alternative work environments


Written by Lori Thiessen

Late December seems a natural time to reflect on the past year and plan for the one ahead.

For me, this past year was filled with quite a few major events some of which were pleasant and some of which were not.

On the business-side of things, I learned some valuable lessons.

1. Make sure that you have the right equipment and that you can really use it.

I tried working with an open source wordprocessing program but found that I needed to go to Microsoft Office after all, just for ease of transferring files to clients. I still do some stuff on the open source program because there are some things that it does better than Microsoft.

I upgraded to a Blackberry Curve from a cell phone, but I didn’t fully take into account how much adjustment the upgrade would require from me, a techno-twerp.

I encountered a couple of embarrassing situations based simply on the fact that I couldn’t fully operate the dang thing! So guess what I’ve been reading lately? That’s right, the user’s manual. Not that it has been much help. It’s all down to playing around on it and practice.

2. Charging enough and sufficiently for your time.

Big learning curve  for me. I found that I’ve been totally underestimating the amount of time jobs take me.  In a few cases, I’ve had to juggle stuff around or cancel other things to accommodate the schedule I’d agreed to with the client.  In future, I’ll estimate the time I think a job will take me then double it.

I’ve also been charging way too little for my time. Being self-employeed means not having a regular, hourly wage. To many, this would seem obvious.  I thought so too. But the real proof was in the pudding, as they say.

I felt terribly greedy about charging what other people had been suggesting. Also, I am just starting out in this biz so I felt I couldn’t charge as much as others with greater experience.  The result was I didn’t charge nearly enough for my time or present skill set. My income for this year is pitiful, to say the least.

However, there is a way to make a living without pricing yourself out of the market. It just takes trial and error to find that way. Ask your coffee shop office colleagues about their consulting experiences. Review what has happened during the past year.

Then …

3. Write out your findings and conclusions.

I’m now in a process of writing a policies manual for my business. It may sound kind of silly for a one person operation, but as a local business consultant said, “It doesn’t count if it isn’t written down.” When I say manual, I really mean a couple of pages.

The upshot is: I don’t want to have to remember all this stuff all the time. By establishing standards for how my business operates,  I can provide better and more consistent service to all of my clients.  The manual will grow as the business grows and I acquire more experience.

The great thing is eventually I won’t have to re-invent the wheel every time.  With luck, the process of providing excellent service will become easier and better for me and my clients.

Q: What valuable business lesson have you learned this year?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

It’s that time of year again, my friends and to help you with some creative gift-giving ideas for your cafe commuter.

From one of my favourite companies, Hammacher Schlemmer comes The Portable Handheld Scanner.  It can scan any type of paper up to a maximum of 8.5 inches high by 50 inches long. For the entrepreneur or remote worker who needs to keep track of things like receipts, business cards, etc. it’s a dandy little item. Price $119.95 USD

The Portable Handheld Scanner

According to Gizmodo, the best USB to  impress the heck out of your uber-geek cafe commuter is the Cosair Flash Voyager 128 GB. It’s bigger and faster than any other drive out there apparently. At $400 USD, it should be. If you really want to buy this for a special someone you can check out Amazon.com

Corsair Flash Voyager 128 GB

ThinkGeek has done it again! For the brave of heart, or simply Braveheart cafe commuter in your life, a Utilikilt is just the answer.  The Utilikilt is made of a polycotton blend (strong yet soft to the touch) and has lots of pockets for storing all of your cafe commuter necessities, like a cell phone plus your portable coffee mug. This might piece of multi-pocketed splendor is priced at $139.99USD.

The Utilikilt from ThinkGeek

Since all of these gifts are insanely expensive, I suggest that you just take your cafe commuter out for coffee, crack open your laptop or smartphone and show him/her all the wonderful things you would buy them if there wasn’t a recession on.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

Do you want to get an MBA-type education without spending the time and money? Here in Vancouver, BC, there is a company helping you to do just that.

Make It Business has spear-headed business reading groups around the Lower Mainland focusing on the leading business books of today.

Partnering with Blenz Coffee to provide the meeting space, Make It Business wants to facilitate not only getting people to read and discuss business books but to foster networking and mentoring opportunities for local business people.

For cafe commuters, this book club fits well with our career and lifestyles whether you are a small entrepreneur or working for a company.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find time to read those business books you’ve been meaning to read. Knowing that you are expected to read and discuss the book with a group of interesting and interested people could be that motivating factor you’ve been missing.

You can choose the group you want to be with based on your business interests or areas in which you want to be better informed (e.g. career development, business management, financial management, etc.). The Make It Business website lists a number of business books to choose from.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem to be confidences or sides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profound thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart. ”

You might also say that a good business person is a good reader.

Q: Name a business book that has influenced you the most and share with us why.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

As we Vancouverites are now just 100 days away from the 2010 Winter Olympics, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve been witnessing.

Since about March or April 2009, I’ve been hearing people talking about prepping for the huge influx of people and activity in our relatively small, sea-side city. From what I’ve heard, I have a feeling that there will be very few Vancouverites left to welcome the world when they come and very few people to tend to the needs of the world — at least in the downtown core.

Apparently, there has been a huge scramble over people booking holidays in January.  I overheard a couple of Vancouver Public Library workers who were discussing the ‘challenge’ of trying to accommodate the above-average number of vacation requests for January.

The other conversation I’ve been hearing with great frequency is working from home. Remote working has suddenly become an intense topic of conversation for both workers and managers alike in Vancouver.

For those of you who don’t know the geography of Vancouver, please allow me to draw you a brief picture. It’s a beautiful city bounded on one side by the sea and by three sides by mountains. The downtown core (the financial district) is made up of relatively narrow streets with every available square inch dedicated to either skyscrapers or pay parking.

Driving into Vancouver is a nightmare at the best of times and the price to park in downtown Vancouver verges on daylight robbery. Taking transit can be fraught with frustration even if you know the buses/trains/sea bus you need to take because they run late, or break down constantly or not at all if the bus driver calls in sick.  The buses and trains are generally packed beyond a safe capacity at peak commuter hours. Add in the grey rain tiddling down at a steady, depressing rate and you have a situation irritating enough to make a saint swear.

So it only makes sense to stay at home with a hot cup of tea, hovering over a nice toasty warm computer. It seems to me that a lot of companies who have offices in the downtown core or nearby will be scrambling in November and December to put remote working plans in place.

However, not everybody’s work will allow for this. A friend of mine has quite a successful counselling practice located in uptown Vancouver.  She received a notice from either the building management company where her office is located or the local business association advising people to bug out during the Olympics or at least be nice to the Olympic tourists if they have to be in the downtown core to conduct business.

All this panic about being anywhere else but the office, especially an office downtown, has me thinking.

Will the Olympics serve as the catalyst to change how business is done in Vancouver? Will Vancouver be in the vanguard of business centres to make remote working the normal way to conduct business rather than just a novelty? Or will the Olympics give the Vancouver business community the boost it needs to catch up to places like San Francisco where the trend started in the first place or London, UK where remote working seems to have caught on like wildfire?

What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save you a seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

These days I sometimes wonder if I exist in the ‘real’ world because so much of my life and the lives of those with whom I am in contact take place online, in virtual reality. So it is a no-brainer to look seriously at personal branding in the online world.

Step 1 – Google Your Name

Sometimes your personal branding has already been done and maybe not by you. Check and see what’s out there about you. If there is anything that you are not entirely proud of, see about getting the info removed. If you’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo album and it’s not something you want a client to see, then untag yourself. There are software programs available to remove anything you don’t want online anymore.  Check out this Consumers Report on 5 of these programs.

Step 2 – Choose Your Social Media

With the oodles of different sites out there, it can be difficult to choose. I would urge you to be selective. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Time management – how many sites can you realistically update on a regular basis? There is a site called krunchd.com which will help you manage your online life, social media included.
  • Work vs. Personal – are you using the social media sites mostly for business or pleasure? Whatever the answer, err on the side of caution and keep all of your online communications g-rated and THINK before you hit that send button.
  • Specialization – the world of social media is so big now that it is important to choose your niche and stick to it. This is the best way to become an expert in your industry and to network well within your industry.
  • Security and Privacy – how secure is your information on any given site? This is a particularly thorny issue at the moment given the recent hacker attacks on Facebook, though given the low level of public response  most people seem to be largely unconcerned.

I would suggest that LinkedIn.com and Facebook are good ‘foundation’ sites for your online presence. Personally, I’m not that keen about Twitter, though I realize that many people feel that life without Twitter is akin to life without breathing. If you use Twitter, make sure that you keep your tweets professional and g-rated.  People are rapidly becoming re-acquainted with the phrase “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Just because you can say something to the entire world, doesn’t mean you should.

Step 3 – Words and Images

The key here is, you guessed it, professionalism. The photo you have up on any social media site should reflect the image you want to create. After all, clients or potential employers will likely be Googling you to get a first impression of you. Make it count.

Now I haven’t followed this advice for my own Facebook page. I rarely have a picture of myself up there. I use ‘masks’ of various sorts.  Frankly, I don’t like any photos of me taken in the last few years, and to be truthful, I have this paranoid notion that someone will download my image and steal my identity.  After having taking my paranoia in hand, I will have a decent photo of me taken and put up on my Facebook page in the near future.

As for words, well, I think your profile should reflect the best of who you are. You may want to put in your mission statement, your interests and perhaps even state what your values are. But most of all sound like yourself.

I’ve broken, oh, I don’t know how many blogging rules by using large words, using archaic words, writing longish posts and incorporating some esoteric references in them. BUT it is a reflection of who I am and my wide-ranging interests. If we all write alike, then we all sound alike.

First and foremost, personal branding is about self-awareness. Resist the temptation to brand yourself into a clone of someone else. I know a lot of secrets of success books would like us to think that success is simply a formula and if you follow that formula, ergo you will be successful. At the end of the day, you need to be fully and wholly yourself for success to have meaning.

Step 4 – Monitor Your Brand

Set up Google alerts with your name to keep track of how your name is being bandied about in cyberspace. If you don’t control your brand, someone else will.

So there you have it, folks; a quick look at the world of personal branding online. The main things to keep in mind are: keep it manageable, keep it professional and above all keep your brand yours.

Below are a few other resources to help you with managing your personal branding online.

  • plaxo.com – much like LinkedIn, it is a site geared towards career, work and networking.
  • zoominfo.com – a directory of people and businesses. Check your listing.
  • Google.com – a site to get a free email account and tools to help you manage your online life.

Q: What tools have you found useful in managing your online life?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

I came across this great post about how to be at your office without actually being there. Sounds magical and mysterious but it ain’t. Harry Potter fans can put away their spell books and wands and read on.

Jonathon Wilson wrote into Lifehacker.com that he uses Skype and VNC (virtual network computing) to simulate his presence in the office.

Wilson still has his cubicle at work and in the cubicle is a computer that is programmed to pick up automatically when he dials in on Skype.  The monitor at work connects with his desktop at home through VNC.

The upshot of all of this is that with the Skype connection, people at the office can stop by the cubical and chat with Wilson as if he was really there. The bonus feature is that he can listen to the office chatter going on around him. So that’s the old isolation problem sorted.

With the VNC connection, Wilson’s bosses and co-workers can see what he’s doing because his desktop is visible on the monitor in the office. Cool, eh? That’s the old productivity/supervision problem sorted.

Plus Wilson gets to miss the commute and the lunchtime rush out to the local fast food joints.

Though I wonder why Wilson is working through Skype and not a webcam? Inappropriate attire, one wonders? Hmmm. Perhaps it’s more cost efficient to work with Skype and not a webcam feed.

Nevertheless, I congratulate Jonathon Wilson on his clever and effective plan to make remote working really work for himself.

Q:  Do you know of other cost effective and efficient ways to connect remote to your co-workers?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

Whether you are an entrepreneur or part of the management team for a company, it is important to create a technology budget.  Planning for new technology hardware and replacing old hardware will help keep operating costs under control.

If you are part of a management team for a company, you may have a dedicated IT guru on staff. If you are an entrepreneur or part of a small company, it might be wise to hire an IT consultant. Either way, it is critical to figure out what you really need technologically speaking.

Though tech gadgets are super cool, they aren’t necessarily going to support your business more efficiently. In fact, they may eat up more profits than they make.

If you don’t have a business plan, create one.  This exercise will help you think about the nature of your business and what you need to have to serve your clients well.  It doesn’t need to be the latest and greatest technology, it just has to work.

Let me tell you a story.

My father-in-law decided to switch careers and open up a woodworking business a few years ago. He rushed out and bought a very fancy and expensive fax machine to receive orders.  Now, in my mind, this was a waste of money that could have been put towards other business infrastructure needs, like tools, materials, advertising etc. However, my father-in-law was keen to get the best fax machine available at the time.

This little story illustrates a couple of points: being careful about what you spend your start-up money on and if that technology will be truly needed.

There is an urge in many of us, I think, to get the fanciest and the best straight off in order to create a successful business.

The amount of technological gadgetry your business requires depends on what you do. If you are a graphic designer chances are you will need far more fancy tech stuff than someone well, like me.

My bare bones tech requirements are a computer with a decent amount of memory,  fast internet access and a cell phone.  My wish list shows that I would like a photocopier, scanner, fax machine, Blackberry, iPhone and a printer just for photographs.

I don’t buy this stuff because I really don’t need it right now. There are other things in which I need to invest start-up money. However, I keep my wish list handy and I keep my eye on the sales.

Q: Are you a compulsive consumer when it comes to tech gear? If so, why?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!


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