This blog introduces you to my special brand of BIKE. I show you how to find your Best self, access your Inner strength, tune in to your Killer instincts, and use your Expressive voice. It's inspiring, spiritual, quirky, and it's all in your head. It's about ATTITUDE, not exercise, though that might be a side benefit.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's a "brand" new world!

I run into a lot of brands in my business as a travel writer, but not the kind I'm looking for now. What I generally see might be located on an animal's hide, on the end of an iron stick, or maybe even burned into a log cabin wall. That's not the kind of brand I'm looking for these days.

These days, I'm looking for my own brand--and I certainly don't want it emblazoned on the bottom of my butt!

Thank goodness that's not necessary for you to be able to see who I am and know what I'm all about.

But sometimes, I'm not even sure.

As I work towards a successful freelance writing life, in addition to my speaking career that involves the self-development work we discuss here, it's become increasingly obvious to me that I need to begin the official branding process. I need to know who I really am and what I'm really all about so I can be as clear with my message as possible (And if I have more than one, I want to know how to best share that as well.). It's one thing to post on Twitter, sign up for groups on LinkedIn, and engage in networking conversations in person. But am I sending a clear message about what I do, what I represent?

I'm not 100 percent certain. So when I met Sherry Paprocki at this year's American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York this past April, we started talking about this very topic. It helped that she and her husband wrote a book on it. I picked up a copy, which Sherry gladly signed ("To a great time enhancing your brand," she wrote). Part of the "A Complete Idiot's Guide," it's a very practical book on learning how to brand yourself. In fact, that's what it's called, Branding Yourself.

And I have a lot of questions that I hope it will answer...What am I all about? What kind of message am I sharing with the world? Am I projecting an image that spells all of that out? When you look at me, or meet me, do you see what I want you to see?

You might be interested to know that I am, in fact, finding those answers inside of this book. Indirectly, of course. The authors don't know who I am, but they provide very specific thought-provoking questions (What am I known for? What do I want people to say about me at my retirement party? How many upcoming meetings do I have on my calendar with people who will enhance my professional abilities?) that are helping me to dissect who I am and how I can best project--and protect--that image with the world that is my audience.

The authors define a personal brand as "an authentic depiction of you who are, what skills you have developed, and what value you can bring to your work." Your brand helps you get noticed, "to stand out," they say.

But you want to make sure you're standing out in a good way, and they help you figure out how you can best do that, acknowledging you may need a little outside help: graphic designers, image consultants, media training, and other professional advice, guidance and expertise.

Because this is part of my BIKE philosophy already, I'm really enjoying the process of getting to know myself better. I've just completed Part 1 of the book, the part that helps define the word and how you can begin to define it for yourself. I've learned a lot but have three other parts of the book to complete before I'm closer to finding what I'm looking for. For now, I have, at least, written an intial branding statement. It goes like this:

"Hi, I'm Jackie Dishner, also known as The BIKE Lady. I'm an author and speaker who uses a special brand of BIKE to move your life forward."

I'm not sure if that's the final statement, but it's what I have to work with for now.

One of the next steps I need to take is to ask friends, family and colleagues what they think about me, my skills and personality. I can read through past testimonials to get some idea. But I'm going to consider this part of the work carefully. Who really knows me well enough to offer honest input? In the next two weeks, I'll pick five people to ask. I'm a little anxious about what they have to say. I think I know, but...

If you were doing your personal branding work today, do you know who you might ask for insights? Better yet, do you know what they'd say about you?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Just a short post today to wish all the dads out there a happy day!

Without a father of my own to celebrate--mine died when I was a toddler--I'll take the space here to acknowledge my son Rob (pictured left). He's a new dad. His baby girl Maysun (my first grandbaby, pictured center with her auntie, my daughter Celia) was born at the end of January this year. This is Rob's first Father's Day. And boy will he have a story to share for the rest of his life. I called him yesterday, and he said his family in Lake Tahoe already celebrated Father's Day--a week early! When I asked why, he told me, "They just got the day wrong."

Not really. Isn't every day a Father's Day for dads? ;-)

(Photo taken by Granny Jackie in February 2009, Lake Tahoe, Nev.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When is it okay to gossip?

At a women's meeting I attended a few weeks ago, we were discussing how we express love in our lives. One women mentioned gossip--that she was trying to eliminate it from her life. She'd been hanging around with women who gossiped, and she noticed she, too, got caught up in the storytelling. And she wanted out. So she said she was working on that, as a love gift to herself.

Even though she's not alone in the gossip world--studies show that 60 percent of us do it and that it might even be good for you--I think it's a good idea of hers to stop it.

And I could have used her message as a reminder this morning--before I gossiped about my ex on, of all things, Facebook. I write frequently about what happened to us in our lives, because it led me to my BIKE. Here, of course, I write about him with a purpose, not with the intention of spreading rumor or speaking ill of him to hurt him. I do it because there are lessons to learn.

But this morning, I wrote something that I shouldn't have. I said something that I shouldn't have--not so much the news that I shared (because it's good news for them) but what I said about it. It was unfair to him and the wife he has now. In order to learn my own lesson, I have to convict myself on that, because now it could cause a bit of trouble for my daughter whom I had to forewarn. It's a complicated relationship between the two of them, partly because of who he is and who he has become. And I wouldn't exactly call it love. But it's all she's got, and I hate to think that anything I might have written or said would get in the way of that. That's never my intention.

And, to be honest, what I said was spiteful. I do not like my ex. How he behaved toward us in the past (and in many instances, still today) is unforgiveable, in the sense that I could never consider being a friend to him, as he might think I should be.

It's awkward being in the same room with him because of how he behaves toward me, which, honestly, I think has a lot to do with his guilt. But that's for him to decipher. It's just the last time we met in person--at our daughter's house for a party--he extended his hand toward me...for a handshake?! It was as though we'd never met. Yet, we were married for 10 years. I'd rather be ignored. And just a little more than a year ago, his wife (with whom he was having the affair during my marriage to him) had me pinning a flower on his lapel at my daughter's wedding--because she said she couldn't do it right?! Things like that just make me cringe.

Because he's hurt me and my family in ways he will never understand, it makes things difficult whenever talk of him is inserted in conversations with others. But I have to continue working on rising above that. I have to work on letting that remaining anger go (And this is an admission I didn't even know I had to make. But there it is!). There have been moments when I thought I was past that, but as my family continues to grow, I realize that may not exactly be the case.

It's difficult to admit such things. It's difficult to admit when you're wrong. But I know I was, and I know that's exactly what I have to do if I'm ever to move forward and beyond the hurt. So when it is okay to gossip, you might ask. Thankfully, I realize, my one and only answer is this:

...when it's okay to be human.

Has there ever been a time in your life where gossip led to you feeling bad about yourself? What did you learn from that experience? Would you take a moment to share what happened here?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You can do it!

Last night, I met with a group of writers and public relations professionals to speak on a panel about freelancing. I had compiled a resource list on the handout for them. At the end, I included a list of questions they should ask themselves (based on my experience as a freelancer for the past 12 years plus). The questions work not only for freelancers, but independent workers, in general.

So I thought I'd share the questions here. I titled them,"Things You Oughta Know." And I meant, things you ought to know about yourself before undertaking the responsibility of self-employment. Since you have to market, market, market yourself like crazy in order to find, get and keep the work flowing, it's a good idea to know ahead of time that you will be able to do that--and more. So here's the list, with an explanation that I didn't include in the handout. Can you answer "yes" to them--even if you aren't a freelancer but still work for yourself?

_Do you know how to write a great pitch letter? (maybe in your case, it's a sales letter of some sort, or that elevator speech)
It's not that you have to know this on Day 1. You don't. But you must be willing to learn the craft of writing the pitch letter, selling yourself and/or your ideas to those who are willing to buy. Take a class if you need to, listen to podcasts on the subject, by the book. Whatever it takes, this is a skill you cannot ignore.

_Can you be nice to your fellow writers and public relations pros? (in your case, maybe it's your colleagues or peers)
People want you to play nice in their playground. Can you? Are you willing to share information with others, work with others, bend over backgrounds (sometimes) to make your editors/clients happy? Even though you work alone in your home office, teamwork is still a part of the game. There's a lot of back and forth sharing in the freelance world. It'll work in your favor to play along.

_Are you flexible?
Flexibility matters because this is a job for multi-taskers. You have to be able to research, pitch, write, edit, revise and start all over again--on a new topic, the next day. You have to be willing to learn the new technologies, because more and more clients want the blog posts and the video or audio feeds to go with the story. You need to be able to move from client to client at lightening speed. You need to be able survive the down times and get right back to work when it shows up on your desk, unannounced.

_Are you organized enough to develop a business plan and work it?
You must have a plan, even if it's just a single goal written down on a napkin. Without some kind of direction, you won't do much more than spin your wheels. You won't get anywhere. Plan to focus on attracting certain markets. Plan to write about a specific topic. Plan to make a certain amount of money by year-end. Whatever it is, plan for it. And then find a way to track your progress so you know you're getting there. Each year, or each quarter, or however often you think you should, revisit the goal and revise it as needed. Always look at ways in which you can increase your productivity, your income or your skills. That's what will keep you in business for the long haul.

_If you don't know how to manage the finances, would you be willing to outsource that?
Managing the finances is not my best skill set. So I hire out for that. I don't do my own taxes. I don't pick my own stocks. I don't want to send out my own invoices, but I do that for now. My goal is to hire a bookkeeper to handle that for me, too. I look forward to the day, because it's difficult to find time to run the financial mechanics of the office. And from discussions last night, about budgeting, insurance and retirement, I know I'm not the only one. So be willing to outsource. It'll save you a lot of headaches and help ensure that you're making the most out of what you earn.

_Can you say no to an assignment if it's not a good fit? (doesn't pay well, you're not interested in the topic, the PITA factor is too high)
PITA, by the way, means "pain in the ass." We all have nightmare clients, or editors who make unreasonable demands. Are you willing to say no to the next job they offer, even if means a loss of income? If you are, you'll soon realize that income can easily be replaced with a new and better client. And from a good point made last night, you can also outsource the jobs you've outgrown to other freelancers you know. That's expanding your business model, and it's a great idea. Because you're marketing regularly, you should be able to find someone you can trust to take on the job.

_Are you willing to take classes, learn new skills, and deliver your promises to editors and clients?
You must be willing to hone your skills and turn in your work on time--or at least inform your clients well ahead of time that you won't be able to, if that's the case. You'll find that clients will work with you. Everyone runs into difficulties that can alter a schedule or progress on the job. It makes sense to keep your clients informed. It's better for you, it's better for them. And they love it when they know you're growing your talents not just with the work you're doing for them, but on your own as well. Clients want quality. It's up to you to give it to them.

_Do you understand contract rights, copyright issues, and are you willing to seek advice when needed?
You need to understand the contracts that you sign. You can do that by visiting the U.S. Government's copyright site and also by checking in with a writer I know who blogs regularly about contracts and what's floating around these days. You can learn a lot from Erik Sherman. But he'll be the first to admit he's no intellectual capital lawyer, and you should consult one whenever you can. Or, join an organization that can steer you toward the proper legal advice, such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors, of which, I should note, I am a member.

_Do you know how to study a market?
This is important in order to pitch wisely and accurately. When you've chosen your markets, go through the past six issues. Read them cover to cover. Get a feel for how the headlines are written and what goes on the cover. Know what departments are freelance written. Check the masthead to make sure. Find out who's editing what section. Call if you're unsure. What kinds of stories are they running as features, front of the book and back of the book shorts? Where does the work you're interested in writing or want to pitch fit in? Read the editor's letter and the letters to the editor. What do the letters say about what they might like to read in the future? Look at the ads? Who are they targeting? You'll get solid clues about what the magazine might need from you if you'll take the time to flesh it out in such a review. If you do this for every market you want to target, you'll have a better chance of landing an assignment.

_Can you be a shameless self-promoter?
Can you talk about yourself to strangers without being annoying? Can you discuss the work that you do without overdoing it? Are you willing to pitch as many people as it takes before selling an idea? Are you online, using social media networking sites? Do you attend networking meetings in your hometown? Do you mingle in crowds or stand off to the side of the room? How willing are you to self-promote? You need to do all of this and more if you expect to be successful in this business. You are the best person to get your name out there. You can do it via your Web site, or your blog, but you also want to get in some real face time. People like to work with people that they like. Can you be that person?

_Will you be able to look beyond the daily rejection?
This is a business about rejection. Anyone who sells anything knows that. You want to grow your thick skin now, because you'll need it. If you can accept the fact that this is a business full of ideas and that yours won't alway be the right ones for that one person you targeted, but they might be right for someone else, you'll be better off. Be willing to submit and resubmit as many times as it takes, without taking the rejection personally. It's not you; it's the business.

_Can you make the most out of an interview and repurpose the material?
When you get that assignment, and you do the interview, be sure to make the most out of the time you'll spend with your source. Ask questions beyond the story you're there for. Find out where the subject went to college. Ask what else he's interested in? Find out about interesting hobbies he's involved in. While you're there, ask what other stories he might have to share besides the one you're there for. Find out as much as you can and then some, so that when you leave the room, you have enough information to finish the story you've been assigned but also have information to pitch other stories as well. Make the most of every interview you secure, and you'll wind up earning more than you expected.

_Will you be able to withstand the isolation of the freelance life?
You may not be a joiner just yet, but before you know it, you'll want to be. Working out of a home office--without anyone else present--can be a lonely experience. You'll want to find ways to get out, reasons to leave, people to see and discuss business with. Whether you do that online, in person, or over the phone, it doesn't matter. But you'll need outlets like this in order to stay motivated and healthy. Go to networking events, attend association meetings, join breakfast clubs. Whatever it takes, and whatever you're comfortable with, be sure to find ways to leave the office/work behind and socialize with other people.

_Are you aware that writing for free is not a business model or marketing plan?
I ended with this question for one very important reason: too many writers are too willing to write for free, or for very low pay. This is a practice that has to stop if that writer expects to make a living from a writing career. And let me make this clear. I could not be in business to provide content for other people unless I was being paid. A business must earn money in order to stay in business. Be a business that earns money. Don't work for free. It's not worth it, no matter how much "exposure" you are promised. If you're going to write free for anyone, write for yourself and start a blog.

You can do it!

(Photo of the Running Elvis taken by Jackie Dishner, Las Vegas)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

When was the last time you challenged yourself?

It's time for...

Question of the Day!

When was the last time you challenged yourself to push it to the limits?

That's about to happen in my life as I start off the summer with a Query Challenge competition. Members of take on this challenge every summer--and sometimes a few other times during the year. It's where we break up into groups of 10 or more writers and commit to writing as many pitches as possible during the eight weeks that the contest lasts.

We get points for pitching (introducing ourselves and/or submitting ideas to editors) and points for scoring assignments. It's a lot of fun, can be a lot of pressure (especially for the newbies), and it's very high energy. I'm co-captain of my team (QC5) and will be spearheading the motivation. My team consists of some international journalists, one who lives in India and one who lives in Tokyo. I find that very interesting. It's the first time I've ever been on a team where there was global participation. Cool!

We begin on Monday, ending the first week in August. I'm hoping to get out 20 pitches a week. One writer wants to double her totals every week throughout the entire competition, which I think is amazing, considering that she wants to begin with 20. Yikes! Typically, you can maintain a fair amount of work if you engage in sending out five pitches a week on a regular basis. Of course, they have to be targeted pitches. So, 20 to me is a rather high number in and of itself. Going any higher is astronomical. But, the end result from this competition is that the writers get work. They really do. And that's what it's all about--marketing.

So I'm looking forward to what's ahead.

How about you? What are you challenging yourself to do--or do more of--this summer?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stepping in the right direction

When you can admit you've wronged either yourself or others, it's a big step in the right direction. In recovery programs, they might call this Step 1--admitting you have a problem.

That's what I was thinking this morning when I read this article published online about the Octomom. Nadya Suleman, the California woman who recently gave birth to eight babies, even though she already had six other children living at home, finally came clean. She admitted to the press that she regretted her decision to have more children.

It's a big step. It's a huge thing to say. It's not exactly something a mother should feel. But c'mon! The woman put herself in a world of chaos by bringing these children into the world the way she did--without financial support, without a home that was really hers--or big enough to house such a large family--without a job. That doesn't even include that the pregancies were, in and of themselves, a danger to her and the babies. And the list goes on. She's been paying for all of it ever since, but not financially. Although she just signed a deal with some British company to do a reality show, I have to wonder: Is that the best solution? Just look at what's happening with the oversized family on the TV show, "Jon & Kate Plus Eight," and you'll see that might not be the healthiest one.

Apparently, now that the children are all living at home with her, she is beginning to accept reality. I don't know what's in store for her next, other than this so-called show to come. It's not even my business. But I also have a confession: I felt a little relief for her after reading this report today.

One of the hardest things we can do is admit when we are wrong. But when we do, that's when we begin to correct, change, or otherwise deal with whatever we did that's keeping us stuck in a more effective manner.

I am happy to hear she took this step.

When you live in denial, you react instead of take action. You've seen proof of that as the Octomom--the unfortunate nickname bestowed upon her by the press--has fired nannies, publically blasted her parents, and destroyed relationships with people who could have been a big help to her.

Perhaps now she will begin taking positive steps that will help her raise all 14 of her children in a more healthy and productive environment. Isn't that the most important thing?

What do you think? Have you ever been involved in something that required you to make a confession before you could move on? What happened after you took that first step?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Time to celebrate

Just a quick post today to say the Blogathon has ended. To my followers and regular readers, thanks so much for visiting us in May. We had a great time! To my fellow blogathoners, congratulations!

I'll be leaving the full list of participants up for the next month or two. It's on the right-hand side of this page, under the heading, May Blogathon 2009. Scroll down and then click on any of those names to visit the sites. There are a lot of us to explore, but it could be worth the effort, and I hope you'll give it a go.

If you're new today and unfamiliar with what's been happening here, we vowed to post once a day for the Month of May. A few of us managed to make that happen. Others were just getting started with new blogs and were able to gain a new momentum they either hadn't had before or didn't know was possible. It's been a fun exercise.

Now it's time to celebrate. We're having a Twitter wrap-up party this morning. If you want to join us, follow us at #MayBlog2, beginning at around 8:30 a.m., PST, today.

We'll resume regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

See you then!