On Wednesday, April 25, we’re launching our professional development series at Make Lemonade (326 Adelaide St. W) for those making the leap into self-employment. At Small Business Self-Care, you’ll hear from a powerhouse panel of industry leaders and take part in breakout sessions designed to help you streamline your business with a smart strategy.

Meet Aya McMillan. She’s an award-winning fashion writer, editor and content strategist. With over fifteen years of experience in digital content marketing, Aya is currently a contributing editor and social media consultant for Fashion Magazine. At our workshop, she’ll cover pitching to media as well as developing your online communication strategy.

SDTC: What is the major issue that most of your clients face?

AM: Most of my clients and the brands I work with understand the role content marketing plays in their overall marketing strategy. They want great content, but many do not understand what actually makes compelling, original content.

What do you see as being the biggest mental roadblock to entrepreneurial success?

I often question or second-guess the value of my work and my time. I charge both on an hourly rate and project rate and when potential clients request a quote for work that involves a broad scope, some are surprised at the number that comes back without appreciating that each moving part has a cost.

Yes, companies can always find someone cheaper. You can hire someone on Fiverr or a junior editor who charges next to nothing to get by. But they drag us all down. Remember, great work ain’t cheap and cheap work ain’t great.

What questions should we ask ourselves before embarking on a new project/business idea?

Have you done your homework? What’s your business case that will convince me this is viable? You can offer your goods and services all day long, but if there’s no demand for them, let alone a point of differentiation, then what’s the point?

What are some tips that have helped you hone your focus and establish a plan for success?

I’ve been webified since 1995 but started out my editorial career in print magazines. It didn’t take long to realize that online was the way to go over print publishing. Later on, I could see that my skill set could transfer to other areas beyond just media.

The key is to take a longer view and pivot accordingly. I see so many of my colleagues freelancing for major magazines and websites and still trying to scrape by on less than $1 a word (if they’re lucky). I still produce editorial content for magazines and websites myself, but I’m glad (and pretty proud) that I made the switch to focus on digital content consulting.

What do you love most about what you do?

I could tell you about the flexibility it affords in time, working from home (or anywhere for that matter), and/or working in my PJs. But I’m always genuinely surprised/delighted at the kind of projects that come my way. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients, which is fabulous in itself, but I also sincerely love working with them. I never thought of myself as a sales person, but the client-facing work is often the highlight.

What is your advice to women who may be considering a major career pivot?

Preparation. Make sure you have the fundamentals in place—whether that’s a website, social channels, product samples or marketing collateral—before taking the leap. There’s nothing wrong with having a side hustle before making it your main gig; I wholeheartedly recommend it (see Warby Parker’s story in Adam Grant’s book, Originals, if you don’t believe me).

What do you wish you had known when you were first starting out in your career?

  • Do your best not to burn bridges.
  • When you’re no longer learning, progressing or seeing a clear career path, it’s time to move on. Do not stay in a job longer than you should, no matter how comfortable it is.
  • Mentors are important, but don’t underestimate the importance of sponsors, especially of the female variety.
  • You’re not a person–you’re a brand. That sounds awful, I know, but I wish I had exploited past opportunities to build on mine when I had the chance.
  • Care less and don’t take things so personally. You’re not saving lives here, so maintain your objectivity.
  • Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

Register for Small Business Self-Care here