I’ve often talked about my parents in my blog or social media posts. I am very fortunate in that, despite not having a lot of money, I was brought up to believe I could do anything, be anything, if I worked hard enough. That’s the American dream isn’t it? And I did work hard. I worked my way through college–all those costly degrees, even returning at age 45 to pursue a doctorate. I always worked and went to school because there was no one to pay my way. I worked hard in employment as well, always starting at the bottom and working my way up. Whenever I wanted/needed to learn something new I did–whether it was learning it be self-study or taking formal classes. It is that belief my parents instilled in me and a lot of hard work that enabled me to have several very different and rewarding careers.
But here’s the lesson I didn’t learn. Just because I can learn anything, be anything, do anything, doesn’t mean I can do everything. Why has it taken me until well into my 60’s to learn this? It’s it arrogance? Hubris? Or more likely just because I’m a very stubborn woman. I KNOW I can learn it, if I only put my mind to it. I KNOW I can do it if I prioritize the time. I believed if I just kept trying harder, I would make it all work somehow.
When I retired–about five years earlier than planned–to write full time, I truly believed I could now do three times more work. After all, I wasn’t working 50-60 hour weeks anymore. If I worked those same weeks for myself AND still produced two to three books a year (as I did while working full time) I’d have it made. So, for the past five years I’ve been trying to prove that I can do it all myself. I began believing I can run all aspects of two businesses by myself without hiring anyone. That was wrong. I can maintain an active writing, teaching, and publishing schedule. AND I can still find plenty of time for family, friends, church–you know, people. Hmm…that was wrong too.
Being a slow learner with these types of life lessons, I translated my thinking to not accepting that I can’t do it, but instead trying to parse my 24 hour days into smaller segments where I would just work harder and faster on each of those things I needed to do. If that didn’t work, I would work serially, assigning one aspect of the business to each day and work harder and faster. Then the next day something else, and reserve Sunday to catch up with “people.” I truly believed if I just worked harder, focused more, slept less, I could do it.
All of the wisdom women out there are smiling like the Mona Lisa now., because they know that eventually my body and even my mind would tell me otherwise.It has slowly, and continuously. Now I have to truly pay attention.
I Can’t Make 30 hour days or 10 day weeks. I Need Help
About five years ago, I started forming some trusted partnerships. The first two things I gave up were: 1) Doing my own editing or relying on my husband to do the line edits. Before retirement he was a professional nonfiction writer and editor; and 2) Doing my own cover design. These were relatively easy to give up because on my first try I lucked out with a great developmental editor and a great cover designer. I saw significant gain in having someone else do these. Not only did using them free up my time to do other things, but I immediately recognized the added quality and saw more sales.
Three years ago, I realized I was drowning in the minutia of running my business. I’ve always been better at the big picture of managing and planning. I can do the details, but it takes up so much time that I often don’t do them well in my desire to keep moving the big picture forward. Keeping up with social media, keeping up with my publishing schedule, keeping up with marketing efforts, and most important keeping up with my fans and building new fans can easily take up all my day every day.
I love talking to my fans and didn’t want to give that to anyone else. After all, no one will respond like I do. And I really do care about them, what their lives are like, what books they like and what they like about my books. But all the bits and pieces behind that actual interaction–running contests, getting out ARCs, promoting to new venues was very time consuming. So, I engaged my first virtual assistant (VA) about three years ago. It took me about three VAs to figure out both what I needed and to learn how to trust and delegate. None of my previous VAs were bad. In fact, each one taught me something valuable. Each left because their own lives took a different turn.
The person I have now, Lea Vickery, I believe will be with me for a very long time. She’s fast. She’s willing to learn anything. She both takes directions and has ideas to share with me. She knows the author and publishing business because she’s been working with other authors for some time. And she is significantly younger than me–a great blessing because she brings the perspective of future generations of my readers and she is a digital native; so the social media and technology environment is second nature to her.
I have, slowly, made some progress in finding trusted partners and actually letting them do what they do well. I’ve learned that my control freak side can be harnessed..sometimes.
My current lesson has to do with my website as a marketing and search engine generator.
This one is the hardest one to let go; and one that I’ve been struggling with for about a year now. Correct that. I’ve been struggling with accepting it for about a year. I’ve actually been struggling with it for five years.
To put this in perspective, understand that I learned my first programming language, Fortran, in 1972, by creating punch cards where each card was a single operation. To put it simply, if I wanted to add two numbers together that was one card. If then I wanted to take that sum and divide it by a number that was another card. To do what we easily do today with spreadsheets (like Excel) would be thousands of cards. I did keep up with computing for a while, pretty much until the time mainframes went away and network computing became the norm. Simultaneously, computing languages became more abstract with each operation doing hundreds of operations in the background. I never really enjoyed programming, it was more a mean to an end.
Why is this one harder than the others? Because I’ve had careers that included programming and system design and, early in the Internet age, began building websites for many companies or organizations where I worked. I’ve been building my own websites and spending significant time keeping up with trends and technology, constantly learning new things over the past two decades. I’ve built websites for other authors, and they seem happy with them. This website you see today and the Windtree Press website, and several websites for organizations and even my church, I built. So, I’ve pushed myself to learn and to implement. So why would I ever pay someone else to do this?
Because, like most everything in life today, nothing is in itself unconnected. Today websites are a lot more than a place to put up static information that changes only when you have a new release or want to showcase an event, or maybe run a contest. Websites are dynamic. They need to be marketing engines. They need to continuously engage people so that they want to come back and see what else you are doing. Again, I KNOW this intellectually. I’ve been seeing the evolution from static web page to search engine optimization (SEO) to mobile optimization (making it look good on desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones), and now to performing as a marketing and engagement engine and funnel to my website. Ive spent the past five years developing lots of engagement platforms with social media and email, and earlier this year Facebook messenger. But now I need to make all those drive traffic back to me–to my website–the one place where I have control, knowledge, analytics about my readers. In that way I can provide them an even better experience with my products.
I have a basic understanding of each of those areas separately, but how to bring them together in a nicely functioning website is a step beyond my knowledge. It would take even more time away from writing to do it well and to keep up. In this interconnected world, every time one of those connected partners (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) makes changes to their platforms it means changes to mine. This past year that really became glaringly apparent to me, I’ve been feeling like Benjamin Franklin with a key on the end of a kite trying to collect “electric fire” into my Leyden jar so I can disperse it at will later.
When I realized that web design and redesign was taking at least 20% of my time, I began talking to web designers about my need and what I see for the future. Over the past few weeks I’ve narrowed my search from 30 companies to two I’m meeting with next week. I’m taking it slow because I want to feel confident that the company can do what I need not only today but will grow with me and be able to do what I need next year and the year after, and ten years from now.
It is truly a frightening prospect to give up this control. Choosing an editors and a cover designer was not as fear inducing because, if I chose wrong, it impacts one book and I can find someone else with those skills fairly quickly and easily and it can be fixed, within a short period of time. Fortunately I haven’t had to do that, but I did have a book designer stop designing and I was able to find someone else fairly quickly.
More than a good coder, I need a company that has a team approach to website design–one that includes an understanding of good Search Engine Optimization (SEO), of integrated marketing between my social media accounts and my website and distribution accounts. And I need an organization that is excited about keeping up with this changing technology. Oh! And did I say I am not a millionaire or even close and I can pay an arm and a leg for this? OK, maybe a leg, but definitely not an arm.
I’ve been pretty obsessed about this over the past month. Throughout my life I’ve been a good decision-maker. I have a fairly high tolerance for failure, because I know I can learn from it and move on. However, for me, I’ve found it is easier to have that tolerance when I was younger. I always knew that if the worst happened, I still had lots of time to implement what I’d learned and do better. I’d always have time to recover from that mistake. For me, it is not as easy now that I’m retired and the ability to make up income after failure is much more time limited. Not that I think I’m dying any time soon, but let’s face it the odds grow shorter with each passing year.
As often happens, just when I’m the most stressed about a decision, something else happens to convince me I’m moving in the right direction–no matter how fearful it may be.
Today the universe reinforced my decision to let this constant technology learning curve go.
I’ve been traveling a lot recently–home only 2 weeks over the past two months. As I was sitting on the train returning home, I scanned a number of technical blogs to see what is up. I like to keep on top of new ideas and new technologies that may impact my business in the future. On the writing side I’ve watched certain companies who focus on serials and have decided to take a step into that market. I’ve been watching new blockchain technology and direct sales to readers through that. I haven’t jumped in yet, but it is definitely intriguing. In the past, I’ve taken advantage of book trailers and learned they can sell books when used in the right promotional efforts. And this year, I’ve concentrated on getting audiobooks out. That is quite an investment of time and money, but it is already proving fruitful and I’m truly glad I jumped on that bandwagon.
This morning I was scanning my subscription newsletters about technology–some of which I recognized and some that were new implementations–and I came across a group of articles that puzzled me because of the use of an acronym. Most of the time I have at least a passing understanding of acronyms. But this time it didn’t register. The articles were touting the future of AR and more specifically about Apple’s all-in investment in its ARKit.
I kept asking myself why is everyone so excited about what’s new in Accounts Receivable programs? Especially Apple? They don’t strike me as a creator of basic business programming. I don’t think a lot has changed in how you compute Accounts Receivable or display results.
Okay, all you millennials and younger can stop holding your sides as you roll on the floor with laughter (ROFL). It ends up it had nothing to do with accounting. It’s all about Augmented Reality–which I also found out is different from Virtual Reality (the Goggle wearing folks). And I thought I was keeping up.
In 2002, I was an early tester of Second Life, a free 3D virtual world where users can create, connect, and chat with others (a type of Augmented Reality though it wasn’t called that then). I thought it might be an interesting way to get online students to engage with each other and with 3D objects to better understand principles of the courses. I didn’t end up recommending it for a learning environment because the amount of time it took to create those 3D environments was 10 times longer than to create a regular online course with images, words, and videos. So, even though I had tried early types of AR 15 years ago, my mind still went to Accounts Receivable.
I believe, this is the universe’s way of saying: “It’s okay not to know everything. It’s okay not to do everything.” What I need to do is to choose those things that are most important to me and focus my time, energy, and creativity on those things. Stop trying to learn, know, do everything.
My forte is words, writing long essays, nonfiction books, short stories, novellas, novels. I truly love it. It brings me both challenge and joy at the same time. By not doing everything–and particularly letting go of this advanced technology, I can go back to focusing on what brings me joy again. I’ll still have plenty of technology things to do because I have to keep it all updated with great content, but that will be a part of the joy too.
So, stay tuned for a new website sometime in the next two to three months. And, stay tuned for what I hope is a more productive time of creating new stories. I still have lots of obligations, but I’m freeing up a good chunk of learning and implementing time. With my new found acceptance that I can’t do everything, it is freeing to let this go to someone who loves this stuff and will be excited about it.
What are you doing to focus on what’s important to you? Have you had to let anything go in your life so you can do something else that’s even more important? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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