But What Do You Do? – Wearing the Many Hats of a Freelancer

Sterman Many Hats.jpg

by Nan Sterman

I recently met with a local visionary who dreams of creating a world-class garden attraction at a local retail property he manages. He envisions a month long exposition that features speakers, workshops, elaborate garden displays, children’s activities, and more.

The man reached out to me at the suggestion of our mutual friend, the travel agent I partner with for garden tours. Our meeting included one of his consultants, a woman who knows me from my garden writing and from my television show, A Growing Passion.

Sterman Office Desk.jpgHe was on fire as he described the event.  When he finished, he turned to me, a bit breathless, and asked if and how I could help make his dream come true. I chuckled. Nearly every aspect of what he described I have done and/or could do – design gardens, work with growers, organize events, assemble a roster of renowned speakers (that’s you guys) and designers, speak to the audiences myself, coordinate with vendors, promote the event to my own audiences and to the wider public using traditional and social media, and more.

As I listed all the options, his eyes grew wider and wider until he finally burst out “So, what is it exactly that you do?”

I’m sure you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. Whether you started out as a garden designer or plant expert or journalist or marketer, you wear so many hats that describing what you “do” is a challenge. It’s difficult to lay the groundwork, then connect the dots in a short “elevator speech.”

Sterman Hat GrassWearing multiple hats also makes the day to day a challenge. “What’s your best day to come in?” asked a would-be-trainer at my gym. Every day is different. Some days I am at my computer by 7 AM, writing, or at my design table creating a new garden (haven’t had the time to develop my CAD skills yet). Or I spend the day at the wholesale nurseries buying plants for my most recent landscape project. On other days I wake up before dawn to be on location with the video crew or scout a story location anywhere between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border.

This isn’t to complain. My biggest issue it is that there are so many wonderful opportunities and great projects to work on. Prioritizing is key, but what do you do when every item on your to-do list is top priority?

I’m not proposing a solution here, but rather a recognition that the majority of us don’t do just one thing. Very few of us have “traditional” jobs, and the skill sets we use today are not necessarily the ones we’ll be using next month. Or even next year.

So let’s start a discussion here on the blog or in the GWA Communities about how to wear all of our hats proudly, how to manage our time effectively, and how to explain to others, what exactly we do.

About the Author

Nan Sterman (2).jpgNan Sterman is… an author, writer, garden designer, tour leader, speaker, teacher, botanist, horticulturist, waterwise and edible plant expert, curriculum developer and about a dozen other things… you get the picture.

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

3 thoughts on “But What Do You Do? – Wearing the Many Hats of a Freelancer”

  1. I think there’s good advice there Nan, especially for people starting out in horticulture, garden design and garden writing, that going after all those hats is the best way to make a living in this precarious and under-paid industry. The varied work places and work styles that wearing those hats gives you is also the best way to keep people in the industry as many drop out or drift to other careers as they find they can’t cope with spending so much time working alone.


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