Yesterday was the last day of my post-doc! I am officially out of academia! As one of my coworkers put it: "You've escaped!"
Phew. And boy was it a rough final two weeks. Thanks for bearing with me and the lack of posting around here.
On top of finishing my post-doc, I also had my best editing month ever. I must be doing something right, because I've never booked so many jobs before. I'll be writing a post on exactly how I've been marketing my business to achieve that milestone in case it's of any help to you. It's the sort of thing I wish someone had just told me, rather than stumbling around for a few months before I figured it out.
Anyway, I couldn't feel more relieved right now. I managed to get out of the job that was making me so miserable, and without burning any bridges too!
We had a nice group lunch to say goodbye, and while I'll miss some of my coworkers, I'm just so happy to be able to commit myself full time to editing and writing. I don't think I could have handled juggling editing and research for much longer. I was going a little bonkers last week - 3 editing jobs all due within two days of each other while I was also working at my University job full-time. I didn't have a moment to spare.
But now everything will be different. The hours in my day now all belong to me.
One of my goals before leaving my post-doc was to book one more editing job so I would have some momentum in my business extending past my last day in research. Well, I was so busy this past week that I had almost no time to market my business, so I didn't think it was going to happen. But then last night, I snagged another job at 9 pm. Just under the wire!
Anyway, sorry if this is a little incoherent. I am so tired. I worked literally all weekend on an editing job, went to work on Monday to clean up my lab space and throw out my samples, and then finished putting together a research poster this morning and turned it in to my now ex-boss. It was the last thing he asked me to do, and boy did it feel good to check that off my list.
Ok, I'm going to spoil it: LinkedIn. Just suck it up, and reach out to strangers on LinkedIn. It's not weird. Everyone does it, no matter what the official policies might be.
Now I'll step back and give you a little history of how I started my editing business and the different steps (and experiments) I took to market it. And when I say "marketing," all I mean is finding customers.
So here goes:
I fell into science editing by accident. In graduate school, I worked in a predominately Chinese research group. Since I was one of the few native English speakers in the group, and I also had a B.A. in English, this meant that I either wrote or heavily edited virtually every science research paper we published. At the time, it kind of bugged me that I had to do so much editing when I was actually in school to learn how to be a chemist, but it did teach me how to read and edit science manuscripts, and how to do it quickly.
Later on, a number of friends and colleagues from graduate school became professors in China and started their own research groups. A few of them reached out to me to help them edit their science articles for publication in English-language journals. They were adamant about paying me, which was great! I edited a paper or two for them, maybe once every six months, to earn a little pin money. It was just a side-gig.
At some point, I started to see that side-gig as a way out of academia. I was getting burnt out on being a post-doc and wanted to do something different (like write novels), but I knew I needed to have a day job. I just needed the right day job for me. Something that would give me more flexibility to work on writing. An at-home editing business seemed ideal, but I really wasn't sure I could get enough clients to support myself with full-time work.
I did a little research and found that the University of North Carolina's Writing Center offered an advertisement board for local editors to help students with their papers and dissertations. Well, I was local, and I had a more specific skill than most editors (I can read and understand very technical writing), so I applied and shortly thereafter they posted my advertisement. That posting alone increased my business to at least one or two jobs a month. But still, it wasn't enough. If I wanted to edit full-time, I figured I needed to bring in at least 10 jobs a month, or be on a trajectory to reach that level.
This past January, I made the decision to just go for it and start the business. I realized I'd never begin with a full roster of clients, but I needed to be able to devote myself full-time to achieving that goal. So I used Weebly to build my own business website, something I never had before. Having an official website with all my information listed definitely made a big difference, probably because I looked more legitimate, and I started receiving more jobs. For six months, from January to the end of June, I worked like a dog to recruit more clients beyond what I could achieve through my UNC advertisement and my personal contacts alone while I was still a post-doc. This was my runway time.
First, I told everyone I knew that I was starting my own editing business. This is how word of mouth starts. Be frank about your idea, don't be embarrassed. I definitely gained a few clients this way, though it was slow going.
Then I found another university website that allows editors to advertise their services to students as well. Business slowly picked up.But I knew that if I really wanted to take it to the next level, I needed to recruit more professors into my client-base. Editing dissertations for students is fine, but there's no chance of repeat business there. What I needed was a way to reach out to ESL professors specifically and convince them that I should be their lab's go-to English editor for all their publishing needs. I should be for them what I was for my advisor in graduate school.
The problem is professors tend not to be the most internet savvy group of people, so I had a hard time finding them. They don't use Facebook and they also tend to not use Twitter, so my attempts to reach out via social media showed almost no results. At one point, I experimented with Facebook ads, which are surprisingly easy to set up. For $7, I advertised my Facebook page for a week and asked the site to target Chinese users - completely forgetting that Facebook is banned in China. So that really didn't work.
I was going to give up on marketing on social media entirely, but then it occurred to me that I had overlooked one site: LinkedIn. It's the one website that virtually everyone uses (to varying degrees) for professional reasons. Although scientists aren't active on LinkedIn, they almost always have a basic profile set-up.
I started sending messages to my LinkedIn contacts whom I thought might be interested in an English editing service. LinkedIn works by forwarding those messages to the users' email addresses. The response was immediately positive. I began to book more jobs. Finally, I'd broken through.
Realizing this was working, I knew I had to make more connections. In real life, I'm quite introverted and don't know that many people. So to build my LinkedIn network, I started using the "People You May Know" link. Even if I didn't know them personally, I just decided I would connect with any professor or post-doc who spoke English as a second language. They could decide whether or not to accept my invitation. The nice part about using the "People You May Know" portal is that you don't have to explain how you know them. The site just assumes you're already know the friends of your friends, so it's an easy in. Later on, I found out that LinkedIn is really unlike Facebook, and it's not a faux pas to reach out to people you don't know in real life.
LinkedIn also made it very easy to find the clients who would benefit from my skills. I just searched my new connections and if they were involved in science and listed their English language skills as anything below "Native or Bilingual Speaker," then I messaged them my cover letter (i.e. my sales pitch).
I've found that the more pitches I sent, the more editing jobs I' booked - so it's scalable, which exactly what I needed to grow my business.
The only problem is that it's a little tedious cold-calling people via LinkedIn. Thankfully, my marketing is starting to sustain itself as I build up more clientele and they share my information with their friends, so I'm not having to reach out on LinkedIn quite as often (though I notice that whenever I significantly slack off, the number of jobs I book per week definitely goes down).
I would also recommend being as open as possible with all your LinkedIn connections, regardless of whether you think it's going to benefit you. It's a two-way street. If I want people to stop and listen to me, sometimes I have to stop and listen to them. So when people message me out of the blue, rather than send them my pitch, I just engage them in the conversation they want to have. Usually, it's a foreign student with questions about how to get established in the U.S. academic system, find a career, etc., and I just do my best to be as helpful as I can.
What I've found is that by engaging with other strangers without expecting anything for myself, I make a much stronger connection, and they usually end up explaining some very helpful things to me as well. For instance, after an extended conversation about chemistry career tracks, a young friend I made on LinkedIn suggested that I get on the messaging app WeChat, because it's the major social media service used in China. He explained that if I wanted to work with more Chinese students and professors, they would have a much easier time communicating with me via WeChat rather than Gmail, because Google is banned in China. I had no idea, because it just never occurred to me that there was a different way to communicate than the way I use on a daily basis. So by engaging on WeChat with connections I make via LinkedIn, I've booked so many more jobs than I have in the past.
Anyway, just something to think about. If you're looking for a new job, or want to market your side-gig/business, consider networking on LinkedIn. LinkedIn helped me learn more about my clientele and to make more business connections. I'm still learning, and still growing the business, but it's been a huge difference compared to when I had one little advertisement online.
Networking, it's never fun, but it really does work.
Ah, no post this week and probably not this weekend either. I have one last week of work left, and there's so many last minute deadlines and things to do: handing over my research project to a graduate student; organizing and annotating my results so she isn't totally lost; putting together a poster for a conference (that I won't be attending...); and generally just cleaning up my lab space and getting rid of samples, which always takes much longer than anticipated.
On top of that, my science editing business is really picking up speed. It's great timing, except for the fact that I still have this last stressful week of lab work to simultaneously finish. I wanted to write a post about how I've been using LinkedIn to get more of these editing jobs, but I think that will have to wait until sometime near the end of June. I know, right? LinkedIn. Who would have thought it was actually useful?
Anyway, I hope this early start to summer has been going well for you. Don't you just love June? Doesn't it feel like, maybe this time, the summer will last forever?
When I was a kid, I read a lot. I think that anyone who reads a lot eventually wants to start writing stories themselves. So on some nights, instead of reading, I'd sit in bed with a blank spiral bound notebook propped up on my knees, intending to write. Except, I mostly just stared at the page until it made me so mad, I'd throw it under my bed and go to sleep.
By age 18 or so, these experiences of writer's block made me think I didn't have what it took to be an author. I could write prose for sure, but coming up with the idea - that was the skill I lacked, and it seemed kind of essential.
What I didn't get was that staring at a blank page for an hour is hardly the best place to find story inspiration. At least, my brain doesn't work that way.
Here's how my brain does work:
When I was a kid, I used to spend literally hours shooting hoops in my driveway. I didn't even particularly like basketball, I just liked the way my mind would "float," so I could tell myself little stories in my head. It didn't take any thought to shoot the ball. I could just concentrate on the stories, which at that age were essentially fan fiction based on books I'd read or cartoons I'd watched on TV. Though this was back before fanfiction.net really existed, so I didn't even know that I was doing was called fan fiction.
A few years later, I replaced shooting baskets with sprinting up and down my parents' driveway Yes, it was weird. A few neighbors made comments, but I didn't really care. Physically, it felt great. I'd get my runner's high, and I'd also get to tell myself stories, which were now accompanied by music from my pre-ipod mp3 player, which was like having my own movie soundtrack. They were still fan fiction style stories, though.
Years and years later, towards the end of graduate school, I started taking long walks around Lake Artemesia (a really beautiful park just outside of the University of Maryland campus), listening to my ipod, and as usual, telling myself stories. Except now, for whatever reason, they weren't fanfiction anymore. They were my own stories. Rough and amateur as hell, but at least they were my own ideas. I think this was around the time that I read George R. R. Martin's opinion of fan fiction, and I think that was the final push I needed to build my own worlds and characters. Normally, I get annoyed when authors get snobby or even belligerent about fan ficiton, but Martin's explanation made a lot of sense to me.
And it wasn't until then, on those long Lake Artemesia walks, that I also finally make the connection between coming up with stories and physical movement. I could tell stories, and I could come up with ideas, I just had to be moving around as I did it. Sitting and staring at a blank page or screen leaves my brain completely stale. It's like, if I stop moving, I stop thinking creatively. Funny enough, this quirk doesn't apply to analytical thinking or school work, where I do just fine sitting still, but if I want to tell myself a story, I have to get up and get moving.
So if you want to get over writer's block, trying taking a walk. Let your mind float a while and see where it takes you. It should be almost effortless. If you're thinking too hard, it won't work. Just take walk. Shoot some basketball. Go for a run. Take a swim. Whatever. Just don't stare at the void and expect it to give you anything in return.
So fishing on the Davidson River was a blast. The Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina is really beautiful, especially on the river. Imagine glassy clear water that's shallow enough to wade, flowing over round stones. You could actually see the trout in the water. I'm from the Chesapeake Bay, where the water is dark and murky and you almost never see a fish unless it's jumping, so it was a totally foreign experience for me.
There were quite a few fisherman on the river, but still plenty of open spots to fish. Funny enough, though, I didn't actually see anyone catching anything. I hooked a fish at one point, but it got away. It was honestly the hardest fishing I've ever tried. I'd cast and cast my fly right over the fish and they'd either ignore it or nibble and spit it out. They say if you can catch a fish on the Davidson River, you can catch a fish just about anywhere. Apparently the trout have gotten quite savvy about the difference between true and tied flies.
Ladies and gentleman, my husband caught three. The picture above is the smallest of the bunch he caught. The other two were so big he couldn't get his camera out. He's very careful about making sure to release them back in the water as quickly as possible.
Boy, did he ever have a great time :)
I was just happy to almost catch one.
We stayed in a nearby Airbnb, called the Cove Camping Cottage, which was so cool. The lovely host, Vinnie, converted her mountainside land into beautiful landscaped grounds, with a stream and a waterfall, and a flock of ducks and geese! The cottage we stayed in was like a glamping tent, but with its own foundation, and sturdy roof and walls. We wanted somewhere dry to sleep because it looked like the weekend was supposed to be rainy. It was extremely comfortable, with a good bed and gas grill for cooking dinner. Given that it was only $40 a night and is just about a half-hour from the Davidson River and Asheville, I think we might try staying there again in the future. Vinnie also rents out a suite in the main house too.
Anyway, just a lovely time. My husband wants to go back again this weekend, but I told him I thought we had too much to do at home (weeding the garden mostly). Then I realized that it might actually be a great idea. If he goes fishing this weekend, then that would give me lots of time alone to finish editing my practice novel. I've read completely through it once and now I'm doing the second and final read through. To get that finished would be awesome.
So yeah, I think I'm going suggest my husband do a little more fishing this weekend. I suspect he will be pleased.
It's almost here! The last day of my job is June 27!
Which means soon I'll be working full-time on my editing business. From home! The picture above is my newly organized home work-space. Aren't the bookcases cool? My Dad built them for me as a 30th birthday present. Isn't he talented? They're made from solid pieces of cherry wood and hand-finished. Both the chair and the desk were road-side finds from back when we lived in Maryland. I still need to hang a few more pictures and actually put some books in my new bookcases, but I think the space is coming along nicely.
I needed to do a little writing from home the other day (my last research paper), and it was so nice to work at that desk with all that room. Plus, it was great to finally get some quiet writing time. Normally, I work in a cubicle and my office is really loud with people coming in and out, discussing research, or worst of all - eating with their mouths open (damn you headphones, no one can hear themselves chewing anymore!). I get so much more writing and editing done when I'm working from home.
It's funny, though, my husband feels just the opposite. He says he's much less productive at home, and maybe other people feel the same way. So here's my work-from-home method in case it's of any help to you:
Step 1) I wake up early to get my fiction writing/editing done. When I don't have to commute to work, I try to write for at least two hours early in the morning, starting ~5 am. This is my daily writing routine, and I like to stick to it as much as possible.
Step 2) Get dressed. While it might be comfortable to wear a bathrobe all day, I know I'm more productive when I act as professionally at home as I would at the office. I just can't take myself that seriously when I'm still in my pajamas, and I think it shows in the quality of my work. So I get dressed, brush my teeth, etc., while my husband is also getting ready for work. I think getting ready together is the key to actually making it happen.
Step 3) I put out all the food I want to eat that day on the kitchen counter, if only to remind myself that's what I was planning on eating. No snacking from the cupboards. If you're like me and need a morning and afternoon snack, again, I just leave them out on the counter. I don't know what it is, but if I remind myself what healthy food I planned on eating, then I eat it. If I don't make a plan, I end up snacking endlessly on whatever I can find.
Step 4) On a piece of paper, I write down a list of things I want to accomplish in the approximate order I'd like to do them. I start with the first item on the list, finish it, mark it off, and move on to the next. I know, it seems obvious, but the lists keeps me organized and on-track. Whatever I don't finish on the list that day gets copied down onto the next day's list.
Step 5) I turn off the internet. Well, to be fair, the internet is always off in our house, but I do shut down the data plan on my cell phone to keep me from browsing The Washington Post all day.
Step 6) I use my watch to measure how long I'm in the "zone" (i.e., really focused) and I stay in it for at least 30 min. If I find myself getting frustrated or distracted, I check my watch, and if I haven't been working for a least a half hour, then I force myself to refocus on the writing again. However, if a half-hour has passed, then I give myself a mini-break (get a glass of water), and then return back to work again. If I've been working hard for over an hour, then I go on a mini-break regardless. I've just noticed that I need little breaks through the day and that after an hour of solid work, I start to become less productive anyway. So I get up, stretch my legs, and do something else for about 10-15 minutes.
Step 7) I try to use those 10-15 minute breaks to do something productive, like unload the dishwasher, clean a toilet, or do my strength training routine. I figure if I'm working from home, then I should use that to my advantage to get little chores out of the way so my family and I can have more fun in the evenings or on the weekends.
Step 8) I take a short midday walk with my dog after lunch. Exercise is important and it helps me think straighter and write/edit better.
Step 9) I finish up my work around 5 or 6 and then take the dog for her long evening walk. I aim to get 15,000 steps a day, which is hard when I'm working from home, but I still try. At the very least, I try to get 10,000 steps. There's no doubt I'm more sedentary when I'm working from home. The house has a way of confining me more than my workplace does, so I have to make a concerted effort to document my exercise to make sure I'm not sitting around all day (I use my Fitbit Charge hr and I love it).
Anyway, just a few thoughts and I hope some of them may be helpful. Bear in mind, though, I don't have kids, which is probably what makes a lot of these tips work. I don't know how you work-from-home Moms and Dads do it, but I salute you.
Do you have any working from home tips?
My husband loves to fish. I mean, he really, really loves fishing. I don't think I can convey how much he loves fishing.
Actually, I can. We're taking a fishing trip this weekend to the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. My husband was so excited last night (Thursday) that he couldn't sleep, even though we're not even leaving until Saturday morning. He spent the entire night tossing and turning, like a kid before Christmas morning, or in this case, like a kid before Christmas Eve. Eventually he gave up on any hope of sleep and spent the tiny hours of the morning giggling at fishing memes. Such as this one:
Or this one:
And this one:
All of which he was very excited to show me this morning!
But I don't mind. I like fishing too. I grew up fishing off the dock at my grandparents house every summer, and in the creek and river behind my parents' house. All I ever did was bait fishing with blood-worms. Later, when I first met my husband, we'd go catfishing with cheesy hot dogs. Which is only to say, I like to fish, but I'm pretty low on the spectrum of technical fishing.
My husband is just the opposite and right now he's into fly-fishing. We're aiming to catch some trout in the mountains this weekend.
I'm excited because it's so nice to have my old husband back. He can get more excited about fishing and being outside then anyone I've ever known. Isn't it funny the things we love about our partners? It's not the money, it's not the looks, it's their passion and excitement for something. At least, that's how it is for me (though my husband isn't hard on the eyes either).
So wish me luck! I've never really fly-fished before, but my husband made me take a free class last weekend so I think I have an idea of what I'm supposed to do. He also very nicely gave me some flies he tied himself. Isn't he sweet :)
Writer, editor, scientist.