‘Geeks With Label Makers Unite’: Elaine Shannon On the Importance of Being Organized

Elaine Shannon (Image: Submitted)

All across New Brunswick, people are using their skills sets to make a living – while at the same time being their own boss.

According to the 2016 census, 8.5 per cent of the provincial workforce (31,785 people) reported that they were primarily self-employed. Whether you call them “freelancers,” “consultants” or simply “self-employed,” there’s no doubt they play a significant and growing role in the province’s economy.

In this series, Freestyle, we take a look at who they are and what they do.

Last time, we touched base with Moncton-based accountant Heather Ferguson.

This week, we chat with Saint John-based Elaine Shannon, of  Shannon Multimedia Productions:

How did you get started?

I started as a freelancer/consultant back in 2003 because I wanted something for me. I have three children and a hubby who travels for work and I was losing myself in diapers and Teletubbies and everyone else’s life. I was looking online for something that I could maneuver around my family’s schedule and after a bit of searching, I found a whole industry of people just like me.

Organization is one of my superpowers and in 2004 I joined the Professional Organizers in Canada National Association, got some formal training and became a professional organizer. I attended my first professional organizing conference in 2004 and when our first speaker stood up with her label maker and said, ‘geeks with label makers unite,’ I knew I had found my tribe.

I enjoyed many years helping people declutter and organize their homes and their businesses. Over the years I was asked on many occasions to come and speak to a group about what I knew, and I moved into speaking and writing about organizing and time management. All the while learning about social engagement, so I could share my knowledge, I eventually launched a YouTube channel and other social media channels.

In 2012 I pivoted into Film and TV. Producing two feature films “the Divorce Movie’ and ‘Owl River Runners’ and I hosted and produced the TV show ‘Simply Zen’ for the Bell Aliant Community TV Channel. It was organization with a twist. Production is all about organizing!

What’s your skill-set focus?

These days I am using my organization skills to manage projects mostly in the Film and TV production area. I love how my skills have transferred so well to this amazing creative field, I feel like my inner artist really comes alive, it is where I am truly in the flow. I get to use my organizing skills, my love of connecting and people, and communication through the lens to share a message … it is intoxicating!

Who is your client base?

My client base is mostly in Film and TV Production however as the desire for video production increases I have many clients who are looking for advice on how to use their smartphones to create interesting content that they can use every day in their businesses.

How do you go about finding work/clients?

Being in business for so many years has provided me with an abundance of opportunities to connect with people and this to me is the best way to share your brand and to meet people who may need your services. I am mindful of the events I attend and the energy I project, I learned long ago that ‘manipulationships’ are toxic and have no place in business. Being authentic helps me to attract my ideal client. I am also a member of the NB Film Coop and have worked with great clients, ones that are usually outside my network, because of this ongoing membership.

How is working freelance in your profession different from other fields?

I don’t think it is any different. As a freelancer; finding your ideal client and managing time/priorities to meet deadlines would be the focus of any freelance profession.

What’s your favourite tool/app/website you use for work?

My current favourite tool is my Google calendar. I have 168 hours every week (and so do you) and I am mindful of how and where I spend my valuable time. Calendar invites for meetings are important so all parties are aware of the time/time zone and the specifics of the meeting/event. For production, this is critical to having people and gear show up at the right place at the right time … time is money!

When do you start your day and when do you end it?

For the most part, I am at my desk first thing in the am and at the end of the workday, I call this bookending my day. I have my top 5 things I am working on organized on the corner of my desk, each in an individual folder so I know what the order of importance for the week’s work is. There are weeks of the month where I can work circles around most people and weeks where I can’t even get out of my own way. I am aware of this and I plan my days, weeks and month accordingly.

What’s your favourite thing about working for yourself?

Freedom is the value that I filter everything in my life through. Being a freelancer provides the freedom to work on the projects that resonate with me, with amazing people that I connect with and I work with the natural rhythms of my energy flow, so I can enjoy ‘work/life presence’.

What’s the biggest challenge as working as a freelancer?

I LOVE my work and for me it has always been a matter of knowing when to shut it off, putting boundaries around my work time. Over the past few years I have been working on this and as a result, I have a process that I have been beta testing in my own life and recently I have been sharing with other freelancers to help them to deal with this common challenge.

When do you take vacation?

I take a vacation in the spring and the fall with my husband. For the most part, I am on vacation, however, I do check emails throughout the week and only answer if it is an emergency. I am an early riser, so I do this before the family is awake, so it does not interfere with the vacation. I am a work in progress and I can say that in the first few years of business I was awful at this and I know my husband and kids have many memories of Mom answering one last email before we started our day.

One piece of advice for someone looking to break into the freelance economy?

Take a business program and learn the fundamentals of running a business. It is one thing to be the technician but to be a business owner you need business knowledge. Last year I participated in the Enterprise Saint John Business Validation Program and after taking this program I can make informed business decisions rather than emotional business decisions. I still trust my instincts and now I have some information to back my instincts up.