Lauren Tharp – Owner of LittleZotz Writing

Lauren Tharp -  Owner of LittleZotz Writing

I take days off. I know. That seems like a productivity tip that would be handed out on Opposite Day, but it’s absolutely true. By taking at least one day off per week – two preferred! – I keep myself from getting burned out. And that’s important! I AM my business. If I don’t take care of myself, then I can’t work. And if I can’t work, I can’t get paid. Those days off are an investment!

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Working as a both a bylined writer and a ghostwriter, Lauren has been a part of the writing and marketing departments for a television mini-series, an online radio station, a designer headphone company, and countless small businesses around the world.

However, entrepreneurs and small businesses only make up half of Lauren’s client base. Through LittleZotz Writing, Lauren has dedicated countless hours toward helping fellow writers get started as freelancers. In addition to giving out free e-books, sending out bi-monthly newsletters, and offering one-on-one mentoring; Lauren runs a multiple award-winning blog for freelance writers on her website, and acts as the Associate Editor for Be A Freelance Blogger – one of the leading publications for professional bloggers.

A lifelong resident of Los Angeles, California, Lauren also has a passion for helping teens get their writing careers started and will often speak at local schools. Lauren began her published writing career as a teenager and loves helping others do the same.

Lauren Tharp has turned heads – as a writer and an editor – due to her humor, humility, and honesty. Lauren truly believes in helping others succeed and shows it both online and off.

Where did the idea for LittleZotz Writing come from?

I had been writing for pay off-and-on since I was sixteen (I’m thirty now), but had always resisted the idea of freelancing. Both of my parents are freelance artists, so I knew exactly how hard the freelance life can be.

I took on several different retail and food services jobs in the name of a “steady paycheck.” However, in 2010, when my longtime boyfriend and I both found ourselves suddenly unemployed, I realized that “steady paycheck” jobs weren’t as “secure” as they once were. So I had a choice to make: Go out and find yet another cruddy job I cared nothing about, or finally make writing my career. I chose the latter and opened LittleZotz Writing’s virtual doors for business on August 17, 2010.

What does your typical day look like?

As for my typical day… It’s a typical night actually. [laughs]. I found out early on that I get most of my work done at night, after the rest of our household (and surrounding neighbors) have gone to bed. It’s quieter, I feel more alert, and I’m able to connect with people on the other side of the world who’re awake when I am!

I usually start my night by checking and replying to e-mails. Then, I look at my dayplanner and see what tasks need to be done that night. I try to prioritize them either by “most urgent” or – more likely – which I most FEEL like doing first. And then I get down to it! I write, I edit, I mentor… And, if I’m lucky, our cats will keep me company as I do so.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I try to have a sense of humor about everything I approach. I don’t always succeed (who does!), but I would rather have laugh lines from smiling than eye bags from crying – and I figure I can’t be the only one who feels that way.

Life can be really tough sometimes. And even though my main audience is fellow freelancers – a group who is supposed to be “owning” their own lives/careers and should; therefore, feel more carefree than most – I know they could probably use a good chuckle along with the advice they’re seeking. You see, freelancers all seem to share the same harmful trait: When we’re struggling, we don’t like to ask for help – or even let anyone know! And ALL freelancers struggle with something, even when they’re “successful.” That’s just the way it is!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’ve been really digging the emphasis on GOOD writing over word count/keywords lately. When I first decided to make writing my career rather than my hobby, I was disappointed in how many clients didn’t actually care about the quality of the writing they were paying for. I did what I could to squeeze in actual information of value around the keyword stuffed nonsense, but I knew that many other writers wouldn’t bother – and that even I was helping to contribute to the overwhelming collection of garbage writing on the web.

Since then, Google has changed their algorithms in favor of value-giving content. And, I like to think, people have “wised up” to the fact that that type of writing wasn’t really helping anyone.

I also love that there’s been a bit of a crackdown lately for all writers – even those of us who are “just” bloggers – to up their ethical game. No more hidden affiliate links, no more using friends and family members as sources without full disclosure… I love it! Web writing is here to stay and it SHOULD be treated with respect and have that legitimacy to it.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I take days off. I know. That seems like a productivity tip that would be handed out on Opposite Day, but it’s absolutely true. By taking at least one day off per week – two preferred! – I keep myself from getting burned out. And that’s important! I AM my business. If I don’t take care of myself, then I can’t work. And if I can’t work, I can’t get paid. Those days off are an investment!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Working as a cashier for a fast food place. The days when I worked the drive-thru were the worst. Though working the front was no picnic either. Think of all of the problems that arise at a typical customer service position and then imagine all of the people being HUNGRY on top of that. Hungry people are not to be trifled with! I dealt with some of the rudest, most heinous, behavior at that job – from getting screamed at, to getting food thrown at me, to having a man pull down his pants and defecate on the floor because the cooks got his order wrong.

A lot of people tend to look down on minimum wage workers. Having a “Mc Job” has become a joke – or, worse, a slur – to throw at someone deemed “beneath” other working humans. And that’s a bunch of crap. The people working those jobs are often just as intelligent, if not moreso, than anyone else. And, quite frankly, have more strength and patience! If you ever meet a fast food “lifer,” you’ve just met someone who has seen the absolute worst of humanity on a daily basis and is still smiling. THAT deserves some respect.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Other than starting sooner (why, oh why, did I wait so long to follow my dream?), I guess I would say… Getting website security immediately upon starting my business. I found out the hard way, two years in, that shelling out the money to get my website protected is a very important investment. There’s nothing quite like the horror of having your website – your online business! – hacked.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Persist. Successful freelance writing – and freelancing in general! – is all about patience and persistence. The work is going to come and go. It’s called the “Feast or Famine Cycle” and it’s a pain in the butt. But you have to remember during the famine times that you WILL feast again, if you keep going. So KEEP GOING!!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Writing guest posts for other blogs/publications has worked wonders for me.

Basically, if you see a publication that’s featuring articles on a topic you’re savvy on, think about contributing to them! If you end up getting an article/blog post published on their website, you’ll be boosting your credibility in your field. Not only are posts that you write for others taken more seriously than posts you write for yourself, but you’ll also have the added benefit of getting your writing in front of a new audience. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a link back to your own website in your author bio – and so some of those new readers will head over to your site as well; and some may even become future clients!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There have been a few times when I’ve panicked during the “Famine” part of the “Feast or Famine Cycle” and have taken on clients who didn’t treat me well. Namely, I agreed to work for MUCH less than I’m worth, just to get some quick cash.

But, the thing is, clients who undervalue you are never actually “quick cash” clients. The jobs they want are never easy – and if they describe the work as “easy” then you’re in for an even worse time! They think the pennies they’re offering you are actually more than fair and that they should therefore strive to “get their money’s worth.” In other words: Cheap clients will work you to death if they get the chance.

Working for people who don’t understand, and don’t value, what you do is one of the quickest ways to get burned out. And burnout is the bane of the freelancer! If you get burned out, you can’t work; and if you can’t work, you can’t get paid.

If you find yourself in this situation, get out as soon as you can. Stay professional, do your best work (YOU agreed to do the job, so you have no excuse to not put your best foot forward regardless of the pay you’re getting!), and turn in your two-week’s notice – just like you would at a traditional job. And remember: Each day that you waste working for a terrible client is a day you could be spending working for a good client. Get out.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m reluctant to share this because this is something I might actually want to keep for myself, but… I’d love to see a business that connects writers with artists. And I mean that in two ways:

1. There are a lot of great comic book artists out there who don’t have strong writing skills. I’d love for them to have an easy place to meet writers who are looking to partner up on a comicking adventure. And,
2. Artists tend to be absolute crap at marketing themselves. I’d love to see a team of copywriters who totally dig the creative scene to come up with a marketing firm JUST for freelance artists to utilize.

Oh, and if anyone actually puts this idea into action, shoot me an e-mail. I want in!

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was born without my right hip, but Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles built me a new one! Of course, that fact is on my About page so… How about the fact that I don’t like feet? I love shoes – “shoe” was my first word as a baby! – but I find feet kinda gross. Not dissing any foot fetishists out there, but your thing is definitely not my thing. [laughs].

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I’m probably a bit more “low tech” than a lot of the interviewees on here… I love me some pen and paper. Mmm.

However, I do use Gmail for e-mails (love it because it also works well from my phone), Hootsuite to schedule my social media updates (scheduling updates in advance keeps the process from becoming an overwhelming time suck), WordPress to run my websites (so easy to use that even a “low tech” user can be in control of their own online business), Sucuri for my website security (again: SO important!), and Microsoft Word to write and edit articles (it’s a classic).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s a great book for anyone looking to experience the joy of wordplay and a sense of humor with flair for puns similar to that of the Marx Brothers’. It’s a children’s book, but it has timeless lessons for everyone – namely that we should make the most of each “boring” day we’re alive.

And if you’re up for a second book, check out The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa. I have a portrait of Scrooge McDuck on the wall of my office because he’s one of my entrepreneurial heroes. [laughs]. Scrooge believes in the value of hard work and fresh ideas! It made him the richest man (duck) in the world. And Don Rosa’s graphic novel following Scrooge’s rags-to-riches origin story is beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written, and incredibly inspirational.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Sophie Lizard – Sophie is the owner of Be A Freelance Blogger and is one of my freelance blogging heroes/heroines. She truly wants everyone who attempts freelance blogging to succeed at it, even if it means having to kick their butts to make it happen!

Kelly “Cordelia” Gurnett – Kelly runs Cordelia Calls It Quits, a site for people on their freelancing journey. Blogs about the freelance life are pretty common these days; however, what makes Kelly’s exceptional is that she’s not afraid to talk about the bad times – the financial crises, the burnout, the unsureness – and use her own experiences as an example.

Dana Sitar  – Dana is the founder of DIY Writing and the A Writer’s Bucket List Blog Network. She’s also a self-publishing expert who has, in my opinion, added a lot to the credibility and legitimacy of self-published books by working to inform others why “digital” doesn’t automatically mean “terrible.”

Connect:

http://littlezotz.com
Official Lauren Tharp Website: http://laurentharp.net
LittleZotz Writing on Twitter: @littlezotzwrite
LittleZotz Writing on Facebook: http://facebook.com/littlezotzwriting
LittleZotz Writing on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/littlezotz
LittleZotz Writing on Google+: http://google.com/+Littlezotz