My Journey as an ICT Professional and Coach
I never thought I would become a computer professional. Believe it or not, having a business as a freelance web designer is something that happened to me rather than something I tried to do. In fact, I had run from working with computers in a corporate environment earlier in my life and wasn't at all open to returning to that kind of work. It came as a surprise.
Being a housewife made me happy. I took it seriously, and when I had energy left after my chores were done, I enjoyed making art from found and given objects, paints, pastels and other supplies, eventually taking up jewelry making. My jewelry sold very well and though it wasn't enough to support us, from 2000–2007 this enabled me to contribute something to help meet my family's needs. I taught myself in the late 90s and early 2000s how to make websites at the encouragement of my husband and, learning as I went, made a handful of sites for family and friends over the next ten years. It was nice being able to do this for people close to me, but I had no thought of pursuing web design as a career. However, as our finances dwindled rather than increasing with time, I found myself continually praying that I would be able to earn a more meaningful income to help my family.
In 2007, a close friend brought me to a meeting of middle-aged creative ladies. They had taken an Artist's Way workshop together some time before and continued meeting every month to do something artistic and encourage each other not to let the demands of life diminish the need to exercise their creativity. They were wonderful, but we lived in country and low finances had us in perpetual petrol conservation mode, so I had trouble getting to town to join them. I contented myself with getting to know them from afar by reading the emails they shared.
A year went by and in early 2008 one of the ladies sent an email to the group asking if anyone knew a web designer she could work with. She'd had terrible experiences interviewing male web designers in the past, so she needed someone who would understand her, her art, and her business goals. I sent back a message that I could help her, and she was so happy with the results that she chirped about my work to her many friends. A mutual friend who designs glass art chose me to set up her website immediately afterward, and before long I had a business! I remember the transition from young woman traumatized by her previous experience working with computers to committed freelance web designer. It happened in a moment. I realized the trauma had simply disappeared after working with Janet. I turned to my husband and said "I can do this, all the bad feelings about working on a computer are suddenly gone." I often describe the experience as being similar to a cat looking for a warm place to sleep, jumping up into my lap and never jumping back down.
After the implosion of the American economy in late 2008 I found myself praying again. What could I do for the artists in my region, who had become a lifeline for my family, whose work I admired and respected, and who had become such dear friends? One afternoon it came to me. I could build a directory site where, for a modest yearly fee, artists could sign up for a listing which would include contact information and links to their websites and social networks that would increase their online visibility, traffic to their websites and opportunity to their email inboxes. With the knowledge I had gained about search engine optimization and after doing some informal market research I worked hard to design a beautiful artist directory site. We moved into town in October 2009 and the Southern Oregon Artists Resource, or SOAR as it's become known, was launched just after Christmas. In March 2010 I created its companion blog, Art Matters!, and developed SOAR's social media presence. I syndicated the blogs of member artists to Art Matters! to extend the reach of their posts, announcements and new artworks. Artists started signing up, there was a little boost to my income, and my reputation began to spread.
SOAR has accomplished what I designed it to do, and I continue to receive reports from member artists that it does bring more traffic to their websites, helping them rank better with the search engines. Many have told me about opportunities that came their way through soartists.com that wouldn't have reached them otherwise. It has also served as a wonderful marketing tool for my web design business; now that artists could see that I really care about them and their businesses, I began getting more and more work, and now I have a pretty respectable client list. I learn a lot about a person by making a website for them, and put a lot of heart into my work by cheering them on toward their goals. Many have said they learned a lot about themselves after seeing the finished website I made for them, and most have become truly dear friends. After a while I started feeling confident enough to work with some small businesses outside the art world, including a website for our town's newspaper which gets a lot of engagement from local residents.
Our family left the area on business for the second half of 2008. I was concerned that the momentum I had been gaining with my newfound business would be lost, but I was wrong. Working with my new clients from overseas was easier than we though it would be, and I even gained a new client where we were staying!
In addition, other opportunities came my way which have expanded my horizons and helped build my reputation. When we still lived in the country and did not have internet access, Mary had invited me to use her café as my office. Later she invited me to curate and manage the monthly art exhibits there. This gave me the chance to help my friend, become more familiar with the artwork being created in my area, meet with artists face to face, and exhibit their work at no cost to them. Many SOAR members have had the opportunity to show there, and many other artists became SOAR members to help promote their shows. I gained appreciation for my efforts to help artists and my reputation continued to grow.
One of the benefits to SOAR members is the ability to post their announcements to promote art exhibits, classes and workshops, and art events on SOAR's companion blog. Therefore, when the region's oldest art center began searching for a new Education Director, I was one of the first to know because I posted the announcement. A week later my husband and I stepped out for an afternoon cup of coffee at Mary's café. We took our coffee around the corner to sit and enjoy a pretty summer day for a few minutes. As we sat, a young woman showed up. She walked back and forth around the corner. It seemed like she might need something, so my husband struck up a conversation with her and learned that she and her husband had just traveled across the country from Vermont. They were so new here that their cars, still loaded with all their possessions and two beloved old dogs, were parked down the street! My husband introduced me as the founder of SOAR and she said "I know you from Facebook! I liked SOAR's page a couple of months ago when we were planning our move!" When she told me her name I remembered seeing the notification when she liked SOAR, too. I was impressed with her and asked if they had found a place to live and what kind of work she did. She said she was an artist and art educator, and no they hadn't found anywhere to live yet. Did she have any experience writing grants? Yes, she said. I told her about the job at the art center, cautioning that I couldn't offer a guarantee but knew they were seeking a new Education Director. A week later she called to tell me she had gotten the job! I was also able to connect her with a lady who found them a small but cozy place on a beautiful stretch the river...in the guest house of a place where we had once lived ourselves! She has since become a highly valued member of the art community and the driving force behind the new Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon, which is working to unite the geographically widespread, and therefore separated, elements of our art community and to promote the arts in our region. As one of the founding members of the Arts Alliance myself, I work on behalf of my artist friends/clients in the role of an arts advocate. This has deepened my understanding of the vital importance of art accessibility to the economic development of a community and has given me opportunities to write and to speak to this issue publicly. You just never know when helping someone else will also help you and change things for everyone around you, too!
When we moved to town, I helped the founder of an informal artist group during their first summer Art Jubilee, later creating their website. Art Presence has now grown into a small community art center. The founder became a dear friend and ardent supporter. She invited me to serve on the board, which puts me in a position to open doors for some of my clients. Our region is becoming known for its young but exciting wine industry, and I recently finished a website for a startup wine club headed up by two young women and a young man. In recent days my association with the art center has given me a way to introduce them to the community during our town's annual celebration of local wineries. In June they will make their local debut by kicking off the wine tasting festivities with an educational presentation on pairing wines with seasonal herbs in our new classroom. It makes me feel so good to not only make an income from web design that's now enough to support my family, but to identify opportunities and make connections for others that help them do the same. I had no idea how personally rewarding this work would be when I first started, but when I think of the many friends and allies I've made and how many I've been able to help in different ways, I can only cry out to God a huge THANK YOU!! for making me a web designer, the one thing I never dreamed I would want to do.
Opportunities to share began to arise in 2010, and I was invited to present workshops on blogging and social media at local art centers. I started offering small workshops from my home/office and artists started coming over for private tutoring sessions to learn how to use Photoshop and how to work their blogs and social media, another little boost to my income. I've even been invited to present a workshop on the topic of Creating a Great Online Presence at the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Annual Convention this fall. Artists generally do not take to technology easily, and in my world many of them are older, too. It takes a great deal of patience to start from the beginning and carefully explain everything step by step to impart a useful amount of information to someone who knows they need to adopt modern marketing tools to promote their work but has never used them before. Some catch on easily, but others really struggle, so a lot of personal encouragement is needed to keep them involved.
In 2012 I became so busy that my son decided to help, first by asking me to show him how to cook, and then making breakfast and dinner every day. My husband, who detests grocery shopping, started doing the shopping and cleaning the kitchen every night. Without the help of my brilliantly creative but chronically unemployed men I would not have been able to progress as I have. I've learned a lot and continue to learn as the needs of my clients and ever-changing internet trends challenge me to grow. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to sit at my computer so much; after seven years of this I know it's not helping my health, but we still have important goals to reach and my client/friends need my help, so it's hard to be nonchalant and just take off for a long walk when there's work to be done. My clients boast to their friends about how reliable their web designer is, with a dependable work ethic, and I take that responsibility seriously even as they remind me to take care of myself. Women do weave the web, not just the internet web, but that of sustaining relationships that provide opportunities and change communities...and keep us from damaging ourselves in the process.
Recently my daughter wrote a book and, knowing that it would take some time to find a publisher, she started a blog to begin spreading the message of how she gained her freedom from an abusive marriage to other women. She is the mother of two teenaged boys and an emergency room nurse, so she didn't have time to educate herself on the details of how to establish an online presence and asked me to help her. An honor and a joy of an assignment! We're still early in the process, but with the tools we have set up thus far she is already helping other women, giving them strength, encouragement and validation through her powerful, compassionate writing. I encouraged her to join World Pulse and she quickly began making meaningful connections here which I know will help her on her way. My connection to the art world had previously introduced me to Holly, a mother and graphic designer who volunteers with a local art therapy program for cognitively challenged adults. When I shared Jennifer's experience and goals with her she got very excited. She read Jennifer's blog, saw how important it is to help her spread her message and asked if I would connect them. I did, and she immediately offered herself to Jennifer as a mentor and business coach. Who knew that the "cat napping on my lap" could make that possible for my daughter?! Cheers for computers and internet access!
My art world connections also brought me the opportunity to create a website for a lady who was a film star in her younger days and is now an amazing visual artist. The site is to promote her art, and we finished it just in time for a couple of Hollywood events that involved her beautiful paintings. She is a very private person, so she wasn't thrilled about the idea of getting involved in social media, but on my advice and that of her long time manager, on March 26 we started up her Facebook page. It has been gaining many fans and sending traffic to her art website, where she even made a sale straight away! Then she appeared at the Academy Awards as a presenter and afterward suffered terribly from widespread online mockery about her aging appearance. Since her social media platform was already in place, she decided to speak out against this senseless bullying by releasing a protest letter and video interview on her Facebook page. Her manager's PR lady did the rest, and I watched as, from 2:30 in the afternoon when we posted her letter to dinnertime, fans came flocking to her page to leave loving, supportive and encouraging comments there. Their hearts had broken from watching their favorite classic film star take such a merciless public beating over her looks and they were happy to see her stand up to it. Many thanked her, saying she had given them courage to stand up to bullying in their own lives. She gained 1000 fans in 24 hours, and they are sharing to help spread her message. Well over 50,000 people have viewed her post! It is so beautiful and so moving; I am honored to be a small part of it and incredibly proud of her bravery. It feels good to have made that possible for her.
Though I have enjoyed all these rewarding moments, World Pulse has helped me understand more clearly how important the skills that I have developed really are. As you can see from the experiences I've shared, being empowered with even the basics of digital literacy can encourage the "napping cat" of an online business to hop into your own lap, just like it did to me! Helping someone else to begin or expand their own business is just as exciting. However it happens, you can find yourself blessed with a voice and an income through the powerful tools of online communication and become a blessing to your neighbors and people around the world. In fact, you can do this from wherever you find yourself in the world. My experiences also show that if you take it one step at a time, doing what your intuition tells you is important now and staying focused to do it well, the next step will become clear and the next opportunity will arise at just the right time for you to have the support you need to develop it. Being patient and allowing time for circumstances and new developments to set up prepares the way for just the right people to become involved. When we trust and wait, the Divine can connect us with people who are ready and willing to help us take our skills and our lives to the next level. I believe World Pulse is an important resource that the Divine is using to help us stretch and grow, to give and receive new opportunities, and to find the help we need to refresh and expand our existing businesses, nonprofit programs, and activism. They are making available tools that women around the world need to become changemakers for themselves and their families, their local communities, and the global community. We just need to learn how to use them, work hard, and seek assistance for the pieces of the puzzle that may be missing—such as internet access and equipment—to be placed in our hands.
"Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives, and she who seeks, finds, and to her who knocks, the door is opened," Jesus in his wisdom and compassion said to his friends. With the ultimate resources available to us now—the direction and help of God, worldwide connection through the internet, and the wonderfully supportive community and leadership at World Pulse—and your own dedication and hard work, you have only to ask, seek and knock for that sleepy cat to jump in your own lap and change your life.
Empowered and connected one by one, together we can change the world! I pray that you will find the resources you need to become digitally empowered so that, in whatever way you are inspired and guided, you can be part of the global change happening today as women weave the web.