Today’s field report comes from Amie Gillingham, co-founder with her husband of an online service for artists who represent themselves. Mother of two and a fine artist, Amie works from home at her dining room table.
Describe your job/career/business
My husband and I are entrepreneurs, and together, we co-founded EBSQ Self-Representing Artists. Our business is a bit of an anomaly in the social web realm. A lot of businesses are built specifically to attract a community as its business model. Our community, founded by California artist John Seed in 2000, came built-in, so to speak, and we built our business around that pre-existing community and its needs. I was at that time working purely as a fine artist, and was one of the earliest members of John’s community. But John had some health issues and he handed the whole thing over to me, along with his mission to support all living artists, regardless of style, media, education, location, or even talent. This is a mission I still take very seriously.
At first, we were purely a directory website with an online forum/chatroom for a handful of artists who were selling their work on eBay. Since then we’ve evolved to include a wider array of services including full-portfolios, auction templates and counter tools, multiple platform support, e-cards, online exhibits, monthly how-to demonstrations, an online monthly magazine, a blog, some “outposts” on sites like flickr, squidoo, and facebook, and a community that now numbers in the thousands.
My daily job consists of helping to setup and close member accounts, general customer service, staying in touch with our community via our forums and email, blogging, and developing partnerships with other like-minded businesses as we strive to bring some real value to our artists who are marketing their own work directly to the public, rather than waiting for some high-priced gallery to do it for them. And we do it all from the comfort of our own home.
How has the web changed your working life?
I wouldn’t *have* a working life without the web! And what’s more, our business has created a working life for artists across the globe. Because of what we do, they have a place to show their work, access to exhibition and networking opportunities, and an extremely amazing community that helps get them (and me!) out of the creative vacuum of working at home on one’s own. Enabling something like this is a gratifying way to spend one’s career.
I also love not being tied to a location. Being able to work my own hours. And frankly, being able to nurse my children at my desk is a bit of a perk as well. Mastering the art of NAK (nursing at the keyboard) is what has enabled me to work now that the kiddos are here. So many women have had to choose between being full-time moms or full-time workers, or somewhere in between, and it always seemed to me like they were sacrificing something of themselves no matter what choice they made. Web working has allowed me (and my husband!) to do both.
Describe your working situation
When I started web working back in 2001, my husband and I shared a nice big home office. It was easily the best space in which I’ve ever worked in my whole career. But in 2004, we had our first child, and then moved into our first house. Bill put his office in the finished basement, and I set up camp in the dining room with a laptop so I could keep an eye on my daughter. Three years and another child later, I am sad to say that I am still working in the dining room despite the beginnings of an office space upstairs. It’s less than ideal, particularly since my mess is spread across the dining room table 24/7, but I have managed to stay productive while raising two small children. I am looking forward to having a more normal workspace once my son (15 months) is a bit older.
What are the key web and desktop tools you use?
My office is on a different floor of the house than my husband’s office, so we IM each other constantly to share files, discuss items we’re working on, and to ask for help with the kids when one or the other of us needs a break from “parent patrol.” Also, I am a huge fan of Basecamp. It lets us connect to the other people in our org, share links, brainstorm, and I use the milestones feature to help keep us (and myself in particular) on track with tasks that need to be done.
We also monitor key site functions via rss feeds. Right now, I am still using ActiveRefresh because it was my first feedreader and I am a creature of habit, although I am trying out Google Reader at the suggestion of a few friends.
I use Twitter as my water cooler because everyone needs a break and a bit of human distraction during the day. I suspect a lot of the other folks on my friends list use Twitter for similar reasons. I use Web Worker Daily much the same way. I see it as a water cooler of like-minded folks where I can go and share thoughts and reap some collective wisdom that enables me to do my job better.
Describe your productivity system
I am very analog with my productivity system. I am a huge fan of the steno-pad. It lets me keep my own bizarre system of reminders and to-dos and because of the line down the middle of each page, I can either make one large two-columned list, or I can make side notes that pertain to the main list on the left. My latest system has been to do separate pages for work to-dos and life to-dos, with things I want to accomplish that day, that week, and that month. Separating the lists has been helpful and I seem to be making more headway with the new system.
I do still use the web for reminders. I do my business to-do reminders with Basecamp and my personal to-do reminders with 30 boxes. My husband has been urging me to get a physical white-board calendar as well so I can visually see what I have coming up. I may need to take him up on it soon since I did botch a deadline last week!
Share your top tip for success as a web entrepreneur
Get organized. When you’re an entrepreneur and suddenly your own boss, you are the one setting the agenda. How organized and disciplined you are will make or break you and your company. You really need to be a self-starter. That being said, when you do succeed, it’s amazingly gratifying.
And get help. Being an accidental entrepreneur, I wasn’t quite prepared to be in the position I’m now in. My business education has been entirely on the fly. I’m surviving by surrounding myself with as many smart people as I can find.
Thanks to all who have submitted web worker field reports. We’ll be running one every Thursday aimed at showing all the different ways you can web work for success and satisfaction. We’re especially looking for field reports from people working in settings and professions not normally known for heavy web use.