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consulting, working virtually

Working Virtually: The Extravert’s Dilemma

March 9, 2014

Day 9 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

I am an extravert living the life of an introvert; I work from a home office, often with only my dogs to talk to. On those days, I sometimes pounce on my poor introverted husband the second he walks in the door because I need to see live humans and talk to them. He, on the other hand, has spent the day talking and interacting and would just like to shut down for a few minutes. When my husband goes out of town for several weeks (like he is now), it’s even more challenging.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually love working from home, and like being alone—just not constantly. I need to see people; that’s where I get my energy—from the interactions I have with live humans.

“Help I’m Talking and Can’t Shut Up” Syndrome

The problem is, and I think this is true for a lot of extraverts, if I don’t get enough live human time, I come down with “help I’m talking and can’t shut up” syndrome. It isn’t pretty…Symptoms include a buzzy feeling, a mouth that goes at the speed of sound, brain going at warp speed, talking without stopping for breath, dominating the conversation, bouncing from topic to topic, interrupting someone else’s cool story to add your own anectdote, etc. Behind the symptoms is often a fear of being invisible (yes, introverts, extraverts have social fears, too.)

And, when the syndrome happens, it has the opposite effect of what I want, which is to learn about the other person, exchange ideas, and get to know them better, as well as to be seen and acknowledged. Instead, I overwhelm them with my enthusiasm, ideas, and need to talk, which then causes them to back away slowly as they search for escape.


This post is for all of you extraverts who find yourselves in a similar situation. Here are some strategies for preventing this deadly syndrome:

  1. Schedule face time into your day every day. Whether it’s your a visit with your local barista, lunch with a friend, or meeting a local client, see people every day. Block time out of your schedule if you have to, but make it a priority.
  2. Enlist a buddy to help you. I have a couple of equally extraverted friends that I try to connect with at the beginning of conferences for a gab fest. This helps run the motor down for the other interactions with my more introverted colleagues.
  3. Practice meditation to ground yourself. I know this seems counter-intuitive; after all, meditation is generally a solitary activity. But, before you go out to a meeting or gathering, take 10 minutes to ground yourself and take deep cleansing breaths. Picture how you want the day to go. Find a calm center.
  4. If you catch yourself displaying symptoms, take a deep breath, smile at the other person, and ask them a question. Then, listen without interruption to their response (this can be hard if you are really wound up and excited about the topic). Keep practicing, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect at it.
  5. Count to 10 before jumping in. Doing so will help you avoid interrupting people and to make sure that they are finished speaking. Especially if you are with an introvert, focus your energy on drawing them out and letting them talk.
  6. Maintain variety in your life. Make sure you are feeding your whole self: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sides. Try to do one small thing a day in each area. When we work virtually, we tend to get stuck in our heads too much. Eventually, this leads to burnout. Having variety also keeps us from feeling isolated.
  7. Smile and be friendly to everyone. Running errands and doing chores can be an opportunity to see people. I chat with the cashier at the grocery store, tell new moms that they have cute babies, wave at the neighbor, and so on. I make sure that people who look lonely or sad know that they are seen and acknowledged. It can’t hurt, and it might make someone feel less isolated. It makes my day when someone smiles at me as I walk by.
  8. Step away from the phone and social media. We have to be connected to that stuff for our profession, but we need to step away once in awhile and really look at our immediate surroundings and the people we are with. Be fully present when people are in your presence.

What do you do to keep yourself sane?

I’ve talked enough. Now, I want to hear from you. What do you do to keep yourself sane? What’s the hardest part for you about working virtually? What’s the best part? What are your experiences?

consulting, getting started in tech comm

Getting Started as a Consultant: Determining Your Hourly Rate

March 7, 2014

Day 6 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge (#31dbc)

Note: This article originally appeared as a sidebar in an article I did for STC Intercom in June 2012. The information is still applicable.

Before deciding how to charge (hourly, page, etc), you need to know what your cost basis is. This is the minimum amount you need to charge in order to make money on a project. I calculate it based on an hourly rate, which you can then convert to whatever type of rate works best for the project you are doing.

Here’s how you do it:

Base rate before profit

[(annual salary when you were working for a company)/2080 hours per year] + [(annual salary X 30%–to account for benefits)/2080] + [monthly overhead/160 hours per month] = base rate before profit

Base Rate after Profit

Now, take your [base rate before profit X 10%] + base rate before profit = base rate after profit.

But, this result doesn’t account for hours that you are marketing and not billable (most freelancers are billable about 1500 hours per year.

Average % non-billable time

So, take your [base rate after profit X ((2080-1500)/2080)] = average % non-billable time

Minimum amount you should charge if you want to make money

Now, take your base rate after profit + average % non-billable time = base rate you should charge if you want to make money.

Example Calculation

Here’s an example in USD, assuming a 40-hour workweek (rounded for ease of calculation):

annual salary = $50,000

monthly overhead = $500

 [$50,000/2080 hours] + [$50,000 X 30%/2080] + [$500/160 hours per month] = $24.04/hr + $7.22/hr + $3.13/hr = $34.39/hr is base rate before profit

[$34.39 X 10%] + $34.39 =$3.44 + $34.39 = $37.83/hr base rate after profit

$37.83 X (580/2080) = $37.83 X 28% = $10.55/hr to account for non-billable time

Minimum rate you should charge = $37.83 + $10.55 = $48.38/hr (round up to nearest $5), so your actual minimum rate would be $50/hr.

Once you know this number (it will vary greatly depending on your expertise, locale and so on), you can figure out a per page rate or fixed bid rate, if needed.

Assumptions in proposals

In addition, your proposals should always contain assumptions and risk management statements for each likely scenario for a potential problem.

For example, “This project assumes 2 SME reviews and 1 editorial review. Additional reviews will require a change order. If the SMEs do not return their comments by the agreed due date, this will cause a day for day slip in the schedule.”

These kinds of statements are especially important in fixed bid or per page bids because they give you leverage to go back to the client if there is scope creep or delays on the client side.

If travel will be involved, state how you will charge them for it in the bid. I always charge this as a separate line item from the actual work, and provide an expense report and copies of receipts as part of my invoice.