Monday, 15 December 2008

Working For Yourself & The Gender Difference: How Are Men And Women Different In Doing Their Own Thing?

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer based in Seattle. She is the author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, and My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire. She writes a weekly column for and is a freelance copywriter.
Michelle and I did a two-way interview on working for yourself and that much talked about Gender Difference: how are men and women different when it comes to working for themselves?

My interview with Michelle is below, and you can read my own answers in this transatlantic simulateous cross-post (!) here at Michelle’s blog

Q. Do you think men and women are driven by different factors in business?

I’ve written a lot of articles about men and women in business and in the workplace, and I hear over and over again that, in general, women are much more relationship focused in their careers than men are. That’s not to say that men are cold-hearted bastards on the job or women are sappy, weepy earth mothers who run around hugging everyone they do business with. It’s just that women are more likely than men to feel the need to establish some sort of bond with the people they do business with; men are better at playing “strictly business.”

This need to connect with, like, and be liked by our customers and clients hurts women when we worry about charging what we’re worth, raising our rates, or demanding the contract terms we know we deserve because we’re afraid of offending someone. In my new book, I definitely encourage women (and men) to get over this and remember that they’re a businessperson first and foremost. If you make friends along the way, great, but if you’re only in business to make friends, you’re not going be nearly as effective a businessperson (or as well paid) as you could be.
Q. What qualities do you think women bring to doing their own thing in business?

The flip side of the above is that women use relationship-building to their advantage in business. We’re comfortable shooting the breeze and establishing a personal rapport with clients. We want to get to know them and have a bit more of a dialog with them than “Here are the deliverables and here is my invoice.” So we ask how their holiday was or send them a link to an article we read that we think they would like, but not in a pesky, stalkerly way. We put just enough of a personal touch on our communications with clients that they get to know us as people, which as long as we’re interesting and pleasant enough, usually works to our advantage. When a client likes you as a person, they’re that much more likely to give you repeat business and referrals, not to mention go to bat for you within their own firm -- say, if you’ve asked for a rate increase.

Q. Do you think women are more suited to a freelance-life; juggling work and home; motivating themselves?

I don’t think women are any better suited than men, though we’re certainly masters at multitasking and accommodating others. Since juggling multiple projects or assignments and remaining flexible is key for freelancers, those qualities do make for a more successful freelancer.

Q. What’s the toughest thing about working for yourself?

I’ve gotten used to cracking my own whip and I actually enjoy working by myself all day, but those are two of the hardest things for many new (and veteran) new freelancers. For me, the toughies are stepping away from the computer at the end of the day (there’s always more to do!) and remaining calm each time my health insurance company raises my rates by 35 percent (this is a U.S. thing).

Q. What’s the best bit about working for yourself?

The autonomy: making your own schedule, picking your own projects and colleagues, and deciding when it’s time you got a raise.
Q. What personal attributes have given you success?

My flexibility, because deadlines and project specs do change all the time. On the flip side, I’m not so flexible that I don’t know when to put my foot down when a client’s making unreasonable demands. I have no problem diplomatically negotiating for the terms and pay I think are fair. I’m also somewhat of a perfectionist and detail freak. This comes in handy when it comes to recordkeeping as well as impressing clients. No one likes a sloppy, disorganized freelancer. In addition, I’m a tireless networker. And the more people you know, the more opportunities for work that you’ll find.

Q. What is your single most important survival tip for freelancers, people taking the leap to go it alone?

Don’t be a diva. Give the client what they asked for and do a kickass job. In fact, give them better than what they asked for. Your reputation is everything and can lead to many referrals. Also, while it’s always important to diversify your clientele (with no client comprising more than 30 percent of your income), it’s doubly important in this crappy economy. Make sure you keep a toe in at least two or three different industries, and stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies. (For example, writers need to work for the web and other digital media, as well as print.) Also, the more skills you have to offer clients, the more employable you’ll be. (The web designer who can also project manage and supervise a team is that much more valuable to clients.)

Tomorrow, I’ll post up part two of my interview with Michelle, where we talk about her catalyst for taking the leap and how she juggles her working life.

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