Story Muse Shannon Turner Shares Her Secrets to Freelance Success
Shannon M. Turner remembers the election from a few years ago. "It felt to me like we were in upside-down-crazy-pants-world," she says. During that time she experienced an epiphany: she realized she had been ignoring her calling.
"Storytelling had been there for me, in the background all along, patiently waiting. And now? Now was the time," recalls the Atlanta resident. "People were going to need to tell their stories. They needed to be encouraged to hear each other across lines of difference."
So she took a leap of faith, leaving her job as an arts administrator with six-weeks notice and $4,000 in the bank. She founded her company StoryMuse in 2016 and has never looked back.
These days she helps people tell their stories for personal and professional development including clergy, realtors, university students and girls who have been trafficked.
"I find that we are all beautifully unique and tied together in the universal themes of our struggles and triumphs," she says. She teaches a curriculum that "tied to vulnerability, authenticity, taking back the power and ownership of our stories from an education and entertainment system that teaches us to believe that power and truth comes from some external source or code."
Read on to learn valuable lessons from Shannon's solopreneur journey.
giggs: Please share 5 tips for freelancers who are just starting out.
1. Be a lifelong learner. Find a few people whose work you value enough to consistently follow, even if it’s not exactly in your genre. Personally, I read Seth Godin every day, and I have an appointment in my calendar once a week with "Modern Love."
2. Fail forward. This relates to being a lifelong learner actually. Thomas Edison’s light bulb took 1000 attempts. When asked about that, he said he didn’t fail 1000 times, but rather it took 1000 steps. So many people see things that didn’t work out, things they struggle with, as failure. I think the real power is to see those things as catalysts that drive us forward. If you don’t get stuck in a story, but figure out what you learned from it, then you’re going to move forward.
3. Take breaks. People will talk about how hard you’re gonna work as a freelancer, but honestly, why do this if you kill yourself like you're still working for “the man?" Give yourself random Tuesdays off because you can now. I’ve become a huge fan of going to see a film in the middle of the day because a) I can, and b) they’re cheaper.
4. Keep a business card or brochure handy. I have some tucked into corners of my car and trunk, my notebook, and in my purse, etc. I have been so surprised at the random times when I’ve been asked for one.
5. Be good at telling your story. Discover how to share about your business, your brand, the "why" of what you do. Come see me if you're not sure how.
giggs: What's the worst business advice someone has given you as a freelancer?
Shannon: I’m not sure I’ve ever been given bad advice. People’s advice is just what works for them, even if it’s not what works for me.
When I was getting started, I put a call out on Facebook. A lot of people said that I should have a designated workspace in my house to go into, close the door and not come out of until my workday was over. I don’t work well like that. My work style is too fluid, and my days are really flexible, for better or worse. I get up, go water my plants, stretch, do my laundry, call my mom, flow in and out of things. Maybe it’s less effective, but it’s how I roll.
giggs: How do you keep your business afloat?
Shannon: I try to keep a multi-pronged approach going at all times where I have a mix of major contracts like the project I’m currently doing for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. I'm collecting stories and making a podcast about people with DD for advocacy. That gives me the freedom and flexibility to conduct smaller projects in the community or produce events and support 4 to 5 individual coaching clients at a time.
giggs: Do you have streams of passive income? If so, what are they?
Shannon: I do Airbnb, renting out my house when I’m traveling, which helps bring in extra cash. It plays to my natural strengths as a host, and I love it!
giggs: How did you come up with your pricing structure?
Shannon: My pricing structure is still flexible as I work with small nonprofits and individuals on up to larger universities and so forth. One of the best things that happened for me was that, before I was ready to go out on my own, someone hired me to do a workshop. They offered me a rate that was way higher than I would have ever thought to ask. It helped me set the bar early because I could say, “I get this rate from clients of your size.”
giggs: How do you market your services?
Shannon: Honestly, word of mouth and having a good reputation in the arts and nonprofit industry from my life before have been my best friend. I was able to carry with me 20 years of networking and relationships. For many of my projects, one thing has led to another in the most organic fashion. Sometimes I can hardly believe it. Outside of that, there are the standard things anyone would tell you—Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
giggs: What does a typical work day look like?
Shannon: Bwahahahaha!! There is literally no such thing. My days flow from running off to someplace in rural Georgia to conduct an interview, to being in the studio for my radio show or the podcast, to an open/catch-up day. On one workday at home, I might start by going for a walk with a friend, having breakfast, and then doing email and writing for the rest of the day with a conference call or four thrown in.
giggs: What does your dream project look like?
Shannon: I’ve already done some, like Trigger Warning. I just want to do more of them, and bigger and better. I’d like to have grant or corporate funding so I could give away more of my work to organizations that are doing amazing work and whose constituents need to have the space to tell their stories.
giggs: What are the keys to success when working remotely with clients?
Shannon: I believe that constant, consistent communication is crucial. If you wait until the end of a project for documentation and evaluation, you’re sunk.
giggs: Anything you’d like to add?
Shannon: Nope, these are great questions. In my line of work, "That's a great story!" is the highest compliment, followed by "That's a great question!"
Thank you, Shannon! As it happens, we are publishing this post on the day when Shannon's latest labor of love goes live. She's been working all year to make a podcast for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. Tune into Hidden Voices, premiering October 30, on Apple, Spotify, iHeart, and Stitcher. Make sure you connect with Shannon on LinkedIn.
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