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Life as a freelancer:
my first staff meeting

“I told my staff that I loved seeing their devotion to this job. I praised them highly. But I noted that I was concerned, too, that they might burn themselves out working at this pace.”

— Sonya Senkowsky

By Sonya Senkowsky
One week into fulltime freelancing, I decided to hold a staff meeting.

Never mind that attendance would, of necessity, be limited. Spirits were flagging, energy levels were low... If I’d learned nothing else from my years of working as a corporate employee, I knew this much: It was time for a staff meeting.

It was a full house. I was pleased to see everyone was on time.

I told my staff that I loved seeing their devotion to this job. I praised them highly. But I noted that I was concerned, too, that they might burn themselves out working at this pace. It’s OK to take a midday walk, I told them. In fact, it’s required — at least 10 minutes a day. Take lunch breaks, too, by all means. “This isn’t a sweatshop,” I said.

You should have heard the gasps.

I also asked them for a little favor: Pay attention to details like throwing out overflowing trash cans, I asked. Later, I hope we will be able to afford a cleaning staff, but not yet. They didn’t groan nearly as much as I’d expected.

Then I asked for feedback about their week and readied myself for an earful.

Feedback? I had plenty. No one had ever told me our goals or let me know whether I was meeting them. It was all work, work, work. Talk about stress! Even after working all night, it seemed to be too much to get a “good job” or “thank you.” Instead, my supervisor only heaped on more work — and abuse! Not to mention that the marketing department didn’t seem to be doing its job, and legal was just bogged down with contracts. I felt I needed to work every minute to keep us from falling apart.

As boss, I was chagrined. I promised to watch my grumbling and acknowledge hard work with praise and rewards. I’d also keep up better with those folks in marketing and legal.

Then, I suggested a motivational exercise. I had my nervous charges list “our” accomplishments from the past year — back before we went full-time. Based on our previous successes, we fashioned a reasonable new goal: twice as many stories as before. Then, referring to the success list, I noted that we had already met the goal for the month. We were, in fact, ahead!

Gloom lifted as all acknowledged the concrete, easily attainable goal. Spirits rose.

Then, noticing our promised half-hour drawing to a close (never allow a meeting to drag), I thanked my hard-working staff for putting their hearts into their work.

Already, I see results. Motivation is up; serious fretting is down. And we’re adding to our successes every week.

It feels good to be part of such a dedicated, successful team.


About the Author
Sonya Senkowsky is owner, editor and (sometimes disgruntled) staff of her Anchorage-based freelance business. She is also founder of AlaskaWriters Homestead, which offers advice and a home on the Web to Alaska writers of all kinds. This essay was previously published on WritersDigest.com, where it won the monthly “Chronicle” essay-writing contest.

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Photos of Sonya Senkowsky © 2004 David Jensen / David Jensen Photography.

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