INTERVIEW: DEBBIE MILLER
Tell me about yourself. What is your chosen area of freelance?
I'm a digital marketing consultant focusing primarily on social media and content development (writing for websites, blogs, email campaigns, etc.)
What made you take the leap from regular employment to working for yourself?
In 2010, my employer was going through a transition period and my layoff was imminent. This job had been my first one out of college, so this was a substantial and awkward period, contemplating spending my days in a different atmosphere than the one which I’d become accustomed in my only post-school experience.
Some of the most valuable advice I received was to generate something that was “mine.” I had done so much and created a name for myself under the guise of my job, but I didn’t have anything to take away with me when my time at that job concluded.
This resulted in my launching an industry blog called Social Hospitality while I transitioned to another job at a hospitality marketing agency right after I was laid off at the beginning of 2011. After a couple years, I started organically getting leads from the blog -- folks wanting me to manage their blogs or social media presences based on the expertise I was able to convey.
I then began freelancing for smaller clients while I still worked my 9-5 gig. Social Hospitality transitioned from a blog to a side business around 2015/2016. I was able to juggle both, and for the most part, I enjoyed doing so. There were many pros and cons to this arrangement, though. I was able to learn a lot while working for someone else, but I was never fully committed to either entity while I was still investing so much of myself in the other.
Finally, in January 2017, I left my job at the other agency to run Social Hospitality full-time. I've recently wrapped my second year in business for myself, and I love it.
What tools do you find indispensable to complete your daily tasks?
Email and calendars are the big ones. I like keeping a to-do list. I like different project management tools my clients use, like Asana, MiesterTask, Podio, etc. Slack, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are great for communication. Dropbox and SharePoint are great for sharing files.
How do you structure your days?
Each day is different. Some days I focus on specific to-dos, and others are more off-the-cuff depending on certain clients' needs.
What’s your best advice for handling criticism?
Overcoming fear was probably one my biggest difficulties, though, of course, one that has now reaped numerous benefits. It was a personal evolution that took place over time, even still, that has made me more confident in my “expertise.” For example, I used to be incredibly shy when it came to any form of speaking out in person, and now I can comfortably talk about business, social media, etc., and not worry that I sound like novice.
This principle also applied to my launching the blog. I was so scared of criticism, of judgment. I spent an absurd amount of time between having my blog set up and actually launching it, out of fear of criticism. In both cases, I had to learn to be vulnerable and have thick skin.
There also came a sense of learning to approach it from a different angle. Constructive criticism can often be pivotal for growth. As an example, a former coworker made a point to me once earlier in my career, after a meeting in which I was silent. He asked, “why didn’t you speak up in the meeting?” and I responded, “I didn’t feel qualified” (being around much more experienced business peers). His response was, “do you know how incredibly selfish that is?” and that, too, helped alter my perception of keeping things to myself when I really should speak up.
How many years have you been in business?
This is my eighth year owning the brand, but I'm beginning my third year of running it full-time.
Do you have any lofty goals for 2019? What are they?
To figure out if I want to scale, what that looks like, and how to start putting the pieces into place to get there.
Do you have routines that you follow to keep your mental health in check?
This is such an important question! I've learned I need to take pro-active steps to ensure I maintain a strong sense of balance. I maintain a very work-hard, play-hard approach to life. I take my work very seriously but I also make sure it's balanced with fun stuff as well as "selfish" stuff, too. The cool thing about freelancing is I have more flexibility in my schedule to break up my days with activities if I choose. I like to go to pilates in the middle of the day several days a week. I also have a membership at a massage place so I make a point to go every month for a massage. I'm also a big fan of manis and pedis. Taking time for myself, to just relax and let someone else "take care of me" is hugely critical.
Do you work and travel? Where have you been while freelancing?
Yes! This is a tricky one that one that's both a pro and a con in terms of the freelance lifestyle. The pro is that, with the flexibility that comes with freelancing, I can essentially travel whenever I want. Because my work is all digital-based, I can work from anywhere. The con, though, is that I can never fully unplug. I've never had a vacation where I didn't work. The thought of going on a trip without my laptop is absurd. In that regard, I wish it were easier for me to disconnect.
What are the hardest parts of freelancing?
Striking that balance (like the issues noted in the last two responses).
Anything else you have to say?! Do it!
Don't let fear hold you back! I let it hold me back from both launching the blog years ago, as well as fully going out on my own. It's scary, but so worth it.
What are your most favorite things about freelance work?
Having something that's mine; having control over my world; not putting in hours of labor for someone else's dream/bottom line
Debbie Miller has over 10 years experience in digital marketing. Debbie brings a unique perspective from her brand, agency, and consulting experience. At Social Hospitality, she provides individuals and companies with services in a large range of subjects related to content marketing and social media. You can find Debbie on Twitter and Instagram as @TheBigDebowski