Category: Ask Ellen

Ask Ellen: Just Hire Me Already

Dear Ellen,

I’m self-employed and I’m dealing with something pretty frustrating. Here’s what’s been happening:

A potential client emails me. They seem interested in hiring me. They ask for more info about my services. I email back right away, attaching a personalized, detailed proposal. But then the client disappears! Either they don’t respond at all, or they say something like, “Thank you, but I’ve decided to postpone things for now.”

It’s really irritating when these kinds of clients waste my time and effort. I am not sure why this keeps happening. Any thoughts?

Just Hire Me Already


Dear JHMA,

Yes, this is a very frustrating dilemma! Every entrepreneur experiences this kind of situation, at least occasionally. You’re definitely not alone.

So, why does this keep happening over and over? Honestly, JHMA, it may have nothing to do with you.

Maybe this client contacted you eagerly, ready to begin work immediately, but then they received some terrible news about an illness or death in the family and now they’re completed overwhelmed.

Maybe they’re dealing with a complicated divorce and they’re falling behind on emails.

Maybe they dropped their iPhone into the ocean on a disastrous boating trip.

Maybe they got cold feet at the last moment because they’re struggling with financial difficulties, or because they’re doubting their own ability to succeed.

Maybe they’re battling depression.

Who knows what’s going on in their personal life? There are many reasons why someone might disappear or change their mind. Many times, it doesn’t have much to do with you.

That being said, it never hurts to examine your business practices to see if there’s anything you could improve. If clients repeatedly see your proposal and then vanish, it could be because…

• Your proposal is too long and confusing.

• Your proposal doesn’t feel enticing enough.

• Your proposal doesn’t match the way you present yourself on your website.

• Your proposal doesn’t have a sense of urgency and there’s no clear reason why they ought to hire you right now.

• Your communication style feels stiff and robotic, rather than warm and welcoming.

• You accidentally attached a photo of your dog instead of your proposal.

… or, some other issue.

It never hurts to ask yourself, “Is there anything that could be improved?”

If you’re not sure, sit down with a friend, walk them through your website, your emails, your proposals, all the pieces of your client intake process, and ask for their feedback. Ask them, “When you read this, how do you feel?” See what they say. It can be so valuable to get a fresh pair of eyes on your work.

To sum it up, JHMA, when a potential client mysteriously vanishes, it might have nothing to do with you. Or it might have everything to do with you. Or it might have just a little to do with you. In any event, there’s no point grumbling about it, right? The best thing to do is assess your business, make any improvements that you can, stride forward with optimism, and keep trying.

I’m rooting for you, and I hope your next client gives you a resounding “YES!”


Image: Willie Franklin

Ask Ellen: I Can’t Wait Much Longer

Dear Ellen,

I started a business about 18 months ago. I was so enthusiastic at first, but lately I’ve been having a tough time, both emotionally and financially. Looking back over the past 18 months, I haven’t made as much money as I hoped I would. In fact, I’ve been slowly burning through my savings just to pay my bills and stay afloat.

I don’t know if I should keep “pressing forward” and have faith that things will improve, or if I should quit now and figure out some other path. I know that building a successful business requires time, effort, and patience, but my patience is running out.

Do you have any guidance for someone in my situation?

Can’t Wait Much Longer


Dear CWML,

When you’re self-employed, there’s nothing scarier than staring at your bank account balance and realizing that lots of money is flowing out, but there’s not much flowing in.

You might start to feel panicky and really hard on yourself, thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I make this work? Maybe I’m just not cut out to be an entrepreneur…” and other dark, gloomy thoughts.

Without knowing the exact details of your situation, CWML, it’s difficult for me to offer specific guidance. But here’s what I can tell you, for sure:

Tenacity is the secret to success.

When you look around at the businesses that are thriving and prospering, it might seem like they just sprang out of nowhere, or that each one is a fantastical overnight success. I can promise you: that’s never the case.

Crossfit, the workout craze that’s been booming in popularity lately, has actually been around for nearly 16 years. It’s only recently that it’s become a “household name.”

Fedex, Amazon, and the Tupperware company—those are three more examples of companies that are wildly successful, today, but that struggled to generate any profits for the first 3, 4, even 5 years or more.

My friend Susan Hyatt is a life coach and motivational speaker who runs a company that generates $1 million dollars a year, but that’s because she’s been diligently working on her business for nearly 10 years.

Tiffany Han is a podcaster and writer who shared the story of her $40,000 online product launch with total honesty and transparency. (Hint: it didn’t happen overnight.)

I could go on and on. You get the idea.

Figuring out what you want to sell, creating an enticing product or service that people actually want, building a fan base for your work… ironing out the kinks in your business… all of that takes time. Sometimes, a LOT more time than we’d like.

The entrepreneurs who are willing to ride it out and keep marching forward with almost super-human patience and tenacity—those are the people who ultimately succeed.

Now, all of that being said, you’ve got bills to pay and you need to earn money—in some way or another—to support yourself until your business can fully support you!

If you need to earn money quickly, here are a couple of ideas to consider:

• Drive an Uber or a Lyft.

Almost all the people I talk to who drive for Uber or Lyft do it to earn extra cash to support their main gigs. The great thing is that you make your own schedule! Turn your car into a money-making (and networking opportunity) to put extra money in your bank account.

• Outsource your skills.

Can you do graphic design, website development, video editing, software development or customer service? Think about parlaying those skills into extra income opportunities by signing up on sites such as TaskRabbit or ODesk. Like with Uber and Lyft, you can pick and choose how often you want to work and what jobs you take!

• Rent out a room in your house.

Do you have an extra room in your house that is not being used? Do you travel for work and often have an empty house during the week or on weekends? This empty space can be parlayed into extra income by listing your space on sites like Airbnb or VRBO.

• Clean your house and sell things on eBay.

Spend a weekend cleaning your house (the basement, garage, all those closets and drawers (a la Marie Kondo). You will be amazed at all the valuable treasures you will find. Computers, screens, iPod’s you no longer use. Great clothes you no longer wear. Furniture, dishes- you name it. Sell what you don’t want on eBay. Your junk is another person’s treasure.

There are endless ways to create a side hustle to generate money. Renting out infant gear to tourists. Pet sitting. Officiating weddings. With imagination and grit you will get there. Check out Chris Guillebeau’s podcast, Side Hustle School – for more great ideas.

If you’re feeling really stuck and confused about how to earn money, or which direction you ought to take your career next, consider talking to a good friend, a mentor, or a professional career/business advisor (someone like me) so that you can create a specific action plan for the next chapter of your life.

No matter what happens next, you can hold your head high and feel proud of yourself… knowing that you didn’t just fantasize about launching a business, you actually did it. Even if you ultimately decide to close down—or dramatically change—your business, you can do so without any trace of shame. At least you tried to start a business and make it work. How many people can say that? Not many.

Be proud of everything you’ve done, and stay optimistic for everything yet to come.

With love,


Image: Willie Franklin

Ask Ellen: How Can I Get People Excited About My Work?

Dear Ellen,

For a long time, I had an impressive-sounding job at a pretty well-known company. When I introduced myself to people, their faces would light up and they’d say all kinds of nice, complimentary things. (“Wow, what a cool job!” “That’s so amazing!” “I love that company!” That sort of thing.)

But after doing a lot of soul-searching, I decided to leave that job and start my own business. My current business is kind of hard to describe—I do spiritual/healing work—and nowadays, when I tell people about what I do, their faces usually don’t light up. Mostly, they just look confused.

I have to admit—it’s really hurting my ego. I’m tired of feeling like people don’t understand me, or think that my new profession is some kind of joke. A big part of me really misses having a “neat and tidy job title” that immediately impresses people.

Can you relate to that? Do you have any guidance for me?

I guess I just want people to hear about my work and feel excited, like they used to.
I’m starting to feel like that’s never going to happen.

Formerly Impressive

Ellen Fondiler: Ask Ellen

Dear FI,

I started my career as an attorney—high-pressure cases, packed schedule, briefcase, power suit, the whole nine yards. When I introduced myself, most people were immediately impressed. Maybe even intimidated.

Then after 12 years, I decided I wasn’t interested in practicing law anymore. The hours were too long, the cases were too depressing (I specialized in death penalty appeals), and the environment just wasn’t right for me anymore.

I walked away from my identity as a lawyer and decided to open a bakery along with a couple of friends. Going from “courtrooms” to “cookies” isn’t a typical career transition, and plenty of people thought I was completely nuts. (“You’re doing WHAT?!” was the general response to my decision.)

But that was just the beginning. Over the course of my multi-decade career, I’ve been a lawyer, a baker, a landscape designer, a non-profit director, a fundraiser, and a documentary filmmaker. (Currently, I work as a career/business consultant.)

I’ve had many business cards and many identities, and I know how stressful and unnerving it can feel to make a big leap from one industry to another, even when it’s something you really want to do.

YES, it stings your ego when you describe your new business to someone and they seem baffled or disinterested.

YES, it hurts when you’ve become accustomed to people respecting you and asking you for advice, and then suddenly, you’re working in an entirely new industry and nobody knows you exist.

YES, it’s annoying when people stare at you like you’re completely crazy.

But that’s the price that you pay when you decide to make a major leap with your career. There’s going to be a slightly awkward transition period. There always is.

A few years ago, I stepped down from a prestigious position as a non-profit director. I managed a team of 5 people. I earned a good salary. It was a non-profit organization that I built myself, from the ground up, and I had a lot of emotional ties to the project.

The day that I stepped down, once again, it felt like a part of my identity was taken away. I wasn’t “Ellen Fondiler, Founder and Director of MEarth” anymore. I was “Ellen Fondiler, Lost Soul” or “Ellen Fondiler, Entrepreneurial Something-Or-Other” or “Ellen Fondier, Uh, Your Guess Is As Good As Mine.”

It felt strange and bittersweet to lose the “job title” that I had cherished for so long. Even though it was my choice to walk away, it was still a strange sensation.

But in due time, the awkward transition period ended, as it always does. I found my footing again. I chose my new path. I launched my new website. I printed my new business cards. And before too long, I had a new profession that I felt excited and proud to talk about. I stepped into my new identity and fully owned it.

My advice to you?

Worry less about what other people think about your new business.

Focus more on becoming the best possible entrepreneur you can be.

Proudly own your new identity, and hold your head high.

Don’t lose sight of your ‘Why’

Have fun on a daily basis.

And lastly, remember: you’ve found work that you love. That’s the ultimate dream for so many people, and you’re not just dreaming about, you’re doing it and living it. If that’s not “impressive,” then I don’t know what is.

With love,


Image: Willie Franklin

Ask Ellen: Should I Bother With a Blog?


Dear Ellen,

I’m one of those people who has always thought, “I should really start a blog.”

I even purchased a website domain one time and got pretty close to launching a blog, but then I stopped myself. I feel like there are already millions of blogs out there… and who’s going to care about mine? And what’s the point of working on a blog if barely anybody sees it?

I don’t even really know what my question is, specifically, but… do you have any words of wisdom for me?

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Ellen Fondiler: Ask Ellen


The feelings of hesitancy that you’re having are very natural… and very sensible!

Before you pour a ton of time and energy into a very crowded field, it’s always wise to ask yourself:

What can I offer that’s “different” from everything that’s already out there?
What’s going to make this project worth reading/watching/sharing/purchasing?
Why do I feel called to do this, really? What’s my underlying motivation?

Think about those questions, or discuss those questions with a friend, colleague, or even a professional writing coach. You might find a lot of clarity… and you might feel renewed excitement about launching your blog and getting things rolling!

I didn’t start a blog until I was 60 years old! I considered it for many years, and I wrestled with many of the same “… but what’s the point?” feelings that you’re currently feeling, TBONTB. Honestly, sometimes, I still do! And yet, when I look back over the last few years, it’s undeniable: blogging has enriched my life in so many ways.

Here are a couple of reasons why blogging is pretty amazing—regardless of whether you wind up having millions of fans or not:

1. You will learn new things.

Every time I sit down to write a blog post or an advice column like this one, I have to research, collect facts and statistics, find inspiring quotes, and explore corners of the Internet that I’ve never seen before. Because of my blog, I learned that being a “professional, certified cuddler” is an actual profession. (Who knew?) Because of my blog, I’ve discovered job postings and grant opportunities that I’ve been able to pass along to my clients. Because of my blog, I’ve stumbled across books, podcasts, and TED Talks that have touched my life in a profound way. Becoming a blogger has expanded my world in ways I could not have imagined.

2. You will become a better communicator.

Whether you’re a dog trainer, a hairstylist, an administrative assistant, or a self-employed graphic designer, EVERY profession requires strong communication skills. Blogging consistently will make you a better communicator, which will enhance your career in so many ways. The more you write, the better you get!

3. You can support causes that matter to you.

Whether you have five devoted blog fans, or five million, you can use your blog as a “platform” to discuss issues and causes that matter to you. You can even use your blog as a place to raise money for philanthropic projects, if you want to.

Last year, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed and Brené Brown (along with many others) started the Compassion Collective and raised over two million dollars for humanitarian causes. Their writing brought them fame and followers, and now, they’re using their fame to create a better world.

4. You can earn a lot of money.

Sarah Von Bargen started her blog, Yes & Yes, purely as a fun, personal writing project. Today, she has amassed such a tremendous following that she’s able to sell advertising spots and feature paid sponsors, sell e-books and e-courses, and offer blogging/online community consulting to entrepreneurs. She has built an entire career around her blog!

It can take a lot of patience to get to that point—Sarah has been blogging daily for over 9 years—but it’s possible.

5. You can really help people.

Blogging means that you’re sharing your personal stories, feelings, advice, and resources online. You have no idea who might stumble upon your blog—or how much your words might impact their life.

My friend Susan Hyatt is a great example of this. Her blog posts typically come from a very personal, emotional place. When she wrote a blog post about her teenage son’s academic struggles—and how he was almost failing out of high school, she received so many grateful emails from fellow parents. So many of them said, “Thank you for sharing your story and your perspective. I’m so glad I’m not the only one dealing with a situation like this.”

When you open your heart and express yourself online, in a public space, you never know who you’re going to help. Your words could change someone’s entire day.

There you go: five great reasons to stop worrying and just start blogging already! So, then the question becomes: How do you begin?

My advice: Just start.

Write a few posts on any topics that feel interesting to you. Don’t fret about whether your writing is “great” or not. Don’t worry about how many “fans” are reading or not.

Just dive in! Hit “publish” on your very first blog post and celebrate that big step!

As my friend Alex says, regardless of how many people are reading and commenting on your blog posts, keep going, keep sharing, and remember that you are a big deal.

TBONTB: I wish you so much fulfillment and joy on your blogging journey!

I can promise you: blogging will expand your life, often in very unpredictable ways. New job opportunities, new virtual and real-life friendships, a newfound sense of confidence in your communication skills… there’s so much that blogging can bring into life.

If you feel called to do it, then… just do it.


Image: Willie Franklin

Ask Ellen: How Can I Stay Focused?

Dear Ellen,

I recently started working from home, which is awesome for so many reasons. But the problem is that I’m struggling to stay focused. In the morning, I tend to putter around the house, washing dishes, cooking, tidying up, checking Facebook, or whatever, and before I know it, it’s 4pm and I’ve barely gotten any work done! Please tell me I’m not the only person with this problem. How can I get more disciplined?

Puttering Problem

Ellen Fondiler: Ask Ellen

Dear PP,

I can relate to this problem! I had to force myself to stop puttering in order to write this advice column. I’m not even kidding!

When you’re working from home, it’s inevitable—you’ll be faced with temptations and distractions that you won’t find in a typical office environment.

Without a “boss” looking over your shoulder to ensure that you’re getting things done, you’ve got to become your own boss! That’s why it’s called “self-employment,” after all. (Emphasis on the word: “self.”)

I’ve launched five different businesses and I’ve been self-employed for most of my life. Some weeks, I feel like a productivity superhero, and other weeks, I just want to curl up with Netflix or goof around with my kids and avoid my computer at all costs. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself when I’m having a “productivity slump,” and also, I’ve learned that I function best when I have some basic systems in place.

Here are a couple of things that really help me:

1. Establish a routine.

You don’t necessarily have to work from 9am to 5pm, but you do need to establish consistent “working hours” that make sense for you.

When do you feel alert and productive? For me, it’s first thing in the morning, and then I get another wave of energy around 3 – 5pm in the evening. But from about 12pm – 3pm, my energy plummets and it’s tough to get things done.

Since I know this about myself, I can organize my workday accordingly. I try to schedule client sessions and writing projects during the morning. I try to avoid scheduling big, intense projects during the early afternoon because I know it’s not the best time for my brain. Instead, I use that part of the day to take a nap, go for a walk, chat on the phone with a friend, or putter around the house.

2. Set concrete goals every day.

Every day, I pick three things I want to accomplish. I write them down on a piece of paper. (Productivity expert Leo Babauta calls these three things your MITs, or “Most Important Things.”) Then I assign a specific time slot for each item. Here’s what my list might look like:

9am. Write responses to Ask Ellen questions.

11am. Phone call with Susan to discuss GO GET IT! program options for 2017.

3pm. Email six recent clients to check in and see how they’re doing. When appropriate, invite them to work with me again in 2017.

If I complete all three things on my list, then I consider my day a success!

3. Give yourself breaks.

You’re not a machine. You’re a human being. It’s important to give yourself time to exercise, sleep, meet up with friends, and enjoy non-work-related experiences. I know so many self-employed people who are chained to their computer/phone/tablet 24/7, and who sleep poorly and feel brittle, exhausted, and burnt out almost constantly. Don’t do that to yourself! Take breaks. Remember that “rest” isn’t optional—it’s a requirement.

There are so many great books on productivity and time management for entrepreneurs. A few books that I especially love:

The 4-Hour Workweek By Tim Ferriss. Personally, I’ve never managed to compress all of my work into just 4 hours per week, but hey… it’s an inspiring goal to work towards! Talk about efficiency!

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day By Todd Henry. A great kick in the butt to stop procrastinating and seriously get to work!

In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney. Beautiful profiles of 100 female entrepreneurs—from all kinds of industries—who are doing amazing work. Many of the women featured in this book share their personal productivity tips—there’s so much gold inside!

Whew! Now that this column is finished, it’s time to watch an episode of Outlander and putter around in my kitchen! Haha! There’s nothing wrong with puttering—it can be meditative and relaxing—but make sure you’re prioritizing your income-generating work, first. Remember: as fun as it might be, puttering doesn’t pay the bills!

Good luck, PP, and congrats on choosing the path of self-employment! Great adventures await!


Image: Willie Franklin

Ask Ellen: How can I stay optimistic when so many awful things are happening in the world?

Dear Ellen,

Like many people, I take a few moments to listen to NPR or watch the news on TV every day. I want to be informed about what’s going on in the world. I don’t want to be oblivious. I don’t want to exist inside of a “bubble” of privilege and comfort when millions are suffering.

The problem is: after listening to the daily news, I just feel so depressed. I can literally feel the energy draining out of my body. Once, after listening to NPR for several hours during a long drive in my car, I broke down sobbing and I was a wreck for the rest of the day. I could barely focus on my work and I struggled to get anything done.

My question for you is: how can I stay “informed” without letting bad news completely wear me down? How can I stay “hopeful” when so many awful things are happening in the world? I know that you are interested in law, politics, and making the world a better place. I’d love your thoughts on this.

Trying To Be Happy In This Not-So-Happy World


Dear Trying To Be Happy,

I hear you.

Like you, I like to stay on top of the news—especially during an election year.

And like you, I find the deluge of unhappy news to be pretty overwhelming. These past few months, in particular, my eyes, ears, and mind feel completely saturated with horrific story after story after story. Orlando. Campus rape. Syrian refugees clutching their children close, cold and frightened, clinging to rafts floating across the sea…

You asked, “How can I stay ‘informed’ without letting bad news completely wear me down?”

It’s a good question. I believe that it’s possible to do this. But it’s not always easy. Sometimes, you have to come up with creative “coping strategies” to balance despair with hope and optimism.

One of my personal strategies is writing a daily “gratitude journal.” Once a day, I write down a few things I am grateful for. They don’t need to be heavy or meaningful. (“I’m grateful for this lovely park near my house,” “I’m grateful that there’s a new episode of Scandal airing tonight”).

I’ve been writing my grateful thoughts for many years. Not every single day—sometimes I forget, or I’m just just a little too busy and distracted to remember to wake up to the world around me—but almost every day, I take the time to stop and breathe in these small important moments. I love it. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day.

Here’s another strategy that I love: writing a “happy report.”

A beautiful writer named Katrina Kenison first brought the term “happy report” into my consciousness. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a list of things you are happy about. It’s like your own personal news coverage filled exclusively with positive stories.

As Katrina puts it, a happy report is “a powerful antidote to a day’s petty grievances or the grim realities of the evening news […] a reminder that even the most challenging day contains its moment of grace, if we are willing to seek it out.”

I love that.

Today, inspired by Katrina, I’d like to share my own personal happy report. (And to everyone reading this advice column, I encourage you to write your own happy report as well. It’s a wonderful exercise.)

I am happy to report that… I promised myself I would walk and exercise more this year, and I’m doing it! I typically listen to a podcast (like Dear Sugar) or an audio book while I walk. I let myself get lost in the story, and before I know it, I’ve walked for 45 minutes or an hour or more.

I am happy to report that… after searching (with a fair amount of frustration) for many months, I finally found a new place to live that’s quiet, pretty, cozy, and within my budget. I’ve been enjoying my new home very much and I feel so fortunate to be here.

I am happy to report that… my two sons, Willie and Lexy, are both smart, caring, wonderful young men doing interesting work in the world. It’s a joy to watch them pursue their chosen careers, take brave leaps, learn (sometimes uncomfortable) lessons, and grow wiser each year. W & L: raising you has been—and still is—the greatest privilege of my life.

I am happy to report that… my life has been filled with wonderful books, articles, and other discoveries lately. I read The Crossroads of Should and Must and loved it. I read a friend’s memoir, Harley and Me, which was empowering and brilliant (you can see my interview with the author here). I’ve been diving deep into a website called Medium which is filled with all kinds of user-submitted stories (anyone can contribute a story—you don’t have to be invited).

I am happy to report that… I took an emotional risk this year and reached out to a colleague to ask if she’d consider co-teaching a program with me. She’s a very busy woman who already juggles so many projects, so it was a bit of a long shot that she’d say “Yes.” In fact, I was pretty sure she’d say “No” and I was a teensy bit nervous about feeling rejected. But I decided, “What’s the worst that could happen?” so I reached out, and then… she said “Yes!”

We ended up creating a program called Go Get It! and the first session was a huge success. About 80 women participated. We call them our “Go Getters.” Each woman chose a specific career, business, or income-related goal and pursued that goal with intense focus for six weeks. The community of women was so passionate and supportive of one another—and the results were spectacular. I’m so happy that I drummed up the courage to reach out to my colleague to say, “Hey, would you like to do this with me?”

I am happy to report that… Go Get It! will be returning this fall! Registration for the next session opens on September 20th and the first day of the online program begins on October 10th (which is also my birthday!). I can’t wait to see what happens inside the “virtual classroom” the second time around.

I am happy to report that… putting together this happy report made me feel very happy. I may need to make it a recurring tradition, along with those daily gratitude texts.

In conclusion, Trying To Be Happy, when you feel overwhelmed by the evening news, or by anything else that’s happening in your life, remember that it’s OK to feel things deeply. Remember that it’s OK to cry. But also, remember that it’s OK to take care of yourself—and to develop personal “coping strategies” to keep you feeling as hopeful and optimistic as possible.

Try a gratitude journal. Try writing a happy report. Try taking a temporary break from “regular news” and visit a website like the Good News Network, which exclusively features positive, encouraging news stories. Or try getting involved with a political party or a cause that you care about. Volunteer. Do something to shape the world in a positive way. Sometimes volunteering, even just for an hour or two, can buoy your spirits and remind you that people can be kind, good, and generous… and that there’s plenty of hope for the human race, yet.

Good luck out there, Trying To Be Happy.

Maybe skip NPR tonight and read the collected poems of Hafiz instead.

I’ll join you.


Image: Willie Franklin