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A Gradual Start Leads to Strong Results [Interview with Abigail Young]

A Gradual Start Leads to Strong Results [Interview with Abigail Young]

Starting a Business Slowly

A few months ago my daughter was in full birthday campaign mode.

At the dinner table, “I want a Barbie cake!”

During family movie night, “I want a Barbie cake!”

On the way home from school, “I want a Barbie cake!”

You get the picture.

I’m sitting across the table from one of my clients and shared my cake drama with him.  “You need to go see Abigail. She’s awesome!”  Fast forward 4 months.  We did get the cake from Abigail.  It was awesome.  It was one of those creations that looked almost too good to eat. Now I’m sitting across the table from Abigail talking with her about how she got started in her cake baking business.

“It was really slow at first”

Abigail attended pastry school at a community college and tried her hand at working in the baking business. “I landed an internship with a lady in Chicago for a while, and I really thought I was going to stay up there long term.”  That arrangement turned out to be short-lived, and Abigail returned to North Carolina.  She took a job with a freight broker to pay the bills.  That was 3 years ago.  Now Abigail has her own space where she pursues her baking passion as Abagail’s – A Cake Affair.

“It is still a bit of a shock to me. ‘Am I really getting to do this full-time?'”

Photography by April Lambert

Abigail Young – A Cake Affair

Her path from the freight broker to the commercial kitchen was a slow and steady one, which is a good model for people who need to learn a business.  When she started  3 years ago, she did birthday cakes, mainly, and then received orders for a few wedding cakes here and there.  Her first year was modest, yet encouraging.  On occasion she would bake cupcakes and take them around to local merchants to drum up word of mouth.  It must have worked.  Business grew steadily in her second year, and word spread about the quality of her work.  In year 3 things got even busier.

“I finally got to a point this past January where I said, ‘I am taking the whole month off from baking!’ Then my little niece came to me asking for a Spider Man cake for her birthday.  What are you going to say? I think my break lasted about 2 weeks.”

By the time March rolled around this year Abigail said that business lit up like nothing she had ever seen.  Things picked up to a point where she was doing several cakes a week for weddings, birthdays and special occasions.

“By the beginning of June I had done as much business as I did in all of last year.”

I asked her where she found such success.  “The only advertising that I do is word of mouth and Facebook.”  Makes sense.  I was referred to her by one of my business colleagues.  Abigail brought up a good point.  There is something magical about sharing pictures on Facebook.  Her secret?  One photo at a time.  Don’t share pictures in groups.  When people see a picture of a cake that looks good, or a cupcake that is too tantalizing, people want to share, and Facebook makes it so easy.

I asked Abigail how she handled the emotional roller coaster that often comes with starting a business.

“If things get hard I find that going out to run an errand really helps. I definitely need to get out of the house. And there’s always the gym…”

These mental breaks provide a bit of a reboot that allows Abigail to get her mind back into a good headspace.

A few days after I interviewed her I stopped in to see her new space.  She had just moved in and was still getting accustomed to the feel.  It is so good to see a business with a strong foundation that is poised for growth.

If you are in the market for a wedding cake, talk to Abigail.

If you want a mean cupcake, talk to Abigail.

If you need a Barbie cake, talk to Abigail.

Beat Anxiety. Regain Focus.

Beat Anxiety. Regain Focus.

Anxiety can take you off your game

As business owners our most valuable resource is not money, time or even our network.

Our most precious resource is focus.

When you just lost your biggest client or simply going through a dry spell, it is only natural (and quite common) to get a little anxious about how you are going to pay the bills. This anxiety can either drive us to action or it can slowly drive us crazy.

Anxiety kills focus.

In researching how anxiety affects us entrepreneurs I learned there are two major ways we typically confront anxiety — either meet it head on, or flip out. The academics call these two behaviors problem-based coping (doing something) and emotion-based coping (freaking out).

People who respond to hard times with emotion-based coping tend to get into a state of paralysis like a deer in the headlights. Perhaps the most debilitating aspect is the second-guessing. “Is there some other place where I can go for money? Maybe I should start a job search now, or pick up a few hours from a temp service.” “Maybe I should have gone into that other business that my friend tried talking me into.” Doing this only puts you in the spin cycle.

The winners in this story are those who tend toward problem-based coping, i.e., leaning into the problem, doing something in the direction of their dreams. The most difficult part of acting here is doing it when you feel it won’t lead to anything.

Three ways to Kill Anxiety and Regain Your Focus

  1. Draw your line in the sand. This is your business. Your lifeblood. Don’t give up easily. Commit. Yes, I realize this is far easier said than done.
  2. Take a deep breath (or two, or three). Get one of your closest self-employed friends to help you with a quick strategy session. Take no more than 20 minutes to brainstorm how you can act your way out of the blue funk. You can either do this over the phone or together over a quick cup of coffee. See this article and this article where we were able to turn things around for one business owner in about 60 minutes.
  3. Take a spiritual approach. Lean in to your Creator. Ask for His guidance. Listen to Praise and Worship music. Put on a podcast of your favorite preacher.
List Building That Actually Works

List Building That Actually Works

I Almost Quit Trying to Build a List

As business owners we all realize at some level that getting a list of people’s names and emails should be pretty important.

Yet most of us don’t do it.

Seriously, one of the biggest things we can do to grow our business goes completely undone.

I think I know why – most of this advice doesn’t fit my business (and I’m guessing doesn’t fit yours either).

If you go online you’ll find a ton of advice.  You’ll hear lots about “giving away something of great value” and “free ebook” and “downloadable kits”.  This advice is all well and good if you actually:

  1. Have a blog or some type of online presence.
  2. Already have some type of downloadable PDF or free goodie developed.

Otherwise, who has time to aimlessly post on a blog or can find an extra 20 hours to write an ebook?

Ok, so let’s back up for a minute.

Maybe you aren’t a techie.

Maybe you don’t have a blog or a website.

That is perfectly fine because building a list of potential clients can be done just the same (or better) offline than online.

Ways I’ve Tried to Build my List Online

Here is a list of just some of the methods I’ve tried to generate opt ins from my blog:

  • Blog home page – Free give away, One Page Manifesto
  • Blog home page – Free give away, Ebook
  • Blog home page – Free give away, Block of 4 Video Lessons
  • Landing page – Free give away, Ebook
  • Landing page – Free give away, Video training session

I have driven traffic to these opt in pages through just about every channel including

  • Facebook Ads
  • Posting to my Facebook Profile
  • Posting to my Facebook Page
  • Posting to Twitter
  • SEO

I would have to say that most of these have left me with incredibly miserable results. In all I think I’ve had about 20 opt ins from all of these tools.

About 3 months ago I became so frustrated with my online efforts that I decided to take matters offline.

Here is one offline list building hack that is working quite well for me. In fact, I just used it last night, and I’ll bet that nearly anyone reading this page can implement this simple technique with similar or better results by the end of the day.

Offline List Building Works Better for Me

What these experts don’t address is how to start from a zero base, how to start from nothing when you are building a following.

This is my situation as I have paltry site traffic, and don’t have 3 years to blog every day in hopes that the gods of SEO will favor me. I must take matters into my own hands.

You can do this without feeling gimmicky or smarmy, and it is perfectly safe for introverts, too.

You can do this much the same way I have, just tailor the wording to fit your business.

Here is one technique that has been working for me.

I know you’ve seen these things several places in your town, maybe at a grocery store, your dry cleaners, or in a local mom and pop restaurant.


Go find one of those cork boards where people tack their cards by the dozen. You’ll find things like realtors, mortgage people, your local Avon rep, and then you’ll find a lot more. I love working with new and aspiring business owners, so I’m looking for business cards that, quite honestly, look like they’ve been done for the first time.

I came across such a cork board a few days ago and harvested 20 cards from it. At home I simply use email (introverts unite!) to reach out to people one-to-one. Here is the exact text I used in my outreach letters that I sent last night.

I know you are busy, so I won’t keep you…

I just wanted to know if I could stay connected with you?

I research entrepreneurs and offer classes to help 
you build your business and make more money.

The classes that I offer through Rowan Cabarrus Community
College are FREE to the general public.

I’d love to add you to my list.

Is that ok?

Enjoy your evening,


P.S. - If you’d like to check out my work and what I do, 
just jump to my site

P.P.S. - I have a class in SALISBURY coming up soon. I can
notify you when registration opens.

There are a couple of nuances here that help. Sure, I could have just copy/pasted this same text on everyone’s email and been done in half the time.

However, I found that using the last P.P.S. to customize the email to be very important, and this single piece of customization accounts for most of my opt ins.

Examples that I use are “I love the owl on your business card”, “My daughter has been taking riding lessons most of the year”, “I really like how you integrated your ETSY store into your site” or anything else that adds a little touch of customization to the email.

You come across as being very genuine here because you ARE being very genuine.

Here is one of the exact responses I received last night. “Thank you for contacting me. Yes, I’m interested in hearing what you offer. PS: thanks for the compliment …. I love owls.”

In the span of 5 minutes at the cork board I have 20 names. What I’m looking for at this point is engagement. Typically I get anywhere from a 10% to 20% optin rate from these emails.

There is a way that you can put all of this in turbo mode and really jack up your opt in rates. If you want to know how I boosted my opt in rate to over 50% using a variation of this offline technique, just ask.

[reminder]What have you done to boost your list-building efforts? Please leave me a comment below.[/reminder]

Become an Expert Starting Right Now!

Become an Expert Starting Right Now!

If you find that you are wanting to get started in a business so that you can become an expert but you’re not quite sure where to get some traction, you are in great company.

The first place that a lot of people want to go in all of this is the question: “How do I make money at this when I have responsibilities like family, kids, and bills?”

I think this is the wrong question to ask here.

What happens, as I’ve noticed through conversation with others in this position, is that the person isn’t quite receptive to the answers. This is often the question that get answered internally, but not by somebody on the outside.

Unfortunately, answers from the outside are too easy to dismiss.

I could say to “Get up early” or “Stay up late.”

I could say “Use some time on your weekends”.

But, if none of those are options for you, it digs you further and further into a hole. In turn, you will leave the conversation feeling like you are never going to be able to make things work out so that you can become an expert.

Finding Your Passion

The answer here lies in how emotionally involved you are with the path you’re on.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]When given the proper motivation, people find all kinds of ways to make things happen[/shareable]

The question we should be asking is: “How do you find something that will give you the necessary passion you need for your work?”

I use the term “passion” loosely because it is so overly used in today’s society.

I find what really moves the needle for people is beginning to believe that they can do it.

And really, you can. You can become an expert if you put all the right things into it.

When you find out what you have, no matter how small, that can lead you to a great position, you begin to understand that you can do this.

Do you have

  • The connections?
  • The network?
  • The tools?
  • The technology?
  • Whatever else you need to go out there and do it?


This is the single thing that makes people excited — believing in themselves and the fact that this is all very possible with the resources they have.

Getting Excited to Become an Expert

Here’s an exercise I want you to do that will hopefully be able to get you excited about your possibilities in the expert business.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]Ask yourself, ‘What is it that I can do right now?'[/shareable]

Take out a sheet of paper and make a list of all the skills you currently have.

  • Can you design a website?
  • Can you create a lead magnet?
  • Can you put up squeeze page to collect email addresses?
  • Can you call someone at your local Rotary club to ask about scheduling you for a 20 minute talk next month’s meeting?

Taking a deep assessment of your skills will help you find plenty of things you can do today — things that will give you some forward momentum and help put yourself mentally in a state where you feel like you’re about to do something really well.

This momentum begins to change everything.

  • You will begin to see opportunity.
  • You will begin to see chances to do things that you haven’t seen before.
  • New connections will start the form in your mind.
  • You will start to see new possibilities.

Now, you’re on your way!

[reminder]What are the top 3 things you can do today (you already have the tools, the connections, etc.) to start moving forward in claiming your area of expertise?[/reminder]


How to Resurface After an Absence

How to Resurface After an Absence

My wife travels the public speaking circuit and usually gives 5-10 talks a year.  In the last few days of April she was on a trip with several of her public speaking colleagues.

Karen sends me a text explaining that one member of this group had accepted the head position at a non-profit, and that this lady was recruiting Karen to come to work for her.

This would certainly mean a relocation for us.

A few minutes later my wife sent me a follow up text with these exact words, “…NO NEED to worry…”

I knew from that very moment that I was in trouble.

Fast-forward 4 months.

  1. My wife accepted the new job.
  2. The five of us (three people and two dogs) are living in a hotel room 4 states away from our old home in NC.
  3. My daughter should start school next week provided we can convince the lady in the registration office that my daughter a) does exist, and b) that we really are our child’s parents.

I can truly say that this has been the busiest 4-month period of my life.

I was often very torn between my obligations to this move and the publishing schedule I know is so important to a content-driven business.

There are times when you simply can’t get to it all — my publishing had to give while I focused on our move.

[shareable cite=”Jason R Owens”]There are times when you simply can’t get to it all.[/shareable]

The Big Addition

Without a doubt the largest change I have made in my business this summer has been the addition of done-for-you services for authors and experts.

It was one of those whack-on-the-side-of-the-head moments when I realized that I understand how to put together a lot of the back office systems that deal with ads, campaigns, and other revenue-driving activities.

Not only do I understand it, I have also done all of it as part of running my own business.

So why not do it for other experts as well?

Look Forward to These Stories

As my life starts to take on a new normal I want to get back to a more routine publishing schedule.

I can’t wait to tell you about what I have learned over the summer, including:

  1. Lessons from partnering with an expert to launch a new workshop series.
  2. How a portable business, like what we experts run, is a huge bonus for our spouse’s upward mobility.
  3. A few new list-building tools that I have come across.

Thanks for your patience.

I can’t tell you how much it means that you stuck with me.


What I just did was illustrate the main points I want to share in case you have to go underground for a long absence.

  1. Explain where you have been.  Yes, many of your readers really do want to hear about the goings on in your life.  Things can’t always be all about business all the time.
  2. Share what is new.
  3. Tell people where you are headed. Give people a taste for what is on the horizon.

[reminder]If you were not able to keep a regular publication schedule, did you find that it affected your relationship with your followers?[/reminder]

What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

My readers know I find joy in sharing my ups and downs as I build my business.  When I share about my struggles, it really seems to energize people who find themselves in my stories.

For those of you who don’t know my story, I’ll tell you the short version. 

Years ago I was a sales manager over several new financial advisors.  It is a hard industry where most new advisors don’t survive the first three years.

The single biggest observation I made during my time as a sales manager was that those who followed the company’s formula for success tended to do well — they would end up earning enough money to be successful.

So, why didn’t they all just follow the formula?

I took this very question to heart and pursued it during my doctoral dissertation.

I began to think and noticed that the same question applies to me as well.  Are there areas where I am not following the formula, where I’m not doing what I need to do to be successful?

Realizing There is a Problem

We are not meant to go through life alone. We need each other.

My readers will also know that I’m a huge fan of having a well-qualified counselor help you identify and overcome performance issues.  In a recent eye-opening counseling session, my counselor about knocked me out of my chair.

“Lately it seems you are doing a lot of things 90%.”


I see myself as being a hard worker — someone who puts 100% into everything I do.

I pressed into this. “Can you give me some examples?”

To my surprise, she fired off a few examples in rapid succession, not missing a beat.

[shareable]Are you doing things at 90%? Are you ready to change that?[/shareable]

I could see then that I was toast. She was right — there are things I’m only doing 90%.

I left the session with my head reeling.  If she could see those three examples, where else was I holding back from my best?

Diagnosing the Problem

Now that I knew what to look for, I started putting together a list of all the projects I had attempted and failed, times when I had run out of steam.

  • There is an online launch I did. I made some money, but I just didn’t know what to do with it next.
  • Then there’s an invitation to give a talk for a conference.  How can I give a talk here and still have it fit my brand?

In less than 10 minutes I had completely filled a page with items where I had pulled up short of my best.

[shareable]I am overcoming what is holding me back. You can too! Here’s how.[/shareable]

This leads me back to the question — the same question I found while studying the financial advisors I managed all those years ago – why wasn’t I just doing the things I know I need to do to be successful?

  • Why am I not pressing into the online launch again?
  • What is my hangup with the lack of fit between my brand and the conference?

Every person who finds him or herself in this situation is going to have his or her own answer to these questions.

My answer may not be your answer. In fact, it’s pretty likely that my answer is not going to be your answer.

Digging Deeper to Find the Solution

When we think through our own entrepreneur performance, we have to dig deeper than looking at whether or not we have reached our goals.

We need to look at the reason we did or did not reach them. What are the reasons behind all of it?

  • You set a goal for yourself last week to call five new people.
  • You wanted to attend two new networking functions this month.
  • You set a goal for yourself last week to add 100 names to your email list.

Did you meet all of those goals? For most of us, probably not.

This is where the excuses come in.

  • I ran out of time.
  • Things came up with my child at school.
  • I didn’t know what to do next with the launch.
  • I’m not certain the conference fits my brand.

But, those are not the real reasons we are missing our goals.

[shareable]Your excuses aren’t the real reason you’re not meeting your goals.[/shareable]

We need to dig deeper into what lies beneath it all.

Are you afraid of failing? Well, you need to admit that and dive into it. Find out why.

Are you afraid of running out of money? I get that. It’s a very real concern — one which should be on your radar.

But, it shouldn’t paralyze you. Dig into that. Why is it paralyzing you? If you must, get someone to help you work on the issue.

This is where the true progress begins!

A New Day and a Bright Future

For me, what lies beneath my 90% behavior is disappointment. My counselor named it out loud right there in her office. It’s what has been keeping me back from that highest level of entrepreneur performance.

She began to unpack for me the ways in which my dealing with this appointment is causing me to pull up short of my goals.

This is the single biggest breakthrough I’ve had in the past decade. Now so many things make sense.

I walked around for the next two days with the highest level of lightheartedness I have felt since I was a child.

All the weight and frustration has gone!

[reminder]What lies beneath for you? What can you do this week to dig into some of your deepest questions?[/reminder]












Are You Leaning Into or Away From Your Problems?

Are You Leaning Into or Away From Your Problems?

Several years ago, I was managing a group of brand-new entrepreneurs. They were young and energetic. Full of life and vitality.

However, only a few short months later, it was very easy to see who was going to survive and who wasn’t. This is interesting because each of these new entrepreneurs:

  • Received the same training from our parent company
  • Had no prior experience in the industry
  • Experienced the same roadblocks and frustrations

A few members of the group were doing really well. The remaining, however, were clearly in trouble.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]Are you leaning into your problem, or away from it?[/shareable]

The ones who are doing well, or simply going about their business, were setting appointments, having conversations with prospects, and writing contracts.

Most interesting to me though, was the behavior of the people who were not doing so well.

Diagnosing the Have-Nots

When I began doing my coaching sessions with this group of new entrepreneurs, my opening question was, “How’s it going?”

This simple open-ended question was really meant to see what was at the top of their minds.

Oftentimes I would hear stories such as “I had this great meeting set up with the client, but they cancelled” or “I had a very good deal on the hook, but the client never came to sign the paperwork.”

Layer 1

So, for a moment, let’s call this Layer One. This is the beginning of the conversation– it’s when people tell you where they are mentally.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]Here’s how to overcome your entrepreneurial hurdles.[/shareable]

The danger here is that we can’t just attribute the problems of the low performers to scarcity thinking, as if thinking differently would magically solve all their problems.

Performance Themes

After a few minutes of conversation with each entrepreneur, I started seeing themes which differentiated the achievers from the non-achievers.

The achievers were doing things that, at first glance, didn’t appear to be that amazing. They were simply doing what they were told to do in their initial training:

  • They were setting appointments.
  • They were seeing people.
  • They were writing contracts.

And really, at first glance, like I said, it doesn’t seem like this was anything spectacular. The ingeniousness lay in the fact that they were indeed:

  • Setting appointments
  • Seeing people
  • Writing contracts

Let’s contrast this for a moment with what was happening with the non-performers.

Here’s a list of the behaviors that I observed in that particular set of people:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time learning about the company products
  • Filing papers
  • Setting up their office
  • Getting distracted by home and automotive repairs
  • Setting up systems for their workflow, yet not actually doing any revenue-generating work.

A Name for What I’m Seeing

As I researched this performance issue for my doctorate degree, I learned there is a name for what I was seeing.

These two types of behavior are called problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

Problem-focused coping is leaning into your problem. Meaning, essentially, that you are doing the work required to get out of whatever hole you’re in.

Emotion-focused coping, on the other hand, is leaning away from your problem. This means you will do everything but deal with the problem itself.  This behavior is so common to entrepreneurs that it deserves to have a book of its own.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]Are you leaning into your problem, or away from it?[/shareable]

It is safe to say all of us have used emotion-focused coping in the course of running our businesses.

Combating Emotion-Focused Coping

How should we combat it?

  • Recognize when you are leaning away from your problem rather than facing the issue. The first step is always acceptance.
  • Put pen to paper. Answer this question: Why aren’t you (fill in the blank) — setting up more appointments, picking up the phone more often, attending more networking meetings, etc.?
  • Dig into the issue to name what you are feeling.

Layer 2

After you have put pen to paper, look at what you have written and ask yourself this next set of questions:

  • Is this an issue of not having the right skills or knowledge?
  • Do you simply need additional coaching in this area?
  • Is this more of an issue of abilities? Meaning you have seen someone else do this before, but you just don’t know if you can do it yourself.

The real payoff comes when you dig deep here. Again, look at this list of questions and ask yourself:

  • What kind of emotions arose as you were putting pen to paper?
  • Did you find yourself saying “I always seem to be dealing with (fill in the blank) — fear, procrastination, perfectionism, etc.?

To solve issues related to knowledge, skills, and abilities, it’s a good idea to seek out a professional coach who can help with these matters.

When sorting through issues which have to do with emotions, a good licensed counselor is a great place to start and this can truly be the key to overcoming the roadblocks which have been holding you back.

[reminder]What techniques do you use to stop emotion-focused coping (leaning away from the problem) when you notice it in yourself?[/reminder]

3 Ways that being a Self-Employed Dad Really Rocks

stocksnap jason owens father daughter self employed dad[featured-image single_newwindow=”false” id=”6374″]
One of the best parts of being a self-employed dad is the flexibility I have with my hours.  Just because I work a lot does not mean that I have to skimp on time I spend with my daughter.

This weekend I knew that…

  1. My wife would need some time away to recharge after a stressful few days at work.
  2. My kid would want some quality father-daughter time.
  3. I had not yet reached my goals for the week at work.

[youtube id=”vG1q-UDf3Kg” height=”350″ width=”570″]

Here is how I created space to…

  1. Provide some breathing room for my wife
  2. Do some great father-daughter activities
  3. Fit 3 hours of work into a Saturday.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]Being a Self-Employed Dad can be very rewarding![/shareable]

This Weekend’s Self-Employed Dad Schedule

The day begins fairly early for a Saturday…

  • 7:00 rise early and surprise my family with fresh Dunkin’ Donuts.
  • 7:30 to 8:30 Breakfast as a family.
  • 8:30 to 10:30 at Starbucks to do work for my business. Wife is spending time with daughter.
  • 10:30 Back home. Put ingredients in the bread machine for homemade pizza dough.
  • 11:30 to 12:30 Have lunch with the family, then wife is off to have fun.
  • 1:00 to 2:00 I take kid to Defy Gravity (indoor trampoline park)
  • 2:20 to 2:50 Take kid Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt after exhausting trampoline workout.
  • 3:00 – 4:00 Back at the house. Down time for the kid. Work time for me.
  • 4:00 Father-daughter prep home made pizza.  Wife returns home.  Dinner as a family.
  • 5:30 Set up our make shift theater for family movie night on the big screen

Some of you may wonder if I bailed on my kid while she was at the trampoline park.

No way.

I didn’t hole-up with the mass of bored parents in the lobby while my kid had fun.

Sure, I had planned on sticking my face in my laptop to steal an hour, but it just didn’t work out.  My kid still needed some help navigating some of the obstacles, so I jumped in to encourage her.

[shareable cite=”Jason R. Owens”]With a little creativity self-employed dads can enjoy great relationships with their kids![/shareable]

The 3 Ways that Being a Self-Employed Dad really rocks!

  1. When I’m not traveling to give a talk, this self-employed dad does most of his work from home.  This means I get to put my kid on the bus in the mornings.
  2. Once a month I schedule a special day with my daughter to go to school to have lunch with her.
  3. As mentioned above, my schedule is usually pretty flexible, so this allows me to be with my daughter when I need, and to work when I need.

[reminder]What special tips can you share about blending work and family time as a self-employed worker?[/reminder]