Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And of course, it helps to be lucky!

I was speaking this morning with a friend who has hit a rough patch - she has spent a year building the concept for a new start-up company, only to have the (financial) rug pulled out from under her just as they were ready to launch their product. She has been following my adventures as a consultant, and wanted to know why I thought I was successful (so far).

I had been thinking about it, and for me, it comes down to two things:
  1. Be good at something, and
  2. know lots of people.
It doesn't matter how great a network of friends and acquaintances you have, you have to have a skill you can sell. You have to have something you do better than most people, and it has to be something they value and will pay you to do.

On the other hand, you can have outstanding skills, but if nobody knows what you do, you will have a hard time finding work. Every job that I've gotten so far was either from someone who knew me directly, or from a referral from someone who knows me.

And then, you have to be in the right place at the right time - there's always an element of luck. But the more people who know what you do and believe you do it well, the better the odds. And then you have to deliver.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Wonderful Free Tool for Collaboration

Suppose you are working on a draft of a document with someone else. The typical approach is to write in Word and send the document back and forth via email, making changes as you go. That's OK, but there's a tool I like better: Google Docs.

With Google Docs, you create a document, or a spreadsheet, online in your web browser, then you share it with one or more collaborators. Each of you can edit the document and view it online. You can even edit the same document at the same time, for example while talking on the phone or chatting via IM, and both see each other's changes at the same time!

This week I was working on a proposal for a new job and I plan to work with a subcontractor. I created the document in Google Docs, and when she had time she was able to read it and add changes and comments. Google Docs can export your document into several formats - I exported it into Word and emailed it to the client. I also prepared a budget and expense worksheet that I shared with my sub.

And of course, like most things Google, Google Docs is free - all you need is a Google account.

If you are working on a long, complicated document or a highly sophisticated spreadsheet, you may run up against the limitations of Google Docs, but for 95% of what it do it works great. And like other online tools, your work is available to you anywhere you have an Internet connection - you can even edit a Google Doc on your iPhone. (And you can edit offline, too, if you install an add-on called Google Gears.)

Let me know what collaboration tools you use in your work!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What Do I Have in Common with a 30-Year Old ex-Tagger?

There's a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times today about Mister Cartoon, a very successful (freelance) commercial artist. I was really impressed by this comment at the end that represents the attitude that led to his success. Most of us will never be as successful as he is, but we can all learn from his determination, dedication, and focus:
"I don't expect a trophy or a cookie or a pat on the back," Cartoon said. "I made a decision to change my life and help my family."

That decision resulted in the clarity to pursue his ambitions. But to hear the artist tell it, making good on those plans is also a matter of following the rules.

"Am I gifted or especially talented?" Cartoon said. "No. I got all this through hard work. Through respecting my old man. From taking direction from people. From painting when everyone else was asleep. I just found something I really love and practiced at it my whole life."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

David Pogue on Reqall reminders

I was very interested in Reqall described today by David Pogue in the NY Times. It's a system that lets you "phone in" reminders to yourself and others, keeps track of them, and helps you to remember what you need to do. As soon as I get a chance, I'm going to give it a try.

I've been using Toodledo.com for my to-do list - it's pretty good, but it certainly sounds like Reqall can do some very useful things that Toodledo doesn't do.

What do you use for a to-do list/reminder system?