agreements in place, I am starting to turn my attention to those very important details that go along with running my company — most notably, making sure I’m straight on taxes and insurance.  Hooray!

To that end, I went to the library and bought several books and began reading them ravenously when I wasn’t at meetings… or when I was waiting for people to show up to meetings… or after meetings while I was enjoying the freedom of NOT having to “go back to the office.” Then I started asking people who own small companies like mine to tell me intimate details about how they’re set up. Surprisingly, I found that people were more than willing to help. Also surprising was how overwhelming it can be; I’d been so focused on getting work rolling in that when I decided “Ok, it’s time to get my ‘paperwork’ in order,” I wasn’t sure what was *right* for me and my business.

So, this week has been a pleasant crash course in several acronyms that I had never heard before. Thanks to some friendly young entrepreneurs like John Feminella of Distilled Brilliance, Nick Whitmoyer of whitmoyer.com, David Panarelli of OpentheWindow, and Josh Sundquist of … well … himself, I learned of the amazing resources available **for free** through the SBDC, that I could push some of my earnings to a tax-free savings account AND simultaneously take care of myself through an HSA/HDHP, and avoid filing tons of unnecessary paperwork while I’m still the sole employee of stephaniehay.com by setting myself up as an SMLLC.

These are three things that I expect other individuals might find valuable after they, like me, decide to take the plunge into self employment. So here’s more about what I’ve learned:

SBDC: Office of Small Business Development Centers, Entrepreneurial Development

Through the SBA, pro bono resources are made available to people who, like me, are starting their own businesses. I met with a counselor one afternoon, for free, for an hour, to ask him all sorts of questions that I’ve been asking myself, from tax questions to seemingly benign ones, like “Does it really matter that I’m a woman-owned business to anyone outside of the government?” (His answer: Not really.) He asked me lots of questions, too, and gave me recommendations (not directives) based on my answers to his questions. It was an interactive, informative, and comfortable discussion. This week, I’ll be meeting with a CPA and a lawyer. Each will review the choices I’ve made so far and the contractual documents I’ve got in place… then tell me if I need to change anything given my short- and medium-term goals. Sweet!

HSA/HDHP: Health Savings Account-Qualified, High-Deductible Health Insurance Plan

Here’s the bottom line: I am healthy, active, and financially conservative. So I’ll get a high deductible health insurance plan through someone like CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, then set up a health savings account. When I get paid by clients, I’ll push some of that payment to my HSA. Then, when I have to visit a doctor and the person at the front desk on my way out tells me how much my visit costs, I shall triumphantly hand over my HSA card and bingo bango, I’m paid using pre-tax dollars from my earnings. “Pre-tax” you say?  Yes!  The government doesn’t tax money you’ve pushed throughout the year to your HSA. That means that although I’ll have less money coming into my pocket each time I get paid, I’ll have MORE money that isn’t being taxed. Rad!

SMLLC: Single-Member Limited Liability Company

Once I grow beyond my own capacity and have the chance to hire Bronwen Taylor to be my chief creative writer, thereby continuing to expand my business, I will (obviously) be beyond my current single employee status. But, until then, I can simply file the one tax document at the end of the year (which I have been doing up until now) PLUS a Schedule C.  Then I’m done.  Though, really, when I say “I” in those statements, I’m really referring to Craig Alden, the greatest investment advisor and tax return guy on the planet. I’ll file taxes each month when I get paid to lesson the blow at the end of the year, and I still have an Employee Identification Number (EIN – acronyms everywhere!) and am awaiting my state-recognized designation as an LLC so I can set up a second bank account that’s quite separate from my personal account. How official!

It’s been a thrilling few weeks so far to be making this official after years of doing it part-time. I hope I haven’t misrepresented anything, but if I have, please let me know.. and forgive me, I’m still relatively new at this.

Hey, Relationships Really *Are* Amazing!

4 Jun

Oh, yes please!

Not to get all mushy, but I still have a birthday card that my late grandmother gave me a long time ago. It’s from 1993. It tells me to cherish my youth and value my friendships. There’s a bit about how I’ll grow old faster than I’ll know, and how relationships will mean everything.

At the time, I couldn’t have known how true those words would be in my life. Especially because I was feuding with someone named Kara Livoti who shared my same birthday — and we were fighting about whose party was going to be better (so that our mutual friends would have to choose a side). It was the rural Ohio version of Mean Girls, maybe… the way I remember it, anyway. Regardless, I was pretty sure friends were overrated at that point.

About that same time, my oldest brother Alex told me that if I acted like a brat, I’d never have any friends. That memory is vivid because even though I thought he was being a jerk by yelling at me, I knew he was right. I decided at that point to be nice to people just to prove Alex wrong. I’m going to have more friends than anyone else ever in the history of Earth.

When I turned 30 a couple weeks ago, I sat back and thought about how all these great people came from long distances to celebrate with me at my (rained out) BBQ. Now that I’m (re)launching my business, colleagues and clients and friends from recent times to years ago are sending me leads and connecting me with new opportunities to grow. My closest friend from fourth grade remains among my closest friends today. People I’ve only met online are helping me succeed. A diving teammate (now in Chicago) and grad school buddy (now in Austin) are meeting me back at Ohio U in July to have a beer and catch up for a couple days. I had lunch with a former client today and we’ll be working together again starting next week. I hug former colleagues when I see them and genuinely miss working with them. My first supervisor out of grad school, who is among my dearest friends today, just invited me to spend a week with her in Costa Rica next July (um, ok).

So I know these sorts of relationships in life are only possible because I gave of myself and was open to them. And that what I get from real relationships is way more warm and awesome feeling than just getting satisfaction from showing up Alex. But really, I’ve messed up A LOT in learning how to interact, value, say “no,” and move forward with relationships. And because of it, I already feel incredibly fortunate to realize that my youth and early adulthood have been true gifts that I’ll cherish for decades as my relationships grow and expand, as well.

Oh, and btw, Kara and I posted on each other’s Facebook walls wishing each other a Happy Birthday this year. Because now we understood that celebrating each other is way better than competing with each other. (Still, though, I bet my party was better than hers.)

The Power of Volunteering

21 May

Here’s an article I wrote for FullBleed a few weeks back; after TEDxPotomac inspired so many people yesterday, I felt compelled to capture it in my personal journal here.

When I met Patrick Smith of Market Hardware last November at BarCamp DC, I hardly realized how inspired I’d become by just volunteering my free time to work on a project he envisioned. After all, I already very happily volunteer with FullBleed helping to solicit stories and edit articles for the ADCMW community. And, with other responsibilities on my plate outside my day job, I was a bit skeptical that I had more time to give.

But, as a fan of TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design — I thought it could be fun to be part of a local version, which Patrick was beginning to plan, called TEDxPotomac. So, when he asked if anyone would be interested in volunteering, I stepped forward, and it’s proved to be such a fulfilling endeavor.

Now, after eight months and hundreds of hours of planning among passionate volunteers and supporters alike, we’re about to see the fruits of our labors distilled in a line-up of truly engaging presenters who embody our theme, “Beyond Politics: Innovation, Inspiration, and Insight.” With so many events in DC geared toward specific industries or issues, it’s refreshing to be an integral part of a more wide-spanning program whose talks range from environmental impact to electronic music, from architecture to the Encyclopedia of Life, and from cupcakes to Craigslist.

We’ve got something for everyone out there, and as a non-profit, it feels great to have all proceeds going just to host the event on May 20. People everywhere WANT to be a part of something like this, so the support for volunteers has been overwhelming. We sold out our first round of tickets in fewer than 24 hours, and now we’re working on the details to be sure folks can watch the presentations live via webcast.

One thing that TED has touted successfully since its inception is “The Power of Ideas,” which personally has made a substantial impact on me. I’ve been told — and have learned — that how we choose to spend our time is one of the most important decisions we make everyday. When you decide to volunteer your time helping other people DO or ACHIEVE something, you’re literally giving of yourself something so precious that it can’t be replaced. You’re saying, “Yep, this is something I’m willing to give because …” it makes an impact, or it feels good, or it fulfills some other goal you find joy in achieving. The idea behind the volunteering generates some personal satisfaction, and to be a part of that (when you find those opportunities) can be energizing. And, if you’re associated with good people, the impact is genuinely appreciated.

It’s a good thing we all have different ideas about what’s important to us individually, because that means collectively, we have the potential volunteering power to make a lot of positive impact. Which is just super cool.

If you want to learn more about volunteering opportunities in the DC area, check out some of the following resources:

A Few Shots from Vacation

19 May

Vacation in the Pacific Northwest way amazing. I loved Seattle. I loved Portland. I loved hanging out with friends in San Francisco. I loved the views of huge clouds and inspiring sunsets. I loved looking at the stars from the dock of my aunt and uncle’s place. I loved the friendly people. I loved sharing it with Mig.

And Moving On…

21 Apr

a PM hat. probably.

For the past year(ish), I’ve been spending my weekdays (and evenings) wearing several hats as a consultant — business development exec, cold caller, project manager, user experience lead, business analyst, technical writer, proposal writer, copywriter, editor, recruiter, and process queen. Before this job, I didn’t know which of those hats fit my head nicely. Especially because I have a weirdly small head. But, now I do, to a greater degree anyway.

Sadly, that chapter is closing without the outcome I had dreamed a year ago when I accepted the newly-created position within the five-person team I joined. Recently, I was asked to take on some work at a client site that’s a 1.5-hour commute one way. I had to make a tough decision. This is where the growing company was headed, and I needed to either play or get off the field.

If I loved the work required in that position or really wanted to be a part of the company’s direction, I would have pushed my volunteering, teaching aerobics, or personal training work to the back burner and loaded up on tons of audiobooks for the hellish commutes. But the writing was on the wall — my heart wasn’t in it. And luckily my boss is cool enough to recognize that (potentially before I did) and work with me to define a smooth exit plan.

It’s a bummer to recognize you have to leave things you either still love or really want to still love. The first time I ever really experienced it was about 10 years ago when I quit competitive diving as a junior in college. I decided not to spend another season with 20+ strong women who were working with me to earn athletic glory for ourselves and the team. I walked away from my scholarship and the last year of eligibility, because I just wasn’t finding much joy in it anymore. At that time, it was the most difficult decision I’d ever made because it touched on financial issues, emotional ones, and those social ones that come from “abandoning” your team. But it was the *right* decision for me. And, about six months later, I earned an assistantship, which paid for grad school, and I took on a head coaching job getting back into gymnastics, which gave me an entirely new perspective on what it means to be a mentor and friend. Wouldn’t change a thing.

So, as I now begin getting referrals from friends and colleagues while also carefully searching job postings out there, I’m imagining what I *think* a joyful professional life to complement my personal life involves five or ten years from now, and I’m defining the next steps likely to get me there. But I’m taking my time.  Especially because I’m spending 10 days on the West Coast pretty soon. Introspection while in Oregon wine country is likely just the medicine I need…

Why I Love My Book Club

21 Mar

This month’s selection — Charles Bukowski’s Women — underscores why the book club I established last year with a few incredible women continues to be enjoyable. For starters, we’re willing to read a book like Charles Bukowski’s Women.

But, perhaps more importantly, we’ll all have very different viewpoints of what the author was trying to communicate, and we’ll engage in respectful, lively discussion over good wine and delicious food.

The women who will discuss Women tonight come from all walks of life spanning three decades of age differences.  The books we individually select while rotating through our month to lead discussion are as different as can be — from Changing Places (about the culture and times of 1960’s Berkeley and Great Britain) to The Road (about some devastating, post-apocalyptic future world).

And that’s why I love my book club.  Because I know that once a month, I’ll get to read some new prose while getting a peek at the book chooser’s (at least literary) personality, and that peek can be very illuminating.  As can the reactions other book club ladies experience.  The book, likewise, can be enlightening.  Or not.  But regardless, it’s really a spectacular way to close a weekend.