Melodie Tao, AKA @MyMelodie

Melodie Tao, AKA @MyMelodie

Recently I took what some might think is a crazy leap, professionally: I left my comfortable position as a learning technology specialist at Qualcomm without a “next job” to go to. Qualcomm offered me a generous transition package (thanks, QC!) and I decided that a transition was just what I needed.

Having the leisure to read the newspaper all the way through in my yoga pants, I did exactly that. While reading the Business section of the San Diego Union-Tribune I happened upon an article outlining the companies in San Diego with the most revenue in 2009. I was surprised to realize that I had spent the last 12 years of my life working for 2 of the top 3 (Qualcomm and CareFusion, which was called Pyxis when I worked there).

Huh. That’s interesting. Why did I do that?

Well, clearly I was looking for stability, security, and good benefits. Did I get them?

Yes and no. The benefits at both were awesome (though, ironically, my cell phone was paid for at the healthcare company, and my health insurance benefits were  better at the telecom company). Neither company went under or lost much in stock value while I was there, so they were definitely stable.

However, at each place, my run of “feeling useful” lasted only about 5 years. After that, I more or less had to find another company to work for or feel I was stagnating. This is in stark contrast to what my parents experienced: my mom worked as a computer programmer for the U.S. government for 14 years, then transitioned to teaching at the junior college level, which she did at the same school for 25 years, rising to the level of department chairman. My dad was never really unemployed his whole life, spending just one week at home between his two-year stint in the Navy and his 40 years as a government intelligence analyst. Both were promoted numerous times and honored with many awards.

Their career stories are from another time, though. Today’s career cycle is much shorter, no matter where you work. Once you realize that, “safe” choices don’t feel so safe any more, and “risky” choices like freelancing, consulting, working for yourself, or working for a startup don’t seem so scary.

I decided to interview some folks I know who are living on the professional wild side and see if I could glean some wisdom that would help me decide my next move. I arranged to meet with Melodie Tao, a self-employed new media marketing and SEO professional here in San Diego.

Melodie is a consummate coworking and networking pro. Within 5 minutes, she’d made sure we were connected on LinkedIn and Facebook, and prompted me to remove old data from my profile (like my now-inactive Qualcomm email address).  She agreed to share her wisdom with me, which I now share with you.

So, Melodie, what do you do for a living?

I am an online marketing consultant, and I run my own social media marketing company. So I work with companies on how to use social media to strengthen their brand, to engage their customers, and to build customer loyalty. I also am a professional speaker on social media, speaking at conferences and events. I also teach online marketing and social media at Platt College, teaching my students how to market for companies but also how to create their own personal brand.

How long have you been coworking regularly?

I’ve had a consulting practice on the side for about 6 years, but I’ve been working completely independently only since January of this year.

What are some of the advantages of working for your own company?

I have a lot of freedom to choose how I’d like to structure my work and my day. There’s more flexibility. I can cowork with others that are in the same industry but working on their own things, so we can feed off each other’s success and collaborate. I feel that I’m not confined to one place or one project, and that I can take on any opportunity that comes along.

Do you have any favorite places to cowork?

Milano Coffee Company, where we are now, is great. This place has free wifi, it’s quiet compared to a lot of other coffee shops, and it’s clean.

I also like using the library. Most people don’t think to go to the library, but the Mission Valley branch of the library is really nice. It’s right in the Ikea shopping center. There’s a lot of room there, it’s very quiet, they have tables and desks you can use, and it’s the nicest library I’ve been to.

Lestat’s Coffee House is another nice one; they just opened up a second room, so there’s more room there than there used to be.

Downtown there is the HIVEHAUS, which is the coworking place where you can rent a desk. I don’t rent a desk there, because I don’t want to be confined to one place – I have clients everywhere. But every other Friday they offer free coworking through an event called Jelly.

Do you ever work from home?

Sometimes, but rarely. I find when I work from home I don’t concentrate as much. One day I may rent an office, but it doesn’t make sense for me now, becauses there’s a lot of partners I’m working with. Sometimes when I’m working with web developers, I’ll go and work at their office for the day.

Do you often meet with clients?

Yes, but it’s usually virtual. I do a lot of GoToMeetings with a client of mine in San Francisco. If I need to meet face-to-face, I’ll often do it at a coffee shop or at their place. Clients usually like meeting at their place anyway, because that way they don’t have to travel.

What are some of the disadvantages?

I wouldn’t call them disadvantages, I’d call them challenges. Some challenges are that I have to be my own manager – now, I’m an entrepreneur so I’m used to that, but that might be a challenge for some people who aren’t. You have to motivate yourself, set up a schedule, so that you know every day that you’re going to start work at 9:00 or whatever time you’ve picked. The benefit is you can often stop when you want, go for a run or take a yoga class. You have to have structure, but you can create that structure. It can be a lot more flexible.

I like to start a little bit later on Monday mornings, and plan my week. A lot of people don’t like Mondays, because they have to get back to work and they’re stressed out. I step back instead and plan the days ahead. Monday’s reserved for regrouping.

Do you have any tips for coworking beginners?

I would recommend doing what you’re doing, connecting with a lot of people in your industry who are doing similar things. Ask them what’s working for them. Networking, doing informational interviews. Networking is key. When you’re networking be very clear about what is your goal. If you tell that to people, they’ll be able to help you, and if any opportunity comes up, they’ll think of you immediately. Be very clear about what you’re doing.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated, and that you’re available for freelance opportunities (if you are). Keep up with your online portfolio if you have one, your blog, be active on social media. Be a resource for people. Give tips to people. If you want to be an HR manager, say, then tweet HR tips. People will think of you as a resource then, and when they’re looking to hire someone like you, you’ll come to mind.

I hear you’re going to Hong Kong soon. Tell me about that!

Yes! I am speaking at an online conference through the Internet Society (ISOC). I’ll be giving a presentation on search engine optimization and social media, on how to improve your search results with social media, and how to optimize your domain name through having a good website and good social media presence. That’s next week, and I’m excited about that.

Well, have a great trip, Melodie, and let’s cowork again when you get back!