Inside the Anthillz: The Team’s Blog

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Archive for the ‘Watercooler’ Category

Interview with Alexis Siemons, Freelance Creative Writing Professional

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Alexis is a very talented freelance writer and creative business consultant who is actively associated with the Philadelphia co-working space, Independents “Indy” Hall. Fueled by her passion for tea and crazy words, Alexis is a great resource for companies looking to convey their brand in a concise, fresh and creative manner.


What made you leave the stable environment of working for a marketing and advertising company to become a freelancer?

After two years of working as a copywriter in an advertising agency, the business model of the company changed, which caused it to close. As difficult as the closing process was, I gained valuable experiences during the final months, as I was assuming various roles within the agency. These additional responsibilities have given me the background to offer the services of a creative business consultant, in addition to writing.

I had been preparing for the close and informed a few freelance design friends to keep me in mind for freelance writing, and luckily they did. While working on a few freelance projects, I looked into several advertising agencies, but slowly realized that I found my passion in the freelance world. I made the final decision to remain freelancing while attending the Blog Philadelphia conference on a whim. It was there that I met everyone who would soon create and become members of Independents Hall (coworking organization).

When I combined the support group of Independents Hall and my love for freelance writing, I decided that I truly wanted to continue working as a freelance writer/creative business consultant. The jump from stable to freelancer was bumpy, but thanks to the help of friends, Indy hall and perseverance, I survived with only a few bruises that were worth the pain in the long run.

How did your family react when they caught word of you becoming a freelancer?

At first, I told my family that my freelance work was only temporary while I looked for another position in an agency (which was true at the time). However, after a few months they all could tell my heart was in it. My boyfriend was incredibly supportive, especially through the bumpy starting months. He even directed a few jobs my way.

My parents expressed their concern regarding job stability (as any normal parents would), but after explaining my game plan and seeing how passionate I was, they were supportive. In fact, answering their questions only gave me more reason to continue freelancing, as I heard myself speak so passionately while explaining my choice.

Now that you’re a freelancer, are you able to land the big clients (Tylenol, Sunoco, J&J) that you used to work with as a member of a marketing and ad agency?

A main reason why I decided to continue freelancing as opposed to returning to an agency was my desire to work for local clients. I wanted to support fellow entrepreneurs and small businesses with big dreams. After learning how to build strong relationships with small businesses, I gained the confidence to approach prominent businesses, such as Mighty Leaf Tea (as a tea enthusiast, that’s quite exciting). This may come across as corny, but I think of all my clients as big clients. Each project has potential to turn into something spectacular. Sure, they might not have stock options, but they are more receptive to creativity and imagination, without the burden and delay of layers of administration.

What’s a typical day in the life of Alexis Siemons?

·         Wakeup at 7:30/8 (depending on if I had a late night of writing)

·         Cup of tea while reading news, blogs, etc

·         Check emails

·         Write

·         Meetings/Conference calls

·         Lunch/ Take a walk

·         Continue writing

·         Administrative tasks (invoices, keeping track of receipts for taxes, etc)

·         I try to sop work at a reasonable hour so that I can spend time with family and friends, while recharging my battery for the next day.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get past it?

I do have my bouts with writer’s block and I’ve found a few cures that seem to get me out of the funk and back to the keyboard.

· Read outside. The stimulation of other words and the movement in the world seems to move my thoughts.

· Go have a cup of tea in a café and just absorb the world around you. A new environment and caffeine are a great combo force for writer’s block

· Call a friend and talk about your writer’s block. You can easily break through a block just by hearing yourself talk about the issue.

· Go for a walk. Break a sweat. Get your body moving and work out the frustration through exercise, which is often rewarded and counteracted with a nice treat of ice cream.

Where do you find inspiration?

I could probably write a few pages to answer this question, but if I had to pick a few:

Reading short stories and blogs about anything. I tend to rarely read blogs about writing, because I don’t want to follow someone else’s pattern. Instead, I’d rather create my own path. That is not to say that I don’t still learn from the masters every so often.

Listening to friends talk about their life, as I find their different views and new ideas inspiring.

Watching movies and listening to music. A poignant phrase in a film or captivating lyrics will remain with you and inspire thoughts.

Sitting in any park in and just observing life.

Antique stores. It may sound weird, but history has a way of blocking out emails, iphones, blogs, texts and other technology that can sometimes get in the way of clear thoughts. A trip back to history can inspire new thoughts.

How do you reward yourself/celebrate after a job well done?

by taking a small break and enjoying something simple, like buying some new tea and having a cup outside on the patio. Getting out and trying a new restaurant, etc. Ah the wild life of a freelancer!

What one piece of advice would you give to an emerging freelancer?

I still consider myself to be an emerging freelancer, but if I had to give just one piece of advice it would to join a coworking group. The support, education and references you receive as a member of that community are priceless.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Well I’m glad you’re not asking difficult questions. But seriously, I plan on having built a business model for myself, in which I create and maintain an organization’s online presence (blogs, website content, press releases, etc), while also closely working with the client on creative business strategy that supports the content. At the same time, I want to leave part of the path unplanned, since serendipitous moments are wonderful and life changing.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a talented writer and innovator with endless enthusiasm and a kind soul.


For more information about Alexis and her work, click on any of the following: Anthillz Profile, Lexicon, My Tea Cups


Written by bquinlan3

August 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Interviews, Watercooler

What’s in a “reputation”?

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One of our Anthillz users, Alexis Siemons, just published an article about the word “reputation”. As someone who thinks about this often, I think her analysis is really enlightening.

One notable quote from her post:

A “reputation” is made up of the judgment of others that is based on our actions in several places. This adds an element of honesty to a “reputation” as it can be built over time and in various scenarios. That being said, a true “reputation” is one that is echoed amongst various individuals…

Check out the full article here: Got a “reputation”?

Leave us a comment–What does “reputation” mean to you?

Written by Joe

August 5, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Watercooler

Interview with Randy Schmidt, creator of iSepta and rockstar freelancer

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Randy is a very well known Philadelphia Freelancer who specializes in developing Ruby on Rails (RoR) applications and has founded umlatte, a web-app consulting company. He is most well known for the iSepta application which he co-developed. Randy is also very active in the local RoR community called Philly on Rails.

Randy, could you tell us how you took the plunge from being a structural engineer to becoming a rockstar freelancer?

I’m not sure I would call myself a rockstar freelancer, but while I was working as a structural engineer, I was doing some freelance web development on the side. I was also proposing some web apps to help solve some of the problems I saw around me. I was able to start a knowledge base that used MediaWiki and created a web-based sign-out sheet that would help everybody quickly know what people were up to.

That sign-out sheet is currently being rebuilt as a service called “up2app“.

After a while, I got really frustrated that the company wasn’t taking advantage of my motivation to make things better, so I quit and went out on my own.

How did your family react when you left a stable job and went the independent route?

My wife was extremely supportive and I wouldn’t have quit my job without her support. The hardest part was figuring out how parents and the in-laws were going to react. I had a feeling that they would read “freelancing” as “unemployed”. To my surprise, my dad was very supportive right away and was excited about the whole thing. The in-laws were a little different, they didn’t say much but I think they were waiting for us to ask for money.

A year later, I think they are comfortable now that I haven’t asked for any money :-). It also helped that we had a little nest egg so I didn’t have to make money right away to pay the mortgage.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about freelancing?

This may be kind of weird, but I don’t think I have received much advice from people until recently. I’m currently working to build a more complete business around what I do. Through that, a friend of mine has really pushed me to figure out exactly what I want to do.

I can change this as I move forward, but it gives me a direction to go in and then the direction can be adjusted going forward.

Who are your heroes?

Everybody at Independence “Indy” Hall, and of course… Buzz Lightyear.

Can you tell us what a typical day is like in the life of Randy Schmidt?

The routine lately has been to wake up to my alarm around 8 AM and then proceed to hit snooze way too many times. I then get up, take a shower, get dressed and head to the office (across the hall).

I then try to process my inbox until have 0 emails, following up or adding tasks to Highrise so I don’t have to think about them. I then realize it’s noon and I haven’t done anything billable yet so I try to keep my head down and work all afternoon.

Sometime in the evening I stop working and either spend some time with the wife or work on fun projects. I have been trying to limit how many times I deal with email to try to stay focused. I often turn off all forms of communication for hours at a time to keep the distractions to a minimum.

What are the strains of being an independent worker?

I think many independent workers realize after a while that doing everything yourself isn’t very efficient. One of those areas is cultivating business and trying to get work done at the same time.

It’s very hard to deal with the random access communication and focus on current projects. I’m working to build a small team where one of the key players is a business development/business guy that will handle clients up until signing a contract and getting to work.

Have you ever fired a client?

I’ve come close a few times but not yet. I’ve only been doing this for a year so I am only now getting to the point where I can pick and choose. Hopefully we can do more picking and choosing in the future as the quality of our work speaks for itself. I am really pushing to move to the point where we are working with our clients, helping them refine their vision, instead of just building whatever they say.

With iSepta’s success, how does it feel to be a celebrity?

Haha… I’m not sure I would call myself a celebrity, but it has been awesome and frustrating at the same time. Awesome because it helps to validate some of the ideas and projects we are working on… people actually like what we are doing. On the other hand, it is frustrating trying to keep up with it all and still get some work done.

After iSepta, do you have another killer app up your sleeve?

Jason, Chris and I are currently working with a couple startups helping them get to version 1 of their vision in a short period of time, 4 weeks. There are a lot of business people out there that have ideas, but don’t know who to hire or how to get to version 1 fast. The idea is we work with them through a few 4-week-long iterations and eventually help them find developers as they grow their business. I really believe startups should not outsource their own product, but then again someone shouldn’t have to hire a team before they know the idea will work.

The three of us are also evaluating some of our own ideas and trying to apply some of the same principals. Figure out which ones are most likely to make money or benefit society, and then execute to get to version 1 as fast as possible.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Wow, this is a hard one. Things move so fast that it’s hard to predict where I’ll be. I want to be working part time to help clients realize their ideas as well as build some of our own products.

Check out Randy’s Blog | See Randy’s Anthillz Profile

Written by bquinlan3

July 29, 2008 at 8:45 am

Posted in Interviews, Watercooler

The challenge of differentiating yourself as a freelancer

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Steve Snell at Freelance Switch wrote a great article yesterday about how to differentiate yourself as a freelancer. In our experience, this is one of the hardest parts about being a freelancer.

He started the article with a quote we say often here at Anthillz “One of the biggest struggles for many freelancers is finding a way to stand out from the crowd of others providing similar services”.

We’ve found your reputation (which Steve calls your “brand”) can be your best differentiator.  This is the thinking behind the major update we just released today–to help you showcase your reputation and build your brand.

We’re always looking to hear about how you use reputation to stand out.  And how we can help you use it better.

Written by Joe

July 17, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Watercooler

We got Pranked!

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I walked into the office today to find our “pod” (basically, cubicle) with a 3 feet high mound of air-filled trashbags all inside our marketing space. As well as a sign saying “LANDFILLZ” where our previous “ANTHILLZ” sign was. It totally covered the 4 desks inside that space (one of which you can see in the below picture).


Then the property manager came and talked to me about it; wondering if it was some kind of project we were up to. I told her it was not… just a prank (while hearing snickering from the next pod over).

We’ve got some suspects among our friends at DreamIt Ventures…  MyDropCard, TapInko, and Vuzit, we’ve got our eye on you.

We spent about 15 vital minutes of our work day cleaning this up – it goes without saying but someones going to get retaliated for this – updates to come.

Written by Joe

June 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Watercooler

Welcome PANMA, Philly on Rails, Hackathon and PSL!

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We’ve recently had a spike in traffic to the site due to the unveiling of our site to some of our favorite local Philly groups. We’d like to extend a welcome to our friends at PANMA, Philly on Rails, Philly Hackathon and PSL. All great groups in Philly, fighting the good fight to make Philly a better place for us tech/entrepreneurial types.

We’ve been working hard on Anthillz for awhile now and we’re excited to be so close to launching our Search Talent feature which we know you are all eagerly waiting for.

We look forward to easing the process of finding freelance jobs so freelancers can focus more time on cool projects and less time on woo’ing potential clients, networking, and lengthy negotiations.

We’d love to hear any feedback that would help us streamline the process we’d love to hear it, please let us know by emailing us at:

Thanks again for taking a peek at Anthillz

Written by Joe

May 28, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Move-In Day @ UPenn Science Center

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Today, Anthillz – along with all the other DreamIt Ventures Companies – moved into our office space at the University of Pennsylvania campus Science Center. It’s known for being a business incubator in the local area, most notably for the life sciences. But, don’t just take my word for it…

The Science Center is a total “Venture Ecosystem” that forms and funds early-stage life science and technology companies, accelerates their commercialization and provides the infrastructure and community they need to flourish. (provided by Science Center website)

<insert picture here – didn’t bring a camera today – d’oh>

DreamIt Ventures, a Philadelphia “Y Combinator” -esque business incubator, is all tech companies for this summer session we were selected for. So, it’s pretty interesting having us all set up on the floor in all these interesting cublicle pods. It allows for highly flexible/configurable work space which can easily shift from personal, individualized desk space to a more group oriented arrangement.

In my opinion (intern speaking) the best part is the free coffee…

Written by Joe

May 21, 2008 at 8:12 pm